Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stop the Madness

PILSARC Editorial

“I read that Rs.5 lakh was spent on a helicopter and Rs5 lakh was spent on petrol. It went to Meerut, Ghaziabad and Mathura. Why did it go? To give Rs25,000 to a girl raped in Meerut. In another rape case of a deaf and mute woman, her husband was given Rs25,000. In a third, the father of a girl who was raped and killed was given Rs75,000...I say (the victims should) throw such money at Maya and tell her that if she (Maya) is raped they are ready to pay her Rs1 crore...”, these were the U.P. Congress Chief, Rita Bahuguna Joshi's comments expressing anguish at the plight of Dalit women raped in Uttar Pradesh and trying to draw chief minister Mayawati's attention to crime against women. In spite of her intentions, the form in which these statements came out were certainly derogatory, triggering of an extreme reaction from the BSP cadre, followed by legal action.

A portion of her house was set on fire allegedly by the BSP activists and she was detained by the police for the remarks made. An FIR was lodged in the Majhola police station under the Schedule Caste, Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989; section 153A (promoting enmity between two groups on ground of religion or caste) and 509 (word or gesture aimed at outraging the modesty of a woman) of the IPC and section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act. On 16th July, she was arrested and remanded to 14 days’ judicial custody and released on interim-bail on 18th July.

Ms. Joshi’s defence to the remarks made, is that she wanted to highlight the plight of the Dalit women. Ms. Joshi’s statements were certainly not in good taste, bordering on inflammatory. As Mr. Yogendra Yadav puts it: “In UP, politicians do not know how to be politically offensive without being personally vulgar”. In spite of being derogatory, Ms. Joshi’s remarks have some grain of truth in them – according to a data 50% of the complaints registered with the National Commission for Women (NCW) are from UP.

The UP Government was paying compensation in cases where Dalits were victims of rape or murder (ironically, the Mayawati administration was only following the compensation norms fixed by the Narasimha Rao government in 1995 in the form of rules framed under SC/STs Prevention of Atrocities Act 1980). The rules prescribe that in the case of rape, the Dalit victim is entitled to compensation of Rs 50,000 with the proviso that 50% of that sum should be paid immediately after her medical examination and the balance at the conclusion of the trial. On 17th July, Mayawati said in a press conference that her party did not approve of the monetary compensation for rape and murder victims given under the SC, ST Act as it hurt the pride of Dalits, and she would repeal the SC/STs Act.

Two years ago, Mayawati had sparked controversy by attacking Mulayam Yadav, then chief minister, for his own plan to compensate Muslim rape victims, calling on Muslims to pay hefty compensation to Yadav's daughter if she were raped. Today, Ms. Joshi has switched roles with Mayawati. In this political din, the real issue of Dalit women being raped has been forgotten. On average, a woman is raped every hour in the country – only one in 70 cases get reported.

PILSARC condemns the violent reaction by the BSP cadre by burning Ms. Joshi’s house. Such a response will only add to the problem. We believe that Ms. Joshi’s statements as well as BSP reaction were extreme and unwarranted. The people involved in torching Ms. Joshi’s house, should be booked and punished as a deterrent against such acts in the future. Congress should take responsibility for Ms. Joshi’s derogatory remarks and seriously think whether she deserves to continue as the UP Congress Chief. A well functioning democracy calls for dialogue and debate, not rabid statements and arson.

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