I am one of the several million Indians who was horrified by what happened to the 23-year-old girl on December 16 in a moving bus near Munirka, South Delhi.
As the father of a daughter, the uproar that followed was truly heartening to me.
The uproar was not the result of some group taking it up and systematically appealing to our conscience to build up to a gradual but sure crescendo of street agitations. This uproar was spontaneous.
But the uproar also left me feeling a little perplexed. I could not help but think as to why there is so much outrage only over this incident.
Was it because it happened to be the worst rape crime so far? No. Far more horrifying things have been perpetrated on some unfortunate Indian women.
Was it because the TV channels took it up and ran a non-stop coverage? This also did not cut much ice because TV channels nowadays try to whip up frenzy over everything so much so that their frenzy does not mean anything to anyone anymore.
Was it because it happened in Delhi? This could be true, but then so many incidents happen in Delhi with impunity but without such an outpouring of outrage.
Was it because the central government was found wanting in its response? That surely looked like a candidate given the propensity of our governments to mishandle mass outpourings.
Why wasn't there such a collective shakeup of the nation's conscience when women were raped in countless riots in post-Independence India? When women were raped in custody? When Dalit women are routinely and repeatedly raped around the country? When tribal women were raped in disturbed areas and some of the accused included our men in khaki and olive green uniforms?
Somehow all these were seen by us as collateral damage or necessary evils. 'When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake, right? Yeah, right. So let's move on.' That was our attitude.
Why was there no outrage when a few cultural vigilantes beat up hapless girls in a Mangalore bar? Why was there no outrage when a teenager was molested outside a bar in Guwahati? They must have been "loose women", right? Yeah, sure. Why else would they be in a bar? And yes, they were wearing jeans. Their tight dresses must have surely provoked the boys. Or so we rationalised.
Why is there no outrage when your average middle class Johnny takes a chance at his maid? His family will be the first to hush it up and buy peace. Somehow the raped woman will stand accused of instigating the man in the hope of some settlement.
If our collective conscience is shaken up now, I can think of only one reason. This happened to one of our own. This happened to a girl who didn't "ask for it" by dressing provocatively. This happened to a girl who wasn't caught in a riot. This happened to a girl who was not unfortunate enough to be born in a Dalit or a tribal family. This happened to a girl who went out properly escorted and was returning home well before her curfew. This happened to a girl who was not drunk or caught outside a bar. This happened to a girl who kept well within city limits.
This happened to a middle class girl. She was one of our own.
This made us scared. Very scared. This is not supposed to happen to us.
There is no other explanation for so much outrage.
I am not unhappy at this outrage. This outrage is indeed going to be good for a whole lot of underprivileged women who will benefit from whatever response or action plan that would get put into place.
But just think of it. Why is there is no outrage when you see someone bribe a traffic policeman willingly after parking in the wrong place in South Delhi? But we are outraged today when we learn that the same policeman took a bribe to let that infamous bus go on an unlicensed ride. It is a policeman's hafta (bribe) diary that cracked the case. Something like this was waiting to happen. And something like this unfortunately had to happen to stir us out of our middle class complacency.
One cannot help but recall Martin Niemöller's Holocaust poem. He wrote this in criticism of the ostrich-like attitude of the German intellectuals when Hitler was running riot.
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
There was no one left to speak out.