Words, however provocative, cannot justify violent acts. But Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Rita Bahuguna Joshi exceeded all limits of political decency in her attack on Chief Minister Mayawati in the context of the State government’s offer of monetary assistance to a rape victim. Without doubt, the attack and arson at the residence of Ms Joshi deserve condemnation; and her arrest and remand under different sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act do seem excessive. But this over-reaction must not be allowed to divert attention from the viciousness and vulgarity of what the UPCC chief said and meant (notwithstanding her and her party’s half-hearted attempts at apology that seem more like rationalisation of political stupidity). Quite rightly, Chief Minister Mayawati took offence at the remarks, which she described as “humiliating, uncivilised, and derogatory.” If Ms Joshi wanted to make the point that cash cannot compensate for anything that cannot be bought, she could have done so without invoking the language of sexual assault against Ms Mayawati. If the Congress leader’s intention was to call attention to the vulnerability of women, that point was lost in the gutter-level personal attack.

Not surprisingly, Ms Joshi found little or no support from women functionaries in her own party and in alliance parties. If the Congress is determined to take the line that the charges filed against their U.P. unit president are politically motivated and unjustified, then the party must first unequivocally condemn, and distance itself from, Ms Joshi’s remarks. This means immediately removing her from the post of UPCC president. Independent of whether the specific charges against Ms Joshi will stand in a court of law, the Congress must abandon its present stance of hiding behind the legal issues and taking the moral low ground. Cash as “compensation” might sound morally abhorrent to some people but the reality is that most rape victims need the help and solidarity of the state to rebuild their lives. In a society where they tend to be stigmatised, the state must have adequate support systems in place to help them overcome the trauma. Monetary aid must be seen not as “compensation” for rape but as an essential element in the rehabilitation of the affected persons, most of whom are from a deprived background. Most damagingly, the stigma attached to rape is now being extended to accepting material help from the state. Ms Joshi has done more harm than vilifying Chief Minister Mayawati — and Congress president Sonia Gandhi must act immediately to remove her from the party post.