Friday, 21 December 2012

Stop this hysteria

Sunday’s gangrape incident in Delhi is so appalling that it’s easy to go over the top in reacting to it. It makes one feel angry, helpless and extremely vulnerable.
But I am tired of seeing hysterical crowds screaming about death penalty, castration and demanding that everyone from the police commissioner to the chief minister resign.  
The main target of public ire is the police. There are calls for the police commissioner to be sacked. He has to explain to the High Court why the bus passed five police pickets without being stopped. One lawyer is planning to initiate action to ensure that policemen who were on duty on the stretch that the bus drove on that night are penalised. CPM leader Brinda Karat is also the same.
But this is one case where the criticism of the police is totally. Here’s why.
One, there was nothing – absolutely nothing – to arouse suspicion about the bus and the horror being perpetrated inside. It was a luxury bus, with tinted windows and drawn curtains. That’s quite normal. So how can anyone, police included, know what was going on inside? It probably was being driven in a way that it doesn’t attract attention. That could be the reason why the bus passed five police pickets without arousing suspicion.
Two, the police acted promptly once they were informed about the incident. No one is saying there was any delay in the police reaching the scene where the girl and her friend were thrown out of the bus. The bus was traced within hours and four of the rapists were arrested within twenty-four hours. What more could the police have done in this case?
In fact, the real indictment should be of the public. According to a story in yesterday’s Indian Express, when the police reached the spot where the girl and her friend had been thrown out, they found people just standing around, looking at them. “Not one of them took off a jacket or piece of clothing to cover the victims. There were women in cars that had pulled over but they did not approach the victims,” a policeman was quoted as saying.
When people scream into television cameras that women are being raped every day and the police is not doing anything to check it, do they even know what they are saying?
Even as people rallied at India Gate, protested outside the Police Headquarters and the chief minister’s residence, a three-year-old girl was raped in a playschool by the husband of the woman who ran it. In an overwhelming majority of cases, rapes are committed by people known to the victim. A neighbour/colleague/classmate who offers a lift. A family friend/relative who drops in home. A teacher in school or college. How can such rapes be prevented? Who can anticipate them to prevent them from happening? What is important to see is if the police acted promptly in each case. If it did not, then, by all means, ask for action against the police.
Preventing rape cannot be a police responsibility alone. It is also about having well-lit roads. It would make far more sense for resident welfare associations to fight for roads around their colonies to be well-lit, instead of lighting candles for the victim.
Preventing rape is also about good public transport. Why did the girl and her friend board that bus, which was not a regular public transport vehicle? Let me make an educated guess. There is no bus from Saket (where they had gone to see a movie) to Dwarka. So they took an auto-rickshaw up to Munirka from where there is a bus to Dwarka. Given erratic bus timings and the fact that it was getting late, when a bus taking passengers for Dwarka came, it must have been a blessing in disguise at that time. It would be far better for Brinda Karat to press for a proper and reliable public transport system that can ensure that Delhi-ites can travel safely at any time of day. Let’s just keep aside the inconvenient fact that women are groped and molested even within buses in broad daylight for the time being.
Preventing rape is also about each one of us being alert. But we are so inured to irregularities happening around us all the time that we just don’t react. So a bus not authorised to pick up passengers openly does so; we see it and keep quiet. Even if the bus had been driven in a rash manner, that is so common a sight that nobody would have thought of informing the police.
Above all, we don’t want to get involved. Even if someone had seen something amiss, they would have preferred to look the other way.
Perhaps the only person who made sense in the charged-up crowds at India Gate protesting the horrific gangrape was a young long-haired man who asked – can all of us who are gathered here take a pledge that the next time any of us see a woman being harassed, we will not remain silent and will go to her help?
This was perhaps one of the few voices to articulate what is being lost in the hysterical responses across the country – that all of us are responsible for what happened that day.
But it is so much easier to take one day off, scream at rallies and blame the Authorities and the System for everything, isn’t it?

1 comment:

Mohan said...

I enjoyed reading what you wrote, but I look at it differently. These protests may not be organized in a sophisticated manner. The demands of the protestors might sometimes be silly. Out of anger and frustration, they may be demanding the kind of punishment that a modern democracy shouldn't mete out. But the fact is that the protestors have taken time off to express solidarity, and protest. It shows civic sense and social consciousness. Rarely do we see such a display of civic sense in this country. I feel that you are doing them a disservice by dismissing it all as "take one day day off, scream at rallies and blame the Authorities".