Want to change India? Let’s begin with ourselves

by Dec 29, 2012

Let's not kid ourselves and point fingers. Yes, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems spineless unless it involves US economic interests, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's comments on protests against the Delhi gang rape seem to suggest he is little more than a court jester, and the much-hype-but-no-substance Rahul Gandhi seems to be doing what he does best - hide in his mother's pallu. As if that were not enough, we are blessed with an opposition that's just as terrible a circus as our government.

But this innocent 23-year old did not die this horrible death thanks to a brutal gang rape, or because of them. She died because of us. Because we Indians refuse to see girls and boys as equal, because we are quick to blame what women wear rather than put our own attitudes and prejudices under the harsh glare of truth, because we have a kya kare, kalyug hain, hota hai. theek hai attitude when it happens to someone else, because we blindly vote for men like Abhijeet Mukerjee because he represents a certain political party, or worse, refuse to vote at all, balefully claiming that there is no hope for India and preferring to take the voting day holiday as an opportunity to get out of the city.

Protests can only achieve so much. If we want lasting change, society has to change. AFP

And when we vote, do we vote just for so-called 'development' that only benefits the rich and the middle-class like us? Or will we like Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has repeatedly urged us to, look beyond GDP and growth rate figures that the power hungry like Narendra Modi use, to real development that really matters - food security, infant mortality, female infanticide, maternal mortality, female literacy, etc?

Which is why, despite having a per-capita income nearly double that of Bangladesh, India still has a lower life expectancy than Bangladesh, has a greater proportion of underweight children and has far higher child mortality and infant mortality rates.

If we ignore these truths, unless we change India from the bottom up, India won't change - whether you impose a death penalty or not, men will still rape and as vast sections of India see increasing hopelessness, evils like Naxalism and terrorism will only spread their cancerous tentacles. While we are horrified at the brutality of the crime, let's also not ignore the lives of some of the rapists in this case. It doesn't justify the seriousness of the crime, but, as the Indian Express reports, it's also a fact that these men were mostly school dropouts because they couldn't afford education, came from broken families, one's wife died of cancer - and with his economic status he surely couldn't afford proper treatment, no opportunities and lived in hovels.

Tough laws won't change our attitudes nor completely stop crime when some perpetrators see little hope in life anyway and use rape not just as an opportunity to satisfy lust but also perhaps an opportunity to explode in anger at a perceived slight (in this case when the male companion accompanying the girl slapped one of the rapists on being taunted) and use rape as a weapon to get back at society that he is angry at because it ignores him and treats him like rubbish.

It's like America's school killings that chillingly seem to be as regular as clockwork - para-dropping God into American schools won't help, what is needed is a mindset change where Americans are willing to give up the right to own assault weapons, and heck that's where God is needed!

So let's hope the protests in Delhi won't end, that they will spread throughout India, that each of us will participate till we bring about change. Why protest? If we don't protest people like Shinde will continue to ask why he should care about protesters. If we don't protest, a government that believes that they as rulers are above the law won't be serious about implementing laws. Just this Wednesday, 18-year old Paramjit Kaur ,committed suicide in Punjab because of police insensitivity and inaction towards her terrible gang rape. While Paramjit is gone, unlike other cases, the Akali Dal government realised action was needed and two local policemen have already been dismissed from service and a senior police officer suspended.

I guess the only reason that happened was because that government got the shivers seeing the scale of protests in Delhi. Else, given a typical Indian government's insensitivity, their 'we are the rulers, why should we care about what happens to the common man' attitude will just continue. Why did the Delhi Police behave so terribly towards protesters? It is because the government gave them the leeway to do so. The police's attitude in India is a direct reflection of the government's attitude. If that needs to end, the only way out is protest, till inept governments finally get booted out at the ballot box.

But protests alone will achieve very little and whatever they do achieve, will be fleeting. It's more important to bring about change in our mindsets, our prejudices. Let's put them under the harsh glare of truth. As a man once said over 2000 years ago to a mob that was about to stone a woman caught cheating, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone". That mob melted, because the truth has the ability to sear us.

And let's vote. Vote not for sexist buffoons, outright liars, people who have blood on their hands, people who project just a one-sided model of development in their hunger for power, but let's make an effort to really look for the right people - and for that, I suspect many of us will have to look into our mirrors. Because if we believe we know what India needs, perhaps it's time we step up to the task.

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