Madhya PradeshSHE

Women safety In Madhya Pradesh: Why BJP needs to address crimes against women in the heart of India as well

Slogans and disturbing statistics in MP. BJP makes noise elsewhere, ignores crimes against women at home

Bhopal: Women in Jabalpur on March 4 took a rally demanding the release of self-styled godman and rape convict Asaram Bapu on the occasion of International Women’s Day. In a video that surfaced on social media, women followers can be seen carrying posters “Hamare Bapu Nirdosh Hain (Our Bapu is innocent)” and chanting slogans for justice, citing Asaram’s age and health. 

Asaram Bapu is serving a life-term imprisonment since 2018 for raping a minor female student. The Supreme Court of India on March 1 refused any intervention in a petition filed by Asaram Bapu challenging the Rajasthan High Court’s decision rejecting his plea for suspension of sentence on medical grounds in a rape case of a minor. 

The very next day on March 5 Akhil Bharti Vidharti Parishad (ABVP) held protests in various regions of Madhya Pradesh including Indore, Gwalior, Malwa, Sheopur, and others. This time they were protesting against the ongoing controversy of land grabbing and sexual assault of women in West Bengal’s Sandeshkhali. Activists of BJP’s youth wing forcibly entered the collector’s office in Indore resulting in minor clashes between police and protestors. 

Concerns for Women’s Safety and Politics 

The village of Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas has been making headlines since January 5 when a mob attacked Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials investigating local TMC (Trinamool Congress) leader Shahjahan Sheikh for an alleged ration distribution scam. Several women following this incident had come forward accusing Sheikh and his counterparts of land grabbing for prawn farms and sexual harassment triggering protests and a political blame game. 

asaram rape minor jodhpur rajasthan
Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, alias Asaram

Union Minister Smriti Irani even accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of allowing TMC workers to “rape” women each night. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 6 visited Sandeshkhali and met the victims. “Whatever happened in Sandeshkhali is a matter of shame,” the PM remarked. 

Sheikh is now in CBI custody for attacking ED officials with three FIRs registered against him. 

A seven-year-old minor girl was raped, axed, and strangled to death in Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh on March 6. The accused Sonu Pandram buried her body and fled the spot. He confessed to the crime in police interrogation. 

A 15-year-old minor on September 23, 2023, was seen roaming on the streets of Ujjain knocking on many doors for help in a half-naked and bleeding condition. She was raped by an auto-driver who picked her up from the railway station. The girl passed over 500 houses, eateries, and toll booths in two hours but for no heed until a temple priest saw and took her to the hospital and called the police. 

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File photo of Ujjain rape victim | Courtesy: NDTV

The survivor who fought several days for her life received 1500 Rupees as compensation from a BJP leader Surendra Singh Garewar. However, former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had promised to take care of her, “The accused has injured the soul of Madhya Pradesh, she is the daughter of the state, and we will take care of her in every way,” Chouhan had commented. 

In yet another shameful incident in Madhya Pradesh, a 30-year-old woman was raped in a moving train by Pankaj Kushwaha in Katni. The woman went to use the restroom when the accused raped her. 

In one more harrowing incident of many, a pregnant woman was gang raped in Morena in the house of a woman the victim came to compromise with. The three-man and accused woman set the victim on fire who sustained 80 percent burns.

Unfortunately, in none of the incidents, did any political party or civilians take to the streets and question women’s safety in the state. Crimes against women across the nation are a matter of concern, however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP and other right-wing organizations have conveniently selected Sandeshkhali to speak on. 

Importantly, Uttam Sardar and Shibaprasad Hazra, two immediate prime accused besides Shahjahan Sheikh were arrested in similar allegations but remained disappeared in both the media headlines and BJP’s discourse. The story only revolved around TMC’s Muslim leader preying on Hindu women.

A somewhat similar narrative is also built in Madhya Pradesh and across India by government officials, Hindutva influencers, and other right-wing organizations against Muslim men in allegations of Love Jihad. A conspiracy theory that criminalizes inter-faith love and questions the agency of Hindu women. Despite the enactment of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2021 in the state, the former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan called for a stringent law to stop “Love Jihad” citing the Shradha Walker murder case. The term itself indicated it was targeted upon Muslims. 

“Someone cheats our daughters in the name of love, marries them, and cuts them into 35 pieces. Such acts will not be allowed in Madhya Pradesh, The state government will bring stringent laws to prevent such acts,” Chouhan stated on the martyrdom anniversary of Tantiya Bhil. 

Alarming Surge in Crimes Against Women: NCRB 

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s annual report reveals a drastic surge in crimes against women in India, with 4,45,256 cases registered in 2022 alone. This marks a significant escalation from 2021 and 2020, with nearly 51 FIRs filed every hour. The rate of crimes against women per lakh population stood at 66.4, with a charge sheeting rate of 75.8, according to the “Crime in India 2022” report.

According to data, Madhya Pradesh stood third in the nation with 3,046 women and girls being raped and gang raped in the state in 2022. Rajasthan is on the top among 28 states with 5408 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh which registered 3,692 cases last year. According to the report, 22 women in Madhya Pradesh faced attempts to rape, of these three were minors.

Cases under the Protection of Children From Sexual Offence Act (POCSO), child rape (379 of IPC) and sexual assault (354 of IPC), and sexual harassment under the POCSO Act (509 IPC) had taken place in large numbers in Madhya Pradesh which stands at 3rd place in the national tally. In the state, 5951 cases under POCSO-related sections were registered last year. Of these 3,653 cases were of rape, 2,233 cases of sexual assault, and 42 cases of harassment were reported in the state. 

This data raises many questions about whether women’s safety is only limited to political theories or whether there are any effective measures. 

crimes against women safety madhya pradesh bengal
File photo of women voters in MP assembly polls 2023

Political Schemes and Women’s Safety: A Question of Priorities

According to the Census 2011, Madhya Pradesh has a 7.27 crore population with 3.76 crore males and 3.51 crore females. The state has 5.6 crore electoral votes including 2.88 crore male voters and 2.72 crore female voters. BJP in the state assembly elections 2023 strategically focused more on women voters by introducing a brand new welfare scheme Ladli Behna Yojna for women empowerment. The scheme ensures a monthly amount of Rs 1250 to eligible women. 74.3% of women voted in the 2018 state assembly elections. The number increased by 2% in 2023 as 76.03% of women participated in the electoral process. 

The doles are confining women inside homes instead of providing opportunities- Activists

Women and social activist Archana Sahay said that despite NCRB highlighting Madhya Pradesh as one of the worst states for women’s safety, this data is often disregarded in political circles. Police argue that reporting has improved due to increased comfort and accessibility for women. On the contrary, some politicians dismiss the data claiming that substantial efforts have been made for women’s welfare. They cite schemes promoting women’s independence.

“There is some positive progress in Madhya Pradesh compared to other states and past due to women-friendly approach by police. However, politicizing women’s freedom poses a significant challenge. Imposing restrictions on women’s freedom infringes on their rights and liberties which should remain apolitical,” she said.

Sahay added, “Providing a nominal amount to women may seem supportive but it often confines them to their homes instead of opening opportunities for them to showcase their skills. The meagre sum of 1000 rupees hardly impacts families and there is little evidence of women spending it for themselves.”

“The state has consistently ranked poorly on NCRB data on crimes against women yet government officials and ministers rarely address it or take action. The sex ratio is declining and various issues affecting women are worsening. The politics largely confine women to households in a patriarchal society where they catch their emotional pulses. The politicians use that emotion by introducing schemes that satisfy women to win votes without addressing the root problems,” said activist Asma Khan.

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