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Systemic change needs sustained effort, not just Aamir Khan

May 11, 2012 13:10 IST

The appeal of a courageous superstar with a conscience on a Sunday morning television show may help resolve some issues that affect us.

But for us to change as a people needs much more effort and awareness, feels Sherna Gandhy.

There are three staples in news columns every single day. Every day you will read of a case of rape and/or sexual harassment being committed somewhere in the country, of corruption by some government official or other in cahoots with some member(s) of the public, and a road accident in which someone is injured or killed.

All three are crimes, and what they also have in common is that all three are taken lightly by investigating authorities and the great Indian public. I deduce this last not from any research or statistics (very little of either exists anyway), but merely from the fact that these reports appear so regularly that it is obvious no serious attempt is being made to curtail these heinous crimes.

All three are assumed to exist because we are 'like that only' -- that is, women have been raped or exploited by men since time immemorial, corruption is too ingrained in our culture to do anything about it notwithstanding Anna Hazare and the cock-eyed yoga swami, and dangerous driving will persist because Indians don't value life: Since there are so many of us, a couple less every day doesn't matter.

I accept that being a rather callous and selfish people, we don't care much what happens to others -- tribals fighting to stay on their ancestral lands, or those who find themselves living in the backyard of a nuclear power station fighting to keep radiation at bay, or communities being implicated in crimes they did not commit...

These are other people whose problems are unlikely to be ours, at least in the near future. What I find difficult to understand is our indifference to all three of the crimes I started out mentioning, when we or our near and dear ones could be the victims.

Women are harassed and raped not just in obscure villages, but on the streets of our most sophisticated cities. Every female or female relative of anyone reading this column is a potential or actual victim. And the perpetrator is not some drunken lout. In the newspaper on the day I write this column, I read of a judge of a district labour court and an assistant commissioner of police being accused in two rape cases.

Anyone out on the roads, whether behind the wheel, as a passenger, or on foot, is a potential victim of the total lack of driving rules and skills displayed by a majority of people. Investigations are so shoddy and take so long, they might as well not be held.

I was an eyewitness to an overloaded truck knocking down a two-wheeler, crushing to death the pillion-rider under its wheels. That was 11 years ago. The case has still not come up for even one hearing. These were just two ordinary men presumably returning home to their families after work like any of us, and one of them just doesn't make it because the driver of a lorry piled illegally high with trailing iron rods sideswipes him.

As for waste, misuse, and diversion of public money into capacious political and bureaucratic pockets, that is our hard-earned money that is being snatched away.

So, why does that not move us to raise our voices more vociferously and demand that the authorities take these crimes seriously? Why don't we demand better investigation and better conviction rates for the offenders?

Do we not think these are serious crimes? Are we so stupid that we think they will never happen to us or ours despite evidence to the contrary? Or are we all to a greater or lesser degree complicit in these crimes?

I think all these are true. If we took rape seriously and thought it could happen to us or ours, we would not hear, over and over again, the pathetic refrain that women invite rape by the way they dress and look, thus putting the onus on the victim in a startling reversal of justice.

If we took accidents seriously, we would not give our kids the keys to a car or bike without drilling into them that rules must be followed on all occasions (and doing so ourselves). And when it comes to corruption, few can say they have not been party to it on the specious plea that it's the 'only way to get things done'.

Here, in India, the authorities are infamous for not moving in the right direction unless some external pressure is applied. That external pressure can only be us, the public, who stand to lose the most.

Those who watched Aamir Khan's much-awaited Satyameva Jayate last Sunday will recall the way the Rajasthan authorities have dispersed 100 cases against doctors who illegally carried out ultrasound tests for sex determination, in courts across the country so that the two journalists who painstakingly exposed the crime will have to dance from court to court across the state to testify.

Aamir has promised to lead a campaign against this infamous attempt to make the prosecutions so difficult that the cases against the greedy doctors may collapse.

An appeal backed by such high-voltage star power may well achieve its objective. But to effect a systematic change requires a more sustained effort and more than one courageous actor with a conscience.

Please also read:
Saisuresh Sivaswamy: Aamir Khan's concern should be ours too
Sukanya Verma: Don't be cynical about Aamir's 'Satyamev Jayate', watch it!
Sheela Bhatt: Aamir Khan's Satyameva Jayate played it safe

Sherna Gandhy