How Somnath Bharti proves he's a bigot and sexist
The AAP MLA's statement implies that 'beauty' and 'jewellery' are things possessed by women that are "stolen" by miscreants.
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In a Delhi Assembly session on safety of women, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Somnath Bharti said, "I am fully confident that if Delhi government is given full freedom (over security), beautiful women will be able to go out even after midnight without any fear."
Later, he issued a clarification on Facebook that said, "I request media friends not to twist my statement: I have said 'beautiful women laden with jewelries can (sic) travel at midnight fearlessly is the kind of benchmark one can measure security level at Delhi against, if AAP has police control'."
Bharti's clarification does help us identify exactly what is wrong with this way of looking at women's safety. His party, and all of us, need to recognise how the statement that includes words like "beautiful", "jewelleries" and "midnight" is very different from a simple one that says "women would be safe and free at all hours of the day and night, inside their homes and out on the streets".
His statement implies that "beauty" and "jewellery" are things possessed by women that are "stolen" from them at midnight by miscreants. It implies that only women who are considered "beautiful" are in danger of rape and sexual harassment.
The problem is that rape is not theft. Rape or other attacks on women are not a theft of sex. And it's no defence to say, as AAP supporters on social media have been asserting, that "all women are beautiful".
The whole point is that "beauty" has absolutely nothing to do with rape or violence. Women are not vulnerable to rape because of their sexual attractiveness or "beauty". Rape has nothing whatsoever to do with any quality inherent to women; it has everything to do with qualities socially inculcated in men, with men's sense of entitlement to the labour and sexuality of women. Men are socially trained to expect wives and other women in their families to cook, clean and care for them. They are trained to feel that this is their entitlement. They also feel entitled to decide who their sister or daughter will marry, and to control the movements of daughters and sisters in the name of their "safety". Similarly, they are socially trained to feel entitled to sex from women. Social training only equips men to recognise some women - wives of other men, or "mothers and sisters" - as the sexual property of "some other man". Rape of such women, it implies, is theft of someone else's property. There is little or no social training to recognise and respect women's autonomy and freedom to dispose of her body, her sexuality and her life in keeping with her own decisions. Deterring rape actually requires the hard work to get men to unlearn their sense of entitlement, and learn a respect for women's autonomy and freedom.
This isn't just hair-splitting over language. Seeing rape as a theft of sex from women has real consequences for the lives of women. Just as people keep their jewels locked up, they imply that women too need to be locked up to be safe. I recall Jagmati Sangwan of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) saying that in Haryana, there is a saying that "zenana" (women) and "khazana" (treasure) both need to be locked up; if they are displayed in the open they're bound to be stolen. Women's freedom is curbed in the name of their safety, and this is a violation of their rights as human beings. This violation by their own loved ones, who try to control their daughters' or sisters' freedom, especially to love and marry as she pleases, is as much of a problem as that of sexual violence by strangers.
But, some ask, aren't we missing the basic point of Bharti's statement, which is that the Delhi Police should be under the AAP's Delhi government?
I disagree. The issue is not one of making the Delhi Police a pawn either of the Modi government or the Kejriwal government, or of keeping the Delhi Police "free" as the police commissioner implies. The demand should be for police reforms to free police from political manipulation and bind it to Constitutional obligations.
The Delhi Police does act as a tool of the Modi government, especially in dealing with communal incidents or people's protests. Its response to complaints of sexual harassment and stalking is marked with criminal apathy, the Anand Parbat incident being a glaring instance.
But do we think the solution lies in making the police a tool of the AAP? If Bharti had his way, the Delhi Police would have acted as his tool when he was the law minister under the AAP's previous stint in power and participated in a mob "raid" on African women at the Khirki Extension. In Bharti's eyes, the very fact that African women and transgender people were out on the street at midnight was proof of their criminality. Their race, gender and their being out at night marked them as criminals, as purveyors of "sex and drug rackets". Sex work in his eyes is criminal and sex workers can be chased on the street, have their homes invaded at night, picked up and body-searched by mobs and cops, all in the name of keeping "our mothers and sisters safe". African women, transgenders, poor women and sex workers are presumably not part of the cohort of "beautiful women" who can feel safe on the streets at midnight in the AAP regime!
In spite of being indicted by a judicial enquiry, the AAP and its government have protected Bharti and made him an MLA yet again. Even the conscientious dissenters who were thrown out of the AAP played their part in defending Bharti's unconscionable raid - a case of racial and gender violence that ought to be far more morally and ethically disturbing than the other issues raised by them.
The allegations of domestic violence against Bharti too are a reminder that often, violence against women happens inside the homes of the powerful, and the police is possibly most insensitive and arrogant in such cases.
The Delhi Assembly session dedicated to women's safety and some of the AAP government's proposals in this regard may well have merit. But the AAP's continued defence of Bharti - facing charges for the Khirki Extension raid as well as for domestic violence, and prone to repeated racist and sexist remarks - remains a huge question mark on its attitude towards women.