In Haryana, rape has become a big election issue. This is hardly surprising in a state that has witnessed 17 gang rapes within the past month. Surely, this dismal trend ought to be cause for voter outrage and demands for law and order. Politicians ought to be jostling to appear tough and decisive, issuing the usual 'justice will be served' sound bytes.
Instead we have this: our joke-democracy at its finest. Voter appeasement has hit a new low with our leaders kowtowing to rapists and their communities in the name of protecting their electoral base.
On one side is Om Prakash Chautala, the senile old man of Haryana politics eager to clamber on the way, way back machine. Explaining his support for the khap panchayat "solution" to rape -- i.e. child marriage -- he told reporters:
Look back at the past, the Mughal sultanate in this country used to misbehave with women and used to kidnap them. In order to prevent that people started getting their young girls married early so that no one does anything wrong to them... I have seen girls getting married at tender age, the same situation is back again.
Yes, let's look for medieval solutions for 21st century crimes. And while we're at it, let's throw out those MRI machines and bring in the leeches. Whatever it takes to keep those precious khap panchayats happy.
The Congress party, meanwhile, took the "local is global" tack. Why blame Haryana's Congress government, pouted Congress spokesperson Ms Renuka Chowdhary, “Crime against women has risen. Not only in our country but all over the world. This is an issue that challenges all intelligent people,”
It is indeed a challenge — to our leaders' intelligence.
Sonia Gandhi appeared to do better than the rest, making a personal trip to the home of a young Dalit girl in Jind who committed suicide after being gang-raped. But the tough rhetoric did little to disguise the unmistakable whiff of political expedience accompanying the carefully picked photo-op.
"[Chief Minister] Hooda's voter base comprises mostly the upper-caste Jats, so this spot in Sacha Khera was chosen shrewdly. More so since the local MLA, who is the uncle of one of the accused, is from the Opposition INLD. Crimes which pointed towards either the upper-caste people or had connections with the ruling party members were ignored," a local social worker told India Today.
Whereas in other, more enlightened parts of the world, a spiralling rape count would have politicians scrambling to look tough on crime, our leaders are eager to look soft on rape. As our ruling party spokeswoman insists, "It is not a very simple black-and-white law and order issue only."
“So, murder is a law and order issue. And so is robbery. But not rape?" asks Supreme Court lawyer Pinky Anand.
No, in India, rape is an election issue. And the issue is to get votes at any cost -- expenses to be incurred by women and justice.