Changing the narrative when a rape becomes political

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Is something that has become the norm in ‘new India’

The narrative will change only when our political leaders stop turning their faces away from the horrible truth that not much has changed in the ‘new India’ when it comes to crimes against women

By Tavleen Singh

There are things in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘new India’ that have got worse than they were in the old India. One of them is the false narrative that is spun by his spokesmen and supporters on social media every time a child or a woman is brutally raped and murdered. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says it recorded 32,033 cases of rape in 2019, which means that 87 Indian women were raped every day.

Of these, 15% were children. The statistics are shameful, but it is not the statistics that should worry us as much as the strenuous efforts made in the ‘new India’ to change the narrative at the behest of political leaders at the highest level. Last week it was only when Dalit activists took to the streets in protest that arrests were made in the case of the nine-year-old Dalit girl who was allegedly raped and murdered by a priest and his three cohorts.

The alleged rapists deny all charges and claim that the child died of an electric shock she got from a water cooler. But this does not explain why they were in such a hurry to cremate the child’s body, even when her mother tried to stop them. The story has been reported in detail in this newspaper and needs no repetition. It is the politics I want to talk about.

This is because I was sickened by the insensitivity with which spokesmen of the Bharatiya Janata Party responded to the child’s death. They were more bothered by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi having gone to offer his condolences to the dead girl’s family than the horror of what happened to her. Sambit Patra, who is the TV face of the BJP, spoke in crude, ugly detail about what had happened to Dalit women raped in Rajasthan and with his fixed smug smile asked why Rahul Gandhi did not visit their families.

If he believed this strengthened his case that Rahul went for political and not compassionate reasons, he achieved the opposite result. This column is no fan of Rahul Gandhi or Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, but I applaud them for going to the home of this wretchedly poor Dalit family and offering financial and legal help.

It is the very least that political leaders should do since they are unable to prevent this most shameful of crimes from happening with such relentless routine that India is sometimes referred to derisively as the rape capital of the world. It should shame us all that this is not a major political issue. And that not one of Modi’s women ministers thought they needed to offer help and condolences to the dead girl’s family.

Smriti Irani was the shrillest critic of Sheila Dikshit’s government when Nirbhaya was brutally raped and murdered. She is now Minister of Women and Child Development but did not care to even tweet about the tragic death of this little girl. Was it because she was Dalit or because one of the alleged rapists is a priest in a temple that adjoins the crematorium in which the girl died?

It is not as if Mrs. Irani was staying away from Twitter last week. She found the time to tweet this about the women’s hockey team. ‘An inspiration! Each one of you have renewed hope, emboldened aspirations… each one of you epitomizes strength, skill & fortitude. You are our girls, our pride #ind onwards to a stronger future.” The Prime Minister and several other ministers tweeted in similar triumphant fashion about the hockey team. But, not one tweet about the little Dalit girl. Why?

Is it because the Delhi Police comes directly under the Home Minister and it was important to bury the story as quickly as possible? Changing the narrative when a rape becomes political and reflects the awful realities of caste and poverty is something that has become the norm in the ‘new India’. When another Dalit girl was raped, murdered and cremated by the police in the dead of night in Hathras last year, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh tried to make it into an ‘international conspiracy’ against his government.

A Muslim journalist who was arrested on his way to Hathras was implicated in this so-called ‘jihadi’ conspiracy. A year later, he remains in jail. These foolish attempts to change the narrative can never work. The narrative will change only when our political leaders stop turning their faces away from the horrible truth that not much has changed in the ‘new India’ when it comes to crimes against women.

Another horrible truth that we need to face up to is that usually the women and children who get raped and killed come from Dalit families. At the risk of being charged yet again by BJP trolls of being ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-India’, I am going to say what our political leaders do not like to admit. In rape cases the victims are usually Dalit and the rapists upper caste.

This is why justice is rarely done. This is why the police use intimidation to get charges dropped. If rape cases manage to come to trial, more than 90 per cent of rapists get away with their barbarous crimes. What has changed in ‘new India’ is that in BJP states a false narrative is created to obscure facts. Unless the victim is Hindu and the rapist Muslim. Then we have arrests under new ‘love jihad’ laws.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 8, 2021 under the title ‘Rape, caste and politics’.

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