The death of a 14-year-old girl on the night of April 4 in West Bengal’s Nadia district after attending the birthday party of 21-year-old Braja Gopal, son of Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Samarendra Gayali, has sparked a political storm.
The details are, as yet, murky, but the girl’s family says she died of excessive bleeding caused by rape. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has dismissed the incident as a “love affair”, even as Braja Gopal and one more person have been arrested.
This is not the first time India’s sole woman chief minister has displayed such insensitivity with regard to a rape victim. In 2013, Banerjee and her senior minister Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar dismissed a gang rape as a concocted story, hinting at a “deal” gone wrong. The case was cracked by an ace cop, Damayanti Sen, vindicating the stand of the “Park Street victim” who insisted on being called by her name, Suzette Jordan.
In any event, Banerjee should know that even if this was a “love affair”, even if the girl was pregnant, as she has hinted, it would still be rape because 18 is the age of consent under the laws of India that she has sworn to uphold.
Victim-blaming is not new. Survivors continue to be asked what they were wearing, why they were out, why they didn’t put up a strong enough fight. They continue to be subjected to banned practices like the two-finger test. If the case ever reaches court, they are asked humiliating questions; sexual history, for instance.
This victim-blaming cuts across party affiliations, and Banerjee is now in the same category as the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav (“boys will be boys, they make mistakes”) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Babulal Gaur (“rape is a social crime…sometimes it is right, sometimes it is wrong”).
Even more reprehensible is the proclivity of political parties to take convenient stands based on expediency rather than morality.
The BJP has set up a fact-finding team to examine the allegations of rape against the TMC leader’s son. Yet, in 2018, the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Kathua led to protests in favour of the six accused Hindu men. These were attended by two BJP ministers who resigned in the face of outrage.
A decade after the 2012 gang rape of a medical student in Delhi, we need to ask why a culture of rape still persists. How is it so easy for a Bajrang Muni to threaten to rape Muslim women, a threat recorded on video, and why it should take over a week for him to be arrested? Why is a rape threat the default option of online trolls seeking to silence outspoken women?
In the end, it is our convenient, shifting attitudes to rape, our unrelenting focus on the victim, not the crime, that make us all complicit. That an elected head of a state is part of this mob makes it tragic.
Namita Bhandare writes on gender
The views expressed are personal