The rape count is increasing in Haryana and chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his colleagues in the Bharatiya Janata Party have nothing much to offer other than lip service. In fact, at times, the focus is on trivialising the incidents. After Khattar sermonised against sensationalising rape cases, BJP MP from Kurukshetra, Rajkumar Saini, blamed “social activism” and rising population for the rise in crime against women.
This is a shocking statement. The least the ruling party members could show is respect for the victims before coming up with excuses to cover their incompetence. Ten rapes in 10 days is certainly not a trophy that Khattar would like to flaunt. What should have been a moment of shame has been reduced to a damage limitation exercise, with the government going on the defensive to state its point. What stands out in these rape cases is the way the perpetrators carried out the crime with audacity. In the latest incident in Gurugram, a woman was allegedly raped while her husband and brother-in-law were held at gunpoint. On Friday, a minor girl was gangraped in a moving car in Faridabad.
The recent spate in cases of sexual violence reflect the sorry state of law and order in Haryana which has remained in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent years. Be it the looting and arson during the Jat agitation or the handling of ‘godmen’ Ram Rahim and Rampal’s followers resulting in several deaths, the Khattar government has often been caught shooting in the dark. On Wednesday, a schoolbus was attacked by hoodlums protesting the release of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film Padmaavat while policemen watched and the children cowered in fear.
After facing flak over the incidents of rape, Khattar said the state would enact a law to provide capital punishment to those found guilty of sexually abusing girls aged 12 years or below. He also talked about setting up of fast-track courts to deal with rape cases. The main question, though, is what inhibited his government from taking tough measures and unambiguously establishing the authority of the law and order machinery. He might have expressed hurt over the incidents but the chief minister blamed the media for sensationalising the cases claiming that 25 per cent of rape cases last year were fake.
Politicians have often been found wanting when it comes to gender sensitivity. At a time of crisis like this, some of the statements that Khattar made before he became chief minister might come back to haunt him. Once, when asked whether the youth should be given freedom of choice on matters of dress, he had reportedly said, “If they want freedom, why don’t they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are western influences. Our country’s tradition asks girls to dress decently.”
Controversially, he had also supported khap panchayats, sometimes known for being harsh towards women, by saying that they maintain the tradition of a girl and boy being brother and sister. “They are just making sure that a girl and boy do not see each other in the wrong way. These rulings help prevent rapes, too,” he had said.
Against the backdrop of the recent cases, it would serve the chief minister and the state better if, instead of training his guns on the media and those who oppose him, he focuses on strengthening the law and order machinery and ensures accountability. Little does he realise that Haryana runs the risk of being tagged as a ‘rape state’ if the current trend is not reversed. The state had recorded the highest number of gang rape cases in 2016. Under the circumstances, it is not unfair to ask the question: Is Haryana safe for women? Equally important, in the light of the attacks on women, the impunity with which a bus carrying schoolchildren was allowed to be smashed and the violence that followed Ram Rahim’s conviction, it would be fair to ask whether the state government has abdicated its responsibility.