The outrageous statements about rape by Samajwadi Party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Abu Azmi are not off the cuff remarks. They were not said unthinkingly in extempore speeches. The SP's record on issues of rape and gender in general shows that it is the most anti-women political party in India. No other party has opposed women's rights so clearly and consistently.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, the president of the SP, said this week at an election rally that boys will be boys. They make mistakes, he said, but why should they be hanged for them? He was referring to the death sentence given to the Shakti Mill rapists in Mumbai. They were given death under the new laws enacted after the December 2012 "Nirbhaya" gangrape and murder case in Delhi. Yadav said if his party was elected to power, he would amend the law, as many innocent men were being implicated.

The party's leader in Mumbai, Abu Azmi, went a step further by saying that if rapists are to be punished, women indulging in consensual sex without marriage should also be hanged. He didn't say that men having sex outside marriage should be punished.

This is very much in line with the position taken by the Uttar Pradesh party when parliament was debating the new post-"Nirbhaya" laws. "We are opposed to the bill," SP leader Ramgopal Yadav had said. "It has been framed on the recommendations of some mentally-retarded people." The party, an ally of the ruling Congress, willy-nilly came around to supporting the law but only after it took out the provision reducing the age of consent from 18 to 16. Since the age of marriage for women is 18, reducing age of consent would have meant legalising consensual pre-marital sex. The SP was also opposed to provisions about stalking and voyeurism. To be sure, other parties, including the Bhartiya Janata Party, were also opposed to reducing the age of consent and criminalising marital rape.

That tells you on which side of the social divide the SP stands: with the Hindu right. Of course, its leaders don't actually make common cause with the BJP or the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh because they claim to be secular. Their route to power needs the Muslim vote. As a consequence, they prop up Muslim religious figures to obtain secular support to misogyny.

Another display of the party's anti-women attitude came last year, when a high-profile rape case involving a so-called secular journalist occupied national attention. SP leader Naresh Agarwal said, "A lot of top officials is now scared of having female assistants or colleagues."

Misogyny is in the SP's DNA. The party has consistently opposed the idea of reserving 33% seats in parliament for women unless this includes a sub-quota for other backward classes, dalits and adivasis. The SP and its government in Uttar Pradesh have hardly any women's faces. Speaking in parliament in a debate on the women's reservation bill in 2010, Mulayam Singh Yadav explained why women in the legislature would be a bad idea. “The parliament will be filled with women who will invite catcalls and whistles,” he said.

Having a dalit woman for an arch rival has brought out the worst in Mulayam Singh Yadav. When Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati got herself a bob-cut hairstyle, he called her "parkati aurat", short-haired woman. In 1995, after the BSP withdrew support for the SP government in Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam's partymen attacked a state guest house where BSP leaders were staying, dragging them away and trying to get to Mayawati. She locked herself in a room and the police arrived just in time to save her from a mob of about 200 people trying to break into her room.

The incident left a deep impression on Mayawati, making her more paranoid about security than the average politician. Soon she became chief minister and Mulayam Singh Yadav joined the United Front government in Delhi as the Union defence minister. Chief Minister Mayawati said that that day in the state guest house, she feared rape. Mulayam Singh Yadav responded, "Is she so beautiful that anyone should want to rape her?"

Dalit women in Uttar Pradesh are the worst victims of the SP's misogyny. Sexual violence against dalit women is rampant in UP, even though the state has fairly low rape rate, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. This, of course, is because it isn't easy to get the UP police to file a rape FIR. While the media highlighted sexual violence against dalit women in UP only when Mayawati was in power, dalit activists say the situation under the SP is dire.

That became clear last month, when a dalit woman in Deoria in eastern UP approached the police to file a rape complaint. The police officer asked, "Itni purani aurat ka kaun balaatkar kare ga? Who would rape such an old woman?"