Women, particularly educated, liberated and empowered ones, have always been targeted by conservative right-wing groups (a display of “Hindutva masculinity”). Right-wing women’s groups attack such women to protect Hindu “sanskriti” (culture) from Western influences. Celebrating Valentine’s Day, sitting or going out with male friends attracts swift punitive actions. Top BJP and RSS leaders are known for their misogyny. They often ask Hindu women to be confined to home, take care of husbands and produce more children to ward off dangers from Muslims. The Prime Minister once indirectly referred to then Congress president Sonia Gandhi as “Congress ki vidhwa” (widow of the Congress) at a public rally, likened then Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury to “Suparnkha” (an evil mythological character) inside the Parliament and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s wife a “50-crore-rupee girlfriend.”

It is not surprising a parliamentary panel said, in its December 2021 report, that the government’s “Beti bachao, Beti padhao” scheme had spent 79 per cent of its budget on publicity alone during 2016-2019, although the NITI Aayog claimed in 2021 that the “Beti bachao, Beti Padhao” is a success story.

According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, sex ratio has been falling since 2020 in more than a dozen states. Yet another shocker: According to a parliamentary answer of 2023, more than 13.13 lakh girls and women went missing in three years between 2019 and 2021 – and yet, it didn’t make any visible impact at all on the government.

This misogyny was reflected in the “Sulli Deals” – online campaigns putting liberal and educated Muslim women on “online sale” on social media (Github App). By using their publicly available photographs, hundreds of fake profiles were created and offered these women as “deals of the day”, describing them as “sulli”, a derogatory slang for Muslim women. The Delhi Police didn’t act for months. Meanwhile, an organized attempt was made to blame a Muslim youth. Six months later, in January 2022, it resurfaced as “Bulli Bai” deal on the same Gitbub App, this time auctioning Muslim women journalists. It was the Mumbai police under then non-BJP government that began a crackdown, forcing the Delhi Police to act. But the alt-right network that supports them remains untouched.

Other prominent instances include the Bilkis Bano and Hathras cases detailed in earlier chapters. There are many such cases. In the Kathua rape and murder case of 2018, a Muslim child was raped and killed in which the accused were Hindus. Then BJP ministers of Jammu and Kashmir took out marches in support of the accused. Hindutva outfits, the VHP and Bajrang Dal have sat in dharna in support of multiple rape convict Asaram Bapu. Ram Rahim, another religious guru, convicted in two rape-cum-murder cases and sentenced to 20 years, is granted regular paroles (ranging from 21 days to 40 days at a time), particularly to celebrate his birthday and help during state elections by Haryana’s BJP government – 182 days in 2022 and 2023 alone.

In the case of sexual abuse of women wrestlers, the initial probe ordered by the government was headed by Olympic medal winner and then BJP MP Mary Kom who justified the accused’s action and sought video evidence of sexual misconduct. When the women wrestlers resumed their dharna in April 2023, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) supported them and sought swift action but PT Usha, the first women president of the Indian Olympic Association (appointed by the new regime) met and chastised the protesters saying that their protests lowered India’s image and their protests amounted to indiscipline. No women MPs of the BJP, usually very vocal and shrill during the UPA regime over crimes against women, ever uttered a word in angst.

In the case of women wrestlers’ charge of sexual abuse by a BJP MP and then president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, Union Minister Meenakshi Lekhi ran when her comment was sought; Women and Child Welfare Minister Smriti Irani and other BJP MPs kept their silences; the National Women’s Commission (NCW), merely saying she had sought a report from the Delhi Police after it was questioned. The mainstream media and the middle class barely stirred, except for certain farmers’ “khaps” making it a Jat issue (some of the victims being Jats). Political scientist Suhas Palshikar lamented how such attitude reflected co-option and polarisation of the society in which the government was not called to question.

Neither the rule of law nor public pressure was seen in such a critical issue. It ended with the accused roaming free all the while, even after being indicted by the police probe and a chargesheet was filed confirming sexual abuse. For the first time, the WFI was suspended by the United World Wrestling (UWW) for not holding elections in time – which meant Indian wrestlers were to participate in the World Championships in September as neutrals and not under the national flag.

Why does the BJP defend someone accused of sexual abuse? Mukul Kesavan wrote in the context of Singh, “The Sangh rallied around Singh because, in its deepest being, it is a patriarchal, misogynistic organisation hardwired to discipline recalcitrant women. Just as the Sangh Parivar uses the idea of a ‘love jihad’ to police the partner choices of Hindu women, it used the Delhi Police to teach successful, articulate, disobedient women a lesson: rebellion doesn’t pay; learn to be pliable clients.”

More of the same happened when the video of naked Kuki women of Manipur being paraded and molested surfaced in July 2023. The BJP’s firebrand women MPs not just kept quiet but led by Irani, raised a storm over an imaginary “flying kiss” by Rahul Gandhi in the Parliament during the debate on a no-confidence motion in August 2023. The no-confidence motion was to force the Prime Minister to come to the Parliament and give a statement on the Manipur situation (burning for more than two-and-half months), including the atrocities on Kuki women. The BJP women MPs, in fact, filed a complaint with the Speaker against Rahul Gandhi’s “indecent” and “inappropriate” gesture towards Irani (a patently false claim as the video showed) and demanded strong action. The media, as always, joined in to keep the focus on this ridiculous episode.

The crux is, that the BJP keeps quiet and even supports the accused in crime against women if the accused happens to be a Hindu. The Prime Minister maintains his trademark silence. He had a minister in the first term, Nihalchand Meghwal, who was summoned by a court in a rape case and yet, when he was dropped in the 2018 reshuffle it wasn’t for his criminal background but for alleged poor performance. This (ministerial non-performance) is ironic since most ministers are unknown individuals, seldom come out in public or are known to have any say in policymaking or running their own ministries.

This is such a perverse development in India. Recall how the “Nirbhaya” case of 2012, when the Congress-led UPA was in power, jolted people and politics. A massive public protest erupted in New Delhi for many weeks; Manmohan Singh acknowledged the monstrosity of the crime, accepted the protests as legitimate, didn’t blame Opposition parties for similar crimes in the BJP-ruled states and promised prompt action185. The accused were held, tried and hanged186, the rape law was made more stringent (including death sentence); the POCSO Act of 2012 (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences)187 had come months earlier to address growing sexual crime against children.

Incidentally, the BJP has the maximum number of legislators (MPs and MLAs) with crimes against women – 44 of the total 134 – and rape cases – seven of the total 18 – as per the Association for Democratic Reforms report of 2023.

Excerpted with permission from Attack on the Idea of India: A Decade of Social, Political and Economic Strife, Prasanna Mohanty, Black Eagle Books.