Actors Pooja Bhatt, Urmila Matondkar, and Taapsee Pannu have strongly criticised Chandramukhi Devi, a member of the National Commission for Women (NCW), for comments amounting to victim blaming in the case of a 50-year-old rape victim in Badaun district, Uttar Pradesh.
While addressing the media on January 7, Devi had said that women should not go out at odd times, and that the assault and murder of a 50-year-old anganwadi worker in Badaun district, Uttar Pradesh might have been avoided had she had been accompanied by a (male) child from her family. Devi had been sent along with another NCW member to visit the victim’s family.
Devi subsequently withdrew her statement and said she had no intention of stating that women did not have the right to go out anywhere.
The retraction came in the wake of criticism from several quarters, including from the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). While the AIDWA issued a statement calling for Devi’s removal saying her comments propagated “feudal and patriarchal values”, Bhatt, Matondkar, and Pannu have said that Devi’s mindset was part of the problem.
Filmmaker Pooja Bhatt had tweeted to ask if the Chairperson of the NCW, Rekha Sharma, stood by Devi’s statement, and whether she would agree that the victim was at fault for stepping out to visit a temple during the evening.
In response, Rekha Sharma tweeted, “No I don’t..I don’t know how and why the member has said this but women have all the right move on their will whenever and wherever they want to. It’s society and state’s duty to make places safe for women.”
Actor Taapsee Pannu had tweeted that such incidents wouldn’t happen but for people with such a mindset.
— taapsee pannu (@taapsee) January 7, 2021
The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) also condemned Devi’s comments and asked for her removal from the Commission in a statement that said it was “shameful that a women’s commission which is supposed to uphold women’s rights should take a public stand condoning the criminals and putting the onus on the victim in order to make light of the terrible insecurity of women in the Jogi regime”.
Speaking to Silverscreen India, U Vasuki, National Vice President of AIDWA, said that the problem was deeper than one person’s words.
She said, “The usual victim-blaming has been reflected. The point is not which person has said but the tendency and perspective of victim-blaming existing in our society. Unless the government and educational institutions get together ideologically for equality and against this kind of victim-blaming, there is no point in condemning one person. This has been going on for a very long time.”
Vasuki said that Devi’s comments were a “reflection of RSS and Hindutva ideology according to which women are not treated equally”. She said that normally the appointment for the NCW is a “political assignment” and not as per law. “[Devi] reflected the RSS ideology as far as gender is concerned,” she said .
Regarding Sharma’s condemnation of Devi’s statement, Vasuki said, “On record, she cannot justify Chandramukhi’s statement. Hence, she has to necessarily come up with such a statement. But do you think the RSS or BJP will appoint someone as the National Chairperson if that person did not subscribe to the RSS ideology? That is unheard of.”
On January 3, the 50-year-old victim had gone to a temple in the evening in a village in Badaun district. When since she did not return for several hours, her family had lodged a complaint with the police. The victim’s family has alleged that the police had been apathetic throughout the process.
According to a report by The Indian Express, the victim was allegedly gang-raped and murdered by three men, including the temple’s priest. After the men dropped the woman at her house, where she was found bleeding, the victim succumbed while receiving treatment at a district hospital. An FIR was filed under Sections 376 D (Gang Rape) and 302 (Murder) against the three accused. Two of them have been arrested while the priest has been absconding since then.