The Wire
Sravasti Dasgupta
New Delhi

From Prajwal Revanna, Brij Bhushan, Manipur, Kathua and Hathras, the Bhartiya Janata Party has a history of supporting alleged sexual offenders.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s slogan of “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” is once again under question as the NDA candidate from Karnataka’s Hassan, sitting MP Prajwal Revanna, grandson of former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda faces allegations of sexual harassment and has since fled the country using his diplomatic passport.

Both the BJP and the Congress have accused each other of protecting Revanna and allowing him to flee. However, with Karnataka yet to vote in the remaining of its 14 (of total 28) seats on May 7, the BJP has not called off its alliance with the JD(S). Revanna though was suspended from the JD(S) on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the BJP, which is yet to take action against its sitting MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Kaiserganj, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is acing allegations of sexual harassment from women wrestlers, has named his son Karan Bhushan Singh from the seat on Thursday. Though he has not been nominated again, Singh had been campaigning in recent weeks in the area.

Months after his government first came to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme in Haryana in January 2015. Seven years later, in August 2022, celebrating 75 years of Independence, Modi invoked woman power or ‘nari shakti‘ from the Red Fort and called for an end to “every behaviour, culture that humiliates and demeans women.”  

According to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and New Election Watch in August, 134 sitting MPs and MLAs have declared cases of crimes against women against them, with the BJP leading with 44 MPs and MLAs.

Data by the Union home ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that crimes against women increased by 31% from 2014 to 2022 under the Modi government, rising from 3,37,922 in 2014 to 4,45,256 in 2022. 

From Revanna to Singh to the Kathua rape case, to Hathras, Unnao and Manipur – The Wire takes a look at leaders who have enjoyed the BJP’s support and patronage despite allegations of sexual harassment, as well as incidents that have rendered its slogan of “Beti Bachao” hollow.

Prajwal Revanna: Revanna belongs to the Janata Dal (Secular) party which is in alliance with the BJP in Karnataka. His constituency Hassan voted in the second phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections on April 26. While Revanna has now been suspended from the JD(S), several videos which record multiple instances of what appear to be non-consensual sexual acts have surfaced. In most of the videos, it is clear that women were recorded by him under what seems to be some form of duress and without their consent. 

On Thursday, a lookout notice was issued by the special investigation team (SIT) set up by the Karnataka Police against Revanna who flew out of Bengaluru using his diplomatic passport at 2 am on April 27, hours after the allegations came to light, resulting in a political storm amidst ongoing Lok Sabha elections. He is reportedly in Munich, Germany, at the moment.

On April 14, Modi had shared the stage with Revanna and Deve Gowda as he campaigned for the former at a rally in Mysuru.

Facing fire from the opposition, Union home minister Amit Shah on Wednesday, said that the BJP “cannot remain with those who commit atrocities against women.” According to a report in The Indian Express, the central BJP leadership knew about the allegations against Revanna.

The BJP is yet to call off its alliance with the JD(S) in the state, which will finish polling to its remaining 14 of 28 seats on May 7.

Brijbhushan Sharan Singh: Singh was accused of sexual harassment by women wrestlers during his time as the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). Women wrestlers had made serious complaints against Singh, including that he demanded sexual favours in lieu of professional assistance, molested them, ran his hands over their breasts and intimidated anyone who tried to complain. Wrestlers held a long protest against him and the Union government and police’s failure to act, including giving up their international and national awards. The police cracked down on the protest.

While Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik, who was one of the wrestlers protesting against Singh, quit the sport in December after one of his aides was picked to head the WFI, Singh has continued to enjoy favour within the party. The Wire has reported that he was seen sitting in the Lok Sabha among BJP MPs only a few rows behind Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Amit Shah as the latter gave his speech on the Women’s Reservation Bill and pledged his government’s support towards women empowerment.

While he blamed the media for the delay in naming him as a candidate again from Kaiserganj, the BJP has instead chosen to keep it in the family and by fielding his son Karan Bhushan Singh.

Impunity to BJP government in Manipur: Almost a year to the day on which two Kuki women were paraded naked and sexually assaulted in Manipur’s Churachandpur district, the CBI chargesheet has revealed that they had approached the police to be taken to safety but were left to the mob.

Modi himself only broke his silence about the ongoing violence in Manipur, 78 days after the violence first started on May 3, 2023, when the video of the two women went viral in July but also brought up two then Congress-ruled states which had not seen similar scale of violence in the very same sentence.

After the video went viral, chief minister N.Biren Singh has himself said that that there were ‘100s of such cases’ all-around Manipur, where women were being harassed and raped. However, he did not say what precisely his government was doing to ensure justice in these cases. 

While the Manipur government in November informed the Supreme Court that it had allocated Rs 5 crore in a dedicated bank account to disburse compensation to women who faced sexual assault and other crimes in Manipur, it did not provide any information on how many were to receive it.

As violence continues in the state, Modi has claimed that due to his government’s “timely intervention” there has been marked improvement in Manipur but is yet to himself visit the state.

Meanwhile Singh has been defended despite presiding over unprecedented ongoing violence, by Union home minister Amit Shah inside parliament.

Bilkis Bano convicts: In March 2023, Jaswantsinh Bhabhor, the BJP MP from Gujarat’s Dahod, and his brother Shaileshbhai Bhabhor, the BJP MLA from Limkheda,  shared a stage with Shailesh Bhatt – one of the 11 men convicted for raping Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The convicts were out on parole granted by the Gujarat government.

In October 2022, the Gujarat government told the Supreme Court that 11 men convicted were released after the Union home ministry had approved the remission and premature release of convicts through a letter dated July 11, 2022.

The Gujarat government’s release order was quashed by the Supreme Court in January.

Kuldeep Singh Sengar: In 2018, the BJP came under fire for not acting against its Uttar Pradesh MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar who was accused in the gangrape case of a 17-year-old girl in Unnao.

In 2019, the BJP said that it had suspended the Unnao MLA “long ago” amid growing demands to sack the Uttar Pradesh lawmaker after the Unnao rape survivor was critically injured in a car-truck collision, which the survivor had said was a “conspiracy to wipe out her family.”

Sengar, a four-time MLA from Bangermau, was arrested in April 2018 on charges on rape. He is serving a 10-year jail term for the death of the victim’s father in custody. He has also appealed against the 2019 order of a trial court that sentenced him to life in the rape case.

He has however remained influential in the region, to the extent that BJP’s Unnao MP Sachchidanand Hari Sakshi alias Sakshi Maharaj met Sengar at the Sitapur district jail to “thank” him after the 2019 general election.

Kathua rape case: In 2018, BJP leaders led a protest march in Jammu’s Kathua district to demand the release of a special police officer (SPO) Deepak Khajuria accused of raping and murdering an eight-year old nomad girl.

The Wire had reported that the BJP’s then state secretary Vijay Sharma participated in the protest and demanded that the accused be released and the case be handed to the CBI.

Hathras rape and murder: In September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gangraped and murdered by four upper caste Thakur men in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras. The Uttar Pradesh Police’s hurried cremation of her body in the dead of the night – during which they allegedly did not allow members of her family to be present – had led to a nationwide stir. Three of the four accused in the case were acquitted by a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe court in March 2023 while none of the accused have been found guilty of gang-rape, though she had named and accused three men in her dying declaration before a magistrate.

Ankita Bhandari murder case: In February 2023, a fact finding team of women’s rights organisations raised questions into the police investigation into the murder of 19-year-old Ankita Bhandari, who was allegedly murdered in September 2022 by Pulkit Arya-the son of BJP leader Vinod Arya.

Stung by vehement protests and opposition accusations, the BJP later expelled Vinod Arya and the district administration began demolishing parts of the resort where the crime took place.

BJP MLA Ramdular: UP BJP MLA Ramdular Gond was disqualified by the Uttar Pradesh assembly in December, almost 10 days after he was held guilty by a district court in Sonbhadra district of raping a 15-year-old girl in a 2014 case.

While the court sentenced the MLA, who won the 2022 assembly election from Duddhi, to 25 years rigorous imprisonment, the assembly took its time in disqualifying him leading the opposition to raise questions about whether he enjoys immunity from the ruling BJP.

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