“Mohabbat to ab khatam hi ho jaayega. Ladka jab ladki ke taraf dekhega nahi aur uska peechha nahi karega to mohabbat hoga kaise (Romance will die out now. If a boy doesn’t look at a girl or follow her, how can romance happen)?” declared an impassioned Sharad Yadav at the all-party meeting to discuss the anti-rape bill.
The cause for the JDU leader's poetic lament: the proposed provisions against voyeurism and stalking.
Where Sharadji was emotional, Mulayamji was just plain clueless. The Telegraph reports:
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav took the prize. He claimed people resorting to “transfer and posting” of women at workplaces could be jailed under the bill’s provisions. Met with a chorus of denials, he held his ground and insisted he could prove it. When he showed the “relevant portion” to leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, it left her speechless for some time.
The source told The Telegraph that Mulayam actually pointed towards the portion of the bill that deals with trafficking of women. The former chief minister had apparently confused “trafficking” with “transfer”.
Swaraj then attempted the difficult task of explaining the difference to Mulayam: "Ye mahilayon ke gair kanooni tareki se le jana aur gair kanooni kaam me lagana ke liye hai. Transfer-posting ke liye nahin (This is about illegally taking women away and forcing them into illegal professions. This is not about transferring or posting women employees)."
If it is any consolation, the Samajwadi Party is fiercely opposed cracking down on voyeurism and stalking not due to romantic nostalgia a la JDU but on the basis of firm feminist principles, as Yadav eagerly explained:
This risk of misuse will reduce opportunities for women. Employers will worry about recruiting women. We cannot have separate markets, schools or offices for women, where men will not look at them or walk behind them. In a modern society, there is no scope for segregation, neither is it desirable.
In such a case, are we not reducing opportunities for women? Similar excuses may be used in other social places that will restrict participation of women, be it schools or markets, for fear of misuse of these provisions. These provisions are, in fact, anti-women.
The logic is impeccable. The very sight of a woman can tempt a man into stalking or harassing her. It is unfair to punish men for such "normal" behaviour. And if we do so, the law will turn women into veritable loreleis, luring hapless males into non-bailable offences. Ergo, society will be forced to protect itself by exiling women from male view.
The party's view on sexual violence becomes less puzzling when we take a closer look at its record. Seven years ago, a 14 year old was gang-raped in Lucknow. The chief accused in the case is not only roaming free, but is poised to secure the party ticket to contest a Lok Sabha seat.
SP, however, is not an exception. As a National Election Watch study reports, in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, 6 politicians charged with rape were given tickets, including two Independents, and one each from the Revolutionary Communist Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and two Independents. During the same polls, 34 other contestants had pending charges of crimes against women.
The very same Parliament that is readying itself to debate the anti-rape bill includes two members -- from AIADMK and Trinamool -- who have been variously charged with cruelty and intent to outrage a woman’s modesty. At the state level, 6 current MLAs are accused of rape, including three from SP, and one each from BSP, BJP, and Telegu Desam. According to the report, 36 other MLAs "have declared that they have other charges of crimes against women such as outraging the modesty of a woman, assault, insulting the modesty of a woman.”
More recently, Congress party member Bikram Singh Brahma was arrested Thursday in the rape of a woman in Assam.
"We have taken a sense of the leaders views. And very, very substantially almost all the views will be incorporated. I believe it is possible to have a law that has the broadest political consensus," Law Minister Ashwani Kumar told reporters. The all-party meeting -- where "male MPS from every party either were resisting or were apprehensive" -- left no doubt about views of the patriarchal political class. "The broadest political consensus" among our leaders seems to be that sexual violence against women is A-okay.
So even as we complain about 'dilution' and 'political expediency', let's remind ourselves: With politicians like these, it will be a miracle if we have any anti-rape law at all.