The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal faces rape ‘parade’ ire

New Delhi, Oct. 21: Atal Bihari Vajpayee appears to be doing a Mamata Banerjee.

The Trinamul Congress leader has in the past paraded a woman allegedly raped by CPM cadre to malign the party in the run-up to the panchayat elections, says Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association.

“But there is a difference between the two incidents,” Karat adds. “Mamata Banerjee took the victim to local panchayat meetings unlike (the) Prime Minister… who paraded a rape victim at a public rally.”

A rape victim was paraded at Vajpayee’s Sunday rally in Bhopal where the Prime Minister launched the BJP’s election campaign. The party’s chief ministerial candidate Uma Bharti called the victim onto the dais while attacking the Digvijay Singh regime for the increasing crimes against women in the state. She said more than 100,000 rapes had occurred during the 10 years Digvijay had been in power.

Bharti said the victim had been raped in 1994 and her husband killed by a sympathiser of the chief minister, whose photograph was found in the rapist’s house.

The victim tried to touch Vajpayee’s feet when she appeared on stage, but the Prime Minister did not allow her to do so.

The Congress has slammed Bharti for parading the victim, whose attacker was convicted years ago. It said the BJP was stooping to new lows in trying to nail the Digvijay regime.

Purnima Sethi of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha defended the incident on a television show, saying the victim was participating in the rally and had come on stage willingly.

But women’s organisations are outraged. “By using the victim at a public rally, the Prime Minister has sent out a signal that victims of sexual violence can be used legitimately as part of an electoral campaign,” Karat said.

“Political parties are using rape to settle electoral scores with each other. What however is really shocking about this incident is that the incident happened at the Prime Minister’s rally,” she added.

“What is worse is that the BJP has a woman — Uma Bharti — leading the party’s election campaign in the state. How can she be so desensitised to the issue'” Karat asked.

“The incident has shown that political parties have no concern about the future of the victim who has been thrown into full public glare,” Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme said.

Violence against women has never been on a political party’s agenda till now. “They (political parties) use incidents as and when it suits them to nail their political adversaries, mostly at election time,” a woman activist says.

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