New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh has over the years earned the dubious distinction of being among the most unsafe for women in the country. Year after year, that has been a persistent, almost astronomical increase in crimes against women, with the state accounting for over 10% of the total crimes nationwide in 2015 alone. Irrespective of the government in power, the phrase ‘lawless UP’ has stuck.
With elections due, the BJP, BSP and the SP-Congress combine have all made women’s empowerment and safety a key electoral promise- vowing to make UP safe for women again. However, despite this assertion, on the ground the focus on women’s issues is tragically limited only to those instances wherein politicians themselves are subject to sexism.
All major players in this election have tragically resorted to playing the victim card while dealing with this sensitive issue. Misogyny is making headlines, but only for self-serving political agendas- and this is true cutting across party lines.
First you had the Vinay Katiyar fiasco. The BJP downplayed it by labeling his comment ‘a statement made in his personal capacity.’ There was condemnation for his ‘we have women campaigners who are prettier than Priyanka Gandhi’ quip but no apology from the BJP MP. The first daughter of the Grand Old Party hit back to say ‘this exposes the mindset of the BJP towards women’.
No sooner had the dust settled on this controversy than BJP’s firebrand feminist Smiri Irani stepped in to accuse the Congress of double speak. She told CNN-News18 that Congress’ Tehseen Poonawalla has sent her several offensive tweets- all of them misogynistic and crude.
Irani claims if the Congress’ is so concerned about women’s rights, why didn’t they condemn her being attacked and vilified on social media?
While the Congress has dismissed this claim as a patently false one while also maintaining that Poonawalla is not a Congress leader, Smriti Irani’s declarations don’t end there. She’s challenged the Gandhis and as well as the Yadav clan to an open debate on women’s issues- claiming that both the Congress and the Samajwadi Party will stand exposed if a discussion on the issue were to take place.
Research after research has proved that women are subject to more hate online than men. And Smriti Irani’s allegations merit a serious probe. However, is the answer to the plight of Uttar Pradesh’s women a contest between political parties to defame one another?
The burden of paying mere lip service to a crucial issue is for all parties to bear – equally.
Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav speaks of the work he’s done to make his state safer for women but if you look at the statistics, he has nothing to be proud of.
A CAG report shows how from 2011-2015, violence and crimes against women in UP has increased by 61%. That’s almost the entire period that the 48-year-old has been running the state. In 2014, Uttar Pradesh recorded the most crimes against women than any other state in the country. Not just that, the report also says that the state has consistently performed poorly in efforts to curb gender inequality.
The sex ratio in the state is an abysmal 908 and maternal mortality rate is the highest in the country and the implementation of most women-centric scheme varies from poor to non-existent. While many have labeled Akhilesh’s power helpline for women a success, experts believe that mere sops for women voters and speaking of prioritizing safety for women is not enough. Simply appointing women star campaigners to make the poll pitch for your party does not make the state safe for women.
For the BJP, the situation is no better. On the campaign trail the party has raked up the Bulandshahr gang-rape repeatedly to target the ruling SP, but when it comes to solutions, their most action oriented promise is the idea of instituting three new women police battalions. There’s also been talk of setting up ‘anti-Romeo’ squads. BJP President Amit Shah told CNN-News18 that ‘people in UP have stopped sending their daughters to colleges because the girls get harassed. We have promised that BJP will form an anti-Romeo Squad to save these girls.’
Critics have called this an attempt by the BJP to legitimize moral policing. There are also concerns that any anti-harassment squad could be misused by vigilante groups to crackdown on ‘love jihad’- something the BJP claims is a conspiracy by Muslim men to get Hindu girls to convert to Islam by feigning love. While Amit Shah has dismissed the communal angle, BJP MP Yogi Adityanath minced no words when he told reporters recently that ‘love jihad is a crucial poll issue’ for the party.
And from Mayawati, the only woman in the fray to lead the state if she were to win the elections, we’ve heard nothing but criticism of her opponents and no real blueprint or any plan of action. During her tenure as Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh had the ignominy of being the most unsafe state for women, especially those belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes.
The question of women’s safety in a state like Uttar Pradesh where harassment is a daily insidious threat cannot be dealt with simply by sharing stories of being victimized, or by merely castigating your opponent. The issue is a serious one, that needs more deliberation, that needs to be made a priority at all times- and not just when elections are around the corner.