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STREETS ON FIRE

For us in Delhi, this Christmas day is among the saddest in a long time. The city had recently erupted in an instinctive outpouring of protest against the gangrape of a young woman who was travelling in a bus with a friend. It became the core of latent anger which has been suppressed over the years that have seen countless assaults on women. In this country, ‘Mother India’, men have treated ‘women’ — wives, daughters and sisters — with utter contempt. This is the bizarre truth. Elsewhere in the world, such madness is prevalent too, but it is restricted to the fringes. It is not an everyday phenomenon that is inflicted on the majority of women on the streets and in their homes.

Equally, India is possibly the only nation in the world where the top leaders do not engage with the people or reach out to them and share their traumas in an effort to cool tempers. There is no engagement whatsoever which, consequently, accentuates the sense of anger and helplessness. This insular attitude, characterized by vague mutterings from inside protected ivory towers, has damaged the democratic process in India. Images of Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi reaching out to the people in times such as this flood the minds. For instance, Indira on the back of an elephant in Belchi, Nehru calming rioters in Connaught Place, and so on. Nothing is more detrimental to liberty and freedom, to peace and civil society, than a leadership locked behind iron doors. It is perceived to be ‘safe’ while citizens remain exposed to constant danger. Lessons need to be learnt from other democracies where elected presidents and prime ministers reach out at difficult times. Barack Obama connected with the parents of the children who were killed in a school recently.

Fanning flames

Why is it that Sonia Gandhi has to intervene whenever things get out of hand? She pulls out all stops and saves the situation, always. Why is the government, elected and mandated to govern and ensure peace on the streets, never there? Where is the prime minister and the lieutenant governor? A failed government is destroying the credibility of the dominant party that leads the United Progressive Alliance.

Why do a mindless and provocative electronic media fan the flames and tell half- truths about who is responsible and who is not? What is the press getting out of reporting half-truths and using the medium to provoke the protesters and aggravate the situation? Seeing the inept handling of the situation by the home ministry and by the Delhi Police, the Opposition leapt into the fray as it saw an opportunity to garner support for the future.

Why does India suffer from a dearth of good leaders? Where has the legacy of our founding fathers gone? Why this supreme dissipation of commitment? Surely economic liberalization is not the be all and end all of governance. We are being led into becoming a fascist State because of faulty and corrupt governance. The prospect is frightening.

This lack of accountability on the part of government officials has undermined our democracy. The terrorism that has corroded civil society has its roots from within the government machinery. Citizens have never attacked that machinery, have borne the brunt of harassment and humiliation at the hands of the privileged class, and internalized their frustration and anger. But a point comes when no individual is willing to be insulted any further, leading to a release of collective anger. If the government is unable to act with strong conviction, hoodlums would take charge. That is what has happened in Delhi. Top heads must roll. Justice must be fast tracked and delivered. Citizens must be respected. Civil society must prevail. India must not be mutilated.