It seems like every day brings fresh news of a crisis of law and order, particularly for women, in Uttar Pradesh. But the chilling reports of the rape and death of a 50-year-old anganwadi worker in Budaun district on Sunday have shaken the nation. The mother of five had gone to visit a temple in her hometown Mevali for Sunday evening prayers after receiving a phone call — only ten kilometres from her residence in Kiyoli village within the same district. Upon arriving, she was allegedly gang-raped by the priest and two of his disciples.
The woman had frequently visited the temple to pray as a devotee of Satyanarayan, and she had hoped to visit her mother. Her trips had become even more frequent since her husband was ill and she was praying for his good health. Besides him, she leaves behind four daughters and a son. It was her daughters who met her at the door where she has hastily dropped off by the suspects, in a state of undress and bleeding profusely with her genitals mutilated. She died of her brutal injuries at home, while police at the Ughaiti station refused to register a complaint.
The station house supervisor has since been suspended, and the three suspects booked as of today. But the trauma for the woman’s family is far from over — and beyond the village of Kiyoli, it continues to haunt millions of women around the country who watch these banal horrors play out with alarming frequency. To make matters worse, victims, like the anganwadi worker, are blamed for their own plight, even by those who are supposed to protect them. After the negligence of the police, National Commission for Women representative Chandramukhi Devi made an appallingly insensitive remark on the matter: “I think if she had not gone out in the evening or was accompanied by any child of the family, perhaps this incident could have been avoided.”
If the views espoused by the NCW are equally as regressive as the most patriarchal elements of our society, what is the need for such an organisation to exist and claim to be a mouthpiece for women?
Following the backlash to Chandramukhi’s statement, NCW leader Rekha Sharma rushed to distance the organisation from her victim-blaming sentiments. But it’s not the first serious misstep for the NCW, especially since the controversial appointment of Sharma. Last year, Sharma came under fire for her views on “love jihad”, an issue that has lately blown up in UP due to a new and heavily disputed law. The support of Sharma and others of the “love jihad” dog whistle has led to the draconian law UP residents contend with today, where women who have freely made the choice to marry are being treated as criminals and denied their agency to decide their own path.
This is not Sharma’s only transgression. In October, shortly after the “love jihad” row, screenshots of her old sexist and misogynistic tweets were shared on social media. In these tweets from 2012, the NCW chief seems to have endorsed rape as a punishment and making anti-women jokes. While Sharma in her defence claimed that she didn’t use Twitter in 2012, her handle showed that she joined the microblogging site in 2009.
If the views espoused by the NCW are equally as regressive as the most patriarchal elements of our society, what is the need for such an organisation to exist and claim to be a mouthpiece for women? For the daughters of the anganwadi worker whose mother was publicly shamed for daring to leave her house, to women around the country trying to live free and independent lives, the backtracking of Sharma and the NCW will be cold comfort.