Asaram Bapu’s statement that the 23-year old woman who died after being gang-raped in Delhi last month was as much at fault as her offenders is shameful coming from a spiritual guru who is seen as a role model by his huge fan following, both in India and abroad.

Asaram Bapu’s statement that the 23-year old woman who died after being gang-raped in Delhi last month was as much at fault as her offenders is shameful coming from a spiritual guru who is seen as a role model by his huge fan following, both in India and abroad. Indeed, the epidemic of sexist outbursts that has followed the gang-rape is all the worse for originating from men and women in leadership roles who are self-avowedly committed to public service and the betterment of society. Tragically, their notions of what constitutes an ideal society appear rooted in the very prejudices that have engendered a culture of violence against women, the Delhi incident being its most recent and horrific manifestation. This illiberal pack — made up of politicians, social leaders and now godmen — has expressed itself with gusto, with no regard for the young life that was so cruelly and so needlessly extinguished. Not surprisingly, these “leaders” are also impervious to the anger and revulsion their views have generated.

Up until now, it was the political class speaking as if there was no tomorrow: from the President’s son Abhijit Mukherjee and Andhra Pradesh Congress chief Botsa Satyanarayana to Bharatiya Janata Party minister from Madhya Pradesh Kailash Vijayvargiya and chairperson of the Chhattisgarh State Women’s Commission Vibha Rao, each has spoken in an idiom more in sync with patriarchal definitions of the woman’s place than reflective of their own supposed status as enlightened leaders. For his part, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Mohan Bhagwat gave a predictable spin to the gang-rape, setting it as an urban phenomenon that conflicted with the pristine ethos of Bharat. The divide between India and Bharat is a piece of fiction because violence against women is endemic to rural India with its worst victims drawn from the lowest rungs of the economic and caste ladder. And yet, incredible as it might seem, the explosion of regressive thoughts has paled in comparison to the atrocious suggestion made by Asaram Bapu that the Delhi woman virtually invited the rape. “A mistake is not committed by just one side,” he said, adding that she should have sought refuge in prayer and begged her offenders to stop. For anyone to speak so disparagingly of women is unacceptable, and it is a disgrace when a man of religion stoops so low. Asaram deserves to be condemned in the strongest words by the community of religious leaders and it is heartening to note that a number of godmen have indeed spoken out. Sadly, we have yet to hear the high command of the Congress and the BJP publicly condemn those from within their flock who have made the most offensive anti-women statements over the past three weeks.

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