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Of rape, poverty and injustice

Publication Date : 27-12-2012


Like any individual, the nation too has a limit of tolerance. For Delhi and some other cities, the gang rape at the national capital was the proverbial last straw. Students filled the streets to demonstrate and even had one or two pitched battles with police. One policeman has died and many students have been injured. Such incidents are bound to happen when the powers-that-be seek to manage public anger with water cannons and lathicharge.

No doubt, the demonstrations at Delhi were ignited by a deep anger over the rape. But it was also an outburst of piled-up resentment against the system that neither delivers justice nor creates jobs. It is a commentary on the non-governance and ineptitude of successive governments since Independence, particularly after the early 1970s.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi tried to suppress grievances and disappointments by using authoritarian methods although she had swept the polls with the promise of eliminating poverty.

Nobody can accuse meek Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of authoritarianism but almost nine years of his rule makes it clear that he is too much of a bureaucrat to take inspired decisions. Even his belated address to the nation was insipid. At least he could have stepped in to prevent the ugly spectacle of the Delhi chief minister, the Union home minister and the police commissioner of the National Capital going for each other’s jugular.

The students were angry and there was a clear disconnect between them and the government. They expected some heads to roll but all they got were mere statements. This did not allay their mistrust and buttressed the feeling that there would be lack of accountability as usual. The government should have transferred police commissioner Neeraj Kumar straightaway. His explanation was a poor defence of his failure. If nobody in his force was to blame, then who had blundered? Maintaining law and order in Delhi requires imagination and initiative and not outmoded ways to which police are used. What was also lacking was a humane touch.

Delhi’s Lt-Governor was on vacation and according to chief minister Shiela Dikshit, could not be contacted. Why should then such a person remain in his post? Even his second term has ended. And, upon returning, he went through the motions of suspending a few lower-level functionaries.

The appointment of a judicial commission has not evoked much response because such panels have ceased to have credibility. The one headed by Justice (retd) BN Srikrishna to probe the 1993 communal riots in Mumbai and another by Justice (retd) MS Liberhan to probe the Babari Masjid demolition proved ineffectual. The people indicted in the reports prepared by the two panels have political clout. How does the panel appointed to probe the Delhi rape proposes to be different?

The mother of the victim has complained that police were pressuring her and the magistrate who had gone to record the statement of the victim said as much in a letter she had sent to her superiors. Shiela Dikshit has rightly taken up the matter with the home ministry that has ordered an inquiry to find out if the victim’s mother had indeed been intimidated by police--a charge the force denies.

In fact, people have little respect for the judicial process. It takes too long to have the guilty punished. At present, there are 400 rape cases awaiting adjudication. Even if the Delhi gang rape is listed for fast tracking, there are many loopholes in the law that can be exploited and courts of appeal take their own time to arrive at decisions. Laws have to be changed. More importantly, the legal system needs a complete overhaul.

Capital punishment does not deter rapists. What is needed is chemical castration and there is a public demand for it.

Members of Parliament made the usual noises. The two principal political parties demanded immediate and drastic measures to deal with the guilty. Strange, none of them asked for the resignation of MPs facing charges of rape. Most MPs want the Election Commission to take action. But why not Parliament itself (one third of Gujarat MLAs face criminal charges, including that of rape)?

All political parties should realise that the youth want answers to their questions. They want to know why there is so much poverty; why the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing; why caste and creed continue to have a stranglehold on Indian society and polity; and why the government consistently fails to appreciate their aspirations?

The Congress leaders did talk to some students in batches but there was no one who could pacify or represent them. A directionless mob is the worst thing that can happen to law and order. No wonder, some lumpen elements were able to introduce violence to the demonstrations led by students. All this suggests that the country’s youth are a combustible material that can be incited at will by demagogues.

Many years ago, alienated students at Sorbonne University in France almost started a revolution. But the movement failed because of ideological differences them. More recently, the Arab Spring forced the establishment to take a hard look at itself in some West Asian countries. More than two decades ago in China, students gathered at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest against a dictatorial regime. Hundreds were killed to crush dissent.

The current rulers of India have nearly got away with their excesses. This is because of our open society. People can express their views freely despite all pressure and prizes but the danger is that there is an illusion of status quo. What happened in Delhi is a warning. Our system requires an overhauling. Even the election of Members of Parliament has to be looked into because money and musclemen have reduced polling into a farce. Police in many states function as the private armies of chief ministers.

Overall, the country is peaceful, not because the people are contented but because they still have confidence in their ability to change the complexion of Parliament and Assemblies by voting. But this confidence is waning with every election. More than that, the poor cannot continue live in the cold, hungry and without future, for another 64 years--the span since Independence. They want to live just like the 23-year-old victim of multiple rape--who is currently battling for her life--does. It is for the nation to decide how.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator


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