December 16 outrage as uncanny metaphor for contemporary India

Published: 12th January 2013 11:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 12th January 2013 05:52 PM   |  A+A-

The New Year dawned on the capital with a ‘sky so grey’ that no Lark could be heard singing. The numbness of mind wasn’t caused by the unprecedented cold wave alone. Events of the preceding week had drained all joy out of life. That a young girl full of dreams at the threshold of promising career was raped, brutally assaulted and left to die bleeding on the roadside was shocking and shameful enough; what followed was worse. The government with supposedly an honourable man at its helm lost any remaining fig leaf of credibility as it went into overdrive— undertaking a ludicrous white-washing exercise. The chorus of its loyal spokesperson was, “This is no time to politicise such a serious subject.” Suddenly, the nation was informed that the president, the prime minister and the home minister all were fathers of numerous daughters and felt the grief of the aggrieved family. The Congress president finally broke her silence—after the Delhi Police had beaten and bruised peaceful protesters, drenching them with ice-cold water ‘fired’ by its canons and wrecking TV reporters equipment—to pronounce that the ‘voice of the people has been heard!’ The victim battling for her life was smuggled out of ICU and flown to Singapore in an obvious effort at ‘damage control’ and avoiding an even more explosive outburst of public wrath. When home they brought the braveheart dead, the leaders who couldn’t face their people during the day sneaked to the airport to ‘receive’ the body past midnight to condole the family. These ill-advised, belated gestures dented their tarnished image even more. Ham-handed handling of media resulted in more than one gaffe and the brunt of frustrated ire was borne by poor DD crew who allegedly reached a few minutes late to record the prime minister’s message to the nation that for reasons best known to his media advisers was delayed by days. Swift orders for their suspension were issued.

Of course we know what the explanations will be. ‘Suspension isn’t punishment. This is just a routine administrative measure pending inquiry. A necessary signal to convey that no lapse in course of duty shall be tolerated.’ What is difficult to digest is that the police commissioner, who presided over the fiasco, and his boss, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, remain in place without any ruffled feathers. Poor Chief Minister of Delhi, who will soon lead her party into an electoral battle, was left alone to cope with the brickbats. She was jeered when she went to Jantar Mantar to join the protesters but retained her poise and reacted with dignity. Later, she requested the Delhi Police to allow protesters to gather at India Gate but was refused in a humiliating manner.

All this is common knowledge but needs constant retelling. Lest we allow ourselves to forget that we live in wretchedly dark times. Men who strut the stage pretending to lead us are indeed men of straw with feet of clay. The emperor has no clothes but he has nothing in common with the noble soul who was called a Naked Fakir. All of them—our elected rulers—have convinced themselves that for them, there will be no day of reckoning. There is no choice for the ruled. The alternatives appear even more frightening and depressing. Everytime someone expresses disagreement or dissent, joins peaceful protest or lights a candle, the rule of law, we are told, is imperiled. Anarchists and fascists are baying at the door and all who don’t rally round to vocal defence of the enthroned or anointed risk being tarred as traitors.

Fast-track courts, special session of Parliament, police reforms, harsher punishment for rapists, beware of moral policemen to the fore, time for introspection: We all are to blame—there is no dearth of issues to distract us from the task at hand. The task to get rid of the rulers venal, thick-skinned and certainly not overflowing with grey cells; rulers who treat poor policemen as their bodyguards and use archaic colonial laws to muzzle the increasingly rebellious ‘mobs’.

A person with forged licence and a bunch of drunken mates who have been identified as habitually delinquent offenders drove the Whiteline bus involved in this grisly crime. It sends a chill down the spine to think that this might well serve as an uncanny metaphor for contemporary India. Power-drunk irresponsible persons on a thrilling high-speed spree, rousing themselves to a frenzied road rage to enhance the ‘high’, oblivious of the risk they pose to innocent lives. Pause to ponder and please forgive us if we can’t summon up enough courage to close this piece with the customary, ‘Wish you a Happy New Year!’

Pushpesh Pant is a former professor of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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