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Sharad Yadav-itis: Did Jaya Bachchan catch it on anti-rape bill?

When the Delhi gang rape victim was still struggling for life, Jaya Bachchan was struggling to hold back her tears in the Rajya Sabha. Speaking directly to Mr. Foot-permanently-in-mouth aka the  venerable Home Minister, Jaya did not mince her words.

“Did you publicly make any announcement saying we are really sorry that something so shameful has happened in our country? …Women are getting raped by their fathers, their brothers, their cousins, their uncles. What about the women who brought you into this world? Where is their protection? I am ashamed.”

She told the Home Minister, “It’s a very good time to make it an example and show to the country that you mean business.”

But when the discussion on the final anti-rape bill came up in the Rajya Sabha this week, Jaya didn’t hide her displeasure. She voted for it but only, she said, because her party asked her to do so. “As an individual I have many problems (with the Bill),” she said openly.

 Sharad Yadav-itis: Did Jaya Bachchan catch it on anti-rape bill?

Jaya Bachchan at a rally following the incident of gangrape in Delhi. AFP.

Given her earlier statements you might think her problems are the same that many civil society activists have with the bill – it didn’t go far enough, it’s not stringent enough, the debates about marital rape and age of consent, the fact that stalking is only non-bailable if it’s a “repeated offence.”

But according to press reports, Jaya Bachchan’s problems are about how the bill makes men vulnerable. Jaya said women too stalk men and one often hears women say: “Oh! That man is so hot.”

Huh?  Does Jaya Bachchan really not get the difference between stalking a woman and drooling over a Katrina Kaif? Also women don’t run around throwing acid on men for besmirching the family honour.

Surely, she can understand the sheer difference in magnitude between the violence against women that has continued unabated, despite the furore over that Delhi gang rape, and the hypothetical fears of how many men might be falsely ensnared by it.

Her party’s boss Mulayam Singh Yadav had cited abuse of the anti-dowry law to say with this new anti-rape law, “men could be scared to give jobs to women.” Sure, some women have used the anti-dowry provisions of Section 498 A  to settle scores with husbands and in-laws and blackmail them. But men are not routinely coming into hospitals with third degree burns from kitchen accidents. The question is whether misuse of the law is the rule or the exception. A 2008 report in The Telegraph showed that dowry deaths actually went up from 6,787 in 2005 to 7.618 in 2006. The conviction rates stood at a mere 33.7 percent. “It has to be remembered that though all laws are misused, it is the misuse of 498A that is spoken and written about the most,” said Rukmini Sen of the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata. It does not mean a law cannot be modified or provisions put in place to do prompt and proper investigations against false complaints. Law making is a dynamic process and there is always scope for improvement. For example, there is need to see who makes the false claims. Or to see whether the law is primarily being used by women in the cities. It does not mean there is no need for an anti-dowry law. Surely, Jaya Bachchan can see that. It’s not like laws do not have any provisions to deal with false complaints.

Or did Sharad “Who amongst us has not followed girls” Yadav’s oratory just do a number on her? Of course, it was Shailendra Kumar, from Jaya’s own Samajwadi Party, who made comments about the kinds of clothes actresses wore inviting protests from the other Jaya in parliament – Jaya Prada. Perhaps Jaya should have taken him on.

The woman who just a few months ago asked Shinde “where is their protection?” now turned around and told the house  that she objected to the use of “patronizing” words such as “protection” for women.

“You even made the pepper spray cheaper. It is so patronizing.” That’s a silly symbolic gesture but in the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters one way or the other. If it had come in lieu of any law, that would be a different matter.

Jaya Bachchan complained that the powerful always get away. She shared a story with the House.

“A (Maharashtra) minister’s son raped a girl in Mumbai. She came to me and said if I tell my parents they will throw me out of the house. If I go to the police they will not listen to me and I don’t want to go through the medical examination process.”

Right there, Jaya showed she understood what steep odds a bill like this was up against. Powerful politicians, police indifference and an intrusive medical process – are all part of a vicious circle that make change so hard to effect. This law makes a halting, perhaps inadequate attempt, to break through some of that. It’s a pity that instead of pushing it further along in the right direction, Jaya Bachchan managed to get distracted by the red herrings of potential abuse.

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Updated Date: Mar 22, 2013 13:32:40 IST