On 24 June, I wrote an open letter to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressing my anguish over the growing number of crimes against women in the state. I am from Bihar and had worked a communication consultant for Kumar during the last Assembly elections and I'm deeply disturbed by his inaction.
Three days later, Bihar Police chose to respond to my letter via a Facebook post.
Sadly their first response was to disclose the name of the rape victim, which was picked up by the local media. What followed was a hasty and shoddy attempt at damage control, wherein Bihar police deleted the post, and published an edited response.
Before I present a point-by-point rebuttal to their insensitive post, let me thank the Bihar government for taking cognizance of the letter. Let me also point out in the same breath that the insensitive response - both in content and form - cements my view that jungle raaj has returned to my state.
I think the Nitish Kumar government's official response to rape cases in Bihar are:
1. Insensitive: By resorting to a public announcement - they turned a heinous crime into a routine administrative process. By mentioning monetary compensation in the name of relief, the state has shown it has scant regard for this emotionally, physically and mentally damaging subject.
My letter, though a political instrument, was an emotional outburst, written on behalf of hundreds of JD (U) women workers and is reflective of the collective angst of Bihari women. Instead of taking aggressive affirmative action to boost security for women, they have limited themselves to bureaucratic drudgery. Is Bihar government under the illusion that the solution to rape is monetary compensation or that merely registering cases of rape are enough? Is this what the Bihar model has been reduced to?
2.Incorrect, irrelevant data: The police letter quotes NCRB data from 2015 to show that Bihar has become comparatively 'safer' for women.
Considering there is dearth of basic security and safety, and that the number of cases of rape and molestation have shot up since the Nitish government came into power in 2015, that claim is ironic. My letter picked up alarming anecdotes from the month of June 2016 alone. In this context, how is this 2015 data relevant?
Forget about common women of the state or my friends or family, when JD(U) female workers call me and tell me, 'aap awaaz uthaiye, hum saamne se bol bhi nahi sakte' (speak on our behalf, because we can't), I feel helpless, enraged. I feel as wronged as they do. I feel as humiliated as they do. Will Nitish ji explain which data captures this fear, this angst and this helplessness among his own cadre?
3. Diverting attention: Not only is Bihar government chest thumping on a year old inaccurate data, they're resorting to cheap political gimmickry by comparing numbers from other states' NCRB data. Are women in Bihar supposed to feel safe just because other states have worse track record? This sort of comparison shows nothing but intellectual bankruptcy by the Nitish Kumar government.
4. Blind-siding the real issue: A gender-sensitive government and leader wouldn't dare claim "reported versus non-reported" cases to justify inaction like the Nitish Kumar government did when they pleaded ignorance of a particular case because it was not 'reported.'
Isn't it a known fact that not all cases of exploitation are promptly reported? Are they saying there are no instances of unreported crime in the state? In a country such as ours, there are socio-political taboos responsible for non-reporting of cases of crimes against women. Shouldn't Nitish sarkaar take responsibility for this grossly unrealistic interpretation that just because a case went unreported, crime doesn't exist in the state?
Discuss the problem, not the victim
Does Bihar government really feel that a gangraped woman is in a frame of mind to deal with the trauma of 'reporting' the abduction of her daughters after her brutal rape? Did the government take any suo moto cognizance of that heart rending case? If it did, can it publicly announce the progress, therein? If it did not, would it explain why?
The official response in another rape case quotes medical reports claiming that the private parts of a survivor had not been mutilated. Let me remind Nitish ji that this is a mere 'perspective' from the government medical fraternity. As a woman, I counter that only the survivor can and should testify if her private parts have been mutilated or not. If not herself, a female member of her family should officially claim and/or approve and/or disapprove of the government's position.
We all know that official medical responses are highly manipulative and manageable. A brief conversation with any government medical professional in Patna will explain how politics often supercedes genuine medical opinion and influences the final reports.
By blaming the media for misreporting and falsely claiming that cases are 'made up', the government has further created a dent in the public-leadership connect. As a female journalist from Bihar, I thank my colleagues for reporting whatever information the stringer network churns. But as a reporter myself, I feel physically threatened. By gagging the fourth estate of our democracy through official proclamations , the government has issued an undeclared emergency.
The 'system' has used the state machinery for a long time to build a societal wall for a survivor to feel humiliated, threatened and even discouraged from discussing crimes of exploitation. In this case too, I fear that this official statement from the police may have broken the confidence and will power of the survivor to report the crime. Since the case has attracted nation-wide outrage in the media, the women of Bihar deserve justice. The arguments made by Bihar police on Nitish ji's behalf reek of misogyny, a hastily put-together 'research', political motivation and an administrative lethargy to report truth as it stands.
My letter to Nitish ji traced a very personal journey of not just me as an individual, but of the women in the state. It was a letter of spontaneous emotional outburst which came from my own personal journey from fear to strength to brutal betrayal - a journey gone wrong. To quote from my first letter, 'women in the state including myself feel that Nitish ji used 50% of Bihar's population - its women - simply as vote banks. Today, looking at the state of affairs, we feel cheated and betrayed. Due to the inaction of the government and its alliance with RJD, our worst fears have been proved right.
As a citizen of Bihar, I appeal to Nitish Kumar, the state government and the administrative machinery to not further politicise this issue, or deepen this feeling of emotional disconnect which the women of state feel for their once-favorite political leader.
We have shifted our allegiance and have been forced to embrace fear over something as abhorrent as rape.
(Shubrastha is a freelance journalist who worked with JD (U) during the last Bihar election and BJP during the Assam Elections. She continues to be associated with the BJP)
The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.