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Rediff.com  » News » 'Sonia should have spoken about women prisoners before Kanimozhi went to jail'

'Sonia should have spoken about women prisoners before Kanimozhi went to jail'

May 24, 2011 18:57 IST

Should Kanimozhi be spared from imprisonment in the 2G spectrum scam because she is a woman, as Sonia Gandhi implied on Tuesday? Sheela Bhatt presents the counter-argument

For the first time since the 2G spectrum scandal took the centrestage of politics in New Delhi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has spoken on an issue linked to it.

The party's general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu, Ghulam Nabi Azad, after meeting former chief minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief M Karunanidhi, said on Tuesday: "Our leader Sonia Gandhi is concerned because Kanimozhi being a woman is in jail and it is a matter of concern, and the fact is that one cannot do anything."

Kanimozhi's arrest and her subsequent stay in jail are turning out to be an obsession for the media due to the DMK's public demonstration of emotions of all kinds – as if a chapter from the Mahabharat is unfolding inside and outside Tihar jail – and Kanimozhi's vulnerability is showcased in every manner possible.

Sonia Gandhi seems to have, now, compounded the issue by sympathising openly with a person who is accused of a staggering bribe of Rs 200 crore in the eyes of the law. A news agency report says that Azad, however, clarified that the government would not interfere in the legal process, a statement he reported before television cameras too.

Undoubtedly, what Azad's statement means is that Sonia Gandhi sympathises with Kanimozhi because, as the latter is a woman, her going to prison is a matter of concern.

The expression of concern is surprising because it's not explained by Azad if Mrs Gandhi is worried about the conditions inside the jail that would be faced by Kanimozhi as a woman. It is also unclear what she meant when she says, in Azad's words, "One can't do anything."

Sonal Shukla, director of the Mumbai-based Vacha, a women's group, and a feminist activist since three decades, says, "This is very surprising. There are so many women prisoners in Indian jails. Is she concerned about them, too?"

Shukla says just because someone is a woman, one can't sympathise with her over her imprisonment. No feminist would like such an undue favour.

"Unless the imprisoned woman is in a vulnerable position, unless she is facing the risk of abuse or if she is pregnant or nursing a child, no woman should be favoured just for her gender."

She says, "First of all, whoever is pushing the argument of Kanimozhi's gender should know that human justice is above gender justice. You cannot overlook the overarching principle of justice."

Shukla says Sonia Gandhi's attempt to evoke Kanimozhi's gender issue is also surprising because there are so many cases of exploitation of women in Indian jails. "They are being harassed for the wrong reasons. They are facing gender injustice all the time. Sonia Gandhi should have spoken about them much before Kanimozhi went to jail."

Prashant Bhushan, senior lawyer and the petitioner in the 2G spectrum scam case in the Supreme Court, told rediff.com, "She is supposed to be a smart-looking woman but how does that matter? Here the gender issue is just not relevant. The criterion that applies to other accused should be applied to her. 

"While sending an accused to jail the judge examined two issues: Were they involved in the scam? Are they in a position to influence witnesses? Since the high court has rejected the bail of corporate people, the same standard should be applied to Kanimozhi. She and her (step)mother hold 80 per cent of the shares in Kalaignar TV. How is it possible that they were not aware of the Rs 200 crore transaction that took place in the company?

"The issue of Kanimozhi's imprisonment has nothing to do with her being a woman."
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi