KOLKATA, July 2, 2014 (AFP) – Protestors set fire Wednesday to an effigy of an Indian lawmaker who had threatened the rape of his rivals’ relatives as a storm over his comments refused to subside despite an apology.
Several thousand people took part in a number of protests in Tapas Pal’s constituency in the eastern state of West Bengal to demand the lawmaker be arrested over his comments, according to organisers.
Pal has been at the centre of a firestorm since the footage emerged earlier this week of him addressing followers of his Trinamool Congress party, whipping up sentiment against the rival Communist party.
“If (the Communists) try to kill and intimidate our workers… I will not spare them. I will let loose my men to rape your women,” he said in an address to followers in late May which was filmed on a smartphone.
After being slapped down by his party leadership and even criticised by his wife, a contrite Pal issued a statement late Tuesday in which he said his comments were a “gross error of judgement and deeply insensitive”.
But Sumit De, a local Communist leader in Pal’s constituency in northern West Bengal, said Pal should have been detained for incitement.
“We wonder why Pal was not arrested after he made such comments,” De told AFP by phone from the site of one of the protests. “We feel as if we are living in an uncivilised society.”
De said around 15,000 people took part in the protests. Although there was no independent confirmation of the numbers, police Superintendent Arnab Ghosh told AFP that “security was stepped up to prevent any untoward incident during the protest meetings”.
The comments from Pal follow a series of high-profile rapes in India which have reawakened anger over the levels of sexual violence as well as the attitude of some politicians towards crimes against women.
One of India’s most senior politicians, the socialist Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, caused outrage during the recent election campaign by saying “boys will be boys” as he discussed sentences for rape.
And a minister in the resort state of Goa drew ridicule on Tuesday when he said the best way to stop women being harassed on the beach was to ban bikinis.
While Pal has been censured by Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee — who is one of India’s most powerful women — he has avoided being expelled from the party which has a long-running feud with the Communists in West Begal.
Speaking on Tuesday night, Banerjee criticised Pal for what she called his “big blunder” but blocked calls for him to be sacked.
“We have taken whatever steps that are needed to be taken,” said Banerjee who is the chief minister of West Bengal. “What do you want? Should I kill him?”