Another day, another example of how Indian politics deals unabashedly in the currency of misogyny. Trinamool Congress MP from Krishnanagar, West Bengal, Tapas Pal, recently bragged to an audience of party supporters that his response to any grandstanding by CPM workers on his turf would be to let loose “his boys” on their entire clans, and “rape them, rape them”. Since December 2013, the conversation around sexual violence against women has been amplified across various media, and new laws have tried to counter the gender bias in our institutions. But while political parties have shown great alacrity in selective outrage over rape, the loose talk continues — from innuendo and shaming and blaming victims, to defence of boys who will be boys and a tide of rape jokes. That is the white noise that strengthens patriarchy, and it is no less dangerous than the code of omerta that kicks in to frustrate justice for victims.
Pal, once a baby-faced lead actor of melodramatic Bengali films, was among the earliest Tollywood stars to add shine to the Trinamool’s anti-Left campaign. He has been out of favour recently, and reports suggest that this recent braggadocio was his way of muscling his way into the party’s attention. West Bengal’s long tradition of competitive violence against women by political parties would have given him reason to believe that pitting our boys against their women would work for him. His party chief herself has a terrible record in casting rape victims as conspirators against her government — Mamata Banerjee famously called the Park Street rape incident a shajano ghotona, and dismissed another victim’s testimony because she was a CPM member’s wife.
More reason, then, for Banerjee to seize this opportunity to tell her cadres that rape — or even its possibility — cannot be used as a weapon of mass intimidation, and that women victims will not be judged by their political affiliations or the time of the night that they were assaulted. While the party has condemned the statement as “insensitive” and Banerjee was reported to be “hopping mad”, only the sternest punishment for Pal will send out a message. A MP cannot threaten women with rape and get away with it. Having punished colleagues like Dinesh Trivedi for smaller offences (like not sending her prior information about policy, as railways minister), the least she can do is sack Tapas Pal for his words.