|Jaya Bachchan breaks
down in the Rajya Sabha
on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Dec. 18: Jaya Bachchan was on her feet for 158 minutes or 2 hours and 38 minutes — give or take a few ticks of the clock — in the Rajya Sabha today to draw attention to women’s issues on a day the grisly assault on a student in the capital made many recoil in revulsion.
Jaya, who broke down at one point, hit the nail on its head when she said that India’s public representatives always found time for pressure-group politics but little else.
All the while, she stood — unflinching and uncompromising till the home minister changed his choice of words that was less assertive than “I will”.
The stand-up protest started soon after the Rajya Sabha had reopened this morning with BJP members leading the entire Opposition to demand that question hour be suspended to discuss the assault. They also demanded that home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde make a statement.
Chairman Hamid Ansari reminded the members that party leaders had agreed at their daily meeting — held before the House begins its proceedings — that they would take up the incident during zero hour from noon.
Jaya rose from her seat and said: “Sir, I am going to stand silently in protest. We do not discuss women’s issues.”
Ansari said the House would take up the topic during zero hour.
“No, it has to be done now,” Jaya insisted, as other women MPs and members of her Samajwadi Party stood up in support. “For political subjects, question hour is adjourned. But when it comes to protection and safety of women, we push it to 12,” she said.
The chairman again requested her to sit down.
“No, I am going to stand up in protest. I will stand in protest. Atrocities are being committed on this country’s mothers, sisters, daughters and daughters-in-law,” she said.
As other Opposition MPs joined in, the Chair adjourned proceedings till noon.
Jaya refused to sit when the House reconvened. She demanded that deputy chairman P.J. Kurien, who had replaced Ansari in the Chair, allow her to speak.
When Kurien told her she should have given a notice, Jaya asked: “Did the victim get a notice before she was raped?”
A sheepish Kurien then addressed Jaya as his “sister” and said he would give her time later in the day.
“Don’t call me your sister,” Jaya snapped. This (the rape) is what is happening to sisters.”
Several BJP members then prodded Kurien to allow Jaya “three minutes”.
Jaya wondered: “What can I say in three minutes?”
She complained that for the past three days she had been wanting to speak on women’s issues but didn’t get an opportunity. She also said she had given a notice.
“I have had to take this stand (to protest by not taking her seat) after this incident. I am not liking this but I have been forced to take such a stand,” she said in Hindi.
When Kurien asked her to sit down after three minutes, Jaya said: “Sir, please don’t look at your watch. Please don’t do this. This is a very, very serious issue.”
Jaya kept repeating “I will stand in protest” when the Janata Dal (United)’s Shivanand Tiwari spoke. Tiwari said “provocative item dances” were creating a “rapist mentality in the country”.
“What are you saying?” Jaya bristled. “Rapes are taking place because of item dance?”
Tiwari wrapped up his speech fast and sat down. But Jaya kept standing.
Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley requested Kurien to allow her to speak for another five minutes.
Kurien agreed. “There are some more names. I will call everybody, but I see our sister, Jaya Bachchan, has been standing for a long time and the honourable LoP (Jaitley) has also given a suggestion. Even though rule does not permit to allow one person to speak again, I am using my discretion.”
Jaya acknowledged Jaitley’s help. “He has always been very supportive, I am really very, very moved,” she said, breaking down.
“I personally feel very, very ashamed that I am sitting in this House and I am helpless and I am not being able to do anything,” she said.
When the House reassembled after the lunch break, Shinde made a statement. Jaya kept standing.
Jaya said: “Sir, I would have been very happy and somewhat satisfied if instead of ‘I will try’, he (Shinde) had said, ‘I will’. That is the difference and that is why these kinds of crimes are continuously being reported.” She was referring to Shinde’s statement that he “will try” to ensure that police are not lax.
“Sir, please change it to ‘I will’ instead of ‘I will try’,” Jaya implored.
Shinde replied: “Not just I will but I shall.”
Jaya then took her seat.