Email to Ms. Jaya Bachchan, MP about Samajwadi Party and rape

I sent the following email today from proactiveindian@rediffmail.com to jbachchan@sansad.nic.in (Ms. Jaya Bachchan’s email id provided at http://www.archive.india.gov.in/govt/rajyasabhampbiodata.php?mpcode=1964). As stated in the email, I will publish the response from Ms. Jaya Bachchan if and when I receive it.

Subject: Your passionate speech in the Rajya Sabha about the 2012 Delhi gang rape

Dear Ms. Jaya Bachchan,

I was extremely impressed by your passionate words in the Rajya Sabha during the discussion on the 2012 Delhi gang rape and the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ on March 04, 2015:
“Inhone jo kiya, yeh bhi vahi kar rahe hain …. Yeh crocodile tears nahi chaahiye auraton ko … us aadmi ko jail se chhoddiye, we will deal with him … crocodile tears! …”
(“The NDA Government is doing exactly what the UPA Government did …. Women don’t want these crocodile tears … release that man from jail, we will deal with him … crocodile tears! …”)

Madam, like all right-thinking persons, I agree wholeheartedly with you that women, in fact all citizens, do not want crocodile tears.

You pointed fingers at the present NDA Government and at the previous UPA Government. However, Madam, what is the track record of your own party, the Samajwadi Party, in matters pertaining to rape?

In April 2014, NDTV.COM reported that your party Chairman, Shri Mulayam Singh Yadav, ‘sparked outrage with his comments questioning the death sentence to three men who were convicted of two gang-rapes in Mumbai last week. “Should rape cases be punished with hanging? They are boys, they make mistakes,” he said today while campaigning for the national election.’ What is your comment on this outrageous statement?

On January 16, 2015, another NDTV.COM report on a 13-year-old girl who was gangraped in Lucknow in May 2005 stated that ‘Gaurav Shukla, the main accused, also happens to be the nephew of former Samajwadi Party Member of Legislative Council Arun Shukla. Mr Shukla had contested, and lost, the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on an SP ticket from Unnao ….. Soon after the incident, Gaurav claimed to be a juvenile, in a separate case filed by his co-accused against him. On the basis of this, the juvenile board declared him a juvenile in the gangrape case in October 2005.
Jalaj Gupta, the lawyer for the survivor, claimed that the accused used forged documents to hide his real age.
“We got a copy of the municipal birth certificate which shows his age was 18 years and two months at the time of the incident,” says Mr Gupta. But the accused produced a transfer certificate from a local school, claiming he was born in 1989, and was 16 at the time of the rape.’
Madam, you expressed outrage about the fact that Nirbhaya and her family have not yet got justice for over 2 years. What do you have to say about the fact that the rape survivor in the May 2005 case in Lucknow has not yet got justice for almost 10 years?

I look forward to your reply. I will be publishing the text of this email on my blog later today, and will also publish your response whenever I receive it.

Yours sincerely,

Proactive Indian
http://proactiveindian.com

P.S.: I have chosen to remain an anonymous blogger since I do not want my name, age, gender, religion, caste, economic status, educational background, profession, place of residence, etc. to colour people’s reaction to my views. If you wish, I will certainly let you know my name, age, gender, and place of residence.

Are we a nation of cowards?

When I visited my bank yesterday, I found it unusually crowded. I realized this was because of the strike by bank employees the previous day. There were about 20 persons standing in the waiting area. Obviously, all seats were occupied. As I walked to an empty corner, I noticed one seat was occupied by a backpack. I wondered whether the backpack belonged to the young man sitting in the adjacent seat or to somebody who had left it there while (s)he had gone to one of the counters. I walked up to the seat and asked the young man whether the backpack belonged to him. He silently picked it up and placed it on his lap. There was no word or expression of regret from him.

This young man could clearly see many persons, including a couple of elderly persons, standing. Forget offering his seat to one of the elderly persons, he had kept his almost empty backpack on another seat!

While I was disappointed by the young man’s thoughtlessness, I was much more disappointed by the fact that nobody else had bothered to find out why the seat was occupied by a backpack. I’m sure some of the persons had seen him keep his backpack on the seat. The young man may have been insolent, but he did not look threatening in any way.

I’ve seen many similar incidents where people silently tolerate the inconvenience caused by the thoughtless behaviour of their fellow-citizens. I’m sure everybody has seen many such instances.

Most of us Indians do not speak up against such thoughtless, but relatively harmless, behaviour of our fellow-citizens. Why, then, are we surprised, shocked and outraged when we read reports of people being silent onlookers when girls/women are subjected to verbal and/or physical sexual harassment in public places? Can we expect meek persons to suddenly transform into assertive persons?

Why do we refrain from speaking up? Why do we quietly walk away from undesirable situations or, if that is not possible, choose to suffer in silence? I think we are groomed to do so because this is one of the so-called ‘middle-class values’. “We have neither the strength nor the money to deal with them. We are common middle class people.” This is what most ‘middle-class’ parents tell their daughters and sons … yes, sons also. Parents tell children that they should avoid undesirable situations. By chance, if the children get exposed to an undesirable situation, they should quietly walk away. They should not hit back, they should not talk back, they should not ‘lower themselves’. In short, most middle-class parents groom their daughters and sons to be cowards.

We should all remember Mahatma Gandhi‘s words, “Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.”

Protecting the privacy of rape victims and others

A few days back, India Today reported that National Award winning child actor Shweta Basu Prasad was arrested in Hyderabad for allegedly being involved in a prostitution racket. The report further stated that “the actor released a statement in which she said she was out of money and had no other way to support her family,” and also stated that “The police said they have also arrested several well-known businessmen along with the actor.”

THE HOOT reports that “A journalist cannot publish the name of the rape victim in the report. If he does so he will violate the Norms of Journalist Conduct released by the Press Council of India. He will also be prosecuted under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code and maybe punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to pay fine.”

In another case, a model in Mumbai has accused Deputy Inspector General of Police Sunil Paraskar of sexual assault and rape. This report by DNA mentions that the model and Paraskar “had heated arguments over the latter’s alleged closeness to model Poonam Pandey.”

This raises the following questions:

1. Isn’t it reasonable to expect that, until she is convicted, a woman who is allegedly involved in a prostitution racket is treated on par with a rape victim? This means Shweta Basu Prasad’s name should not have been published.

2. While Shweta’s name and details about the films she has acted in have been published, the names of the ‘several well-known businessmen’ who were arrested along with her have not been mentioned. Why this discrimination?

3. In the second case, the complainant’s name has not been revealed, and correctly so. However, why has Poonam Pandey’s name been revealed? Shouldn’t the report have mentioned “the latter’s alleged closeness to another model” or “the latter’s alleged closeness to a rival model”?

4. While the privacy of a rape victim is correctly protected, why is the name of the alleged rapist published? Isn’t it reasonable to expect that he should be treated as innocent until proven guilty? What if he is genuinely innocent and is being falsely implicated?

Brave in thought and word, but not in deed?

About a week back, Ms. Mohini Giri was on her way to her son’s house in New Delhi when she saw a young girl being molested by a group of men. She stopped her car and approached the group who then began hitting her for trying to intervene.

She tried to stop a PCR (Police Control Room) van which was passing by but they refused to stop “as they were taking their boss for some urgent work”. Finally, a police constable stopped and intervened in the matter. Giri says that she was too shaken by the incident to approach the police and file a complaint. Later, she emailed the Delhi Police, which then ordered an inquiry into the case.

Ms. Mohini Giri’s description of the incident, described above, was reported by Firstpost, which also gave Delhi Police’s version, which is quite different. Indian Express reports that “police claimed the girl had injured a resident in the area with her two-wheeler and angry residents had assaulted her” and that Ms. Giri “claimed that a beat constable told her that she should not have intervened in the altercation.” Later, she said, “As it is people don’t intervene when a woman is being assaulted. Why will anyone stop to help if this is the attitude?”

Even if the police version is correct, it can be correctly stated that Ms. Mohini Giri saw a girl in distress and tried to help her. For that, Mr. Giri was beaten up herself.

Ms. Mohini Giri is not a ‘common person’. According to the Wikipedia page on her, she “is an Indian social worker and activist, who has been Chairperson of the Guild of Service, a New Delhi-based social service organization …. She founded War Widows Association, New Delhi in 1972. She has also remained Chairperson of the National Commission for Women (1995-1998). In 2007, she was awarded the Padma Bhushan….. is the daughter-in-law of V. V. Giri, former President of India.

What happened to Ms. Mohini Giri is not unusual. Very often, a person who tries to help a victim ends up in trouble herself/himself. Sometimes, it is not very serious trouble, but it can be very serious trouble especially if the culprits involved are criminals or are politically connected.

Just imagine if a ‘common person’ had seen the same girl in distress and had tried to help her. This ‘common person’ would have been beaten up and, if (s)he had tried to pursue the matter further with the police, would have been arrested for assaulting the persons who were assaulting the girl. Since people don’t want to invite trouble, they “ignore a girl in distress or an accident victim on the road”.

What has each one of us done whenever we’ve seen an unknown girl in distress or an unknown accident victim on the road? If you have never faced this situation, please read this NDTV report about Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez and ask yourself what you would have done if you were one of the onlookers when Keenan and Reuben were being killed.

The sad truth is most, maybe all of us will speak passionately about this subject, we’ll write impressive blog posts on this subject, we’ll make meaningful comments on other people’s blog posts on this subject, but when we see an unknown girl in distress or an unknown accident victim on the road, we’ll do nothing. In all fairness, I wouldn’t blame any person for staying away. As Ms. Mohini Giri said, “Why will anyone stop to help if this is the attitude (of the police)?”

Can this situation ever change? I believe it can if and when people stop feeling insecure about helping other people in distress. How can that happen? That will be covered in another blog post.

As far as candlelight vigils/marches are concerned, I personally think candles can be put to better use. But, since I’ve not paid for the candles, I’ll keep my opinion to myself!

This post is in response to Indispire Edition 28: “People conveniently ignore a girl in distress or an accident victim on the road, but would enthusiastically march with candles in hand for a cause. Why?”

When watchdogs become ostriches

In discussions on the ‘Tehelka scandal’, many people have criticized Shoma Chaudhury’s handling of the situation. Some senior persons in other organizations have declared that they would have reacted differently if whatever happened in Tehelka had happened in their organization.

From all available reports, it appears that Shoma Chaudhury has not handled the situation in the manner that she should have. However, the people criticizing her must remember that it’s easy to speak about a hypothetical situation, but extremely difficult to rise to the occasion in reality.

Whenever any highly-placed person gets involved in any controversy, that person’s family members and/or colleagues generally make non-committal statements, which are often accompanied by legal-sounding disclaimers.

In recent times, I can recall only two persons whose reaction could not be faulted.

In December 2012, Abhijeet Mukherjee, Congress MP and son of President Pranab Mukherjee, made his infamous “dented, painted women” remark. In an interview with CNN-IBN, his sister Sharmistha Mukherjee said, “…. my utter shock and anguish …… I really apologies on his behalf to every woman, every man, every sensitive person in this country …… this is not the family view …… I am definitely going to take up this issue with him …… I am acutely embarrassed …… I am shocked and shaken by this statement made by my brother …… any sensitive man shouldn’t have made this kind of statement …..” Ms. Mukherjee’s words sound genuine and certainly not like a prepared statement.

Earlier this month, there were media reports about a blog post by a woman lawyer, in which she stated that she had been sexually harassed by a retired Supreme Court judge in December 2012 when she was an intern with him. It was heartening to see that the Chief Justice of India did not beat around the bush or ‘wait for more information’, but immediately announced an inquiry by three Supreme Court judges into the allegation. His statement echoed the thoughts of most persons who had read the reports and/or the blog post: “We cannot take it lightly. As the head of the institution, I am also concerned about the allegation and anxious whether the statement is true or not.”

Not just public figures, many of us are extremely vocal watchdogs when speaking about perpetrators of major and minor crimes and misdemeanours, but choose to ignore reality, burying our heads in the sand like ostriches, when we or our loved ones are the perpetrators. I’m sure that, like I, many people have often heard affectionate parents make statements like “My son was a very good boy. He was spoilt by bad company,” conveniently passing on the responsibility to person(s) other than their own offspring! Most people indulge in finger-pointing, not in introspection.

A classic example: On November 27, 2013, Firstpost carried an article ‘Amul’s Tehelka ad: Just utterly butterly tasteless’ criticizing the Amul advertisement’s take on the Tehelka scandal. The article states, “When Chetan Bhagat tweeted “The rupee is asking, is there no punishment for my rapists?” it was unfunny and insensitive. This is not about being politically correct. Rape jokes just are not funny.” It also quotes Firstpost’s Lakshmi Chaudhry: “Rape analogies and references are so routine so as to be invisible. We don’t even notice their inappropriateness most of the time, not even when we’re laughing at the latest rape gag making the rounds.” Firstpost seemed to be unaware that, just the previous day, Sagarika Ghose’s blog post on ibnlive.in.com was titled ‘Why the Aarushi Talwar case is a rape of justice’. Was this not insensitive? Was this not inappropriate? Or was the title acceptable because both Firstpost and ibnlive.in.com are part of Network 18?

Just before publishing this post, I heard Rajdeep Sardesai make the following statement on a talk show on CNN-IBN about, what else, Tehelka: “Do you think credibility is like virginity? Once lost, it cannot be regained.” None of the panelists appeared to object. Was this not insensitive? Was this not inappropriate?

If you have come across instances where people have been open-minded when reacting to the alleged misdemeanours of persons close to them, please do share those instances with us.