A few years ago, a friend of mine, back for holidays from her American college, stopped her car at night on Raisina Hill. She was with another young woman and the two of them decided to go look at the Rashtrapati Bhavan before heading home. Walking back, they saw a Delhi Police patrol van parked behind their car and two policemen standing there, examining the vehicle. The women went up quickly to the cops and apologized, thinking they had broken some parking law in this high security zone. The moment the cops saw the two women, their demeanour changed. The more senior of the cops smiled. He asked my friend whether she wanted to sell her car because he was interested in buying it. My friend replied in the negative. It was an old car, unlikely to find any buyers, but she liked it. The cops didn’t take no for an answer, they began to herd the women towards the patrol van, insisting they get in the van to ‘discuss the matter’. My friend quickly realized this was not about buying her car. She broke away and dialled the number of someone who she knew was driving not far from the area. Her other friends got there quickly. Seeing the other car arrive, the cops got into their van and wasted no time in driving away. Recounting the story, my friend shivered. “I know this is Delhi, but I couldn’t believe it. This was right at Rashtrapati Bhavan, not even that late. These were uniformed cops in an officially marked van. I’ve been in some bad areas in American cities but I’ve never been more scared in my life. B******s.”
In the last few days, Raisina Hill has been called all sort of names in the media, from ‘India’s Tahrir Square’ to ‘Raisina Hell’. Let us join the dots that bring us to the supposedly sacrosanct geographical heart of our republic.
A pair of young adults, friends, (it’s still unclear whether they are a couple), a woman and a man in their twenties, now commonly referred to as ‘the girl’ and ‘the boy’, do something quite ordinary, quite normal. They decide to go see an evening film show, far across the vast capital city of the country. After the show, the two begin making their way back to the suburb where they live. It is not the middle of the night, it is not midnight, the time is roughly 9 pm. ‘Woh log normal time pey ghar jaa rahey thhey.’
The pair take an auto for part of the way because the autowalla won’t take them all the way, which is normal. Waiting at a bus stop, they see a bus. The conductor, leaning out, calls the name of the area where they live, so they climb on. The bus is not properly marked. That’s normal.
After the murderous assault starts and the gang rape begins, this bus goes through several police barriers. This is also normal, since the cops take ‘hafta’ from the bus companies. Once the men throw the pair of youngsters on to the side of a lonely road it takes a while for them to be discovered. Some people gather, wanting to help, but no one does, because no one wants to tangle with the police and the inevitable hassles that will follow. As is normal, they stand around and wait for the patrol van to arrive.
What is not normal is how quickly the men are caught. That is unusual, lucky. But soon, we are back to normalcy.
In Delhi, as we watch the slow sinking of the one citizen both the government and millions of Indian want to save, a doctor friend working in the public health system tells me the woman is in the greatest danger in Safdarjung Hospital: the likelihood of infection, which is ‘normally high’ in the first place, is exacerbated by so many people coming to see the victim. He tells me the only way she could survive is if she was moved to a private hospital with proper systems. In the meantime, the director of another large hospital offers to do an intestinal transplant in his hospital. This hospital has attempted only one gut transplant so far and it has been unsuccessful. This ‘offer’, according to another doctor I speak to, is “nothing short of the director using this horrible moment to promote his hospital”.
And so we come to Raisina Hill. A gathering of a few thousand protestors, mostly college students, some slightly older people, Facebook crowd, not attached to any political party. What would have been a good response to this? A tearful Rahul Gandhi, or any minister who still retains some credibility, or Sheila Dikshit, chief minister, tearful, contrite, as shocked as you are, sharing your grief and horror, doing something about it on an emergency basis. But that’s unimaginable, not normal. Not one minister, no Rahul Baba, no Chidu, no home minister or prime minister shows his or her face to the crowds. It’s the Delhi Police, “With You, For You, Always”, that responds. On Raisina Hill, the Indian administration unbuckles itself and demonstrates how it likes to rape its own young people. More than a hundred tear gas shells rain down on the crowd. Then the water cannons open up. Then the cops lathi charge unarmed, non-violent young women who are protesting, among other things, the daily threat they face from the police. If ever there was a gold-edged, hand-delivered invitation card for hooligans from Opposition political parties to join the party, it was this. So Baba Ramdev arrives, all dressed up as a hanging judge. Kejriwal’s people also locust down. Sushma Swaraj becomes increasingly excited at the prospect of executing the rapists, all rapists, especially any rapists that don’t belong to her own party.
Who, which police officer, cleared by which minister, ordered the initial tear gas and water cannons? Who took the decision to keep Manmohan Singh away from any public pronouncement for a week? Who wrote the unspeakably weak statement that he did finally deliver? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that not one leader in the major political parties dog-fighting to rule the country sees this moment in any terms other than electoral profit or loss. Not one them showed they understand that this protest was not just about the rape. None of them gets it that the gathering was equally against the institutionalized assault on the desire for a way of life. None of them did the sums or asked themselves, “What happens when you push away and brutalize the youth of this country? What will these young people’s memory be of attempting to participate in a democracy? What will they push away or brutalize when they come to power?”
Instead, each and every major party covers itself with toxic rhetoric. Sushil Kumar Shinde: why should I talk to them? Next you’ll ask me to talk to Naxals. The Andhra Pradesh Congress chief turns 9 pm into midnight, not getting it that women have a right to go about at any hour of the day or night. The woman from Trinamool, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, insists the Park Street rape was a deal gone wrong, not getting it that even sex workers have the right not to be raped. The Congress then fields, of all people, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, him of the (consensual) sex tape, as their spokesperson on television. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) waves the flag of women’s emancipation with the cadre gang rapes of Nandigram still fresh in people’s memories. The Bharatiya Janata Party demands immediate hanging for the rapists even as it salivates at the thought of putting into the prime minister’s seat a man on whose chief ministerial watch mass rape and murder took place.
In the meantime, the TV news channels and print media are also a circus. At one extreme, you have Arnab Goswami, panting his dentures at the hapless, foolish ‘painted and dented’ Abhijit Mukherjee. As he bullies and hectors, never once does Goswami ask what his beloved armed forces have been doing to women in Kashmir and the Northeast under the AFSPA. At the other end, those demanding that rapists in uniform be brought to justice will never once mention the rapes carried out by the militants and jihadis. Then you also have the apologist for the Maoists, the super-articulate woman who rightly demands freedom and protection for disempowered rural women but never once mentions what the M-L comrades have done to women during their little romp through central India.
As I write this, the news has come in that the young woman has finally succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Singapore. There are reports of the roads shutting down across Delhi where protests are expected. No doubt the metro stations around the centre of town will be shut down as they have in the past week. No doubt the listless riot squads loitering around the Amar Jyoti yesterday are now on high alert. They may stifle immediate reaction but in the long run they won’t make a difference. Beyond 2G-gate, Scamgate and Coalgate this is the deepest and most shameful scandal of them all. The failure and refusal to treat half our population as truly equal is an ongoing, murderous process in which everyone is implicated. It is called Indiagate.