All attention is focused on successive polling rounds. We are in the midst of a dance of seven veils. None of the veils is about to come off and reveal anything till after the seventh round. All the excitement is froth.
Yet a most important development happened during the week of the second round. It will have long-run consequences for all. This was the age-old issue of gender discrimination. In the middle of tall claims about secularism, tolerance and Mother India, three cases have come up of injustice to women. First was the complaint of Priyanka Chaturvedi, who was working for the Congress on its media strategy. She was harassed by some co-workers, who were suspended. But then they were restored to their old positions. In her tweet, she called them ‘goons’. No one heard her complaint and she left the Congress and joined the Shiv Sena. Far from anyone championing her, she was criticised for joining a Hindutva party. As if the Congress is not already just another Hindutva party. Her injustice remains uncorrected.
Then we had the issue with Pragya Thakur, the BJP’s Bhopal candidate. She is out on bail for alleged involvement in the Malegaon blasts case. She is unlike any other political candidate. She reminds me of those student radicals in the Sixties who went out of their way to be provocative. That is fine, and she has the right of free speech. In this she is like the tukde-tukde people. The more shocking, the better.
Pragya has alleged that she was tortured under investigation by Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare. Given his record in fighting terrorists during 26/11 and his martyrdom, Pragya lost most friends she had. There is no way of verifying her complaint as Karkare is not there to defend himself. Even so, in law, her complaint has to be admitted. It will not be of course. She is only a woman and out on bail. (As Rahul Gandhi’s jibe about Amit Shah shows, even leading politicians do not understand the distinction between people charged or under trial or even with their case dismissed, and guilty ones.) There is a broader case of setting up an inquiry into whether people arrested pending trial are routinely beaten, if their case concerns torture.
The third case reinforces the concern about women’s safety in the workplace. This reaches the highest levels of the judiciary. A woman, call her X, has alleged that she was subjected to unwelcome attention by the Chief Justice of India. It was shocking to realise that the Supreme Court has no machinery to handle such claims. The first hearing breached all the norms of natural justice. The woman was also maligned by unknown persons, who said she was part of a high-level conspiracy to defame the judiciary. That claim has to be examined, but so does the complaint by X.
Better views seem to have prevailed and a suitable bench has been constituted. What are the proprieties of the case? Should the CJI go on leave while the case is pending? Not being a lawyer, I do not know. What is clear is that no matter how much education, or political status, she achieves, a woman is a third-class citizen in India.
This article first appeared in the print edition on April 28, 2019, under the title ‘Women as third-class citizens’.