The irony could not have been sharper. On a day when millions cast their vote in what they hoped was a new, aspirational India that would take them towards a more secure tomorrow, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and wannabe Prime Minister sought to pull the country back to the medieval ages with an indulgent “boys will be boys” descriptive for convicted rapists who he said had made a “mistake”.
“Rape ke liye phansi par chadha diya jaayega? Ladke, ladke hain. Galti ho jati hai. (Will boys be hanged for rape? Boys will be boys. Mistakes happen),” Mulayam said at a rally in Moradabad. The reference was to the verdict in the Shakti Mills rape case where three repeat offenders had been sentenced to death for raping two women in an abandoned Mumbai mill for the first time under the amended rape law. The chief of Uttar Pradesh’s ruling party went on to say that girls befriend boys then cry rape when the relationship sours.
He echoed his party’s commitment that the new anti-rape law would be amended if his party came to power. As should only be expected, Mulayam’s son and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav resorted to the tired refrain of his father being “quoted out of context” when asked to explain.
Taking cue from his chief, party leader Abu Azmi was quoted as saying the next day that rape victims should also be hanged. “Rape is punishable by hanging in Islam. But here, nothing happens to women, only to men. Even the woman is guilty.” The blasé response to as brutal a crime as rape is not just part of the Samajwadi Party pattern of misogyny, but also terrifying in its presumption that it will go unpunished.
The Election Commission must disprove this and take action.
The party and its ageing chief have been strident opponents of the new law and women’s reservation in Parliament. In November 2012, Mulayam said rural women were not as attractive as urban ones and only those from affluent homes could go forward in life. Before that, in 2010, he had said the quota bill would pave the way for women from powerful families and lead to boys whistling at them.
The twisted logic used by one of India’s most senior politicians, not once but repeatedly, is evidence of his smug belief that women don’t matter. When Mulayam addressed crowds in Moradabad, he was addressing his pet audience — the male hinterland voter — completely disregarding the issues of women’s safety that have been at the forefront of debate since December 16, 2012.
In the true tradition of patriarchy, the fact that women comprise 49 per cent of voters is not something he or his leaders even took into account. Had he done so, the speech would have been different — and the Samajwadi Party a different party.
When Mulayam spoke out against death for rapists, it was not from the principled stand taken by women’s organisations against capital punishment. The apprehension that a rapist would equate his crime of sexual assault with murder was not in consideration either. All that mattered was a primitive mindset that he was confident would find resonance. This is a politician who has thrived, a party that governs India’s most populous and politically significant state. Outrageous, shocking, insensitive, callous… the adjectives are many, the result should be just one. All women and thinking men must say ‘no more’. Antediluvian politicians such as Mulayam and Azmi must be voted out.