By Rhea Arora Dec. 14, 2020
Kiranmayee Nayak is the head of a commission dedicated to “empowering” the women of Chhattisgarh and “ending discrimination” against them. If she is unable to practice what she preaches, who is she really helping?
The chief of a state women’s commission is the last person you would expect to be making regressive statements regarding rape cases in the country. Yet that is exactly what happened when Chhattisgarh’s women’s commission chief, Kiranmayee Nayak, suggested that women make false allegations of rape because they’re upset over break-ups. “In most of the cases, girls have a consensual relationship, a live-in setup and then file an FIR (First Information Report) for rape after separation,” she said during a public hearing on harassment in Chhattisgarh on Friday, according to reports.
Nayak’s comments not only place undue emphasis on false allegations but also undermine the more pressing issue of underreporting of sexual crimes. Data shows that only around eight per cent of rape claims (in more than one country) are false. In contrast, a mere six per cent of all sexual assaults against women were reported to the police in India in 2014.
By trivialising the rapes that are reported to authorities, Nayak also infantilised women and suggested that they’re unable to make rational decisions about their sexuality, partners, and lives overall. It’s a notion that also finds footing in various patriarchal myths, including the latest campaign against “love jihad” pushed by right-wing radicals.
What is perhaps most heart-breaking and ironic about the incident is that Nayak, herself a woman, is the head of a commission dedicated to “empowering” the women of Chhattisgarh and “ending discrimination” against them. If the leaders of such organisations are unable to practice the equality they preach or base their opinions on science and data, who are they really helping?
Like Nayak, National Commission for Women chairperson Rekha Sharma found herself embroiled in a similar controversy earlier this year. After receiving backlash for meeting with Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari over the “love jihad” conspiracy theory, Sharma was criticised by Twitter users over her old misogynistic tweets.
Wholly ignoring the political ideals of a woman and instead focusing only on her gender does an injustice to the feminist cause.
“Wish this khap panchayat man’s faimily (sic) go through ‘simple’ rape and then will ask him what to do,” tweeted Sharma in 2012. Soon after the old tweets resurfaced and went viral, Sharma made her Twitter account private and appeared to delete a number of such posts. Maybe expecting faces of the current conservative, Hindu nationalist government and the grand old party of India alike to espouse new-age intersectional feminist values is too politically naïve on our part.
Even minister for textiles and women and child development Smriti Irani has been scrutinised for brandishing “cut-throat patriarchal politics that pits women against each other” in editorial columns, much to the chagrin of her and the ruling party that seeks to position itself as a saviour of women with campaigns like “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao”.
Wholly ignoring the political ideals of a woman and instead focusing only on her gender does an injustice to the feminist cause. What India needs is more sensitive women leaders, and therefore critiquing problematic statements of women like Nayak, Sharma, and Irani is necessary, especially when they wield a degree of power to influence the lives of ordinary women. We can also defend them against sexist attacks and ensure they aren’t discriminated against simply because they’re women. In an era of confrontational partisanship, it’s worth remembering that it is possible to criticise our leaders while expressing solidarity with them at the same time.
Rhea Arora is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. She has previously worked as an editor for The Times of India and her reports have been published in The Hindu, Qrius, and Homegrown. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @rheaaroraa