- Posted January 6, 2013 by
Pity the Present, Fear the Future: Refuse to Put up with Ineffective Leaders
The law has started its Juggernaut march regarding the most infamous rape case that ended in the death of the victim because of police apathy and event does show the disconnect between the leaders and the led. However the ‘juvenile’, who it is believed was the most brutal of the six men – he raped the woman twice, the second time after she became unconscious, and shoved an iron rod into her, tearing apart her intestines and irreparably damaging her vital organs – has not been summoned because he claims to be seventeen-and-a-half years old. Since he claims to be six months short of 18, he hopes to be disqualified from criminal trial on grounds of being a ‘child’. Delhi Police has already filed a 1,000-page-long charge-sheet which was scrutinized by the Delhi High Court. That’s less than a month after the hideous crime was committed in south Delhi and an otherwise callous Union Home Ministry, which is responsible for maintaining law and order in the national capital, can claim that it has moved fast. Indeed, it has. But that’s cold comfort.
On Friday night, the male friend of the victim of that crime, who was with her on that terrible night and is the sole witness, now, gave an interview to Zee News. He did not disclose his identity, nor did he mention the woman’s name. There was nothing theatrical about the manner in which he recounted the horror. He spoke without breaking down or betraying the emotional turmoil through which he is passing. He simply stated the facts, as he recalled them, without taking recourse to adverbs and adjectives. Even a hardened cynic like me who has seen death and devastation more than once was moved to tears – I wouldn’t want to live through a similar nightmare. Much of what he had to say is largely known. Nonetheless two points merit reiteration and comment.
Before the woman and her friend were thrown out of the bus, they were stripped and disrobed of all clothing. Apparently, the rapists were clever enough to know that the clothes of their victims could carry evidence of their crime; they also took away their mobile phones. But that’s a matter of detail and speculation and need not distract us at this stage. What is important to note is that for 25 minutes after the woman and her friend were dumped on one of the busiest roads of south Delhi, nobody stopped to help them. The woman lay bleeding; the man kept on pleading for help with those who passed by. Some people stopped, gawked and moved on. Others didn’t even bother to do that. Had it not been for a person who finally took mercy and dialed 100, probably they would have died on the road.
What does this tell Indians of themselves? I urge you to ask themselves a question we often skirt: Isn’t society to blame too for this horrific crime, and similar crimes, committed with impunity by people amidst us? For nearly half-an-hour a woman and a man in distress pitifully cried for help and everybody turned a deaf ear. Yet, as the protests over the following days showed, we all pretended to be outraged, we feigned anger and we lit candles. Demanding justice is fine, as are candlelight vigils. But helping fellow citizens in distress is infinitely better. The anonymous Good Samaritan did not think about the consequences of his action, nor was he mindful of whether it would fetch him five minutes of fame. But history remembers him. A corner of the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho now carries his name, if only as the ‘Good Samaritan’. Parables have long out of fashion along with morals and ethics, washed away by the tide of Left-liberalism that has midwifed the birth of an I-me-and-myself society comprising individuals who believe compassion is for ‘losers’; ‘winners’ think of only themselves.
The second point that stood out in the victim’s friend’s statement is the attitude of the police. According to him, the first PCR vehicle arrived 45 minutes after the SOS call to 100. Subsequently two more vehicles arrived. Over the next half-an-hour the policemen argued among themselves as to which police station had jurisdiction over the crime spot. A weighty question, indeed. After all, the bus in which the woman was gang-raped kept on moving, possibly traversing from one police station’s jurisdiction to another. That issue, of course, had to be settled before taking the profusely bleeding and severely brutalised woman to the nearest hospital. Her friend requested the policemen for something to cover her body. At first the policemen ignored him, then one of them gave a tattered sheet. It wouldn’t, of course, have been right for any one of them to take off his jacket or shirt and cover the naked woman. Pristine khaki would have been profaned. Hence they made the victim’s friend carry her; they wanted to keep their lily-white hands clean.
If what we have been told is true, and there is no reason to disbelieve the victim’s friend because nothing he said during the interview sounded even remotely exaggerated – he was calm and composed, and he spoke with admirable dignity considering the circumstances – then the police squandered more than an hour in responding to the crisis. Those 75 minutes may have pushed the victim over the cliff – from the jurisdiction of life to that of death.
Yet, Union Home Secretary RK Singh was fulsome in his praise for Delhi Police during the famous Press conference he held along with Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar some days after the ghastly crime. A beaming Home Secretary kept on patting a smirking Police Commissioner on the back while handing out clean chits to the latter’s boys for a job magnificently done. Journalists at the Press conference kept on asking tough questions; the Home Secretary kept on insisting the police couldn’t be blamed; the Police Commissioner kept on smirking and smiling. We were told how the police responded within minutes, five to ten minutes at best. We were told how hard the police had worked to crack the case. We were told the police deserved to be hailed not criticized. And what do you know? The police took 45 minutes to reach the spot and another 30 minutes to decide what to do. We now know that the police were collecting hafta( weekly commission) from the owner of this bus to gloss over repeated violations of the law and it is the diary in which bribes are recorded that helped trace the vehicle and the rapists, not back-breaking investigations. We also know that those guilty of such dereliction of duty will never be punished. They will stay on in their taxpayer-funded jobs, as will the Home Secretary and the Police Commissioner. It’s an exclusive mutual admiration club whose membership comes with extraordinary privileges.
There’s a post-script to this story: A ‘high-powered’ committee has been set up to review the functioning of Delhi Police. The committee is headed by the Home Secretary and among its ‘high-powered’ members is the Police Commissioner. And there’s more. Delhi Police has filed a case against Zee News for broadcasting the interview with the gang rape victim’s friend
The day after the victim died in that Singapore hospital, Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister went to receive her body at the airport making sure that ‘the people’ were kept away. They went in the early hours of a cold, dark and foggy Delhi morning and they made sure that the girl’s body was cremated before the thousands who had gathered every day at India Gate for nearly two weeks to pray for her discovered that she had died. The secretive, surreptitious manner in which India’s two most important political leaders behaved after an incident that caused national shame and horror showed their inability to understand the importance of leadership. It needs to be added here that the man who many believe will be India’s prime minister in 2014 did not show his face even once after the girl died.
So here are some questions. What kind of political leaders are afraid of the people? Why did the country’s biggest leaders not make any effort to talk to the protesters who gathered in streets that are five minutes from their homes? Why did the Chief Minister of Delhi only make an effort to meet protesters after they had been attacked by her policemen with water cannons and tear gas shells? She was booed when she finally showed up but what more did she expect? The political failure to respond empathetically to public outrage over the ghastly gang rape in a Delhi bus is not something that can be pinned on the Congress alone. It was a failure of the entire political class.
When the young medical student whose intestines were pulled out with an iron rod by her rapists was still struggling to live in Safdarjung Hospital, and thousands gathered at India Gate and Vijay Chowk to pray for her I waited every day for young political leaders to join the protesters. The Lok Sabha is awash with the daughters, sisters and wives of powerful political leaders and I thought at least one or two would show up to join the protests. The Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is a woman who has demanded the death penalty for rapists so I thought she would come for political reasons if not out of real pain. There are influential women Chief Ministers who have also made a huge noise about harsher sentences for rapists. They were in Delhi for the National Development Council meeting while the protests were still going on, and it would have helped them politically to make an appearance but they did not come either. Why?
Ask yourself these questions and the only answer that will come to you is that our political leaders are so removed from the people that they do not understand their own political interests any more. As someone who has spent more than three decades wandering about India covering elections and other political events I have noticed this disconnect grow and spread only since hereditary democracy became the norm for most political parties. In the old days when I covered election campaigns, it was normal to see important candidates travelling about on foot or in humble transport. I have personally seen two former Prime Ministers, VP Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, campaign door to door in the 1980s but ever since political heirs began to populate the benches of the Lok Sabha this practice has stopped.
Political princes and princesses are a new breed of politician. They are unused to the dirt roads and grime of rural India so they travel in expensive air-conditioned SUVs wherever they go and this mode of transport is usually enough to distance them from the people. But, if they go on to become Ministers, Chief Ministers or important leaders in their own right, then the distance is compounded by ‘security’ concerns. Then they take to descending upon villages in helicopters that land in dusty fields where cavalcades of ambassador cars filled with commandos await their arrival. It is in these cavalcades that they travel to election meetings or political events. Then as soon as the meeting ends they vanish into the skies. Their contact with ‘the people’ is limited to meeting rural officials. It is an unhealthy and ugly transition that has occurred in Indian political life and it manifests itself more and more these days because in the cities people are not ready to put up with absent political leaders anymore.
In a crisis they want to see their leaders do what they elected them to do — lead. Like the girl who was raped and killed they are filled with modern ideas. The girl thought, like modern city girls do, that it was safe to go and see a late evening show in a cinema and then take a bus home. And, those who came to protest against her gang rape think like modern young Indians should that they have a right to demand law and order from their leaders and that they have a right to demand answers from them when they fail to provide it. The protesters who gathered in the streets of our cities to mourn the girl talked openly to television reporters about the need for the criminal justice system to improve. They expressed resentment against the huge deployment of policemen for VIP security when ordinary citizens could not be guaranteed safety.
These are modern ideas expressed by modern Indians who, unlike their rural brethren, are no longer prepared to put up with ineffective leaders or bad governance. The problem is that our political leaders seem unable to understand this. So the majority of those who spoke up for the girl did so from the safety of television studios. They talked in angry voices about the need for Special Sessions of Parliament to discuss a new rape law and for harsher punishments for rapists. In doing this they showed how very removed they are from reality. It is not new laws that are needed or harsher punishments. What we need is a Special Session of Parliament to discuss how a criminal justice system that is completely broken can be fixed before the whole structure comes crumbling down. What is the point of new laws when India has less than half the number of policemen for 100,000 people than the international average of 250? What is the point of new laws when a rape case can take decades to be decided in our courts
Dr. Bikram Lamba, a political & business strategist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org