"Although attacks on women are also an urban phenomenon - vide the gang-rape of a young student in a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012 and of a video journalist in a deserted mill area in Mumbai in August 2013 - what is shameful about Uttar Pradesh is the insouciance of its politicians, with an influential member of the Yadav clan passing the blame almost wholly to the obscene scenes shown on television. It is as if the state government and the ruling party bear no responsibility for the lawlessness."
Uttar Pradesh is known for having sent several prime ministers - Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and now Narendra Modi - to parliament. It is also the crucible of the composite north Indian Hindu-Muslim culture, famous for courtly etiquette which percolated down to the lower levels as well.
But there is another side of Uttar Pradesh which is less salubrious. It isn't only the traditional casteism of the Hindi belt with its inbuilt prejudice and antagonism. A part of this sectarian custom is a patriarchal mindset typical of communities which haven't yet come to terms with the modern age with its concept of the rights of women.
In recent years, a community which has come to symbolize the state's backwardness is the one which currently rules the state, viz. the Yadavs, described in Wikipedia as a non-elite, pastoral group. Being the most prominent of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), which are known for their social and educational backwardness, the Yadavs have another dubious claim to fame - that of rampant hooliganism.
One of the most shocking examples of this violent streak, compounded by misogyny, was that in 1995 when the Circuit House where the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati was staying was attacked by Samajwadi Party (SP) goons with such vehemence that she feared for her life.
On the eve of the 2012 assembly elections, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav, who is now chief minister, admitted that his mainly Yadav-based party's reputation for harbouring goons has harmed its image and led to its defeat at Mayawati's hands five years earlier.
But he hasn't been successful in improving the image. Instead, the continuing incidents of rape in Uttar Pradesh have begun to attract worldwide attention, dissuading potential tourists from visiting India.
The incident which has caused widespread outrage and revulsion is the rape of two cousins by a group of men who later killed them and hanged them from a tree. The fact that the two teenagers were dalits provided further confirmation of the centuries-old animosity between the backward castes and the untouchables.
But it isn't only this and a number of other incidents, including a rape in Rahul Gandhi's constituency of Amethi, which have shocked the rest of the country. No less appalling has been the disgracefully casual attitude of the SP leaders. The most reprehensible was the attempt a few weeks ago of the septuagenarian former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav to virtually exonerate rapists by saying that young men sometimes commit mistakes but they should not be given capital punishment for their offences.
That this person once aspired to be prime minister can make one shudder. In fact, he anointed his son, Akhilesh Yadav, as chief minister in the hope of keeping himself free for the top post if the 2014 elections produced a hung parliament.
Akhilesh Yadav himself displayed the same insensitive streak when he asked a reporter inquiring about the rapes whether she herself was safe. He also asked reporters to Google to find out that rapes do not take place in Uttar Pradesh alone.
The reference to Google was intriguing because his party had once sought to ban computers along with English for representing a modern lifestyle which mars, in the view of the Yadav chieftains, the idyllic rusticity of their agricultural community.
In more recent times, the Sydney university alumnus has changed his mind and appears to have been able to persuade his father to shed his objections to computers, if not to English, in order to let some elements of today's world creep into their closeted world of villages and small towns. But it is still a far cry from an urbane, sophisticated outlook.
The other evidence of a reluctant acknowledgement that a reversal to earlier ages may be even politically disadvantageous was Akhilesh's observation after the SP's crushing defeat in the general election that development programmes appeal to the common people.
It doesn't take much political insight to understand why the SP has reached the lowest point of its career, winning a mere five seats against 23 in 2009. Even if the vote share has remained more or less the same - 22.2 per cent this time against 23.3 five years ago - the drastic fall in the number of seats is evidence that the rule of these regional parties believing in primitivism may be coming to an end.
In addition to the SP's dismal performance, the BSP, too, has fared miserably, failing to win a single parliamentary seat compared to 20 in 2009. Considering that the BSP had won an absolute majority in the state assembly in 2007, its fall has been precipitous.
Although attacks on women are also an urban phenomenon - vide the gang-rape of a young student in a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012 and of a video journalist in a deserted mill area in Mumbai in August 2013 - what is shameful about Uttar Pradesh is the insouciance of its politicians, with an influential member of the Yadav clan passing the blame almost wholly to the obscene scenes shown on television. It is as if the state government and the ruling party bear no responsibility for the lawlessness.
(07.06.2014. Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])
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