Like the boys of his invocation, Mulayam Singh Yadav also makes mistakes. This advocate of forgiveness for rapists should perhaps himself be forgiven for not knowing the meaning of the word ‘rape’. He can be asked of course, what it is about the word ‘rape’ in any language he does not understand. Also, what is it about reports of rape that refer to five-year-old victims or fifty-year-old perpetrators that he does not understand since he accuses young women of making false allegations of rape when their relationships with young men break up? Without satisfactory answers to these questions, Mr Yadav must be described rather unsympathetically. As a misogynist, who represents Indian society’s deep-rooted hatred and fear of women. Claiming that he has been misquoted — all he wants is a removal of capital punishment — is a clumsy manoeuvre. Arguments against capital punishment must find a different occasion; arguments against capital punishment for rapists, too, need a different context. Mr Yadav’s blatant ‘boys-will-be-boys-so-don’t-hang-rapists’ line actually poses the greatest hindrance to activists’ serious arguments against death for rape.
Mr Yadav is either innocent of the meanings of certain words or he is dangerous. But his follower, the Maharashtra chief of the Samajwadi Party, Abu Asim Azmi, has faithfully brought out the unspoken premises behind his leader’s plea for rapists. It is not suggested here that Mr Yadav would have said this, but Mr Azmi has confidently said that not only should the survivors of rape be hanged, but any woman who has sex outside marriage should also be hanged. Consent is irrelevant. Mr Azmi has left no one in any doubt that he fully understands the meaning of rape; he even knows what sex means. It is something men do; women caught doing it should just be hanged. He has forgotten to mention little girls who are raped — no doubt he believes they should be hanged too. The question India should ask — not Mr Yadav, nor Mr Azmi, but itself — is: why does Indian society want such men to lead? And if it does not, why are they in such positions that their voices can be heard all over no matter how ferocious, uneducated or violence-propounding these are? It is not for the Election Commission to take such leaders down; the real power to do that lies with the people. But for that, Indians must repose full faith in themselves as the makers of a civilized society.