What is the State from a woman’s view point? I once asked a woman MNREGA worker in Rajasthan. Sarkar? She looked at me quizzically. Hamare liye to sarkar matlab ala afsar jo majuri deta hai, ya bada neta, jiski sarkar hai. (For us the State means a high official who pays us our wages, or the top political leader who heads the government). In Haryana today, two top faces of the state as described by Bilari Bai, the bureaucrat and the politician, stand face-to-face locked in a stare down contest of sorts.
The bureaucrat is the complainant’s father. He is a senior IAS officer whose young daughter while driving home at night, was stalked, chased and would perhaps have been sexually molested by the drunken son of a political VIP and his friend. The timely arrival of the father and the police saved the traumatised girl. The duo were promptly arrested and under the supervision and guidance of the father, the girl’s FIR was duly registered. At that point according to the girl, the identity of the boy and his political connections were unknown to her or her father or even the police.
That the connections did not remain unknown for too long is evident from what happened to the various charges the boys were booked under. The bailable charges were quietly dropped and the police have since been tight-lipped about their earlier information to the media about the nature of charges in the original FIR.
Soon senior political leaders from the Opposition began to demand that the father of one of the offenders, who happens to be the party chief of the BJP, should resign. The Chief Minister reacted by stoutly defending the father of the 23-year-old saying that a father cannot be held responsible for the sins of the children. The opposition is making it into a politically-motivated drive against his party.
The first notable point that emerges in the feminist sense is not if or when and how the boys will be punished, but that in cases of alleged sexual harassment despite the complainant being a well-connected woman, the Indian State, both as protector of the victim, registering authority for the FIR, and as defender of the man and his family name, once again comes out vividly as essentially male, looking at the episode from what is epistemologically the male point of view.
Socio-political questions begin to dominate what should be a judicial debate. Since despite the chase and stalking, any actual molestation did not take place, it raises questions of how the complainant can legally prove the final intent. Why should the boy’s father be held responsible for his son’s alleged misdemeanour? Couldn’t the Opposition’s demand for his incarceration be driven by political motives? There are dark tweets about the girl’s character, inserted and quickly removed but not before they’ve been noticed. And we enter a familiar terrain where not too long ago faced with a similar situation another chief minister said: “boys will be boys!”
The State still frames the crime of sexual harassment and stalking in exactly the same way that the traditional Indian male view point defines this act. So the CM, as the prime representative of the state’s authority, legitimises the legal moves, not actively maybe, but through non-interference with the status quo (the law will take its own course, if found guilty the boys will be punished). He also cushions the boy’s father against (mostly male) legislators from the Opposition by the time-tested ruse of calling their demand politically motivated.
What does it mean for working women? It clearly tells them that civil society, the domain in which women are distinctly subordinated and deprived of self defence, cases are supported and challenged and heard out ultimately by men. And since most men consider women to be weak and passive, women should be placed beyond the reach of legal guarantees, especially if the accused is linked to a powerful family which can be subjected to calumny for political vendetta.
The girl later spoke to the media and said that all the women she knows in Haryana, have had similar scary experiences of being stalked and threatened by drunken men. “Perhaps my body would have been discovered in some ditch the next day like so many others who were not so lucky and privileged. I stick to my charges because if girls like me do not who will?” Here is one who speaks as a woman who has felt the fetid breath of the Beast and realised the indignities suffered by other women. Let’s not dilute her stand or drag it in to a muddy political arena.