Sleaze in Vidhanasoudha: A case of fence eating the crop

My father used to often quote a popular saying – Yathaa raja, thatha prajaa – meaning that if the rulers are corrupt, you can’t expect the praja or populace, to be any better.

Quite right. I remember once arguing with an auto rickshaw driver over his demand for an extra Rs 5 on top
of the meter charge. He pointed to the massive flyover that we were under, and said, “Amma, do you know how many crores have been eaten up by corrupt politicians in constructing this flyover? And you are scolding me for asking for a paltry five rupees…” He was right, the papers had been full of reports of that scam involving a few hundred crores.

And now we have reports of our administrators watching porn inside the legislature. What message does this send out, to the public, about the government’s commitment to gender justice and protection of women?

Public memory – temporary?

Pornography is reprehensible because it demeans women, commodifies them and legitimises their use as sexual playthings. Last year, some MLAs were caught on camera  watching a rape scene while a session was on at Vidhan Soudha, that exalted the supposedly sacred symbol of governance

Some of the culprits even trotted out outrageous explanations, claiming that they were “educating themselves” about rape, and so were not guilty of wrong-doing. Despite media reports on that incident (and on similar incidents in other states), even identifying the persons who were guilty of the offence, nothing happened, the matter fizzled out and soon vanished from the public’s consciousness.

And now, we again have a similar report of sexist misbehaviour by officials working inside Vidhana Soudha. There has been no confirmation but last week’s online news  says such an incident did happen.

When the fence eats the crop

Politicians pass laws while administrators enforce them. If these two categories of public employees defaults, and resorts to watching porn, we as citizens and women cannot expect any commitment to the assurances that we have in place, on our statute books. And that makes a mockery of both laws and governance.

I am not concerned about the morality of those in power, but I am indeed concerned about the message that they send out to other men out there, as part of the ‘public’, through their behaviour. We have ‘leaders,’ prominent ones at that, with a large following, who are married men but are known to have had (and confessed to) ‘girl friends’ with whom they have even had children! The wife doesn’t raise a squeak.

We have film actors with huge fan following, accused of affairs, and worse, and taken to court with accusations of domestic violence. Nothing happens. Their fans do not despise them, the directors do not stop booking them for films, in fact their popularity at the box office soars, with collections swelling, precisely because of the dubious reputation they enjoy. One film actor even conceded that even if the reports about affairs are untrue, it is ‘good for their publicity’ and market value!

Caretakers have no one to care!

One half of the citizenry is female, and their rights are just as important as those of the men. The Constitution forbids discrimination on grounds of sex, and yet, sleaze is nothing but discrimination against the female because it treats them as objects of pleasure. My blood boils – we cook and clean and care for the elderly and the sick, and raise children, often without any help from the male parent, and if need be even earn to keep the family fed when the male head of household defaults on earnings. And on top of it all, we are treated as jokes, objects that are less than human, not to be taken seriously.

Of course, this has been going on for aeons, in all cultures around the world, but that is what civilisation and progress mean – that we eschew what is unacceptable and aim for gender justice and gender equity.

Watching porn does not fit into that mandate. Certainly, not in someone elected to office and entrusted with leading the state into a better matrix, or holding a job at Vidhan Soudha, as part of the administration. That “better matrix,” meaning progress and development, is for everybody, including women and girls.

Defaulting on the public trust

Criminality is not just murder or robbing. It is also defaulting on public trust. Even the former World Bank president, Strauss Kahn, had to hang his head in shame after his escapades became the stuff of media exposure. He could not run for president.

It was the same with President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky case. The sad part is that even a Hillary Clinton chose not to kick a playboy husband in the face.

This is the sad reality. It explains why the wife of a film star prefers to withdraw her case against an abusive husband. The crux, therefore, is that women, as females, are vulnerable. In many ways, not just physical but also social.

By speaking up, and exposing wrong doing, perhaps we can help set the balance right, even if it takes a long time. It’s like planting a tree – you may never enjoy the fruits in your lifetime, but someone else will, just as our generation of women enjoys the fruits of struggles that earlier generations of women put up.

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About Sakuntala Narasimhan 69 Articles

Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Jayanagar based writer, musician and consumer activist.