Not Regret, You Owe an Outright Apology, Arun Jaitley

(Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.)

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has expressed regret that his statement that "one small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of global tourism" was "construed or some word that I used was construed as insensitive, that was not my intention."

What was your intention Mr. Jaitley? Your explanation or so-called expression of regret is as bad as the original highly objectionable and condemnable statement you made. If you were not referring to the Nirbhaya case, which case in Delhi were you talking of? Which case of rape would you describe as a "small" rape, Mr. Jaitley? Shame on you for not making an unconditional and outright apology. It is another matter that women are sick  to the teeth of hearing insincere apologies from men in public office like yourself after you have been forced to make such an apology by angry public reaction.

Mr. Jaitley's statement has another objectionable aspect too, that is to view the crime not from the point of view of the victim,  but in the way it affects something else, in this case the impact on tourism. This is a new low in patriarchal thinking that instrumentalises women's rights.  For example, it is often said "educate a woman and you educate an entire family." This is supposed to be very complimentary for women because it assumes that unlike a male who may use the education only for his own betterment, a woman, by virtue of being a mother, would use that education to better the lives of her children. Thus the right to education for a woman gets social sanction because it leads to another goal, it becomes an instrument to achieve something else rather than an assertion of the right to education for all women, whether or not she uses that right for herself or anyone else.

Such wrong notions constantly repeated, as this one is,  damage the very concept of equal citizenship for women. Even when the argument is limited to education or food security, it is objectionable enough, but when such reasoning is used by a Central Minister to express concern that the crime of rape is bad because it affects tourist traffic, it is utterly indefensible. Condemn rape because it is a crime against women, Mr. Jaitley, not because it reduces your revenues.

There is no law to regulate the language of men in public office. Yet their words do tend to influence public opinion one way or the other. Those who consider it their entitlement as males to sexually exploit women - and their numbers are growing - find justification for their criminal acts when their leaders speak a language which trivialize such criminality, like those made by Mr. Jaitley. We even have an MP from Bengal issuing a threat of rape against women of the CPI(M) and getting the protection of his party after he issued an apology to his party supremo,  but not to the women he had threatened. Mr. Jaitley has now joined the list of dishonor of leaders who have made misogynist, sexist statements. The list includes leaders from all parties but a significant number, if not the majority, at least in the recent past, are from Mr. Jaitley's own party.

What is needed urgently in India is for men in public office or in elected posts, including MPs and MLAs, to be subjected to a code of conduct for sexist, demeaning language which, when violated, would result in punishment meted out by the House he has been elected to. The present mandate of Ethics Committees in Parliament or State Assemblies is zero as far taking cognizance of and taking action against Ministers or MPs who make sexist, demeaning and insulting language against women. This should be changed and the mandate  of Ethics Committees expanded.

Whether or not the Modi Government with its single-party majority will take such a step is to be seen. After all, the inspiration for the political careers of many of those in the list comes from the RSS, whose Chief left no ambiguity in his own anti-woman stand when he said rapes occur because of western life-styles in India not in Bharat.

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