One small rape remark: Sorry Mr Arun Jaitley, your apology does not cut it

In a classic case of 'open mouth, insert foot', Finance Minister has called the 16 December gangrape a 'small incident' that went on to cost Delhi crores of rupees in potential tourism earnings.

Addressing a conference of state tourism ministers, Jaitley said, "As a part of the red carpet glean for the tourists, our law and order - one small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world-over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of lower tourism".

The 16 December gangrape was, as many believe, the final nail in the coffin of the tottering Sheila Dixit government. The  government completely failed to read the level of anger, and handled the protests so ham-handedly that the opposition was able to capitalise on a plank of women's safety and paint the Congress government as indifferent to the plight of the common man/woman.

While Jaitley was ostensibly making the point that security concerns needed to be addressed to make tourists feel safe in India, it looks as though Jaitley has learned no lessons from the errors of the Congress party -- which is all the more painfully apparent in his "clarification". According to NDTV, he said," I was not referring to any particular incident" and "regret that my words were construed as insensitive".

Sorry, Mr Jaitley, but anyone familiar with the English language would find your choice of words 'one small rape' is shockingly insensitive. It demonstrates the fundamental problem with the average Indian mindset, i.e. violence against women is not a big deal. After all, we can only call the Delhi gang-rape a "small incident" in a culture where sexual violence is routine, even unremarkable.

The comments have not been publicised with the same fervour we are used to seeing on mainstream media, but anger is growing on Twitter, where many people are berating the senior minister for his comments.

"Mr. @arunjaitley was hanging his head in shame, Dec 2012! Now that's become a 'small thing'! #AccheDin" said one user, @RischicaS. Prominent women's rights activist Kavita Krishnan also took to the social media site to condemn the comment saying, "No rape is 'small', each rape is shameful coz it violates women's rights not coz it affects tourism!"

 One small rape remark: Sorry Mr Arun Jaitley, your apology does not cut it

Two steps forward, one step back: AFP

The most poignant comment came from the Delhi gangrape victim's mother. "He calls (the gangrape of my daughter) a small incident because such things never happen to people like him", she was quoted as saying by senior journalist Shiv Aroor on Twitter.

It's a hard truth, but Nirbhaya's mother is right.

The devaluation of Indian women is writ large in the numbers of dowry deaths, rapes, sex trafficking victims, and female foeticides. And while those in power make the necessary noises about female empowerment and fighting misogyny, this shameful treatment of women is so ingrained in Indian culture that even a supposedly erudite, progressive Jaitley sees it as routine.

This mindset was most shamefully revealed during the Lok Sabha debate on the rape bill, where some of India's most respected lawmakers showed us what they really thought about the harassment of women.

Shailendra Kumar of the Samajwadi Party blamed 'pehnawa' - clothes women wear - for sexual violence against them. "Ajkal desh mein pehnawa itna galat ho gaya hai, ki kya bolun (These days the sense of dressing has become so wrong, what to say)?" he said. Not stopping there, he turned to actress Jayaprada to take a dig at her saying, "Jayaprada ji, I have seen your films. I watch them...", which strangely no one but Jayaprada found offensive.

Even better was Sharad Yadav of the JD(U) who made an argument for 'mohabbat' or love saying that making stalking and voyeurism a punishable offence was too harsh. "When you watch Sheila ki jawaani or Munni with her Zandu Balm what goes on in your mind? So what, we are all men after all!"

The run up to the Lok Sabha election also saw some classic examples of double standards on rape and violence against women. Politicians were against rape as long as their government or state was not involved. So we saw the same Samajwadi Party -- whose leader Mulayam Singh Yadav once described rape as a "mistake" made by young men -- bay for the resignation of TMC MP Tapas Pal when he threatened to have his men rape the wives and daughters of CPM cadres.

In his independence day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a poignant call to India, asking them to bring up their sons properly. "Parents ask a number of questions when a daughter goes out, but do they ever have the courage to ask their son about his friends or where is he going or why. After all a rapist is also someone’s son, isn’t he?", he said,

As pointed out by Firstpost editor Kavitha Iyer, "While previous Independence Day speeches have made a mention of rising crime against women, no PM has had the gumption to ask Indians everywhere why they don't take their sons to task. Nobody speaking from Red Fort has ever called Indian parents hypocritical, and the prime minister came close to doing just that".

But as Arun Jaitley's remarks reveal, perhaps PM Modi should save his lectures for his own cabinet ministers before he preaches to the nation.

Updated Date: Aug 22, 2014 16:59:25 IST