Young Rinu Srinivasan finally received some genuinely good news. She has gained admission to the Muzik Lounge School of Audio Technology in Chennai for a two-year course in sound engineering. The institute approved the application without the mandatory interview required of its applicants.
The generous act is the closest these girls may get to an award for gallantry, and it is unusual in a country where the exercise of free speech is routinely punished. No good things come of opening your mouth.
"But what relationship does [this reward] have to free speech?" asked a sceptical friend, "Why would she get admission to a music school because of what she did?" Of course, the girls' courage in the face of severe intimidation ought to be recognised, but a fast-track college admission struck him as inappropriate.
I disagree and for two reasons.
One, we routinely reward athletes in ways that have nothing to do with their original achievement. Mary Kom received a Mahindra Bolero for winning an Olympic bronze medal. Fiat presented Sachin Tendulkar with a Ferrari when he equalled Don Bradman's test century record. What does an automobile have to do with sporting talent? It's a bit like arguing that Sachin ought to have received a golden bat or an entire cricket field, perhaps. And let's not forget that cricketers were awarded secure bank jobs back in the socialist days for making the national team.
In this case, Rinu was given what she needed most: a chance at rebuilding her life in the aftermath of a traumatic experience that put her in the national spotlight. And one can argue that she needed this admission a little more than Sachin needed that Ferrari.
And that brings me to the second reason: Rinu's arrest directly threatened her career prospects. She was arrested for a 'liking' a Facebook update on Bal Thackeray, but was in real and present danger of paying the price in terms of her personal future, as her father RA Srinivasan told the Hindustan Times:
My daughter has passed her BSc in Botany and wants to pursue a course in audio-engineering in Chennai. The two-year course begins in January next year, but since the case is on-going, we fear for her career… We are more concerned about the charges being dropped. It will be difficult for my daughter to pursue her further studies when she has a case against her at the age of 20.
If the Muzik Lounge School had not stepped in to waive the interview, they would have effectively punished Rinu for her actions on Facebook. She couldn't attend the interview in Chennai because of the conditions imposed on her bail which prohibit her from leaving Palghar, and require weekly visits to the local police station. Rinu and Shaheen are still enduring the consequences of an arrest that everyone -- except die-hard Sainiks -- views as illegal. The case has not yet been dropped, and until it remains "under investigation," they will be treated as potential criminals by the legal system.
The Chennai institute's actions are especially laudable in a culture that tends to be wary of people who run afoul of the law -- however just their cause. Institutions, be it companies or colleges, tend to avoid such persons because they get branded as "troublemakers."
Of course, the sad bit is that neither girl will be making any more "trouble" in the future. Unlike Shaheen who has deactivated her account, Rinu is back on Facebook but armed with a new resolution: "I'm not scared to express myself but I won't write anything about politicians. I'll be like, 'I had a coffee today, I'm going to sleep, good morning, good afternoon'. That's all."
That sounds pretty scared to me. And fear is the unacknowledged price that these girls -- and our democracy -- will have to pay for this shameful incident. So bring on the rewards, appropriate or not, for their punishment has been anything but.
Next up: Shaheen and her uncle, Abdul Ghaffar, who suffered Rs 15 lakh in damages to his clinic.