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How a politician accused of attacking hundreds of women was able to guarantee the silence of his victims

Protest against the gang rape and alleged murder of a 19-year-old woman in the state of Uttar Pradesh in New Delhi on October 4, 2020. © Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

Indian lawmaker accused of rape makes sure they hide — because being a rape survivor is a bigger social taboo than being a rapist By Swati Chaturvedi, New Delhi-based independent journalist Rape protest collective and the alleged murder of a 19-year-old woman. an old woman in the state of Uttar Pradesh in New Delhi, October 4, 2020. © Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

In what is considered the world’s largest sexual assault and rape case, Prajwal Revanna, 33, a member of Indian parliament from Hassan constituency in the southern state of Karnataka, allegedly filmed raping women. Nearly 3,000 clips of this type have been circulated in Hassan and posted online.

Yes, you are accused of woman kidnapping and serial sexual assault. Young Revanna, who some might call “a piece of the old block”, fled to Germany using his diplomatic passport (the one issued to every MP) as soon as the videos circulated. He was later suspended by his party, the Janata Dal (secular), over the allegations. Indian authorities have requested help from Interpol to bring him back to stand trial.

However, the burden of Revanna’s evil crimes falls on her victims – the survivors whose identities were exposed due to the viral circulation of rape videos. In India’s agrarian and patriarchal society, being a rape survivor is a greater social taboo than being a rapist.

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The police are unsympathetic toward women who attempt to report or record a crime; as a result, many rapes go completely unreported, even though the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) said in 2019 that a rape occurs every 16 minutes. The trials are a nightmare, with the survivor subjected to humiliation and grilling. And then, it is difficult for a family to marry a survivor – an economic imperative in a poor environment. Families therefore try to avoid the “stigma” of rape.

The displaced sense of honor in Indian patriarchal society weighs on the woman’s body, which is the repository of man’s honor. The Hassan victims whose identities were revealed closed their homes and left in a desperate attempt to avoid prurient gossip and prying eyes.

I spoke to a senior police officer in Karnataka for this column and he expressed frustration over the lack of cooperation from victims.

Can you blame them, I asked, for the way the system is imbalanced against women in India? The rapist is not blamed but the women are, even if it is a little girl of eight months or a woman over 80 who is bedridden.

Sources told me that the telltale signs of locked houses, wives in hiding, husbands and fathers seeing the videos and demanding answers, are the predictable consequences.

Where does Revanna get her power from? His grandfather Deve Gowda served as accidental prime minister for a brief interregnum. Gowda is an old-school dynasty and has always indulged in a “family first” policy, finding important jobs for his sprawling clan.

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Hassan, located around 180 km from Bangalore, the IT capital of the country, is the pocket-sized family borough. The systematic exploitation and abuse of women predates Prajwal’s political career. One of his victims in the viral videos can be heard saying: “I’m 68 years old, please spare me, I fed you when I was a child.” I fed your father.

Another, a police officer who is forced to strip off her uniform, begs for mercy, saying she will kill herself if he continues. A deadpan Prajwal is seen laughing in the video.

Hassan is such a stronghold of the Gowda clan that before a woman could reach the police, the powerful vindictive clan would be tipped off and dire consequences for the victim’s family would ensue. This is the main reason why women were silent.

Prajwal allegedly recorded his actions as a weapon of blackmail against the victims to keep them silent and obedient. If they refused him anything, he would threaten to make the rape video go viral.

The entire Gowda clan knew about Prajwal’s monstrous activities, but they turned a blind eye, perhaps because his father also did the same. The powerful family obtained silence orders from the courts to ensure the abuse was not made public.

The family’s defense so far has been stunning and sickening, saying the videos are three or four years old. There is no statute of limitations on rape cases in India, but the defense appears to argue that the acts were acceptable because they occurred a few years ago.

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Even though the Hassan case was made public due to the large number of women Prajwal abused, the media has been reluctant to report the abuse, even calling it a “sex scandal”, which is ridiculous. The women did not volunteer to participate in the “sex scandal” dubbed by the media.

The outcry and shame caused by the leak of the videos forced the Special Investigation Team of the Karnataka Police to warn that it would arrest and prosecute anyone circulating or even in possession of the videos. A district court even denied anticipatory bail to anyone found doing so; among these are four men responsible for distributing USB keys containing the videos.

Yet Prajwal is not the only politician to get a pass in a heinous case of sexual abuse or assault. Here is a 2018 list of powerful politicians accused of sex crimes.

More recently, Indian female Olympic gold medal athletes accused another powerful MP, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, of serial sexual harassment. Because the establishment turned a blind eye, thanks to the MP’s considerable political influence in his native Kaiserganj, in India’s most politically important state, Uttar Pradesh, women publicly protested and began a hunger strike.

Instead of taking action against the harasser who led the wrestling association, police violently evicted the athletes from the protest site in New Delhi in April 2023.

Incredibly, in what appeared to be a clear attempt to rehabilitate him, a famous TV presenter from a mainstream channel this weekend conducted a friendly interview with Singh, whose son is running in the ongoing parliamentary elections instead from his father. The presenter proudly shared photos on social media of himself arm wrestling with Singh and repeatedly called him a “strong man”.

I don’t mean to pick on the presenter, who apologized in the face of a swift backlash on social media, but this is how abuse against women is normalized instead of criminals being ostracized.

Yes, in India you will be valued as a woman if you don’t complain, and if you quietly confirm and win medals. Political leaders will seek you out for photo ops and selfies. But if you dare to file charges against powerful politicians, the entire establishment will seek revenge.

While Prajwal goes into hiding to ensure he is not punished for his alleged serial abuse, ironically his victims also have to hide their faces to ensure a false sense of honor. Until this victim shames and apologizes for the alleged rapists, women will continue to be mistreated and silenced in India.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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