New Delhi has witnessed an amazing phenomenon: students from well-off families coming onto the streets to demonstrate against the gang rape and death of a 23-year-old. This girl was not from the elite class with which the students generally associate. The rape turned out to go beyond the tolerance limit of the upper strata, which felt it could not take more. India Gate, a memorial to unknown soldiers, has widespread grounds where students, boys and girls of all castes and creed, assembled for several days carrying lighted candles. They wanted immediate action and quick punishment of the guilty. Ultimately, the angry reaction concretised into a realisation of the brutality against women since ages.
True, rape cases take years before sentences are pronounced. But this time, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the all-powerful Congress President Sonia Gandhi announced that the perpetrators would be brought to justice quickly. Even fast-track courts have been promised to deal with such offenses. A probe committee was appointed to look into the gamut of the gang rape and a commission has also been appointed, under the chairmanship of former chief justice of India JC Verma, to suggest changes to rape laws and the quantum of punishment.
However, the government has still not realised that the coming out of boys and girls from the upper class to voice their protest has given a different message — a message that questions the system itself. The students do not belong to any political party nor are they pegged to any ideology. What happened in Delhi and other cities indicates the system’s failure. The government proves its ineptness all the time and political parties, except putting balm on one another, have no influence to stop even their own cadres from indulging in criminal activities. The students belonging to well-off families have to go beyond demonstrations and join politics to clean up the mess, which the ruling party and the opposition have created by focusing all their attention on mere electoral advantages. It is a hard task for the students to introduce values to the political system, which is controlled by the politician-police nexus. Values once lost are difficult to retrieve. But this has to be done because there is no alternative.
The biggest support to the politicians is the police, which are supposed to maintain law and order. The force has to be purged of sycophants and sluggish elements. But for that to happen, the police have to be made independent so that they are free from pressure exerted by politicians. Punjab and Haryana are the two worst states where the police force has become a private army of chief ministers.
One recent example tells the story of Punjab. The ruling Akali Dal sees to it that its members are not touched even if they commit heinous crimes. The worst case is that of a girl from Patiala, who was raped and could not get the attention of police till she committed suicide. For 14 days, not even a FIR was entertained and for 43 days, no action was taken till the media brought the tragedy to light. Some junior functionaries have been dismissed since but that is not enough. Some heads at the top should roll. In Kerala, 16 years ago, a girl was raped by 52 people for 40 days. She is 32 now but her rapists continue to be society’s honourable members. None has been touched so far.
The students can overhaul the system provided they continue to fight against the privileged. The way in which they came out on the streets of Delhi indicates that they want to break from the shackles of the past and bring down the politicians from the thrones they occupy. But when the youth goes back to its cosy life, it endangers even the tiny light of hope which it kindled at Delhi.
Meanwhile, the media has to re-examine its role. It has done a tremendous job in exposing the omissions and commissions of rules. But some newspapers and television channels have used lewd material to improve their target rating points. Self-regulation is the best course but when a section of the media plays up the sex angle, making women a commodity, it is time to consider steps to control sensationalism.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2013.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ