People have to lead, when leaders lose their way.
Exactly one year ago, on 29 December 2011, the first people’s movement to bring in an anti-corruption law – the Lokpal Bill – failed at the last hurdle when politicians in the Rajya Sabha went home without passing the law. It does not matter whether this was a Congress plot, or the House Chairman’s fault. The fact is our politicians collectively failed us – not just the Congress or the UPA, but all of them, the opposition included.
Today, as we hear of the death of the Delhi gangrape Braveheart in a Singapore hospital, we have to notch up another failure. This time it is our own failure as a people. All that the protests achieved was to frighten our rulers so much that they decided to pack off someone who was fighting for her life to Singapore. Their only concern: they should not be blamed for it. Our politicians have failed us again. They proved to be men and women of straw.
It is easy to blame politicians, since they are the most visible targets. We know they are not leaders, for real leaders have to show the way. Our politicians are merely lily-livered humbugs who try and figure out where the crowd is running and then run ahead of it to show they are leaders.
We don’t need such leaders; we have to find better ones among us. And this is where we have failed – whether it is with the anti-corruption protests or the storm over rape in the last two weeks.
A movement that caught fire from the roots up withered on the vine when the leadership floundered, or tried to demand things without preparing the people for the hard work ahead. Today we know that a Lokpal would not really have worked, no matter how strong the bill was, for the institutions that support corruption have not been tackled.
Similarly, the movement to make the world safer for women has been demanding the wrong things – death penalties, public lynchings and suchlike things. These may satisfy the public rage of the moment for a while, but these are non-solutions. The challenge of changing misogynist societal attitudes that ultimately lead to molestation and rape is a long-term one, and fast-track courts and better policing are only supportive measures.
Our politicians will be happy to oblige us with palliatives like hangings or castration or fast-track courts, but they will not get us too far.
Consider the Ramalinga Raju case. The promoters of Satyam Computers defrauded the company and confessed as much in January 2009. Four years on, the “fast-track” court is still to convict him of anything. And remember, this was a case that started with a voluntary confession by Raju, and we still don’t have a conviction.
The government may promise anything to satisfy public anger, but this is only to enable us to get on with our lives and forget about what is enraging us today. It may even convict the gangrape perpetrators in double-quick time; but that isn't ultimately the point. We don't want one quick conviction to be the exception that proves the rule.
What we need to understand is that better policing, better investigations, guards in buses, more women policepersons, and fast-track courts are necessary conditions for improving the situation, but they are not sufficient to end the more deep-rooted misogyny that lies within our hearts – not only in the hearts of men, but also women of the old school who have been compromising with mindless patriarchy for ages. For more enduring change we need a social transformation. This can come about only by developing leaders from the community who are selfless, and who do not have an axe to grind.
India has produced such leaders in the past – from the Buddha to Gandhi and Ambedkar – but we are not talking here only about the ones who rose head and shoulders above the rest, but leaders at every level in society.
The Lokpal movement did bring some such leaders to the fore – new ones like Arvind Kejriwal and some others. But one Kejriwal who rises in front of TV cameras is not enough. We need more Kejriwals who will work far away from the limelight, in areas where TV cameras cannot, should not or will not reach.
The movement that began after the horrific gangrape also needs to produce many, many more such grassroots leaders at the national, regional and local levels.
Leadership is not about someone who can make a speech or galvanise people, but also about taking charge of any situation we all find ourselves in.
Everyone of us can be a leader – in our homes, in our workplaces, in public places. But more than anything else, the leadership we need to show is to ourselves: we have to become the change we wish to see in society, as Gandhi used to say.
We have to become leaders ourselves to show our public leaders how to lead. We have to get active.
Most important, this is a movement that women should seek to lead – to protect themselves, to be self-reliant, to teach us, and to help us all evolve into better human beings. The men can follow and support.