Protests no longer about rape, they’re about misgovernance

“Apology on yesterday's police excess not enough. UPA must atone by getting Govt to issue an Ordinance to amend the rape law. No talk or gas,” said Subramaiam Swamy on Twitter this morning.

“Do Delhi protesters have a credible representative? I can take their suggestions/demands to the Government. Can't media channelize this?,” Milind Deora asked on twitter last evening.

Two politicians, from parties that hate each other, both missing the wood for the trees.

To Dr. Swamy, I’ll say – there are no need for new laws. There are, and there have always been, enough laws for crimes such as rape. To Milind Deora, I’ll say – there have always been, and there still are, credible representatives.

It’s just that politicians, so unused to listening to (or even acknowledging) the vox populi, the Delhi outrage against the horrific rape has caught the political classes flat-footed, without an answer.

Make no mistake about the current manifestation of the peoples’ anger – this is not just about rape, as they simplistically, foolishly and dangerously view it.

The protests are not just about the rape. PTI

This is about the anger of people of India (non-voters included, which makes it so difficualt for the political classes to deal with it) about the way they have been taken for a ride decade after decade in state after state.

Less then 24 hours after the Delhi rape incident, I spoke to Anuradha Kapoor from Swayam, a Kolkata based NGO which works in the area of violence against women. She had just landed in New Delhi, on her way back to Kolkata from New York, and had just about absorbed the details of the development. On the phone, she sounded mentally exhausted.

“Swayam has been fighting this for 16 years,” she said.

Sixteen years of fighting against the apathy, disinterest, irresponsibility and corruption in the police forces, in the local government, against the state government.

There are many Anuradha Kapoors in India, in different cities and different states in the country, who will have similar tales to relate. Some will talk about apathy, disinterest and callousness in issues regarding water, others would have been fighting (on behalf of citizens) on caste discrimination, some on primary health issues, some on the woes of the commuter, some on corruption, some on land-grabbing.

The issues will be many, in many parts of the country, and in different parts of the same state.

What will be common is the manifestation of the outrage. The people will rise, as they have done in Delhi, and they’ve reached a point when mere words will not calm them down.

This is a turning point, a tipping point, reached after people have reached a breaking point. Politicians have proven, time and again (especially as they did in the case of the Lokpal movement), that they can pay scant regard to public needs and yet get re-elected.

The Delhi reaction to the rape is an extraordinary instance of how the public can change the goal-posts, the rules of the game and how the game is played.

That is what is causing the authorities in Delhi and in the central government to seem to have no clue on how to deal with the situation. It’s all unfamiliar territory; they’re unused to citizens who are not frightened of a police uniform; they’re unused to citizens not accepting the assurances of the administrators, the bureaucrats and the politicians.

The Delhi protest is just the beginning. We’ll see more such protests, erupting across the country without notice, energized by social media. People will gather in hundreds and thousands braving the police lathis, barricades tear gas, section 144 and even arrest.

It’s a clear signal to politicians and government servants. It’s no longer enough for them to be elected or appointed. They have to realise that they exist for the people and need to work for the people.

Or the people will make their existence a misery and eject them.

This is the beginning of a new era: the accountable politician and the accountable government servant. To both these classes, I’ll say: be afraid. Be very afraid. Because the citizen is no longer afraid of you.