Sadhvi Vibhanand’s call to ‘rape’ Muslim women with impunity shows Hindutva’s politics of fear

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The National Commission of Women (NCW) took cognizance of a video inciting sexual violence against Muslim women. The said video was brought to their notice over Twitter by Alishan Jafri. The Commission, on January 3, issued a notice seeking an explanation of the person concerned within 48 hours.

In this video, a Hindu woman, said to be Vibhanand Giri, is heard exhorting Hindu men to “rape and impregnate Muslim women if Muslim men cast even a glance at Hindu girls”. The statement was made during the Dharma Sansad held at Raipur, Chhattisgarh during December 25-26, 2021.

A Hindu leader, Kalicharan Maharaj, was arrested by the Chhattisgarh police on December 31 for a speech abusing Mahatma Gandhi and “promoting tensions between different communities” during this event. Jafri reports that no action was taken by the police against Vibhanand Giri. I could not get any meaningful response from any officer of the Chhattisgarh police on this.

Criminal offences attracted

In the short clip, she is not heard using the notorious bogey of ‘love jihad’ though her other utterances leave little doubt as to what she really meant. She speaks of Hindu girls ‘eloping’ with Muslim boys. Since elopement is a voluntary act, it is obvious that the object of her ire is inter-faith love marriage.

She threatened that if Muslims “even look at Hindu girls”, not to speak of falling in love and solemnizing a marriage, it would lead to ‘their’ women “producing babies from Hindus without marriage (nikaah and pheras)”.

Birthing in a marriage is a consensual act. By threatening that Muslim women would be “producing babies from Hindus without marriage”, Giri takes consent out of the act. This is thus clearly a threat and call to rape Muslim women.

She is therefore liable to be proceeded against for promoting enmity between different groups (Section 153A IPC); intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace (Section 504 IPC); word intended to insult the modesty of a woman (Section 509 IPC); criminal intimidation (Section 506 IPC); and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) if the speech was disseminated over social media.

Why police inaction is disturbing

Alishan Jafri reports that the Raipur police commissioner said that they have not received any complaint on this and hence no action was taken. This argument is wrong and legally untenable. In the case of State represented by Inspector of Police, Chennai vs N. S. Gnaneswaran (2013), a division bench of the Supreme Court has held that the law empowers the police to investigate a cognizable offence suo-motu (on their own) also ‘impelled by the information received from some sources’. Since the aforesaid video is now in the public domain and was also brought to their attention by tagging them on Twitter, police should have registered a case suo-motu.

Police inaction on a matter of hate speech in a Congress-ruled state is particularly disturbing because Congress leaders like Priyanka Gandhi had been very vocal in demanding action when similar incidents took place in BJP-ruled states, such as during the Haridwar Dharma Sansad.

Asaduddin Owaisi correctly pointed out that even as he had submitted objectionable statements made by several people to the police, action on the entire Raipur Dharma Sansad affair was restricted to Kalicharan Maharaj’s arrest.

Legally, it is difficult for the police to deny permission to hold such Dharma Sansads because often they are organised by different groups and the record of one group cannot be held against another. However, it is the duty of the police to take action after the commission of offences, in which they have failed.

Muslim women are targeted to humiliate Muslim men

The motive behind the utterances of Vibhanand Giri is essentially the same as the motive of the perpetrators of ‘Bulli Bai‘ and ‘Sulli Deals‘ apps. When they drag insult Muslim women or threaten them with sexual violence, their real target is the self-respect of the Muslim men.

She is entitled to criticise inter-faith marriages of Hindu girls with Muslim men. However, the fact that she dragged Muslim women into it means that her call to ‘rape Muslim women’ was intended both as a ‘punishment’ to the Muslim men who ‘dared’ to marry Hindu girls and also an act of ‘retaliation’ for avenging what she considered an affront to “Hindu manhood” or whatever.

There is no running away from the fact that the honour of a community or a people is identified – regrettably – with and is intimately associated with the ‘honour’ of their women. Historically, women have been targeted for sexual violence essentially as a means of insulting their menfolk because males are perceived as “natural protectors and providers” of the females.

The ultimate objective of Vibhanand Giri and others like her is therefore to dominate the Muslims, debase them, humiliate them, de-humanise them, injure their dignity and self-respect so much that eventually they come to accept their ‘social defeat’ as ‘vanquished people’ and thus satisfy their desire of exacting a ‘historical revenge’ for all the real and imaginary atrocities the Muslims had allegedly committed upon them during the medieval era (from 712 to 1858 AD) of Muslim invasions and rule.

Wider implications of threats

In the short clip, Vibhanand Giri is not seen elaborating on the basis of her objection to inter-faith marriages but it is clear from the context that she is preying upon all those latent fears in the collective psyche of the Hindus.

She is also found shaming those parents whose daughters elope with Muslim boys and is also advising that they must be roughed up.

She is, thus, both communalising and criminalising a matter of personal choice between two consenting adults. She is within her rights to insist upon keeping Hindu girls under whatever sort of control she advocates – it is for the Hindu girls to object to it. However, she has no business dragging Muslim women into the discourse.

It is not surprising that the threat to rape Muslim women was given by a woman. This is a reflection of how deep certain chauvinistic and patriarchal values run in our society. In this value system, rape or threat of rape is used as a punishment or tool to disgrace the menfolk of other groups. Incidentally, this also explains the popular Hindi abuses that threaten sexual violence on the mother or sisters of the other person.

Amongst various socio-cultural theories of rape, a prominent one is that of ‘dominance assertion rapes’. In her work Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, Susan Brownmiller argued that rape was more often about power and dominance than about sexual lust. Historical examples throughout the world include rapes by victorious armies and by liege lords on the women of their subjects as evident from the concepts of jus prima noctes (the right of the first night) or droit du seigneur (meaning lord’s right).

In the Indian context, we have had plenty of cases where rape is an expression of caste, community or religious domination in normal times as well as times of general lawlessness, such as riots. Horrific accounts of thousands of such incidents during post-partition riots may be had in works like Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre and Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari. Readers may recall the deeply disturbing depiction of caste domination rapes of Phoolan Devi by upper caste Thakurs in the film Bandit Queen.

On January 26, there was an incident in the thick of Delhi (and not in some remote corner of the country) where some women instigated their men to rape a young married woman to ‘punish’ her because a boy pestering her could not take her ‘no’ for a ‘no’ and allegedly took his own life in “frustration”. They also insulted the woman by making her wear a garland of slippers, abused and assaulted her. Vibhanand Giri’s call is essentially the same socio-cultural sentiment coursing through our society’s veins.

N.C. Asthana is a retired IPS officer and a former DGP of Kerala. Amongst his 49 books, the latest is State Persecution of Minorities and Underprivileged in India.

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