It is seldom that the Indian government bows before the people’s demand because its sense of righteousness is so strong that it does not like anyone to pick holes in governance. The gang rape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi brought thousands of students on to the streets of India’s capital. Their anger was so relentless that the Union Home Ministry had no option except to appoint a former chief justice of India, JC Verma, to probe the matter and suggest measures to strengthen existing laws.
Justice Verma’s prying eyes have caught the politicians, including members of parliament and state assemblies, who are facing criminal charges. He has rightly demanded that they should be disqualified from taking part in the electoral process. They number roughly 17 per cent in parliament and assemblies.
I do not think that the government would take any action against them because people with criminal charges are practically there in all political parties. In the Congress, their number is crucial because the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has already lost a majority in the Lok Sabha. The BJP, too, would not like its tally to go down if such people are ousted.
I was too happy to find support to my demand after the gang rape that the Delhi’s Police Commissioner should have been dismissed or transferred. Justice Verma has said likewise: “I was shocked to see the home secretary patting the back of the police commissioner. The least that could have been done was to seek an apology from the people for the city being unsafe.” No wonder, none from the police bothered to appear before the Verma committee. The ministry, too, did not send any recommendation while the committee received 80,000 recommendations from people.
This explains what is called a nexus between politicians and the police. Both indulge in homilies but seldom criticise each other. Both are part of the establishment which wants more and more power with less and less accountability. Both are really responsible for the misgovernance or non-governance. That civil society is increasingly insensitive to what happens to the common man has been underlined by Justice Verma: “Equally shocking,” he said, “was the large number of people who passed by when the victim and her companion needed help ... there was total apathy of everyone who had a duty to perform.”
Perhaps, Justice Verma does not realise that most people would want to help the victims, carry him or her to the hospital and even inform the authorities. But the harassment they face at the hands of police at a thana is too humiliating for people to pocket. In a law court also, the helper is cross-examined as if he or she is in the dock. Still, Justice Verma has a point that the apathy of people on the scene is unpardonable, whatever the difficulties.
I have always believed that the Armed Forces Special Preventive Act (AFSPA) has outlived its utility, if it had any. To allow the forces to get away with the killing even on suspicion — many incidents have come to light in Kashmir and the northeast — is unpardonable. The Verma committee has suggested that the Act be reviewed so that it is not used for exploiting women. The army is against any change to the AFSPA and has denied any rape case. This statement is not entirely correct. The gang rape in Kunan Poshpara in Kashmir in 1991 requires full investigation.
When the Supreme Court has proposed a death penalty for the rarest of rare cases, why has Justice Verma felt shy of recommending death penalty for a rapist? In a democracy, public outcry is the only way to assess anger. Were there to be a referendum, Justice Verma’s committee, which has opposed the death penalty, will come a cropper. The government should rectify the mistake and lay down categorically that a rapist will be hanged. The committee in its 630-page report has suggested amendments to criminal laws to provide for higher punishment to rapists. But the important part is the punishment to those belonging to the police ranks and other public service for not responding adequately to the situation or not taking measures to prevent rape. Accountability of the police and public servants is key to the crime of rape.
If Justice Verma can produce the report in 29 days, the Indian government can surely take action against the police officials and delinquent public servants in a month’s time, if not earlier.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2013.