As angry protesters marched on India’s symbolic seat of power last week, the nation’s august members of parliament raged against the government’s failure to stop violence against women.
They blasted the Delhi police for incompetence and insensitivity. And they cried out for the death penalty for six men accused of brutally gang-raping a 23-year-old woman aboard a private bus on Dec. 16. The woman succumbed to her injuries on Friday in Singapore, where she was being treated at a hospital, according to media reports.
In the story of India’s battle against sexual assault, the honorable members ignored one important footnote: Every major political party has fielded and continues to field candidates facing criminal charges for rape, harassment and other crimes against women.
"We found that all these parties had given tickets to people of dubious backgrounds, involved in crimes against women," said Anil Bairwal, national coordinator of the watchdog group National Election Watch. "It’s the highest order of hypocrisy."
According to mandatory self-declarations filed by candidates with the Election Commission and tabulated by National Election Watch, India’s leading political parties have offered tickets to 27 candidates accused of rape and a whopping 260 candidates facing charges for crimes against women ranging from assault to harassment over the past five years. As a result, two members of the current parliament and six members of the various state legislative assemblies are facing rape charges, while 36 others face charges for lesser crimes against women.
Not one of India’s major parties is innocent of the charge, and by some measure the two largest, national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are the worst offenders, according to National Election Watch. While most of the rape accused hail from smaller parties, or from the regional Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, both based in Uttar Pradesh, 11 out of 36 legislators facing charges for crimes against women hail from the Congress and BJP. And out of the 260 candidates offered tickets despite facing such charges, the Congress and BJP account for 50.
Even amid the ongoing furor, Congress MP Abhijit Mukherjee, the son of President Pranab Mukherjee, was compelled to make a backhanded offer of resignation on Thursday after he made sexist remarks about women protesting India’s failure to stop sexual assault. “If my party high command demands I will do that,” he told a TV news channel.
And they’re wondering why the people have taken to the streets.