Hathras Gangrape Case: Embarrassing Silence From India’s Top Women Leaders
News of the 19-year-old Dalit woman gangraped in Hathras succumbing to her injuries on September 29 has shaken India. Reports are coming in of the deceased’s family now claiming that the woman’s body was forcibly taken and cremated hurriedly by the Uttar Pradesh police against their wishes. The gruesome extent of the crime and the dubious handling of the case has elicited loud cries of justice from the common public and a few notable personalities. Protests too are taking place in some parts of Delhi to amplify calls to end caste discrimination and gender violence. In all of this, our politicians, especially the female leaders, have maintained a deafening silence. Nirmala Sitharaman, Sonia Gandhi, Jaya Bachchan, Mamata Banerjee, Hema Malini – where are the women leading our nation? Why are they quiet?
On social media, the public is demanding outrage and action in the Hathras gangrape case similar to what had broken out in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya gangrape from 2012, Delhi. Both crimes were vicious, driven on account of gender, and brutalisation of the women before they succumbed to their deaths. Why then is the Hathras case not being given the same spotlight as Nirbhaya? Why does it not deserve an equal amount of national attention that the Delhi, Hyderabad, Kathua, or Unnao rapes had been given? Shouldn’t our politicians be actively vocal on this?
Politicals Leaders Are Answerable To The Citizens
There are two irrefutable facts as far as political leaders in a democracy are concerned. First, they have been voted to power by the common citizens of the country to work towards the benefit of all the various sections of society that co-exist. Secondly, to that effect, they are answerable to us. The public has the right to ask questions and demand solutions from those whom we have made responsible to lead us. And this is a power that each one of us must exercise in times of crisis.
The Hathras horror is one such crisis situation at hand. It is indicative of moral depravity – a gender-based crime reportedly motivated by caste – as well as suggestive of a questionable legal/administrative system wherein the family of the Dalit woman wasn’t allowed to bring her body back home one last time. This state of affairs must chill every person with a conscience. More so every woman, unfortunately, by compelling her to acknowledge the flimsiness of the poor safety laws that claim to protect her.
So why have most of our female leaders not openly condemned the Hathras gangrape? Why are they taking this incident lying down? Do they not feel any exclusive responsibility as leaders, as women, to take the lead in bringing reform? Why are they not giving us an assurance that law and order will be strengthened to deter such crimes in the future?
What Kind Of Justice Are Political Leaders Aiming At?
Smriti Irani is a prominent leader of the central government, representing BJP as a member of Parliament from Amethi in UP. Not to mention, she is also the Minister of Women and Child Development. Therefore, the Hathras gangrape should be an exclusive concern to her on many accounts. But the only way she has addressed the issue is through a few retweets of UP’s current CM Adityanath’s own tweets where he has made statements like, “The guilty of the unfortunate incident with the girl in Hathras will not survive” and declared that the case will be “fast-tracked” in court.
Is this the kind of justice we are looking at from our political leaders? Should there not be a more far-reaching outlook towards creating better safety norms for women in the future? A video of Irani from 2012 has surfaced on Twitter where she can be seen allegedly taking to the streets against the rising crimes against women under the then administration. Should she not be as proactive even today? Shouldn’t the Hathras rape case go beyond politics?
2012 October – Smriti Irani held a protest against the growing rapes under the UPA govt.
2020 – Smriti Irani is the Women and Child Development minister and an MP from UP (Amethi)
— Samia Kapoor (@iSamiakapoor) September 29, 2020
The coronavirus crisis response around the world has shown us that women leaders have been at the forefront of change, and have risen to the challenge much faster and more effectively than their male counterparts. Forbes reported that countries handling the coronavirus emergency best had just one thing in common – women leaders. This points out the importance of women in politics. Upon that study, shouldn’t our female leaders step up and take the fore in case of the Hathras crisis?
Only A Handful Of Women Politicians Have Spoken
There is only selective noise around the issue, with a handful of influential women speaking up. Mayawati, former Chief Minister of UP and leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party that represents the Scheduled Castes/Tribes and other minorities in the country, has raised a voice on the matter. Her statement translated from Hindi to English reads, “The funeral of Hathras gang rape of Dalit victim by the UP police by not handing over the body to her family and performing the last rites at midnight only creates a lot of doubt and resentment. The BSP strongly condemns such a wrong attitude of the police.”
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra of Congress, too, has shown solidarity with the affected Dalit family and demanded the resignation of CM Adityanath in light of the deceased woman’s cremation. “@myogiadityanath RESIGN Instead of protecting the victim and her family, your government became complicit in depriving her of every single human right, even in death. You have no moral right to continue as Chief Minister.”
Mahua Moitra, Trinamool Congress MP in West Bengal, posted a picture from the site of the woman’s cremation and wrote:
Once the ModiMedia stops obsessing over Bollywood dramas maybe they’ll ask the @BJP government questions about what really matters pic.twitter.com/IMp3qL7CZM
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) September 30, 2020
Doesn’t Silence Suggest Complicity?
But will the voices of just selected leaders suffice on the matter, if we are looking at the bigger picture of bringing a change in the law of India as far as women’s safety and gender equality is concerned?
Bachchan and Malini had prominently opposed the vilification of Bollywood in the aftermath of Sushant Singh Rajput’s case, calling for the government’s solidarity with the film industry. What of the Dalit woman who died? Does her life not warrant a single statement from these distinguished women who hold powerful political and non-political (by way of fan following from films) positions in the country? Will there be no rousing speeches on the injustice she suffered?
I utterly believe that maintaining silence on grave matters such as the Hathras gangrape, and the countless other rapes that go unreported, is a suggestion of complicity in wanting to sustain status quo, in letting crimes happen as they do, in not making any attempts to correct the damage that has been done. This is a moment when our female leaders should step up, by virtue of being women who must empathise with what it feels like to be unsafe. We must do better, we must demand better. This is not a time for anyone, most of all our leaders, to remain silent.
Views expressed are the author’s own.