Though there is undoubtedly a sense of déjà vu, it would be disingenuous to suggest that the rape cases in Kathua and Unnao are Narendra Modi government’s 'Nirbhaya' moment. But, yes it does seem that, the more it changes the more it is the same in India.
It would also be naive to think that a deep social malaise ingrained through generations of psychological depravity and economic power inequities can be eradicated in five years. But, what one can expect is a change in the response of the government and administration as indeed, the reaction of civil society, media, and political classes. Alas, neither seems to have happened.
So, we have another candle light protest at India Gate. The same expressions of righteous indignation are repeated on camera. The age-old blame game. Only a new layer of a communal overtone has been added to the narrative. From earlier accusations of incompetence, this time around the government and administration have been accused of complicity in shielding the guilty due to the political affiliation and religious domination of the alleged perpetrator and victim.
The discussions have expectedly veered away from the heart of the tragedy to the politics of it. The media has happily played along the predictable popular script. What used to be made for television moments has now turned to Social Media threads with the unit of measure changing from TRP to hash tag hits.
The government is at once beleaguered - vacillating between defiance to defensiveness - and clueless.
Many political commentators and public intellectuals have already ordained these twin incidents as the impending nemesis of the BJP-led regime. Viewed together with recent Dalit protests, farmer unrest and political headwinds from the South, they see clear portends of the Modi story unraveling. The Opposition, especially the Congress, can barely contain their glee at being finally able to turn the tables on the government, kicking off the countdown to 2019.
However, one has not heard any cogent argument on how a probable change of guard can be the proverbial panacea of all ills plaguing the country today. Surely, justice for the 8-year-old girl in Kathua is as important as justice for Nirbhaya. But, how can one guarantee there will not be a candle light vigil in 2023 a year before another Lok Sabha election?
In this context, it may be instructive to revisit a similar story from another city. I have chosen it not because it is from a Congress-ruled state, but to underscore the larger national issue that cuts across geographic and political boundaries. Dhanya Rajendran, Editor in Chief of The News Minute recounted on Twitter a case that happened in Bengaluru circa 2014:
"As I see all the outrage over the (8-year-old girl's) case, I am reminded of the protests that rocked Bengaluru in 2014. Parents were out on the streets after a 4-year-old was raped. There were huge marches for justice. Massive pressure on cops to arrest the perpetrators."
She subsequently wrote: “Cops first arrested a man called Mustafa. I remember many on Twitter feeling victorious because his name was that. Then the cops said they arrested the wrong man and arrested two more. Those people were angry calling it a conspiracy. But that's not the point of this thread. When I say massive protests, they were massive. But does anyone know what happened to that case? Forget those who hit the streets, they got back with their lives. What happened to that family? What happened to that trial? Was that man punished? We asked for justice then. It's been 4 years now and nothing much has happened. The prosecutor in the case was changed, the family traumatised over the attention. For months, my colleague @thejaram92 could not even find anything about trial because not even the PP knew it properly."
She further wrote: “Finally, an NGO helped us get access to what's happening with the trial. Well, nothing much. It is important that a society is outraged at these crimes."
In the end, she asks very pertinently, “what justice are we fighting for? For a chargesheet? For an arrest?”
If these questions are not answered and we move on to the next tragedy or another topic of outrage before even the candles of protest die out, then no fundamental shift will ever be possible.
Cynical as it may sound – the age of idealism is long over. Genuine social reformers are an extinct species. Those we call activists are really outrage artists – rent-a-cause professionals. Therefore, even laudable initiatives like “Beti Bachao” and “Swachh Bharat” (which is linked to a movement against open defecation that indirectly contribute to rape) are seen with a political prism, just as a religious filter is applied to every episode.
Thus, if any counterpoint is met with charges of bigotry and insinuations of conspiracy to marginalise minorities and media is happy to swing by the mood of the moment, those at the receiving end may be justified in seeing it as another orchestrated move like “award wapasi” to corner the government.
So one is not surprised, when a ruling party spokesperson, Meenakshi Lekhi comes out at a press conference to say:
“You see their plan, first shout 'minority minority', then 'Dalit Dalit', and now 'women women' and then try to somehow fix blame of state issues on the Centre. All this while ignoring the strict action being taken by state governments.”
Real change can and will only happen if politicians and civil society close ranks to send out the message loud and clear that certain crimes are non-negotiable and will be dealt with zero-tolerance. The best deterrence against such crimes is prompt intervention by the law enforcing authorities. That can only happen if the administration is given a free hand to act without fear or favour. That has to be the collective mandate of the people to the powers that be, irrespective of their political or ideological leanings. The media on its part has to retain its objectivity following the stories to their logical end without falling for the trap of instant judgments of Twitter khaps or TV kangaroo courts.
Till that happens, the saga of brutal rape cases will not end. As a society, we will become more vulnerable to manipulation by organisations like Cambridge Analytica – while politicians like Kuldeep Singh Sengar and perverts like Vishal Jangotra will be born again and again.
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Updated Date: Apr 15, 2018 17:22:31 IST