Most of us have stepped into the new year with mixed feelings. We are relieved that the chaotic 2019 is behind us. But is the newborn year going to be any better? As the variables of the game remain as complicated as before, it might be naive to expect a drastic turnaround. But it is human nature to hope for the impossible, defying logic. And what are the most detestable things in our midst that we wish to bury? None of us would expect to find final solutions for all our socio-economic and political afflictions. Nor would we imagine our country to be free of corruption and immorality in public life.
None would dream of realising the Gandhian ideal of bidding adieu to ‘politics without principles, commerce without conscience and education without character’. Even without attempting to overhaul the juggernaut of our polity and reviving the slothful economy, there are a few things that we as a people should pray for in 2020 so as to regain that feel-good factor. And it is not the total absence of socio-political problems but the presence of the feel-good factor that motivates people to go forward, braving difficulties and limitations. Once that contentment is lost, the downwardspiralling of public enthusiasm will deepen the crises and dampen the creative exuberance of the people. The joy of living has been eclipsed for the past few months by an abiding sense of commotion, protest, fear, anger, frustration and shame. A proxy war seems to be raging on social media. The mainstream media seems to be cautious. As a result the average citizen gets the feeling that the picture is gloomier than presented.
That anxiety of the unknown, that fear of accepting appearance as reality, these are gnawing at the nation’s conscience. When the quest for facts and truth is artfully prevented, alarm bells need to be sounded. Let us look forward to clearer skies in the newborn year. The continuous incidents of rape and murder have shamed India. With an instance of rape being reported every few hours, the image of India as a tech-savvy, modern country with delusions of being an emerging Asian power stand blemished. The strident laws enacted for the safety of women have not acted as an effective deterrent. Caste factors further blotch the criminal act.
What are we going to do with this reprehensible sub-species, the male rapist,in the new year? If we have to hope for a time where rape and atrocities against women become ‘rarest of the rare’, we have to lace our pious wishes with social action. Even the most strident laws may not be effective deterrents. What is required is the involvement of every citizen in every household to uphold the freedom and self-respect of women. As long as her freedom, equal rights and self-respect within the family are denied, she will continue to be unsafe in society. Every mother who pampers the male child, while compromising on the right of the female child, is unwittingly creating a male chauvinist who is constantly being pampered with his ‘special status’ as a man.
The great revolution has to commence in our homes, schools and workplaces. The genesis of rape is in the mind of the man who thinks that the woman has no right to say no. We have to blast that illusion prevailing in our families and communities at every available opportunity. Let’s not collude in this crime by watching films and TV programmes that still perpetuate these perverse notions. Zero tolerance to male chauvinism should be an ideal behaviour that we need to cultivate to make rape a thing of the past. Our university campuses are in turmoil. Without going into the merits of the unrest and agitation, every concerned citizen hopes that the universities empower the youth with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to lead us intellectually in the near future.
It is not being suggested that students should not agitate or react. They should. But no student wants to boycott classes and have lathi-wielding police force in their campuses every day. It is an unnatural situation. Those who created such circumstances have a responsibility to restore peace in the campuses. In a democracy, divergence of views is natural, necessary and healthy. Agitations and showdowns are natural consequences. How they are tackled and how the state machinery reacts is more important. Let governments have the prudence not to treat every protest as anti-national. The nation needs an enlightened response mechanism towards protests and divergence of views.
While we have been investing in our road infrastructure, deaths due to road accidents are rising disturbingly. Road safety is a matter of high priority in all developed countries. Unfortunately in India it seems to be the prerogative of the motor vehicles department and police. Such a ‘catching the culprit’ approach is out of sync with real issues. A total overhauling of our approach to road safety cannot wait for another day. Road construction, signage, warning boards and a number of other variables play a critical role. Several agencies have to act in unison to make our roads safer. It is a pity that there is no national sense of urgency over road safety. Making the existing roads safer is more crucial than creating new highways. Today it seems any department can tinker with the roads for their petty repairs and leave consequent pits or carelessly left boulders and that turns out to be the killer.
Will we see a new sense of urgency and eagerness to prevent road accidents in the new year? New year wishes cannot be exhaustive. Yet we have to have a few wishes that we may strive to accomplish. We may also wish that those who can influence our lives by virtue of position and power are driven more by love and understanding and not by hatred and mistrust. Let us realise that the plant of freedom wilts in the ominous shadow of fear.
Former Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala and former Vice-Chancellor, Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University