The world’s largest democracy has an image problem. When it comes to women. Or rather when it comes to taking men to task for crimes committed against women. We don’t say this to gloat at our neighbour. We know what we are talking about. It is an image problem that we, on this side of the border, share. Over the weekend an Indian court found guilty of rape a self-styled spiritual leader. It was a long journey to get here. Fifteen years to be exact. Though this was not due to judicial laxity. But, rather, to the power wielded by Ram Rahim, leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda religious sect. The journalist who first reported the rape allegations was found fatally shot not long after. This power, borne of a toxic mix of politics and what some Indian commentators have termed synthetic spirituality, is said to be eroding Indian democracy. And it is true. That a crowd, 200,000-strong by some accounts, came out to support a man charged with rape (not to mention one who faces separate charges of murder and forced castration) is an embarrassment. That this happened just five years after Joyti Singh was literally raped to death on a New Delhi bus is nothing short of criminal. Criminal in the same way that 15 years after Mukhtaran Mai stood up to patriarchal system of codes and so-called customs as well as to the state apparatus itself, after she shook the latter to the core after refusing to fade away, or worse — two girls from the surrounding area found themselves at the centre of a locally-sanctioned revenge rape. When this happens, when governments fail to protect the women of their countries, their constituencies — it is time for them to admit the game is up. For they have failed resoundingly to uphold their part of the social contract. We can have National Action Plans against terror, we can have a government telling the highest court in the land how to do its job — yet when it comes to the fate of more than half the population, men in power think it sufficient to pay mere lip service to female victims of male sexual aggression. And even then they reduce their identity to little more than a paternalistic appendage. Thus a rape victim becomes daughter, sister, mother of the nation. Thereby reinforcing her man-made role as custodian of family and societal and, indeed, national honour. This must stop. And it must stop now. The women of India and Pakistan need more than such paternalistic protection. They demand justice. More importantly, the ruling BJP and its reliance on such shady spiritual leaders stands exposed. Will Narendra Modi stand up and condemn the horrific acts committed by his ally? What is even more critical is that Modi must change his tactics of mixing religion with politics. Otherwise he is pushing ‘world’s largest democracy’ towards the abyss. * Published in Daily Times, August 27th 2017.