KR Ramesh Kumar rape joke has yet again exposed how sexual assault is trivialised in our society, to the extent that one can get away with cracking one-liners about it. What’s more disturbing is that when a rape joke was cracked by a sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly in Karnataka, the speaker laughed and none of those present raised any objections!
On December 16, when Karnataka Assembly speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri could be seen struggling to bring some order to the proceedings during a discussion (or lack of it) around farmer’s issue, Congress party MLA KR Ramesh Kumar retorted, “There is a saying. When rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it,” perhaps wanting to convey that if Kageri can’t control the chaos, might as well enjoy it. Instead of rebuking the MLA, Kageri laughed in approval of the comment.
As expected, when the clip of Kumar’s comments and Kageri’s reaction to it began doing rounds on Twitter, it received massive backlash. From politicians to activists, to common people, everyone condemned the statement. And as it usually happens, Kumar swiftly tendered an apology on social media.
Suggested Reading: MLA KR Ramesh Kumar’s Rape Remark in Karnataka Assembly: 10 Things To Know
“I would like to express my sincere apologies to everyone for the indifferent and negligent comment I made in today’s assembly about “Rape!” My intention was not trivialised or make light of the heinous crime, but an off the cuff remark!” Kumar further wrote that he will choose his words carefully henceforth. As of now, Kageri has not released any statement over the matter, but then most of the backlash was targeted at Kumar and we are all experienced enough to know that unless the blame falls on a politician’s head solely, one shouldn’t expect them to apologise.
Kumar’s apology does little to cover the ugliness of his remarks. Firstly, because he tries to pass it off as a “cuff remark” in his tweet, proving that he still thinks that there could be a relevant excuse for what he said. The statement deserved nothing short of an unconditional apology, devoid of any excuses. Secondly, Kumar is a repeat offender, when it comes to trivialising rape and sexual crimes. In 2019, Kumar had called himself a “rape victim” which had also earned flak back then. “The rape happened just once. If you had left it at that, it would have passed. When you complain that a rape has happened, the accused is put in jail. But his lawyers ask how did it happen? When did it happen and how many times? The rape happens once but you get raped 100 times in the court. This is my condition,” he said in reference to repeated questioning that he had faced when his name cropped up in a political controversy.
Suggested Reading: Cracking Rape Jokes Shows How We Are Still In Denial Of The Menace
What is worse here, it that this disturbing comment was a casual remark made during an active session in a legislative assembly – where people send their elected leader to pass bills and amendments that could make our society a better place. How can women voters trust assemblies and their elected leaders to champion the causes that affect them- sexual safety being on the top of that list- when this is the attitude on display for everyone to watch?
Women constituted 49 percent of total voters in Karnataka during the 2018 state assembly elections. One can only hope that these women are now watching how one of the elected leaders trivialised sexual crimes while the rest of the assembly conveniently let the comment slide. Women need to remember such comments and take them into consideration when they cast their vote next time.
It is sad that rape jokes, sexist and misogynist remarks on women and women politicians are so commonplace in the Indian political space. Despite women making up for nearly half of the electoral pool. Could the reason be that while we do make up for half the number of voters, women leaders are elected to power in paltry numbers? For instance, in the 2018 assembly elections, there were only seven women out of the total 222 winning candidates. Could a more robust and better representation of women at the assembly and parliament level ensure that male leaders have to think twice before trivialising sexual crimes or laugh about them? The only way to find out is to increase the political participation of women at all levels and ensure that our elected leaders know very well that we are watching every word that comes out of their mouths.
Views expressed are the author’s own.