Hopefully, the anger over the Delhi rape will not fizzle out as has been the case with the non-passing of the Lokpal Bill and the rage over the various scams that have plagued the nation.
Why this particular rape and not any of the thousands of others ignited the anger is impossible to fathom, but it has captured the imagination of the public, both of men and of women.
As was the case with the Lokpal Bill, the political classes, especially the ruling UPA, and more especially the Congress party, have been caught flat-footed. In the case of the Lokpal Bill, politicians conned a trusting citizenry into believing that they were sincere in their commitment to a strong anti-corruption bill and then pulled the rug at the last minute.
With the rape fury, there are two distinct differences in what the government faces:
1. The fury is much more widespread, finding resonance across the country, across income groups, across age demographics.
2. The trust of the citizens in the government, thanks to the Lokpal Bill, is at a new low.
We’ve seen the unprecedented steps of the prime minister addressing the nation, through his now famous ‘theek hai’ speech. We’ve seen both the prime minister and the UPA chairperson going to the airport to receive the body of the rape victim. Neither of these two unusual events has helped to calm things down.
Because there is no trust in the political class – of whatever hue. How can there be, when there are 44 MPs and MLAs of different political persuasion, from the largest parties of the country, accused of rape?
Whatever the solutions, the incidence of rape will not come down in a hurry. Changes in laws are required – and, perhaps, that’s the easy bit. Implementation of the laws is a far greater challenge. After all, there are many laws that exist which are implemented poorly or not implemented at all. Finally, one needs to go to the root of the problem – the men of the country – and figure out why rape is so endemic and how it can be reduced.
The government needs to create an ecosystem where there is a great degree of trust – and an environment conducive to extensive and extended dialogue. Any assurance by politicians is greeted by both skepticism and cynicism. If the government if genuinely committed to finding a solution, they need, on board, individuals and organizations who are trusted by the angry and disillusioned.
There are many that politicians could co-opt to oversee this difficult task. If a Nandan Nilekeni can be tasked with the UIDAI because of his perceived special skills, so can social activists who have done work in the area of violence against women be co-opted to help find a solution in this case.
For a start, talk to Breakthrough, who launched the Bell Bajao campaign in 2008 in their effort to stop violence. Talk to Swayam who has been fighting in this area for 16 years now. Or talk to Sachin Tendulkar, now a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament, who has publicly announced his commitment to support Parivartan, which seeks to educate young males on violence against women.
A solution along these lines requires the politicians to go beyond self-serving petty politics and practice what they should be doing anyway – statesmanship.
Politicking is obviously not working. The only choice, then, whether they like it or not, is statesmanship.
In the alternative, get ready for days, weeks and months of protests, where you, the politician, live in fear and dread.