With the death of the 23-year-old gangrape victim fresh in our minds, the mood in the country is both somber and angry. Even the politicians sound apologetic and subdued.
But will the woman’s tragic death spark real change? Some markers will tell us if politicians are really sincere about what they said today.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said: “Today we pledge that the victim will get justice.”
We will know that she means what she said if we see justice being done to all rape victims, and not just the Delhi woman. Ensuring justice to one victim is not enough of a promise from India’s most powerful politician. Can she promise to see that the over 1 lakh rape cases now going on endlessly all over the country will all be brought to a closure in the next six months? If this case can be closed in that time, surely the earlier cases deserve even better?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “I want to tell them (the victim’s family and friends) and the nation that while she may have lost her battle for life, it is up to us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain.”
The PM has a way of shifting his responsibility to “all of us.” At the broad level, how we treat women is surely about “all of us”, but when a PM says it, it looks like an evasion of responsibility. The PM cannot treat this issue as something someone else has to oversee. He has to oversee it. He is our Prime Minister. He has to hold himself personally responsible for ensuring safety and justice to women in the foreseeable future.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said: “A real tribute to her will be to ensure maximum punishment to the culprits. I pledge to work to strengthen the laws and ensure that such an incident never gets repeated again.”
That’s a real promise we can hold him to. But given that Delhi is the home ministry’s policing beat, an apology for what happened would have helped convince more of us of his sincerity.
Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit said: “Our heart goes to the family. My heart is burning over the incident. The passing away of the girl is a truly and terribly tragic incident. It shook our conscience. It is a shameful incident for me as a Chief Minister and also as a citizen of Delhi. It is time for all of us to reflect on what has happened.”
True, maybe she has learned not to take things casually. But an offer to resign over the incident would have been more meaningful and a truer sign that she is truly ashamed of what happened during her watch.
BJP Lok Sabha leader Sushma Swaraj said: “Her death has shaken the conscience of the nation. We must wake up and make India safe for daughters.”
Sushma, who has been calling for the death penalty to rapists, would be more convincing if she took up the clarion call of improving policing in BJP-ruled states. Madhya Pradesh is the rape capital of the country. If the rape rate can be brought down in this state, which goes to the polls in 2013, it would be a beacon to follow.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said: “Deeply saddened and distressed by the news of India's Braveheart daughter passing away. My deepest condolences to her family."
Are condolences enough Mr Modi? What can you do, or what have you done in your own state, to make it safer for women? That would be the best tribute you can pay to the brave 23-year-old.