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Mainstream, VOL L, No 31, July 21, 2012

Targeting Women, Theatre of the Absurd


Friday 27 July 2012, by SC

The country has been witness to several harrowing incidents of crime against women in the last few days, the one in Guwahati (vividly described in the article in the following page) having acquired national prominence. That incident, it is alleged, was instigated by a TV reporter so as to get pictures of the rape scene for his own (and/or his organisation’s) benefit. This definitely puts a question-mark on how far freedom of the press can be accepted as an unfettered right in rare cases of ‘public interest’ as in the present incident.

While societal attitudes towards women need to change urgently (the decision of the khap panchayat at Baghpat placing severe restrictions on the woman’s functioning outside her home is a case in point), the regressive anti-women approach in the community gets a boost when such a stand enjoys the backing of influential politicians as has happened at Baghpat (where the khap panchayat’s decision won the support of Union Minister Ajit Singh’s son). This only goes to show how deep the anti-women psyche is especially in our northern States.

At the same time the role of the police too must be brought under careful scrutiny since the charges of abuse of women by the police too are on the rise. For example, only recently noted athlete and Asiad gold medalist Pinki Pramanik faced a shocking experience while in police custody in West Bengal. The Times of India has editorially highlighted her ordeal.

According to reports, she was forced to undergo several medical tests—in one case with her hands and feet bound—to ascertain her gender. She was initially kept in a prison for men, manhandled by male police officers and even allegedly filmed during one of her gender tests, all of which amounts to gross violation of her rights and presumes guilt even before conviction by a court of law.

The insensitivity of the police is indeed legendary. But that it should be exposed even in the case of 10-year-old Punita Mistry (of Visva-Bharati’s Patha Bhavan School), who was forced to lick her own urine by her hostel warden as punishment for bedwetting, is most distressing. When the young girl had undergone such a trauma because of the hostel warden’s inexplicable behaviour (an extreme and inhuman form of executing the adage “spare the rod and spoil the child”), the police, instead of sympathising with her, asked her to undertake a medical test. This too was inexplicable. Not only that. Her parents were arrested on the basis of a complaint by the school authorities. They were, of course, released later. However, this is also reflective of the law-enforcing authorities’ mindset targeting women in general.

Meanwhile, the presidential election is over and the results are due shortly. The UPA nominee, Pranab Mukherjee (who used all kinds of tactics to secure his nomination—see page 5 of this issue), is definitely on top especially after his bete noire, West Bengal CM and Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banrejee, took the “painful decision” to back him having run out of all options and in the interest of the West Bengal populace (as the Centre will now provide her the legitimate resources that are her government’s due). Of course, even otherwise his prospects were all along bright with the JD(U), Samajwadi Party, RJD, Shiv Sena and CPM alongwith Forward Block deciding to back him. (However, the only problem is that the CPM General Secretary has now proved himself to be a hollow ‘ideologue’ since his party has voted with the Tranamul Congress for Pranab throwing ideology to the winds. One should not forget that it was on the issue of ‘ideology’ itself that he had parted company with Manmohan Singh and come out of UPA-I despite Pranab Mukherjee’s presence there.)

As we go to press, reports suggest that Rahul Gandhi has at long last discarded his reticence and agreed to take a larger role in Congress politics as well as governance. He may also join the UPA Government next month. This is a major stride towards dynastic succession regardless of whatever his party members and leaders say on the issue. At the same time there are also reports of the possibility of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, the NCP stalwart, resigning from the government and UPA having felt miffed at being downgraded since he felt the No. 2 slot was best suited for him after Pranab’s exit from active politics—given his age, seniority and experience. It has gone to the Congress’ A.K. Antony, the Defence Minister. Perhaps this crisis would eventually blow over as it is not beyond resolution but it only demonstrates the pitfalls ahead due to the Congress’ inability, in Pranab’s absence, to keep its allies in good humour, since this was one quality in which Pranab by all accounts excelled. As for the latter, he has no reason to worry: his corporate connection will give a new meaning to his stay at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Amid all such developments in the political arena, the demise of the country’s first movie superstar Rajesh Khanna took one back to one’s adolescent years because, as Kishwar Desai has aptly observed, he was “one of the last of the gentle, romantic heroes that reminded us of better times, of nobler pursuits, when commerce did not dominate”. And remembering him one was able to strike a departure from the ongoing theatre of the absurd in Indian politics.

July 18 S.C.

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