The Samajwadi Party is at it again. As an aghast nation watched the unfolding of the Badaun case where two cousins were gang-raped and hanged by a tree, the state government did nothing to tend to the wounds by refusing to take responsibility or even showing sensitivity towards women’s concerns.
When asked about the reported lawlessness and rising crime, including rapes, in the state, SP Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav chided the media making a scathing remark: “You do your job, I will do mine.” He went on to tell the media to focus on ‘other concerning issues’. In April, during an election rally, while referring a case in which three accused persons were given the death penalty for sexually assaulting a photo-journalist in Mumbai, he said: “They are boys… they make such mistakes.”
Remarks in the Badaun case, termed by many across the country as insensitive, came just a day after the UP Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav, accused the media of highlighting rapes taking place in his state only. He told the media that a Google search would show such crimes occurring across the country.
“Such incidents don’t occur only in UP,” the CM said. “When a similar crime happened in Bangalore, did the national media broadcast the story the way they highlighted the UP case?” he added.
Before this, Akhilesh had also snapped at a female journalist who asked him about actions in the Badaun case. He asked her if she was facing any such threat and upon receiving a negative answer, he reportedly told her to propagate that fact.
As if this was not enough, other members of the Mulayam family joined the fray in targeting the media. Mulayam’s cousin and the party’s MP Ram Gopal Yadav said the media was tarnishing the image of the country, and UP in particular, by blowing the Badaun case out of proportion. He also blamed television for bringing vulgarity into homes and “polluting young minds”.
Ram Gopal too insisted that UP was “being targeted in a calculated manner” though he admitted rising crime against women across the country was a matter of concern.
After the infamous December 16 case in Delhi, the media has played a crucial role in ensuring that women’s voices are heard. This led to even parliamentarians sitting up and taking notice. Not only that, media has mobilized the entire country time and again against atrocities on women. How can anyone forget the sea of protesters across the nation after the Nirbhaya case? Wasn’t it the media that awakened the people’s conscience to women’s protection? Wasn’t it social media that prompted the youth to become part of a meaningful movement?
Keeping this in mind, the comments of the SP leaders should be severely criticized. They cannot evade responsibility by deflecting criticism and giving bizarre explanations. One such was provided by Ram Gopal himself; he said break-up of relationships between boys and girls leads to rape. Then, he called rapes as mental problems. One can clearly not find any fault in the media for highlighting such statements by party leaders, who claim to represent the people. Do they not owe the people some sensitivity?
When Akhilesh took over as Chief Minister, he raised great hopes because of his Australian degree and his penchant for using smartphones. It created the image of a modernized Samajwadi. But nothing changed.
While Akhilesh might not be wrong in pointing that states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal have reported more rapes than Uttar Pradesh, does that lessen his own responsibility? In this case, such a comment is a deflection tactic that made the young Chief Minister look arrogant and incompetent. That the condemnation had taken global proportions — with UN chief Ban Kimoon and US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf expressing their shock — did not seem to matter to Akhilesh.
Every word, action and inaction of responsible party leaders has sapped the state government’s credibility and vitality, with one vexing question left hanging: “How much longer?” It is natural for UP to gain attention — it is the largest state of the country. Beyond that, it is beset with casteism and division along religious lines. Even the administration and police have been found to work to the detriment of disadvantaged sections.
In the Badaun case, the victims hailed from the OBC Maurya community but could not secure justice from the dominant OBC Yadavs manning the local police station. 66 years after Independence, functionaries of the State are still identified by their caste. Their loyalty to caste and religion rather than to the modern State exposes the limitations of our democratic experiment.
Finally, despite development, rather ambitions for complete development, it appears that the patriarchal nature of the Indian society is too deep to be changed. ‘Boys will be boys’ is a destructive attitude, which empowers neither gender. Bashing the media especially when it attempts to highlight gender violence too will lead nowhere.