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All of us must hang our heads in shame

How long does public outrage last? And does it make a difference — even in the medium term?

Eleven years after the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder, I have come to the reluctant conclusion that the collective outrage we express is usually knee-jerk, lasts only for a short time, and makes no difference in the long run.


It’s sad. But it’s true.


   I will get to the case of Prajwal Revanna—perhaps the sleaziest MP in the history of India—in a bit. But first, let’s remember the uproar that followed the Nirbhaya case in December 2012. The brutal gangrape and murder of a young woman with her whole life in front of her was truly shocking and horrifying. It was easy to see why we were all appalled by it. Nirbhaya’s only crime was that she had boarded a bus in Delhi one evening. The extent of the brutality inflicted on her shocked an entire nation.


   The outrage spilled out into the streets. There were demonstrations all over India. Politicians were forced to take note. Sheila Dikshit, then-Chief Minister of Delhi who had no control over the police (the Delhi Police report to the central government), was blamed for not making the capital safe for women. It probably contributed to her defeat in the next election. In fact, the public outrage may have had something to do with the collapse of the ruling UPA in the 2014 Lok Sabha election as well.


   At the time, I thought this was a watershed moment for India. We had finally stood up for the most basic right — the right to safety — of India’s women and forced the political system to listen.


   Now, I realise I was kidding myself.


   When Indians protested against the people who had allowed the Nirbhaya incident to happen, we were not only demanding punishment for the rapists and the murderers. They were caught and executed—except for the minor. We were protesting against India’s politicians. They had done nothing to make the country safe for women.


   All over the country, men abused, molested, hurt, raped and killed women because they thought they could get away with it — and most of them did. Our justice system was so lax that they rarely faced the retribution they deserved. And politicians did nothing to make the streets safe.


   Well, guess what? Despite the 2012 outrage, things actually got worse. Not only do politicians not give a damn, but they are also probably the ones molesting.


   I could mention many such incidents to illustrate how the system protects politicians who abuse and molest women. But just one should be enough to show us how low we have sunk.


   Revanna, the now-suspended Hassan MP from Janata Dal (Secular), is the grandson of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda. To my mind, Deve Gowda was an essentially shallow person who, once he became the PM through an accident of history, should have thanked God for his good fortune and abandoned politics, taking his entire family with him.


  "It’s quite clear that responsible people in the BJP knew about the videos and still let him contest the election."

   Instead, like some terrible ghoul from the past, Gowda has hung around in Karnataka politics, cutting deals with whoever is willing to do business with him. His latest arrangement is with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has tied up with the JD(S)—Gowda’s family party. (Prime Minister Narendra Modi might well describe the party as an example of ‘parivarvaad’ if the BJP was not its ally.)


   Gowda’s grandson, Revanna, has exercised the right—common to all family parties—to become a political leader. He stood for re-election to the Lok Sabha, even getting Modi to campaign for him.


   What nobody told the Prime Minister is that his ally, when he is not politicking in the Lok Sabha, allegedly occupies himself with rape, molestation, and abuse of women. And yes, a little videography.


   Videography? Sure. It turns out that Revanna not only molests women but also enjoys recording their humiliation on camera, going by media reports of thousands of videos circulated through pen drives in Karnataka. By some estimates, there are at least 3,000 video clips in which Revanna is seen either sexually assaulting women or recording their molestation. It is hard to say how many women feature in the videos but the number is estimated to reach hundreds.


   There are women of all ages, from teenagers to those in their 60s. What they have in common is that they are mostly vulnerable and largely defenceless. The molestations are a symbol of Revanna’s power over them. In one video, an elderly woman is heard begging him not to assault her, saying that she has served his family for years and has even fed his father.


   According to an FIR filed by a woman and the evidence of Revanna’s videos, no one was safe from molestation when he was around.


   All this is truly shocking. But the trail of events that exposed Revanna is even more shocking. As far as we can tell, the video clips were leaked by a former driver of the Revanna family. The driver says he gave the clips to Devaraje Gowda, a BJP leader, who then informed his bosses in the party’s leadership.


   Devaraje says he wrote to Karnataka BJP chief BY Vijayendra in 2023 about the allegations. A copy of this letter has since surfaced but Vijayendra denies having received it, though Devaraje says he handed it at the BJP office. Devaraje loyally attributes this to “a communication gap”.


   Even so, by the time Revanna’s constituency went to the polls, there was enough of a buzz over the videos, with many people involved in Karnataka politics talking about the molestation because the pen drives were in circulation.


   However, nobody stopped the Prime Minister from going to the constituency, Haasan, and urging people to vote for Revanna. And later, Revanna’s father, HD Revanna, dismissed the matter by saying that the videos were “four or five years old”, as if sexual assault had a time limit.


   Though the JD(S) has now suspended Revanna and the BJP has distanced itself from him, there seems little doubt that the system came together to protect him. He was allowed to flee to Germany and remains free to declare his innocence and say that the videos have been morphed. (But morphed “four or five years” ago, if his father is to be believed)


   It’s quite clear that responsible people in the BJP knew about the videos and still let him contest the election. Equally, although the videos had been circulated, the Congress government in Karnataka did not act against Revanna until the uproar became unmanageable and he had already been allowed to flee the country.


   The truth is that when it comes to the mistreatment of women, the entire political system is to blame and everyone unites behind the molesters — even the electronic media remained largely silent about the shameful assaults.


   My point is this: never fool yourself into believing that public outrage makes a difference. It rarely does when it comes to politicians. Yes, there will be some short-term impact — as we saw in the Nirbhaya case. But in the long run, it is business as usual for Indian politicians.


   And yes, we, the public, are to blame too. We flaunt our outrage. And as time passes, we move on. If we had continued to call the system to account after Nirbhaya, Revanna would never have been allowed to get away with it for so long.


   But we didn’t. And all of us—politicians, TV channels, and the public at large—must hang our heads in shame.



Posted On: 02 May 2024 06:00 PM
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