“I want to live”


The system requires overhauling

Like an 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 the police. One policeman has died and many students have been injured. Such incidents are bound to happen when anger is sought to be fought with water canons and lathi-charge.

No doubt, the demonstration at Delhi was ignited by deep anger over the rape. But it was an outburst of piled-up resentment against the system which neither delivers justice nor gives jobs. It is a sad commentary on non-governance and ineptness of administrations which have been run by rulers of all shades since independence, particularly after the early 70s.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi tried to suppress grievances and disappointments by authoritarian methods although she had swept the polls on the promise of eliminating poverty. Nobody can accuse meek Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of authoritarianism but almost nine years of his rule shows that he is too much of a bureaucrat who knows rules but not how to take drastic steps. Even his belated address to the nation was bald and lacked punch. At least he could have stopped the spectacle of ugly controversy among the Delhi chief minister, union home minister and the police commissioner.

The students were angry and there was disconnect between them and the government. They expected some heads to roll. But mere statements could not allay their mistrust. The general feeling was that none would be punished and soon it would be business 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 blundered? To maintain law and order in Delhi requires imagination and novel ideas, not the outmoded ways to which the police are used to. What was also lacking was human touch or personal contact.

Delhi’s Lt Governor was on a vacation and according to state Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit, he was not contactable. Why should such a person remain at his post? Even his tenure of second term has ended. His drama, after return, of suspending a few lower functionaries lacked script.

The appointment of a judicial commission has not evoked response because commissions have ceased to have credibility. The one headed by Sri Krishna to probe the 1993 communal riots in Mumbai and the other by M S Liberhan on Babri masjid demolition remain on paper. The accused on both the reports are people who are politically powerful. What would the commission on the Delhi gang rape prove when there is no faith left in such attempts to silence articulate voices?

The mother of the raped girl has complained that the police put pressure on her, says a letter of the magistrate who went to record the statement of the girl. Shiela Dikshit has rightly taken up the matter with the home ministry which has ordered an inquiry to find out how far the mother was intimidated by the police, which denied the allegation.

In fact, the entire judicial process has no respect in the eyes of the people. It takes too long to get the guilty punished. At present, there are 400 rape cases pending for years to be adjudged. Even if the Delhi gang rape is listed for fast tracking, there are so many loopholes in the law and there are courts of appeal which will take their own time. Laws have to be changed. More importantly, the legal system requires overhauling. Capital punishment does not deter rapists. Chemical castration is a must. There is a public demand for it.

Parliament members were up on their legs to ventilate their importance. Two political parties demanded immediate and drastic measures to deal with the guilty. Strange, none asked at least the resignation of MPs sitting among them with charges of rape. One explanation given is that the Election Commission should take action. Why not parliament itself? (One third of Gujarat MLAs face criminal cases, including rape).

All political parties should realise that the youth in the country does not find the existing institutions giving answers to their questions: Why so much poverty? Why an increasing gap between the rich and the poor? Why the stranglehold of caste and creed? Why the failure of government to appreciate their aspirations? The Congress leaders did talk to some students in batches but found no leader who could pacify or represent them. The leaderless mob is the worst that can happen in a country. Some lampoon elements were able to introduce violence. This means that the youth is a combustible material which can be set on fire by some demagogues.

Many years ago, alienated students at Osborne in France almost brought a revolution. But the movement failed because of ideological differences among the students. More recently, the Arab Spring in some Muslim countries changed the rulers. Mobs came on to the streets and found a common cause: authoritarian rulers drenched in corruption. In China, the students gathered at the Tiananmen Square to protest against the dictatorial regime. But then Beijing, with no democracy, crushed hundreds of them to kill dissent.

The present rulers have nearly got away with all their excesses. This is because India is an open flabby society. People can express their views freely despite the pressure and prize. But it lives under a delusion that the status quo can be maintained. What has happened at Delhi is a warning. The system requires overhauling. Even the election of members has to be looked into because money and musclemen have reduced the polling to a farce. The police in many states have become the private army of chief ministers.

Overall, the country is peaceful, not because the people are contended but because they still have confidence of changing the complexion of parliament and state assemblies through votes. But this confidence is lessening election after election. More than that, the poor cannot live in the cold, hungry and without future, for another 65 years, the span since independence. They want to live. In another context, the raped girl, fighting against death, said: “I want to live”. The nation has to decide how?

The writer is a senior Indian