New Delhi, Dec. 21: As protests sprouted in several cities against the brutality on a girl in Delhi, doctors battling to save the victim requested people to “free the hospital” from blockades and ensure that “your agitation should not serve as an obstacle for others”.
The appeal by doctors of Safdarjung Hospital brought to the fore the dilemma facing a country torn between revulsion and helplessness in figuring out how and where to channel the sense of outrage that is refusing to subside.
The extreme reactions were initially confined to Twitter and television screens — the usual outlets for catharsis. Soon enough, the rage found expression in candle-light vigils and sit-in demonstrations outside centres of power — legitimate forms of protest that brought out the mood of an unsafe country.
However, at some point, some protesters felt that the usual avenues were not sufficient and congregated outside the very hospital where the girl gang-raped in a bus and 3,000 others are undergoing treatment.
The Safdarjung doctors made another request: people, including politicians, should avoid going to the hospital to meet the victim as she is being treated in the intensive care unit.
“We have an appeal to people. Please free the hospital from protests. It should not serve as an obstacle for others, the movement of ambulance and supply line vehicles. Peaceful atmosphere should be maintained on the hospital premises,” Dr B.D. Athani, the medical superintendent of Safdarjung Hospital, told a media conference.
Athani said the hospital would not entertain any requests for visits to the intensive care unit where the girl is under treatment. “She is at risk of infection and we need to maintain as clean an atmosphere as possible — visitors increase the risk of infection.”
“Parents (of the victim) are also, in fact, requesting.… We are requesting all of you not to engage them in conversation because ever since they are with the patient... they have been asked to, forced to talk,” Athani added. “Let them take care of their daughter who is in ICU with severe injuries.”
Asked whether the appeal was intended for politicians as well, Athani said: “No visitors means it is applicable to all.”
That such an appeal should be made at all highlights the peculiar civic sense prevailing in some parts of the country where insensitivity and brutality compete with each other every day to gain the upper hand.
But political sources have said attention from leaders ensures that the victim gets the best care and police do not slacken after the initial burst — another unwitting acknowledgement of the interventions required to keep the essential levers moving.
Throughout the day in Delhi, protests broke out in front of places ranging from Sonia Gandhi’s residence to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Some groups initially stood outside the President’s house but, on a request by the police, moved to India Gate.
A searing image stood out in Delhi: an acid attack victim who marched as a living symbol of the atrocities heaped upon women.
A placard in Bangalore captured the sense of insecurity, the dread of intrusion and, most of all, the anger at the mindset that tends to blame the victims: “Where I am at what time is no excuse for rape.”
But some knots of protesters also had the hallmarks of mobilisation. A senior officer of Delhi police — the force is under fire — said: “Some Opposition parties are taking full advantage of the prevailing anti-government perception. There are some people who have turned out because of heartfelt outrage but there are also some mobilised by Opposition parties.”
“This incident seems to have ignited undercurrents of long-standing concern,” said Prachi, a Delhi-based consultant clinical psychologist who uses a single name. “People don’t usually talk about such things, they silently live with such concerns. Then this incident happened, and it has allowed them to express their genuine anger,” she said.
But psychologists also attribute part of the crowds to group or mob behaviour. “It’s a situation when emotions take over intellect — and a typical group would then be a mix of people with genuine concerns and people who’re there just to become part of this movement,” a senior clinical psychologist said.
A psychologist in Mumbai said the gang rape had several elements that make vast sections of the public feel intensely vulnerable. “Protests are one way to help people cope with this sense of vulnerability,” she said. “These protests create a feeling that they’re doing something, so things might change.”