Sumpolites | Your Honour or Your Votes

The silence of the PM candidates on social issues like honor killings, women trafficking and gender issues is deplorable, even more disgraceful is their pandering to parties and people who still live by these archaic, and sexist jungle laws.

Honour based Violence an NGO, puts the number of honour killings in India at 1000, United Nations reports 1 in 5 honour killings around the world happen in India, there are campaigners who allege more than 10,000 happen every year. The harsh truth is no one really knows how high the numbers go. From the Khap lands of the North, villages in Tamilnadu to urban Andhra Pradesh the stories of  brutal murder, ghastly lynch mobs, unexplained suicides, public humiliation, and ostracisation, all because of inter caste marriage, and because of women stepping out of line have continued unabated in the last couple of years.

Khap Panchayats especially have become a law unto themselves, followed by regional political parties like the PMK who often resort to fomenting violence against couples and their families for stepping outside caste lines for love and marriage. No one can come up with an accurate number for various reasons. Criminals are often families themselves, police complicity is often bought through money, threat or power, those who do speak up are buried under the law and political pressure. No one can come up with a number because for the most part political parties themselves are guilty of covering up for these murders, legitimizing the institutions that carry out these killings and pandering to these defenders of modesty and upholders of value no matter how false, for support and votes.

Political coalitions are built with an eye on the end goal. But in the clamour and clang of election issues, slighted statesmen, and dynasty politics, the fact the many of the people contesting for the seats have fallen in step with these abhorrent social systems has not garnered the outrage it should have. Even as the instigator of the pub attack in Bangalore was forced out from one party due to his ‘anti women and violent activities”, the Haryana CM Bupinder Hooda was at the other end referring to the Khap Panchayat as an NGO

It’s like if you go to Gurgaon there is a welfare association. Similarly Khap is also an NGO. They are a part of our culture.

Also gaining points was the AAP party leader who came out in their support saying they had a cultural purpose. Very little has been said by any of the major parties against these kangaroo courts and the jungle laws that they follow. Very little of worth has been mentioned about the dismal sex ratios in UP, Punjab, Gujarat and MP, ratios that have resulted in greater trafficking of women into these states. Very little of value has been mentioned about the murders, decapitations and sodomizations often ordered by these panchyats. Absolutely no word on the violence against women and the blatant discrimination which prohibits women from being an equal part of the society in which live and into which they are sold.

The PMK in Tamil Nadu brings with it a history of bigoted, sexist, violent and dangerous movements against caste marriage and empowerment of women. Their constant push has ensured that the narrative of dominance by one caste against another remains strong and any attempts to breach the barrier are forbidden. Their methods of forcing women into marriage and otherwise unacceptable social situations, blaming modernity for love and advancement in technologies for bridging caste barriers have not been affected by talks of empowerment or by political coalitions. Superfluous solutions that are bandied about by political campaigns will make very little difference and are not really intended to make any difference. Bridging the yawning gaps between what we see as constitutionally valid, legal courses and what we know as kangaroo courts that govern most of these people will continue to exist and widen unless someone does something about it.

The problem is, it is often the women who get caught in the chasm that exists between the law of the land and the culturally correct law. The more the women get caught in a trap that is deemed to be right for them, the less likely they will be allowed to step up and talk about it and do something about it. One of the harshest indicators of this is the falling voter turnout among women. While there has been no known formal study that links the drop in voter registration among women to issues that matter to them, a greater emphasis on gender and sexual empowerment during one of the chai meets or informal meets wouldn’t hurt.

The Hindu in analysis of the voters registered for the election has found out that only

41% of the 18-19 year-olds registered to vote for the first time are women, 96 lakh of them as against 1.4 crore new male voters. Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chandigarh and Gujarat have the most skewed electoral sex ratios.

The article mentions skewed sex ratios as one reason for the difference. The data comes at a time when the projected future also seems bleak. Data released over the weekend shows that many of the states listed above have reported a greater drop in sex ratio.

The difference in registered voters is for the age group of 18-19, a group waiting to enter the workforce, these are the women who will be forced and subjected into marriage, and having to still face antiquated, abolished systems such as dowry, having no say in their relationships, their lives or their health. These are the people who in the last couple of years took part in protests against sexual harassment, against the criminalization of same sex relationships and bore the brunt of being harassed for their gender, ethnicity and their sexuality.

It is a strange election in that the youth vote so intensely being campaigned for does not contain any of the social issues that matter to this growing population. Very few have spoken about the laws against sexual harassment, very few have made a case for legalizing varied sexual preferences, very few have talked about racism in urban areas, very few have spoken strongly against the antiquated notion of caste and religion still determining who a person can fall in love with and who they can get married to. The ones who have managed to speak out have pushed people like Muthalik out, the ones who cannot and could not speak will remain behind the scenes of a participatory democracy

Silence from the people running for the office of the prime minister is dangerous. We had a silent sentinel for the past 8 years and that has pushed this country backward, its women into glass houses and criminalized freedom of expression. Voting for another might just be the final push into oblivion for gender relations in this country.