Rajat Sharma

Why politicians must change their mindset about women

AKBToday I write with both sadness and anger about a senior Karnataka MLA who made an insensitive and shameful remark about women in the assembly. The Congress MLA in question, K. R. Ramesh Kumar, is a former assembly speaker and state minister and has been elected from his constituency six times. He won his first assembly election 43 years ago in 1978. He was elected speaker of assembly twice and later became the state health and family welfare minister. It was shocking to see an experienced legislator making a callous, misogynistic remark.

He was actually emphathizing with the Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri over his plight because many members were seeking time to speak on farmers’ issues and the Speaker found himself helpless. The MLA compared the Speaker’s position with that of a woman who faced rape, and said, ‘there is a saying that when rape is inevitable, lie down and enjoy it. That is exactly the position you are in’.

To the surprise of all, the Speaker guffawed over this misogynistic remark. Women MLAs sitting inside the House rose in protest and demanded that the MLA should withdraw his remark. Ramesh Kumar later tendered his apology with several ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. He said, ‘my intention was not to trivialize or make light of a heinous crime like rape, but this was an off-the-cuff remark. I will choose my words carefully from now on.’

What Ramesh Kumar said was not an innocent joke. Rape is not a matter of laughter or for making jokes. By making this remark, he insulted the dignity of Indian womanhood. In my show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night, we showed how the MLA made this obnoxious remark and the Speaker was laughing over it. It depicts the mindset of many of our present day politicians. The Speaker, if he had a modicum of respect from womanhood, should have removed the MLA from the House by calling in the marshals. The Speaker did not speak a single word to reprimand the legislator.

As the video of the MLA’s remark became viral, Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani raised the matter in Lok Sabha, but her words were drowned in the protest by Opposition members over the Lakhimpur Kheri issue. Outside, Smriti Irani and Samajwadi Party member Jaya Bachchan demanded that Congress party should take action against its MLA. Shiv Sena member Priyanka Chaturvedi, Apna Dal leader and Union Minister Anupriya Patel demanded action against Ramesh Kumar.

Leaders, cutting across party lines, denounced the MLA’s misogynistic remark, and in the evening, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi tweeted: “I wholeheartedly condemn the statement made by Sri K. R. Ramesh Kumar. It is inexplicable how anyone can ever utter such words, they are indefensible. Rape is a heinous crime. Full stop.” Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge also condemned Ramesh Kumar’s remark.

Women, in India’s Hindu religious ethos, are worshipped as ‘devi’. Devotees perform ‘kanya poojan’ (worshipping girls) at the end of Navratri. Hindu religious scriptures mention, ‘gods reside in places where women are worshipped’.(Yatra Naaryastu Pujyante, Tatra Ramante Devatah). How can people of India tolerate a man who asks women to lie down and enjoy, when facing a rapist?

It is not only an insult of women, but also an insult of our ancient culture, its hoary traditions and lofty ideals. It is an insult to every son who worships his mother, an insult to every brother who promises to protect his sister by getting a ‘raakhi’ tied on his wrist, an insult to every father who wants his daughter to prosper in life.

Those who make such misogynistic remark must not be forgiven. Judging by Priyanka Gandhi’s reaction, I had expected the Congress party to take action against the MLA, but the party chose not to. I had expected the BJP to take action against its leader Vishweshwar Hegde, the Speaker, who laughed over this misogynistic remark, but the party chose not to.

Actually these leaders get courage and repeat their actions, when they are not punished for their acts. Parties try to point fingers at others and try to hide their own mistakes. If you ask the Congress, their leaders will point at what happened in Unnao and Hathras, if you ask the BJP, they will remind you of the infamous Tandoor case and dig out old CDs, if Samajwadi party leaders ask the Congress, the latter would mention the guesthouse incident and Gayatri Prajapati case, and also recall Mulayam Singh’s insensitive remark about rape saying ‘boys do commit mistakes’.

The moot point is, such dirty mindsets continue to remain because people try to hide their own stains and point out at others’ stains. The latest example that came forth on Friday was when a senior Samajwadi Party MP Shafiqur Rahman Barq remarked that minimum age limit of marriage for girls should not be raised from 18 years to 21, because ‘girls would go astray’.

He made this comment because Modi government plans to raise the minimum age limit of marriage for girls from 18 years to 21 years and Prohibition of Child Marriage amendment bill is being brought in Parliament. The cabinet has already approved the draft bill, which provides for making the minimum age limit of marriage for both boys and girls at 21 years, instead of the present provision of 21 for boys and 18 years for girls respectively. Several opposition parties have already started opposing it. Muslim leaders, mainly from Samajwadi Party, are against this bill. The bill seeks to amend similar provisions in marriage laws relating to Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis.

Shafiqur Rehman Barq is 91 years old. He first became an MLA in 1974. Barq has been demanding that Muslims should not be subjected to family planning. Another Samajwadi Party MP S. T. Hassan has said, if the minimum age limit of marriage for girls is raised, it will encourage “shamelessness” among girls. The chief of Samajwadi Party in Maharashtra, Abu Azmi has demanded this limit should remain at 18 years for girls. He had a curious logic. He said, ‘if anybody dies in your house, you must not keep the body for long, similarly, if a girl attains puberty, she should not be kept in her parents’ home for long’. Azmi says the number of court cases would rise if the minimum age limit for girls is raised.

I simply fail to understand the mindset of such politicians. They are supposed to be leaders in our society. In anger, I can only say: Shame on the legislator who said, women should lie down and enjoy if raped. Shame on the Speaker who laughed when the legislator made this insensitive remark. Shame on those MPs who say that girls would go astray if their minimum age limit for marriage is raised. These remarks are reflections of a diseased mindset. All those who believe in progress must unitedly strike at these mindsets.

Mere condemnation is not enough. Only apologies are not enough. Let Congress take action against Ramesh Kumar, let the BJP take action against the Speaker, and let the Samajwadi Party take action against MPs like Barq and S. T. Hassan. Today, there is no need to go into the past about who did what and who said what. If strong action is taken by these parties, it will be the harbinger of a new trend of reining in such misogynistic mindsets. I am not against the right to oppose a bill brought by the government. There must be scope for dissent in democracy. Let there be debates, based on logic. I would rather want debates on why minimum age limit of marriage for girls should not be raised beyond 21 years.

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