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Indian Politician Says Women Who Have Sex Before Marriage Should Be Hanged

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In full national election season, a top Indian politician sparked global outrage by arguing that women who have sex before marriage should be hanged.

Abu Azmi, of India's Socialist Party, told a reporter last week that women who had premarital sex should be sentenced to death, even if they were raped. “If rape happens with or without consent, it should be punished as prescribed in Islam,” Azmi said, according to the Mid-Day website. “The solution is this: Any woman, whether married or unmarried, who goes along with a man, with or without her consent, should be hanged. Both should be hanged. It shouldn’t be allowed even if a woman goes by consent.”

Azmi made the remarks in response to comments by his party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had argued during an election rally on Thursday that the death penalty for rape is unfair as "boys make mistakes."

"If boys and girls have difference, and the girl goes and gives a statement that 'I have been raped,' then the poor fellows are punished," Yadav said, according to DNA India.

India is currently in the midst of a 9-phase national election to choose new national leaders. According to a poll cited by CNN, more than 90 percent of India's 814.5 million voters see stopping violence against women as a priority.

Unsurprisingly then, voters turned to the internet en masse to weigh in on last week's controversy.

According to Al Jazeera, Twitter users posted more than 11,000 comments with the hashtag #BackingRapists to warn against electing Yadav. And Azmi was even targeted by his own daughter-in-law. Bollywood actress Ayesha Azmi wrote on Twitter that if the comments turned out to be true, she and her husband were "deeply embarrassed and ashamed."

The Washington Post notes that the politicians may be trying to exploit the sympathies of some voters in the wake of execution verdicts for several high profile gang rape cases.

Yet the move appears to have backfired. Everyone from movie stars to members of the All-India Women Muslim Law Board have reacted angrily to the politicians' comments. The Maharashtra State Women Commission even summoned Abu Azmi to a hearing to explain his remarks.

Despite the massive cry of outrage, Indian activists, academics and lawyers have warned that misogyny is far from confined to one political party and that none of the parties are addressing the wider issues that perpetuate violence against women.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said India has 8.14 million eligible voters. The country has 814.5 million.

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