The incident in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday — Women and Child Development Minister C.C. Patil watching a pornographic clip on the floor of the House with a ministerial colleague — comes quick on the heels of his exhortation to women to “dress appropriately” so that they do not face sexual harassment.
At a workshop organised by the Karnataka State Women's Commission barely two months ago, Mr. Patil had proposed a dress code and said that “moral values” were more powerful than laws to deter sexual harassment. Two days later, responding to a query in Hubli, he had said that women should “decide which dress is safe for them”.
The irony of a Minister in charge of women's welfare, with such a narrow vision on women's clothing, allegedly being caught watching clips of naked women is too obvious to be missed. This is only the continuation of a trend where Ministers in the State Cabinet and MLAs have behaved in a manner completely at odds with their high moral public rhetoric as defenders of Indian tradition and the chaste ‘Bharatiya nari'. In May 2007, Jayalakshmi, a nurse, released photographs that showed her and M.P. Renukacharya (Excise Minister), in sexually compromising positions. Two months prior to that, she had attempted suicide alleging that the Minister was sexually harassing her. Though she withdrew the case in 2010, after reaching a “compromise” with the accused, the incident left the Minister's reputation in tatters.
In June 2008, the suicide of Padmapriya, wife of Udupi MLA K. Raghupati Bhat, created a storm with allegations that harassment had driven her to leave home and eventually commit suicide. Higher Education Minister V.S. Acharya, who was the then Home Minister, had stood firmly in support of Mr. Bhat, saying that Ms. Padmapriya had been “kidnapped”.
Again, in May 2010, Hartal Halappa, who was the Food and Civil Supplies Minister, was forced into an ignominious exit from the Ministry following a report that he had sexually abused a woman. A homemaker from Shimoga, his friend's wife, had lodged a police complaint alleging rape by Mr. Halappa.
Even as there are glaring contradictions in moral standards at the level of individual Ministers and MLAs, there is also no dearth of incidents of moral policing by Sangh Parivar elements. There have been attacks on those “polluting” Indian culture during Valentine's Day celebrations. In coastal districts, young girls and boys of different religious communities have been beaten up for meeting or going out together.
In one of the most widely reported incidents, in January 2009, a group of young girls in a pub in Mangalore were beaten up by Sri Rama Sene activists for drinking and behaving “obscenely”. Earlier this month, the district administration of Udupi and the Tourism Department, apparently with full knowledge of Mr. Bhat, held a rave on St. Mary's Island, a geological monument, where tourists were allegedly seen using drugs and indulging in sexual acts in the open.
Interestingly, Krishna Palemar, one of the BJP Ministers now implicated in the incident, who is the district-in-charge Minister of Dakshina Kannada, had declared after the pub attack that “obscene dances will not be allowed in our district”.
This statement, in the context of incidents on Tuesday, sounds nothing short of farcical.