- The safety of women in India has been the subject of global interest since a 23-year-old woman was gangraped in New Delhi last month. Shown, a protestor held a placard outside the Indian consulate in Hong Kong, January 1.
Leaders from conservative Hindu organizations, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, are the latest to be embroiled in the controversy over widespread insensitivity to women and sexual assault in India.
Speaking at a political gathering in the northeastern state of Assam, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the RSS, blamed what he called urban India’s inclination to western thought and ideology for gangrape in the country, arguing that cases of sexual violence, seldom, if ever, occurred in rural areas.
“Such crimes hardly take place in ‘Bharat’ but occur frequently in India,” Mr. Bhagwat said, addressing a gathering in the city of Silchar on Thursday.
In his statement, “Bharat,” Hindi for India, is a reference to rural parts of the country, while “India” refers to areas inhabited by the English-speaking urban class. His comments were reported by local media.
“You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gangrape or sex crimes. They are prevalent in urban belts. The Indian ethos and attitude towards women should be revisited in the context of ancient Indian values,” the 62-year-old politician said.
An RSS spokesman endorsed Mr. Bhagwat’s remarks on national television Friday.
The safety of women in India has been the subject of global interest since a 23-year-old woman was gangraped in New Delhi last month and died of her injuries last week.
In a separate incident Friday, Kailash Vijayvargiya, a BJP minister from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh warned that “women who attempt to cross limits would face repercussions.” His remarks were first reported by news agency Asian News International and were confirmed by party representatives.
The BJP, India’s leading opposition political party, heads the state government in Madhya Pradesh.
Protests since the New Delhi woman’s gangrape have targeted politicians and other public figures who have, in recent months, sought to attribute the crimes against women on, for instance, short skirts or the consumption of spicy food.
A spokesman for the BJP on Friday said the party had asked Mr. Vijayvargiya to publically withdraw his statement.
RSS spokesman Ram Madhav added to Mr. Bhagwat’s remarks on television Friday, saying: “The more we move away from our culture and values, the more such wrong mindsets will thrive.”
He claimed that traditional Indian values, which promote gender equity, are confined to rural parts of the country.
Indrani Mazumdar, a senior fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, a New Delhi-based think-tank, termed Mr. Bhagwat’s comments “irresponsible, embarrassing and degrading.”
She added that sexual assaults were “far more prevalent in rural than in urban India,” but go unnoticed and are seldom reported to police. (India’s National Crime Records Bureau provides annual data for rape cases reported across states but does not provide a rural, urban break-up.)
“Women in villages are offered cash settlements for rapes, sometimes even forced to marry their assaulters,” said Ms. Mazumdar.
Others took to Twitter.
“Crimes against women is not an issue of Bharat vs India but Bharat AND India! Because of the broken down policing and justice systems!” Kiran Bedi, a former cop and prominent social activist, tweeted.
Last month, Abhijit Mukherjee, a Congress politician and son of India’s President Pranab Mukherjee labeled women, particularly those who had taken to the streets to protest the Delhi gangrape, “dented and painted,” an apparent reference to a car that has been damaged and touched up.
In a separate incident last week, a legislator from the western state of Rajasthan proposed that skirts be banned as part of school uniforms and instead be replaced by trousers or salwars (traditional leggings) to reduce incidences of sexual harassment.