Botsa Satyanarayana has one foot in the chief minister's door. Or so he would like to believe. The Andhra Pradesh Congress president has fancied himself as a chief ministerial candidate ever since the demise of Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and his run-ins with chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy are the worst kept secret in the state's political circles.
The other foot Botsa put in his mouth on Monday. The intention was honourable - he wanted to praise his boss Sonia Gandhi - but his choice of words was all wrong. He said that even though it was a "small incident" Sonia had done a very commendable act by coming out and speaking to the students late at night. "Small" for an incident that has enraged an entire nation for the past week, Mr Satyanarayana?
Botsa didn't stop there. Dipping into his knowledge of modern Indian history, he said, "Just because India got freedom at midnight, it does not mean we can roam the streets at midnight?" , suggesting that the girl should have assessed the situation before getting into the private bus.
Within minutes of his press conference, women organisations ripped Botsa's comments apart, forcing him to convene another press conference to issue an apology and withdraw his comments. He insisted that he only meant that the government should take care to ensure women can move around even at midnight.
Botsa incidentally is also Andhra Pradesh's Transport minister and presides over the fleet of RTC buses. If he does not feel it is safe for women to travel around in buses late at night and therefore wants womenfolk to get back home before sunset, there is surely something seriously wrong about the India we live in. Botsa may have withdrawn his remarks but but deep down, this is an opinion many share, openly and not so openly. That it is unwise for women to venture out at night.
If you want to check the veracity of this statement, you only have to try to board a bus at any of the bus stops past 9 pm. At least in most towns of Andhra Pradesh, it is certain that there will be a wine shop near the bus stop which means a heady cocktail of testosterone and liquor will be leering at the women, passing lewd comments in an inebriated condition.
Botsa would know about this as he has a reasonable stake in the liquor business in north coastal Andhra Pradesh. He hails from Vizianagaram district where according to the former Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High court, 57 per of the liquor licenses are benami. No prizes for guessing who they actually belong to.
Botsa incidentally also owns a television channel now and should have known a thing or two about such controversial soundbites.
But this is not about Botsa alone. While it may be convenient for many to target him for his comments, the fact remains that the average Indian male has grown up to see a woman travelling alone in the night as easy prey. A senior television journalist in Hyderabad, who works for a national channel, shocked me with this comment last week. "Don't think I am condoning the gangrape incident but I have heard from reporters in Delhi that the girl was not properly dressed. Plus she was doing all sorts of things with her boyfriend in the bus. So these men would have thought if she can do with one, why not with six.''
Did the comment make you feel sick? I was revolted by it. If this is the opinion of a media professional who is supposed to uphold values like liberty and freedom for everyone, it is a sad India we are living in.
Let's face it. `Rape' is a word that is used rather loosely by men. To show their macho power. When poet Meena Kandasamy tweeted about the Hyderabad beef festival at Osmania University in April this year, she was the target of virulent abuse on the social networking site, with many twitter handles threatening her with rape. Like this one from a certain @siddh108 who tweeted : "bloody bitch, u sud be gang raped n telecasted live, that will be awesome experience."
Which is why I believe it is not merely a police problem. The problem seems to be with us. With you, me, the Indian male.
Botsa's comments draw attention to the fact that politicians need to be sensitised to today's India and to its women. And to pro-actively and aggressively push for systemic changes to make our streets, homes and neighbourhoods safe for our children and women. So that when I am at the neighbourhood park, I do not have to constantly keep vigil to make sure my nine-year-old daughter stays safe, from both strangers and people who are not strangers to her.