The Congress on Saturday asked what Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s laments about women’s safety were worth if BJP leaders’ names kept cropping up in connection with the exploitation, rape and murder of women and he remained silent.
The comments came after the arrest of Pulkit Arya, son of Uttarakhand BJP leader Vinod Arya, on murder charges after the death of a young receptionist of a resort owned by the Aryas. She was allegedly killed for resisting being pushed into prostitution.
Pulkit’s arrest came after an eruption of public anger that led to the resort being vandalised. Vinod has been expelled from the BJP. Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate reeled off several instances when, she said, the Prime Minister refused to speak a word after BJP leaders were accused of involvement in crimes against women.
An expelled BJP leader, Kuldeep Sengar, is serving a life sentence for raping a minor in Unnao in June 2017 when he was an MLA in Uttar Pradesh. When an eight-year-old Muslim girl was raped and murdered in Kathua, Jammu, in January 2018, BJP leaders had held rallies demanding release of the accused.
Modi had in his last Independence Day speech spoken of “nari shakti” (women’s power) and said that nobody should engage in speech or conduct that lowers the dignity of women. The same day, the BJP government in his home state Gujarat exercised its powers of remission controversially to release 11 lifers convicted of raping Bilkis Bano and murdering seven members of her family during the 2002 riots.Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “What happened to girls in Moradabad and Uttarakhand has shaken everybody. I am meeting, listening to many talented girls during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. One thing is clear: Our country will progress only if our women are safe.”
A teenage girl was allegedly raped and left to walk home naked in Moradabad, a district in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh. “A BJP leader in Meghalaya was caught running a brothel. A case has been filed against Agra MLA Chhotelal Verma and his son Laxmikant Verma, accused of sexual exploitation of a woman. There are at least 10 more recent cases,” Shrinate said.
“Women and child development minister Smriti Irani puts up a social media post showing her kitchen and asking what’s cooking? What’s this — insensitivity or arrogance? We (don’t care) what’s cooking in your kitchen. You don’t speak about a young girl who is killed because she opposed being pushed into prostitution.
“Will the Prime Minister sack this minister? But what do you expect from a Prime Minister who didn’t speak a word when rapists and murderers were released in his home state Gujarat.”
Irani had kicked up a ruckus in Parliament, alleging an insult to women, when Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury referred to the President as “Rashtrapatni” instead of the gender-neutral and accepted “Rashtrapati”. Congress leaders are now asking whether crimes such as the Uttarakhand murder should not evoke bigger outrage.
“Jhooth ki Rani Smriti Irani chup kyon hai (Why is the queen of lies Smriti Irani silent)?” Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh said in Ahmedabad.
Another Congress spokesperson, Pawan Khera, told a news conference in Thrissur: “The BJP had gone so far in the past as to take out a public rally in support of rapists in Kathua…. What has now happened in Uttarakhand should shame every politician in this country.” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted that what had happened to the Uttarakhand victim was “heart-shattering”.
“Girls step out of their homes with dreams but criminals attack them and break their resolve. I can understand what her family must be going through,” she said. “It is the duty of governments to give protection to working women and make the professional space safe. Governments will have to give protection to women.”