Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
So wrote John Donne. Similarly, to those who believe in the oneness of humanity, injustice to one human is injustice to all. For this reason, modern nation-states prosecute crimes against any individual as crimes against the community, society, or the State itself. Conversely, it is in everyone’s safety that our own safety lies. If our concern for others’ safety hinges on the victim’s or the perpetrator’s religion, caste, region, politics, ideology, or any other factor that divides us, then that concern, instead of enhancing security, makes every one of us more vulnerable.
The recent video of two Kuki women in Manipur being paraded naked and molested has shocked the nation’s conscience, and rightfully so. Every individual Indian, civic group, political party, media house, and the intelligentsia across India have come out strongly condemning the brutal act captured by the video. The Prime Minister, too, had strongly condemned it and expressed his deep anger, anguish, and outrage while vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice. He called it a blot on the nation’s image that shamed each of us 140 crore Indians.
Unfortunately, not all atrocities against women – some even more revolting than that depicted in the Manipur video – elicit similar outrage and condemnation. Reducing the suffering of women into a tool or weapon to fight political and ideological battles has hurt the cause of women beyond measure. Violence or indignity meted to every woman causes the same suffering. No woman’s dignity can be less or more valued than the next woman’s — based either on her caste, religion, region, economic status or political or ideological affiliation. It is not that the average Indian is selective in their response to such atrocities against women. It is this knowledge that those who want to use atrocities against women as a potent political or ideological tool rely upon to achieve their goals.
Political violence has now become a pattern in West Bengal. After every election, be it Assembly or local panchayat elections, large-scale violence, especially against women involving rapes, gang-rapes, and murders, is reported. The scale of the violence is so high that large numbers of women, to safeguard their life, limb, and honour, seek refuge in neighbouring states like Assam. Even so, these incidents have never stirred the conscience of the avant-garde of our society.
In Rajasthan, atrocities against women and the state’s indifference towards them have grown to such an extent that the Rajasthan cabinet minister and Congress leader, Rajendra Singh Gudha, criticised his own government in the state’s Assembly and asked for introspection instead of outraging over the Manipur incident. In July alone, reports of at least 10 minor girls gang-raped or raped, of whom some were killed or burnt to death after had surfaced. The Congress party promptly sacked him within hours of his statements and unleashed the police upon him. Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, quick to visit victims of any atrocities in BJP-ruled states, were nowhere to be seen in Rajasthan.
At home, here in Telangana, it has become a recurring feature for even the women leaders of the ruling party to come in the open describing the sexual harassment they face from their own party’s senior leaders and MLAs. A family of four – wife, husband and two daughters – committed suicide, alleging sexual harassment of the wife by the son of a ruling party MLA. The Chief Minister had not publicly condemned any of these incidents.
While the Prime Minister has rightfully come in front of the nation and condemned the Manipur incident, it is unforgivable that no such open condemnation has ever been forthcoming from the chiefs of political parties ruling the states mentioned above – Rajasthan, West Bengal, or Telangana. The parties that have brought a no-confidence motion against the Modi-led BJP government to highlight the Manipur atrocity have never done so against non-BJP governments. The contention that they do not have enough numbers in those Assemblies to bring no-confidence motions does not pass the smell test because a similar situation also exists in Parliament. The silence of leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Mamta Banerjee, Chandrasekhar Rao etc., towards violence perpetrated against women in states ruled by them, their alliance partners and would-be alliance partners, though despicable, can at least be attributed to political calculations.
More baffling is the behaviour of those who consider themselves to be the conscience keepers of our nation – the civic society leaders, the intelligentsia, and the media. Given their influence on the civic discourse in our country, their selective approach towards women’s safety is not only reprehensible but makes them equally complicit – for they already know that no woman is safe until all women are safe.
(The author is BJP TS spokesperson)