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Why should rape cases be treated differently?

Saeed NaqviState election results have taken Tarun Tejpal off prime time shows and the front pages. This is something of a relief.

On Nov. 7-8, past midnight, after extensive partying at what was billed to be a THINK fest at a five star hotel in Goa, the feisty proprietor editor of Tehelka magazine followed one of his junior reporters, a friend of his daughter's, and allegedly did things to her, which under a revised law is tantamount to rape. Strangely, something similar happened the subsequent day too.

No sooner had the story leaked than it was banner headlines, recycled mornings, afternoons, and nights on prime time shows. It remained the staple for TV discussions week after week, as if the world had come to a standstill, riveted on Tejpal. By a coincidence, I had just returned from Muzaffarnagar, barely two hours drive from New Delhi, where Muslim victims from recent communal violence were preparing for a bitter winter in makeshift camps. Among the refugees were scores of women, raped in front of their parents and children and who are still waiting for the wheels of justice to move at all. In Tejpal's case there is that uncertainty as to what really happened. Here is rape with as many witnesses as can fill a court of law. Efforts to administer justice in the case of an alleged rape in the lift of a five star Goa hotel, contrasted sharply with gross inaction in Muzaffarnagar. The star struck media was taking no interest.

These victims of rape and ethnic cleansing were confronting yet another challenge. The regional party in power in Lucknow, the Samajwadi party, was keen that these victims must somehow disappear because their continued presence in camps reflects on the government's inability to prevent the pogrom. There was another dilemma. If the state intervened on behalf of the Muslims, the government will lose Hindu support. Should it end up doing nothing for the uprooted Muslims, the party faces the certainty of that vote bank drifting away.

So what should "Maulana" Mulayam Singh Yadav do on the eve of key national elections? He has a brainwave. He will require the few thousand Muslims still in the camp to accept a lump sum of Rs500,000, equivalent of $8,000, by way of compensation for having been dislocated. So far so good. But they will be entitled to this lump sum only on one condition: They sign an affidavit that they will not ever return to their homes under any circumstances.

Why is the government of Mulayam Singh going to such extraordinary lengths to prevent this timid vote bank from returning to their villages? Because he cannot guarantee them their security. Why such helplessness on the part of the nation's most populous state? Because the conflict in the region is between Jats and Muslims and the police force is overwhelmingly Jat. If that is the case why not transfer a Jat force to a non-Jat area and the other way around? Hush!! Don't even whisper this. Jats will get angry.

To sweeten the deal for the victims, Mulayam has roped in Maulana Arshad Madani, national president of Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind. Maulana says the "victims should take the money and build a home elsewhere." But why should they abandon the property they have left behind in the villages from where they have been driven out. "That property is theirs," says the Maulana. "No one can take it away from them." So, Mulayam Singh has placed the fate of the Muzaffarnagar riot victims in the care of the Deoband seminary.

With all of this swimming in my head upon my return from Muzaffarnagar, I had difficulty placing all the brouhaha about the Goa episode in proper perspective. I messaged Tejpal: A media so focused on rape should be directed to Muzaffarnagar.

It turns out that Maulana Arshad Madani's nephew, Maulana Mahmood Madani, was also at the Goa THINK fest dominating the nation's news. The clergy, it turns out, has got it covered at all ends.


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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 7, 2013
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