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No excuses only punishments

  By Vijay Darda | 25-11-2013

Any expression used to condemn these acts would be mild. In recent days, we have read reports of a retired Supreme Court judge, a chief minister aspiring to be the prime minister, and a senior editor with a holier than thou moral stance all indulging in acts that violate the dignity, integrity and sanctity of women, who are old enough to be their daughters. Worse, we have also seen people who should know better but are defending these acts by going to all sorts of absurd limits.

In all other respects there is nothing common among these three — retired Justice A K Ganguly, chief minister Narendra Modi and Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal — but it is the commonality of this crime that binds them together. All three of them have wielded power over the women they have abused, intimidated, violated and at least till the time of writing appear to be in a strong position to get away with these unpardonable acts. It is difficult to decide as to who among these three is a bigger offender — the judge, the politician or the journalist. But it is safe to conclude that though they all have been caught with their hands in the till, by no means are they the only ones in their class who inflict such gross insults on the womenfolk. But this does not make their crimes any lesser.

Mr Justice Ganguly’s black deeds surfaced in the blog post of a young intern. The apex court that is conscious of its image has set up a committee to probe the charges. But now finds itself “helpless’’ to proceed further as the intern refuses to name the judge or go ahead with the complaint. But the whole world knows the name of the culprit. His reaction too was typical of men who are caught in such circumstances: “Why is she complaining now?” The question who will judge the judges is an old one for the society, and even in this case it is most likely that it would remain unanswered.

When the snooping tales of Gujarat first surfaced, there was hardly a direct reference to its chief minister Narendra Modi. There was a woman who was also not named, and an IAS officer, but then the suspense did not last more than a few hours. The more than anxious spokespersons of the BJP came out with these details. Curiously their defence of snooping and stalking was that it “was consensual” and for the protection of the woman. They clearly forgot that this was no way of providing security. In the case of the Tehelka editor as well, there was the same element of consensus as a part of defence when the 50-year-old Tejpal went chasing a female colleague, the (20 plus) daughter of his ex-colleague in the elevator of a five star hotel in Goa. Given his links to the Congress, the Tehelka editor also gave the BJP spokespersons the much needed breathing space to mount a counterattack on the Congress. The way the BJP-Congress argument was used, it appeared as if the wrong against two separate women could be balanced out by these politically opposing parties.

This is the height of perversion in our public domain. A judge whose dark deeds are well known is allowed to go scot-free, a chief minister who has personally ordered the surveillance of a young woman and her associates remains silent and keeps indulging in politics of hate, and a journalist who accepts that he has sexually assaulted a female colleague can decide his own penance? These are not ordinary folks. They are the arbiters of our fate. They sit in judgement on us. They are people who should be beyond every shade of doubt. Yet, they are surviving on technicalities, and seeking the benefit of doubt.

This is a viable option for them, because the society has an attitude of high tolerance towards those who commit crimes against women. For all the lip service, that we pay to the cause of gender equality and ‘matru shakti’ — the reality is that we are a deeply patriarchal society that refuses to accept women as equal partners in life. Maltreatment of women folk is the rule, and equality for them is only an exception. 

Criminally assaulted women are expected to suffer in silence, by their parents and husbands. In the Modi case, the father has appropriated the right of the woman. She has not said a word, but he has claimed that she should be left alone. In Tejpal’s case, another woman, the managing editor of the magazine Shoma Chaudhary, had the cheek to argue that it was an “internal matter” of the magazine. Close Tejpal family members are pressurising the woman’s mother to find out as to what does she want? By their actions, supporters of Modi and Tejpal have certainly blunted sharpness of the attack on their characters. If the BJP had taken a strong stand against Modi, we could have been sure that some other chief minister would have thought twice before ordering a similar snooping exercise? 

Similarly, if Shoma Chaudhary had been on the woman journalist’s side and not with her editor, another editor would also have had second thoughts before similarly attacking a female colleague. But now chief ministers in particular and politicians in general would continue to denigrate women with the knowledge that they would keep getting their party’s support. Can we really expect that anyone’s private life would remain sacrosanct in our democracy? Similarly, editors who are already adept at harassing female colleagues with impunity are also likely to look at this episode as a passing phase. The less said about the judges the better.

Our collective failure to stem this moral rot is a deeply debilitating element of our national character. It shall extract a huge price from us, and we can delay the corrective steps only by increasing the final price that we shall have to inevitably pay. We can reduce the burden of our failures, only if we punish the men who are perceived guilty. The least that can be done is to oust them from public life, of course other punishments as decreed by the existing law must follow without delay.


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No excuses only punishments


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