An unfortunate debate in Karnataka

The narrative has shifted from rape to the question of who leaked the videos

Updated - May 28, 2024 09:42 am IST

Published - May 28, 2024 12:15 am IST

Activists address a press meet regarding the “Namma nadige, Haasanada Kadege (Justice March to Hassan)“, in solidarity with the victims of the sexual abuse cases in which MP Prajwal Revanna has been accused.

Activists address a press meet regarding the “Namma nadige, Haasanada Kadege (Justice March to Hassan)“, in solidarity with the victims of the sexual abuse cases in which MP Prajwal Revanna has been accused. | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K.

The narrative around the Prajwal Revanna case seems to have shifted in Karnataka. Initially, there was outrage against the Hassan MP, who stands accused of sexual abuse and rape, as well as his father, who allegedly attempted to prevent victims from testifying against Prajwal. Now, the debate has slowly shifted to who leaked the explicit content. This narrative suggests that the entire case is a “political conspiracy.”

Prajwal, who left India in April, said on video on Monday that he will be returning on May 31 and that the people who want to “thwart” his political growth have hatched this “conspiracy”.

Former Chief Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) State president H.D. Kumaraswamy, who is Prajwal’s uncle, has been relentlessly attacking the government in the State, accusing the ruling Congress and specifically Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar of orchestrating the leak of the sexually explicit videos. While maintaining that he is not defending Prajwal and has in fact appealed to his nephew to return home and cooperate with the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that was formed to probe his alleged crimes, Mr. Kumaraswamy has been effectively pushing the Congress to a defensive position. He has thus shifted the focus of the debate around the issue in the public.

This attempt follows Devaraje Gowda’s allegation that Mr. Shivakumar had offered him money to leak the content. Mr. Gowda, an advocate from Hassan, was the first to claim in a letter to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership in December 2023 that he had a copy of the explicit content, with 2,976 files, and had argued against giving ticket to Prajwal. He has now been arrested in a sexual abuse case.

The bone of contention between the two Vokkaliga leaders, that is, Mr. Kumaraswamy and Mr. Shivakumar, has been the mantle of leadership of the community. Mr. Shivakumar is keen on snatching the leadership from the Gowda family. As most of the victims in the case are also Vokkaligas, Mr. Shivakumar has been accused of “misusing” the videos of these women for political gains. Posters making these accusations against him turned up at many places in Bengaluru a few weeks ago.

Alleging that the SIT was being “partisan” and not probing how the videos got leaked and distributed, Mr. Kumaraswamy, along with the BJP, has demanded that the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). However, the State government has ruled out a CBI probe.

So far, the SIT has arrested three people, all linked to the BJP; raided multiple locations in Hassan; and recovered several computer devices which were allegedly used to leak the explicit content.

Since the faces of the women were not masked in the videos, those who leaked the videos have definitely caused a lot of grief to the victims. While the alleged perpetrator fled India, the victims have had to deal with the trauma of these videos being freely circulated on messenger apps.

The line of attack by the JD(S) has gone to such an extent that recently, while speaking to journalists, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah asked, “Under which law of the Indian Penal Code is leaking videos a bigger crime than rape?” He said that while leaking the videos without hiding the faces of the victims is definitely a crime, rape is a bigger crime, and arguments about the former cannot be used to mask the latter.

With Prajwal absent and Mr. Kumaraswamy holding multiple press meets to push the narrative on the leak of videos, most of the local media coverage of the issue has also been dominated by the political slugfest rather than the sexual abuse, or the impunity of the MP, or the efforts made to bring him back.

To date, of more than 90 victims, only three have lodged complaints. This led to the filing of three rape cases against Prajwal. Despite professional counsellors being deployed to talk to all the victims, the women have not been forthcoming in lodging complaints. Fear of stigma and the fact that Prajwal belongs to the politically influential family of former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda have prevented them from lodging complaints, according to sources. Keeping the focus on the MP’s alleged crimes and providing moral support to the victims may have given the women the confidence to complain, they added.

Members of civil society are now attempting to correct this narrative and bring the focus back to the alleged multiple instances of sex abuse and misuse of power by the MP. They have announced a ‘Hassan Chalo’ protest march and a rally in the district on May 30.

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