In the wake of mounting media attention surrounding the sexual assaults of women in India, one female politician recently suggested that the onus should be on victims to protect themselves. Asha Mirje, a leader of the Nationalist Congress party (NCP) and a memnber of the Maharashtra Women's Commission, said on Tuesday that victims' dress and behavior may be inviting attackers.In reference to the 2012 Delhi bus gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student that triggered a wave of national and international protest, Mirje asked, “Did 'Nirbhaya' [the Indian media's nickname for the victim] really have to go and watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend?” She also cited the case of a photojournalist who was attacked while on assignment at a disused mill in Mumbai, asking why the woman had gone to such an isolated location. Mirje's comments sparked swift public anger, Guardian reports: Sexual violence has become a huge social and political issue since the Delhi rape and India toughened laws on sexual crimes in March. Public anger over the poor state of women’s safety in the capital was one reason that the ruling Congress party was wiped out in local elections there last month. Mirje’s party belongs to the Congress-led national coalition government and her comments caused an immediate stir, with several television reports pouring scorn on her. “Every time such a statement is made by a public figure it justifies rape,” said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the lobby group All India Progressive Women’s Association. “It’s unconscionable that people in public posts make such remarks.” Even members of the NCP distanced themselves from Mirje’s remarks. One of its MPs, Suproya Sule, told reporters she was sorry Mirje had made them and that they reflected her personal views, not those of the party.But activists feel Mirje's comments were symptomatic of a broader problem among many of India's high-ranking politicians. “Mirje is reflecting what is a much larger problem. There are many others who hold such views,” Krishnan told Guardian.
Ana Martinez is a Spring 2014 intern.