Prime Minister Modi and his Government have given the slogan of ‘Beti Bachao’ (Save Daughters) as proof of the Government’s commitment to end violence against women. But in reality, this slogan is proving to be empty rhetoric – with BJP Governments at the Centre and various states acting to protect perpetrators of violence against women.
Nowhere is the hypocrisy of BJP’s ‘Beti Bachao’ slogan more starkly visible than in the two recent cases in Chandigarh and Chhattisgarh. In Chandigarh, Vikas Barala, the son of the Haryana BJP President along with a friend stalked, chased and tried to abduct a woman. The Chandigarh Police (which answers to the Home Ministry, that is, the Modi Government) first announced that kidnapping charges would be invoked too, but later withdrew those charges, ensuring thereby that the accused got bail. Meanwhile, a social media campaign to shame and defame the complainant has been visible – by none other than a national spokesperson of the BJP Shaina NC, as well as Subhash Barala’s nephew Kuldeep Barala. It now emerges that Kuldeep Barala and another relative Vikram Barala also face similar charges of abducting a minor girl in a car – an ongoing case in which the Chandigarh police have diluted charges. Meanwhile, even as the son and other young relatives of the BJP Haryana President seem to have a habit of stalking and attempting to abduct women in cars, Deputy President of BJP in Haryana Ramveer Bhatti has asked what the victim was doing out late at night, and blamed parents of the victim for failing to keep their daughter at home!
While leaders of other parties too have a habit of victim blaming, there is little doubt that in the BJP’s case, patriarchal ideas about women’s conduct flow directly from the Sangh’s own ideology. This ideology, which prescribes keeping women ‘under the guardianship and control’ of men, is reflected in the writings of leading Sangh ideologues and even their latest star, the UP CM Yogi Adityanath. This is why the Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar in 2014 declared that women’s provocative clothes were responsible for rape, and women who seek freedom should “roam naked”; this is why the Officer on Special Duty representing the Haryana Government, Jawahar Yadav, referred to JNU women as “worse than prostitutes.” This is why the BJP Government of Haryana has recently run advertisements extolling the veil (ghoonghat) as the ‘pride and honour’ of the state – even as they prescribe the veil for women, they allow male relatives of the ruling BJP leaders to run amok stalking and abducting women, confident that the police will deal with them lightly.
Moreover, the BJP boasts of a track record of conducting and covering up cases of stalking by powerful persons. There is strong evidence that in 2009 Amit Shah, when he was Home Minister of Gujarat, conducted prolonged illegal surveillance on a woman at the behest of ‘sahab’, widely believed to be then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The BJP in 2013 offered the explanation that the illegal surveillance was done to ‘protect a daughter at the behest of her father’: a patriarchal explanation that seeks to legitimize the use of state machinery by a Chief Minister to stalk an adult woman.
If the Chandigarh case is an eye opener about the manner in which power and the resulting impunity fuel sexual violence, the recent case in Chhattisgarh further demonstrates how the ideology of patriarchal protectionism often enables and encourages sexual violence. In the backdrop of a spate of cases of rape and murder of adivasis by CRPF personnel and Chhattisgarh Police, a local media channel along with the CRPF used the ‘Raksha Bandhan’ festival to justify the CRPF presence in Bastar: by showcasing that adivasi schoolgirls want the CRPF ‘brothers’ to ‘protect’ them. But soon after the adivasi schoolgirls had tied ‘Rakhi’ to the CRPF men in front of the media cameras, some of the CRPF men followed them into the bathroom, threatened them and sexually molested them. Can these schoolgirls expect justice from the Chhattisgarh Police that is investigating the case? In Chhattisgarh, there is a long and dismal history of sexual violence cases against ‘security’ personnel being scuttled by threats and intimidation. And while the media is doing its duty by keeping the Chandigarh stalking case in the spotlight, it is failing to do the same in the Chhattisgarh case.
We should also recall the cases in which RSS cadres are accused of trafficking baby girls from Assam for the purposes of political brainwashing; and the cases of child trafficking in which BJP’s West Bengal leaders including Roopa Ganguly stand accused.
The BJP’s ‘Beti Bachao’ slogan, invoked by them to exhort Hindus to ‘save daughters’ from Muslim men, is mocked at by the instances of perpetrators of sexual violence being protected on the watch of BJP Governments. It is urgently needed for every citizen of the country to firmly rebuff attempts at victim blaming, assert the right of women and girls to freedom and equality, and demand punishment for every perpetrator of gender violence, however powerful or well connected they may be.