By Saarthak Anand
Politics in West Bengal hit a new low when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders traded barbs on the state’s law and order situation in a most unseemly manner.
“I dare all the parties…”
Roopa Ganguly, arguably the party’s most vocal face in the state, drew flak by challenging supporters of TMC to send women of their families to West Bengal and see if they survive for 15 days without getting raped.
The comment comes amidst deteriorating law and order in the state, including communal riots in the Basirhat and Baduria region, and violence in Darjeeling.
“I dare all the parties, the ones who keep flattering the West Bengal government and the Congress, to send their daughters, sisters-in-law, wives to Bengal, without any hospitality from Mamata Banerjee. If they are able to survive there for 15 days without getting raped, then tell me,” she is reported to have said.
Responding in kind, West Bengal Department of Power Minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay returned the fire by commenting that Ganguly should specify “how many times she has been raped in Bengal”.
Even after her comments sparked controversy, the former actor remained undeterred. “15 din to maine zyada bol diya actually”, translating to “actually, 15 days are a lot”, was what she had to say in defence of her previous statement.
A bitter routine
It is no one’s belief that politicians in India are a most mild-mannered lot. Women have often been at the receiving end of their remarks, and the recent verbal exchange was not a one-off case of brutal crimes such as rape being trivialised.
In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav courted controversy while opposing capital punishment for rape. Speaking at a rally, he said, “First girls become friends with boys. When differences happen, they level rape charges. Boys commit mistakes. Will they be hanged for rape?” Trinamool Congress leader Tapas Pal, at a gathering in 2014, threatened rival Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)’s) workers, saying that “I will let loose my boys in your homes and they will commit rape”.
Even our Prime Minister has not always been above such remarks. During his time as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he attributed his state’s high malnutrition rate to “beauty-conscious girls”. “...If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight- she’ll tell her, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.’” he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
A reflection of the grim reality
At the heart of such statements lies the overwhelmingly patriarchal nature of politics in India, which comes out in the open during elections. The number of female representatives in legislatures is very low, compared to their share in the population. A mere 11% of the Members of Parliament are women; India ranks below countries such as Pakistan, Iraq and South Sudan in this regard. The Women’s Reservation Bill, first introduced in 1996, has been on the back burner ever since. Many female representatives across the country are related to prominent male politicians, in whose name they ask for votes. Women are expected to be good wives, mothers and sisters. Their votes are largely taken for granted to be on the same lines as those of the males of their families. Who will vote for a politician who says that women should be freed from the responsibility of managing the household, and given independence to travel alone at night?
Those who make such statements get away due to a lack of accountability. Occasionally, a First Information Report (FIR) is registered, often by workers of a rival political party, and the matter is lost amidst the noise of new political developments. There is almost never any action by the political parties against such leaders of theirs. The BJP has instead thrown its weight behind Roopa Ganguly, saying that “the words may have been altered, but her stance is not incorrect”.
The present situation is by no means befitting of the world’s largest democracy. Those who make such remarks need to be taken to task and women must be given an independent voice in the political process. Otherwise, political development in India will continue to be stagnated, and its discourse will keep turning uglier by the day. In the age of Swachh Bharat, it is only logical that India also cleans up its political rhetoric.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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