NEW DELHI – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday urged lawmakers to cease insensitive and ambiguous word play over rape and to work together to protect all women, in his first comments on the issue since the gang rape and murder of two girls shocked the country last month.
Modi warned lawmakers against “politicizing rape,” saying they were “playing with the dignity of women,” in his first speech to parliament since sweeping to power at last month’s elections.
Modi singled out the rape and murder last month of the two girls, aged 12 and 14, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where a political row has erupted as anger mounts over the state government’s handling of the murders.
Modi said lawmakers must work to end sexual attacks, which women’s groups charge have reached “epidemic” levels despite mass protests over the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012.
“Governments will have to work strictly against this, else our own souls will not forgive us,” Modi told parliament. “That’s why I appeal to all state ministers, all ministers, please stop politicizing rape. Does it suit us to make comments on such incidents, can we not be quiet?
“We are playing with the dignity of women. Respect for women, their security — it should be the priority for all (of India’s) 1.2 billion people.”
The appeal comes after a string of politicians, including from Modi’s own Bharatiya Janata Party, made comments over the attacks on the two girls that only inflamed public anger further.
Last weekend, a minister from central Chhattisgarh state said that “these kind of incidents happen accidentally.” A few days earlier, a minister from Madhya Pradesh state said rapes were “sometimes right, sometimes wrong.”
Fueling public outrage, a 45-year-old woman was found hanging from a tree Wednesday in Uttar Pradesh, with her family saying she had been raped and murdered. A police officer said they were questioning five men over the incident, which occurred several kilometers from her home in the Bahraich district.
“They (her husband and son) have alleged that the woman, before being strung up from the tree, was raped and murdered by these men,” district superintendent Happy Guptan said.
And on Thursday, an Indian woman reported she had been gang-raped by four officers at a police station in the Hamirpur district of Uttar Pradesh. The woman said she had gone to the station overnight Monday to seek her husband’s release, when she was attacked.
The woman filed a complaint with a senior officer on Wednesday over the attack, which allegedly occurred when she refused to pay a bribe to secure her husband’s freedom.
“At 11:30 p.m. when there was no one in the room the subinspector took me to his room and raped me inside the police station,” the woman told an Indian broadcaster. A criminal case had been lodged against four officers from the station.
Akhilesh Yadav, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, is under escalating political pressure over his handling of law and order, given the recent string of shocking sex attacks in India’s most populous state. Yet when he was earlier asked by reporters about the sharp rise in rape cases, Yadav replied: “It’s not as if you faced any danger.”
In the case of two teenage girls, their assailants gang-raped and lynched them late last month after the girls had gone into a field to relieve themselves at night because they did not have a toilet at home. Their families refused to cut the bodies down from the tree for hours in protest at what they called police failure to take action against the attackers because the girls were from the Dalit caste, previously referred to as “untouchables.”
India introduced tougher laws last year against sexual offenders after the December 2012 gang-rape and death of a student in New Delhi, but the tide of violence against women has continued unabated.