Leaderless and unorganised groups of
young men and women have been demonstrating demanding women's
security and just punishment to perpetrators of the Delhi
They have defied ban orders and braved repressive police action.
The death of the rape victim Saturday appears to have strengthened
their resolve. But punishment in criminal cases, just or
otherwise, comes only at the end of trial and hearing at three
levels, which, with the best will to fast-track the process, will
Ensuring security of women calls for toning up of the police
machinery and reforming society -- tasks that will take even more
time. The protesters cannot be hanging out at Jantar Mantar and in
parks in other cities while these processes go on.
Knowing this, the government is resorting to time-tested dilatory
measures like constitution of judicial commissions and promises of
action. While the protests have been ignited by one incident which
received considerable mass media attention, what has also brought
young people into the campaign is the feeling that the political
system is not responsive to the issue.
Their exasperation is evident from the way they are steering clear
of all political elements.
On their part, the ruling parties and the opposition are viewing
with deep suspicion the protest movement run by those who are not
under the control of any party. Their misgivings are shared by
middle class intellectuals who fear the movement may lead to
Figures show a crime against women is reported every two minutes.
When we take into account the fact that many women do not file
complaints and even when complaints are filed, police may not
register them, the actual crime rate must be higher.
The nation's concern over the issue, which the protesters are
articulating, is therefore justified. The protesters cannot be
blamed for their distrust of the political class.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not speak out on the issue for
days. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde opened his mouth mainly to
defend police action against the demonstrators.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushama Swaraj, who demanded the
death penalty for rapists, had been silent on the rape of women
during the Gujarat riots.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat, who paid
visits to India Gate, was an accessory to her party's decision to
settle sexual harassment charges against two of its leaders in
Kerala and shield them against prosecution.
Jaya Bachchan, who broke into tears at a Mumbai protest rally, is
an MP of the Samajwadi Party that has fielded men facing rape
charges in elections.
The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Trinamool Congress, two parties
controlled by women leaders, too, have put up rape case accused as
How can such leaders be relied upon to address the issue
Former Indian Army chief, Gen V.K. Singh was among those who
publicly associated themselves with the protest. While serving as
army chief, he showed no sign of concern for rape victims. Army
personnel in Kashmir attracted rape charges in his time.
He had no word of sympathy for Irom Sharmila of Manipur, who is on
an epic fast seeking lifting of the Armed Forces Special Powers
Act, which provides immunity to servicemen involved in rape cases.
While the record of the politicians and the former officials is
not inspiring, protesters must understand we are running a
democratic system and such a system cannot be run without
political parties. But they are entitled to demand that the
politicians remain accountable to the people.
Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the ruling United Progressive
Alliance (UPA), said on Saturday: "We have heard you". If she has
heard the protesters' voice, why is there no action?
The constitution envisages a government responsible to the Lok
Sabha, the lower house of parliament. That body owes its special
status to the fact that it is directly elected by the people, who,
going by the preamble, are both makers and keepers of the
In a democratic dispensation, when things go wrong, someone must
assume responsibility. Half-a-century ago, Lal Bahadur Shastri
assumed moral responsibility for a rail accident and resigned as
When a sex crime in the capital awakens the nation's conscience to
the vulnerability of women, must not someone assume moral
responsibility and bow out?
If no one does so voluntarily, does not the UPA chairperson have a
duty to fix responsibility and call for the resignation of the
Two persons present themselves as likely candidates: the prime
minister, who remained silent when he should be have spoken out
and acted; and the home minister, whose words only added insult to
The exit of either gentleman will not bring the government down
since it is open to the Congress and the UPA to find a replacement
from their own ranks.
B.R.P. Bhaskar is a
veteran journalist and commentator. The views expressed are
personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org