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Violence of Political Rhetoric on Rape

The language and actions that have followed Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna's unwelcome statements against Chief Minister Mayawati reaffirm the cult of political violence prevalent in the country and the use of sexual violence in political discourse. There is clearly a lack of concern among the political elite for victims of rape which has resulted in a callous disregard of their legal entitlements.


Violence of Political Rhetoric on Rape

Pratiksha Baxi

The language and actions that have followed Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna’s unwelcome statements against Chief Minister Mayawati reaffirm the cult of political violence prevalent in the country and the use of sexual violence in political discourse. There is clearly a lack of concern among the political elite for victims of rape which has resulted in a callous disregard of their legal entitlements.

This article was originally prepared for the Women’s Feature Service.

Pratiksha Baxi ( is assistant professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Economic & Political Weekly

august 8, 2009

hile our legislators have brought in various laws to redress violence against women, there is an appalling lack of recognition of the fact that survivors have to find the material means to wage battles of justice in courts of law.

How many politicians or judicial reformers, including the many learned j urists in the political elite, ever thought of what it meant for a “sathin”, gang raped by upper caste men, to have to give the sari she was wearing as evidence in Rajasthan? She had to wear her husband’s “dhoti” and walk back to her village for more than 20 kilometres. There is no provision for continued medical attention, let alone concern about HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, forced pregnancies or psychological trauma. Who thinks about the single mother who complains against her young daughter being raped and has to relocate in order to be in a safer place or escape social stigma? Who has ever debated seriously on how survivors of rape are rehabilitated?

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Rules, 1995, is an extraordinary social l egislation that accounts for the fact that a survivor of sexual violence cannot fight for justice if she has no means to testify. Hence, the 1995 rules promulgate a scheme of relief to victims of atrocity to enable them to testify in courts of law.

The 1995 rules take into account the cost borne by a victim to travel to the court, an investigating officer or a magistrate from her place of residence. Every woman, a minor or a person older than 60 years of age, is allowed to bring an attendant whose expenses must be met by the State during hearing, investigation or trial. The State is liable to pay daily maintenance, not less than minimum wages paid to agricultural labourers, to the victim and her attendant. Moreover, the State is required to pay a diet expense to the v ictim and her attendant, as per the rates decided by individual states. This payment has to be made no later than three days by the district magistrate (DM).

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When the o ffence falls under Section 3 of the PoA Act, then the DM is obliged to “reimburse the payment of medicines, special medical consultation, blood transfusion, replacement of essential clothing, meals and fruits provided to the victim(s) of atrocity”. The district administration is obligated

by law to “make arrangements for pro viding immediate relief in cash or in kind or both to the victims of atrocity, their family members and dependents according to the scale as in the schedule annexed to these rules ...Such immediate relief shall also include food, water, clothing, shelter, medical aid, transport facilities and other essential items necessary for human beings.”

Where the house has been completely burnt or destroyed, the government is required to construct or provide “brick/stone masonry house”. It also states that any victim who has been forced to drink or eat inedible substances, causing injury or annoyance and/or is a victim of a derogatory act will be entitled to “Rs 25,000 or more depending upon the nature and gravity of the offence to each victim and also commensurate with the indignity, insult and defamation suffered by the victim”. The victim is supposed to get 25% when the charge sheet is sent to the court and 75% after the fact of conviction.

If a woman’s modesty is outraged or she is sexually exploited she will be entitled to “Rs 50,000 to each victim of the offence. Half of this amount may be paid after medical examination and remaining 50% at the conclusion of the trial”. If an offence under the Indian Penal Code punishable with imprisonment for a term of 10 years or more [Sec 3(2)] is committed, the victim is entitled to “at least Rs 50,000 depending upon the nature and gravity of the o ffence to each victim and or his d ependents”.

Most of these rules are hardly ever i mplemented. What has happened in practice is that these rules, which award interim relief to a survivor of sexual violence, have become a symbol of social conflict, wherein dalit and tribal women are seen as l iars who wish to appropriate state r esources to alleviate their poverty. Most victims are not awarded the interim relief or do not have control over the use of the compensation awarded to them. Instead, the word compensation is taken to mean monetary compensation for the violence of rape. This


moralistic reading of relief, structured as an extraordinary measure in law, does not differentiate between compensation as a form of humiliation versus compensation as a form of relief that creates the conditions that allow a woman to testify against violence.

Our politicians have perfected the art of using sexual violence as a resource for politics. We saw this in the G ujarat violence of 2002. We also saw this in Nandigram (West Bengal) in 2007. It is now the turn of raped women to be used in political rhetoric, which hides the historic humiliation of women, while evoking their raped bodies as evidence of the politician’s concern for them.

When a woman politician rhetorically offers monetary award for another woman p olitician in the eventuality of the latter being raped, as a form of political critique of governance, she betrays a complete lack of understanding of the violence of rape. The v iolence of such political rhetoric is premised on the sexualisation of women’s b odies which have historically been the most stable targets of male violence, e specially upper caste violence.

It is indeed lamentable that Uttar Pradesh (UP) Congress chief Rita Bahuguna’s critique about state Chief Minister Mayawati making a spectacle of women who have been raped, by turning a legal entitlement into a state ceremony, deployed the upper caste male rhetoric of rape. What was the real issue at stake here? The fact is that Mayawati turned a legal entitlement into an act of state ceremony and the controversy over the statues she has erected in her state is immediately replaced by the helicopter she flew to distribute compensation to raped women. In turn those who burnt down Rita Bahuguna’s house to protest her remarks, replace politics with violence. As citizens, all we are given to consume are i mages of politics as violence

– be it in the realm of rhetoric or the destruction of property.

The issue at stake, for the UP government, does not seem to be genuine concern about dalit and tribal women who are raped. No government has ever been serious about women’s right to safety and it has never been an issue of governance. Neither is the government serious about amending the rape law. It is not even capable of conducting a serious debate about legal entitlement of compensation as relief, repatriation or rehabilitation versus a form of humiliation. There are hardly any governmental efforts to assist rape victims, despite an increase of over 700% in reported rapes since 1971, a ccording to the State’s own statistics.

The young and bright lawyers who a dvise Rahul Gandhi may wish to download judgments on rape of dalit and tribal women so that he can read and determine whether it is enough to qualify such political rhetoric as “unfortunate”. Passion of any kind does not justify the normalisation of the culture of rape nor does it allow anyone to make a mockery of a legal entitlement of relief to rape survivors, in the absence of any just mechanism of providing redress.

Our politicians who are in urgent need of an education in human rights are welcome to return to universities to learn what constitutional governance is all about. In the meantime, they should keep sexual violence out of their political vocabulary since it is the political elite that insults all Indian women.

ANNOUNCEMENT National Conference Emerging health care models: Engaging the private health sector Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), Mumbai invites papers for its National Conference on ‘Emerging health care models: Engaging the private health sector’ on 25-26 September 2009. Prelude In the past few years, there has been a gradual shift from mere privatization to much debated Public Private Partnership (PPP) in health sector. The partnerships in health are carried out with small-scale independent providers, non-governmental organizations as well as the private for-profit sector. In last five years or so PPP has increasingly earned its importance among policy makers, researchers and program implementers. It has popularly become the buzz word in the discourse on public policy on health care where PPP health care models are now often debated an alternative solution to full privatization. However, there are some questions that need to be looked into: Within these newly emerging health care models, how does one safeguard ‘Right to Health’? How does the public as well as private sector synergize in working towards national health goals through these partnerships? How does one ensure quality and efficiency of the health services? If through regulatory mechanisms, then what are these? The conference invites papers on any of the following themes: 1. PPPs as emerging models in health sector: Benefits and issues of concern. 2. Role of the state in PPPs and related reforms in policy and legislation. 3. Lack of regulation in the private sector and its impact on such partnerships. 4. State of patients rights in the midst of emerging health sector models. (role of non-state actors – private organizations, international agencies, civil society, Media, etc). 5. PPP and universal access to health care facilities and equity in health. Important dates: Last date for receiving abstracts (400-450 words): 15th August 2009. Last date of receiving full text (e-version): 11th September 2009. Conference dates 25-26th September 2009. Note: Final year Masters Program students and PhD scholars are encouraged to apply to present their research work Travel (2nd A.C.) and accommodation will be borne by CEHAT Contact Anuja Kastia. Email: or Contact number: 09833869493 Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), Survey No. 2804 & 2805, Aram Society Road, Vakola, Santacruz (East), Mumbai – 55, Contact number: +91 22 26673571 / 26673154 visit us for further updates.

august 8, 2009 vol xliv no 32

Economic & Political Weekly

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