Who spread unblurred videos of women? SIT probe on Prajwal Revanna must find

While this is definitely a political storm for the JD(S) and the BJP, it is important to remember those who are the worst affected by this mayhem – the women in these videos.
Prajwal Revanna
Prajwal Revanna
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If one were to sift through the internet for news about sexual assault allegations against Janata Dal (Secular) founder HD Deve Gowda’s grandson Prajwal Revanna, one would find all sorts of headlines/thumbnails. While many call the video clips a ‘political scandal’, some ask if it is big enough to ‘dent the JD(S) in Karnataka’, or if it will become a ‘poll issue for the BJP’. While this is definitely a political storm for the JD(S) and the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), it is important to remember those who are the worst affected by this mayhem—the women in these videos. 

When crimes like these come to light, women are reduced to being mere ‘protagonists of a scandal’, while the powerful accused like Prajwal – son of Holenarsipura MLA HD Revanna, who is seeking re-election as an NDA candidate from Hassan for the Parliamentary seat – get to circumvent accountability. Though Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah announced a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the matter, and the JD(S) suspended him, Prajwal is said to have fled to Germany to evade investigation. 

The allegations against Prajwal are serious, involving questions about the safety, privacy, and bodily integrity of several women. But the issue has now become more about political damage control with the JD(S), BJP, and even the ruling Congress in Karnataka trying to pull political charades to save themselves while the women, with their names, identities, and faces all over the internet are nobody’s concern. India is a country that offers legal protection to sexual assault victims, mandating that their names or identifying details cannot be published in any media. But now, the women in these videos – which are being reshared in massive numbers through social media and messaging apps – are left with no armour whatsoever, their lives and characters laid bare for judgement and victim blaming.

If we try to unpack the crimes at hand here, there are three broad categories – one is the sexual assault itself, the second is the filming of the crime, and the next is related to the storage and distribution of the clips. It is alleged that the clips of the assault were all recorded on Prajwal’s phone which was then apprehended by a disgruntled ex-employee of the Revanna household and handed over to Prajwal’s rivals (from within the alliance and opposition) who apparently spread the clips via pen drives placed on park benches and other public places in Hassan. It is estimated that around 3000 clips have unblurred footage of over 70 women including JD(S) party workers, wives of JD(S) workers, public servants, media persons, and many others. 

Whether or not allegations about how the clips were spread are true, the fact remains that several women were sexually assaulted and filmed so that the clips could remain eternal fodder for the man behind the camera. It is mandated that the SIT should investigate who made and spread the videos with the unblurred faces of the women, thus endangering them. But there is an aggressive blame game over which political party orchestrated the release and circulation of the videos. This has raised fears about the safety and privacy of the women taking a back seat in the investigation considering the allegations about political functionaries being part of the crime. 

The video clips focus on the women who are asked to strip and perform various sexual acts on command. In many videos, the women are extremely vocal about their disinterest, while in some videos, they appear to be performing the acts without resisting. The latter is being dubbed as consent by many who say that the women were not victims because they participated in the acts. 

Recently, a 47-year-old domestic worker who was employed with the Revanna family also filed a complaint against both HD Revanna and Prajwal alleging sexual assault. But her own family, in a press conference, blamed her for “going to him”, concluding that she “participated in the abuse of her own volition.”

This is a common narrative used by rape apologists, stemming from a lack of understanding of how consent is manipulated by the power dynamics between a man and a woman.

Many of the survivors in the video clips, as mentioned before, are JD(S) workers and wives of party workers, which gives the party and its accused leader Prajwal an additional layer of power over them, while most others are exploited based on their livelihood circumstances. What we must underline here is that the lack of visible protest is not consent. Powerful predators have a hook over their victims, and in a socio-legal ecosystem that mostly allows them to thrive, they abuse power for their own convenience. Consent for sexual intimacy always means active consent and not silent compliance fearing consequences.

It must also be noted that most of the JD(S) members and voters are from the Vokkaliga caste, categorised as Other Backward Class, and the party has always claimed to be looking out for the welfare of the marginalised Vokkaliga women. Even the party symbol is that of a woman farm labourer carrying a stack of paddy on her head. But what looks like a massive, organised criminal activity is brushed off as a mere political scandal because the lives of the women involved here are nobody’s priority when there is an entire political alliance to salvage.

If we look at how this entire issue has panned out, it is evident that whoever decided to spread the visuals clearly targeted Prajwal and not the women. But they did not even remotely think about how this would impact the women, which is why their faces were unblurred, and their identities were used as throwaway pawns in a political war. Now, these women have no way of availing any protection whatsoever, and at every level, right from the abuse itself, it is the women who have been repeatedly violated and denied any semblance of justice.

In June 2023, when there were hushed talks about Prajwal’s alleged sexual assaults, the incumbent MP obtained a gag order from the court, barring most media from reporting whatever was known back then. With his political clout, he will likely amass more protection against scrutiny, while the women will continue to be pecked at, character assassinated, and forced to relive their trauma.

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