You have to admit that Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi has a way with analogies. After all, it takes a creative mind to compare women to ants and petrol of all things.
For anyone who has been hiding under a rock the past few days, the furore over the molestation of several women on Bengaluru’s MG Road and Brigade Road reached a high pitch on Tuesday, when Azmi indulged in victim-blaming in reaction to the event. In the course of his comments, Azmi reportedly said, “You have to keep petrol away from fire. And if there is sugar, ants will come automatically to it."
For Azmi, of course, the comments are par for the course. Back in 2014, Azmi had reportedly bemoaned the fact that a woman who gets raped does not receive any punishment for it. (Yes, you read that right.) He went on to say that in cases of rape, both the rapist and the woman victim should be hanged.
A year before that, Azmi said that rapes were increasing in the country because villagers come to the city and “see women with lesser clothes and make-ups.” He also said that because women were “weak”, they should not move around like men at night.
These comments are only the tip of the iceberg for a man who specialises in vulgar misogyny. That being the case, however, one question arises in regard to his most recent statements. Why was a politician from Maharashtra, representing a political party that has no hold or stake in Karnataka, sought out for his opinion on an incident in Bengaluru?
This is not to defend Azmi’s misogyny, which is of the worst kind and deserves to be called out. But Azmi is hardly the only patriarchal misogynist in the country. As even a casual perusal of comments from leaders across political stripes shows, the list of famous deliverers of casual patriarchy extends from the BJP to the Congress to the JD (U), Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and sundry others. We find all varieties of misogyny and gender violence routinely perpetrated by all shades of officials, public figures and celebrities.
So the question returns: why do we continue to ask Abu Azmi for his views on gender violence? On the part of journalists, the answer is smart business – in an issue like Bengaluru’s New Year’s Eve horror, where readers are already feeling keyed up, such shocking headlines as Azmi provides are an easy way to catch eyeballs.
And for readers, particularly those who consider themselves as holding onto “progressive values”, it provides an easy target, allowing us to tut tut or even righteously outrage against such espousers of “medieval mindsets”. Meanwhile, we can continue to tweet hashtags like #NotAllMen, continue celebrating heroes like Salman Khan despite little “truancies” like his “felt like a raped woman” comment, and argue, like Chetan Bhagat’s characters, that we are not “feminists” because we believe in inclusive ideologies like “humanism”.
Let’s get this straight – incidents like the molestation of women in Bengaluru should make us angry. They should not be dismissed. And misogynists like Abu Azmi should be called out for their distorted views of gender.
It’s not the outrage that arises on these occasions that’s the problem. It’s the conspiratorial silences we maintain the rest of the time that has to change. What Azmi and the Bengaluru incident let us do is safely wall the responsibility away from us, and push it onto other egregious figures (often showing a class bias in the process, but let’s not get into that).
The Bengaluru incident is the admittedly extreme end of what is, for women, a spectrum of everyday threats of harassment and gender violence. And for that spectrum, every one of us is responsible and will continue to be responsible, as long as we apply different yardsticks and rules for how we perceive men’s and women’s bodies, behaviours, rights and freedoms. Take that daily struggle away, and all our outrage at Abu Azmi or the many molesters on Bengaluru’s streets can do little to help women find the space to live public lives of dignity, respect and equality.