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Why the government would rather have you talk about rape

January 07, 2013 17:12 IST

The rape of the young woman on a Delhi bus has effectively halted all discussion of corruption. The talk of mistreatment of women has pushed the massive economic mismanagement, particularly of inflation, into a remote corner, says T V R Shenoy.

That is precisely what the powers that be want us to do. A lot of people seem to believe that the Congress-led ministry and other like-minded persons don't want us discussing the Delhi gang-rape case. Having spoken to some of those people, I believe this to be completely erroneous.

The rape of the young woman on a Delhi bus has effectively halted all discussion of corruption. (Has there been any progress in investigating the sources of Robert Vadra's business dealings? Has such an investigation even begun?) The talk of 'Damini/Nirbhayaa/Amaanat' has driven all talk of the massive economic mismanagement, particularly of inflation, into a remote corner. Even the high priests of our great national religion -- cricket -- are delighted that their own miserable performances are now flying (largely) under the radar.

The truth is that the muck about corruption -- cricket too -- forms a dirty trail that leads directly to the doors of specific powerful individuals. The talk about rape cannot possibly lead to indictment of anyone at the higher levels of governance. Yes, a few constables will face the flak for a while but there is a cold calculation that nobody in the upper echelons needs to assume personal responsibility. At the end of the day it was six depraved minds that raped and killed the 23-year-old woman on the night of December 16.

What happens if the debate threatens to assume wider dimensions?

First, there is a belief that no movement can sustain itself indefinitely. Independence was an issue that touched all Indians during the Raj but look at the number of campaigns that Mahatma Gandhi himself -- a mass leader like none another -- needed to start and stop between 1919 and 1942. This movement too, many in Lutyens's Delhi believe, shall peter away after a while.

Second, there are always diversionary tactics at hand if the issue threatens to get out of the government's grasp. You could, for instance, split the movement into those arguing in favour of the death penalty and those against it. This has already started, creating the first fissure between the mass movement in the streets and the human-rights lobby in the drawing rooms of Delhi.

Third, a week is a long time in politics, and the next general election is roughly 70 weeks away. Who knows what issues will be at the top of the voters' minds by then?

So, very well, let us give the government what it seeks, and talk about rape. Specifically, let us discuss the long chain of events that led to the night of December 16.

It would take a trained psychologist to comprehend what led those six animals to do what they did; I am not going to attempt to enter those diseased minds. When I say we should discuss the rape I mean we should talk about the circumstances that made it all possible.

We may not know the true identity of the woman but we do know a few facts about her. We know that her parents sold their land to pay for her education in Delhi. We know that she and her friend were returning home after watching a movie when they boarded that fatal bus. So, the question is 'why' all this happened?

Why did the woman and her family move to Delhi?

Because schools and colleges outside the major urban centres either do not exist or are so dysfunctional that no sensible parents want their wards to study there. The woman was reportedly studying physiotherapy. There are certain disciplines, that require huge and expensive laboratories, but surely that is not true of physiotherapy. What does it say of the system in her home state that she was forced to move to the national capital itself?

Why did the family have to sell its land to fund her education?

Because India has not just failed to build institutions, it has also failed to build a system for funding potential students. American students can find loans to fund their college tuition as well as board and lodging. Such funding is not cheap but it does exist, giving those on the lower rungs an opportunity to climb up the socio-economic ladder. The young woman and her family had to sell their land, and occasionally survive on 'roti-namak' (as the victim's mother informed the chief minister of Delhi).

Why did the woman and her friend have to board that bus?

Because the capital of India lacks a decent public transport system even 65 years after 1947. (The other major metropolitan centres are precisely the same.) The Delhi Metro functions, and functions well, but it is still a work in progress. Does it connect that glamorous mall in South Delhi (where the woman and her friend went to watch a movie) to her own home in West Delhi? If not, and given the exorbitant rates demanded by taxis, Delhiites have no option but to board a bus. And because there is apparently no money for government-owned buses, private operators have been given a free hand -- with an overstretched Delhi police having neither the manpower nor, it is popularly assumed, the inclination to check them.

This last point opens up a can of worms because the administration of Delhi is a machine masterfully designed so that everyone can shrug off responsibility. Who is responsible for law and order, the Union home minister, a (relatively unknown) lieutenant-governor, or the popularly elected chief minister? Who is responsible for civic services ranging from repairing roads to providing street lights to regulating buses -- the government of Delhi or the municipal corporation of Delhi, both ministers and corporators having been elected?

Yes, rape begins with a diseased mind, and tackling it is the task of families and communities, of society at large. And yes, I know the statistics that show that over 90 percent of Indian rape victims are preyed upon by family, friends, classmates, and colleagues, in houses rather than in public. (Sexual harassment in general is another matter.)

But the rape of the young woman did not take place in a vacuum; it was made possible by the failure of governance at various levels. Let us definitely discuss tougher laws and faster trials but let us also discuss what governments do not want to discuss -- the decayed infrastructure, from schools to streetlights, that played its own part in the death of the young woman.

T V R Shenoy