Miracles are not easily associated with the idea of a modern secular republic. Miracles, boons and curses are parts of India’s mythical past. Yet a few days before the republic of India was to celebrate its 63rd anniversary, a miracle did happen. A committee finished its report to the government in less than a month. The committee had three members: J.S.Verma, who chaired it, Leila Seth and Gopal Subramaniam; it had been set up on December 23 in the wake of the gang rape and assault of a young girl in Delhi. The committee submitted its report to the government on January 23. To say that the committee finished its work in record time would be an understatement. The committee members performed a miracle. This statement is being made without a hint of sarcasm or ridicule. It expresses genuine admiration, which is framed by a given context. Committees and commissions in India last forever and take an endless length of time to finish their appointed tasks. These inordinate and inexplicable delays have given rise to the common perception that a committee or a commission is appointed by a government to actually shelve and forget an event or an idea. The committee headed by Mr Verma has demonstrated that if the will is there, work on even as vexed a question as punishment regarding rape can be completed and sensible recommendations put forward. The three members of the committee have set an example for the entire republic.
The propensity for delay and procrastination that is the hallmark not only of government-appointed committees and commissions but also of any and all governmental activity probably has a very long lineage. It may, perhaps, even be civilizational. There is an ancient Brahminical tradition to tie down everything to strict ritual and laid down canons. Endless hours are spent in creating and institutionalizing these rituals and canons. They are then followed in a rigid fashion. This is the recipe for delay. This mode of working has become part of India’s tradition. It did not matter in an age when time was not of any major consequence. But this mindset sits uneasily with all that a modern republic should represent.
Mr Verma and his colleagues have broken away completely from this tradition of working. They have worked swiftly, completely disregarding bureaucratic red tape which is the modern and non-religious equivalent of rituals and canons. The content of their recommendations is significant and The Telegraph in these columns has already noted that. What is equally significant is the committee’s mode of working. The committee, even if it did not intend to do so, has sent a message to the republic on the eve of a rather sombre anniversary. The republic cannot afford delays and bureaucratic obstacles. Mr Verma and his colleagues on the committee have shown a way around hurdles. The republic should now move at a different pace.