By Astha Agrawal:
Disclaimer: At the very outset, I want to ensure you that it is not an attack against the state. We do not tend to overthrow the incumbents, other than by means of ballot or due process of law, agreeable to you and me. To the civil society groups, I do realize your heterogeneity and appreciate it, by no means do I intend to project you as one. Not hurting anybody’s sentiments (my apologies to those who will be offended by what I am going to say now). I believe in last two-three years, I have seen a lot of high profile drama. I cannot help but narrate it dramatically.
As the dawn of 2014 approaches, I attempt to take a tour-de-past when the young India took to the streets, on the government, in the wake of two key protests of the young millennium- anti-corruption and violence against women. Welcome aboard ‘Bioscope’.
On your left is India Against Corruption (IAC) and on your right 16th December protests against violence against women. The two have a lot in common. Although triggered by some specific event (2G scam and 16th December Rape Case), they were articulations of brimming frustration over a long time, representing all-pervasive malaises, corruption and patriarchy and societal refusal to put up with them anymore. Both were led by urban middle class youth, facilitated by social media, shaking tectonic plates in real and virtual worlds. Both enjoyed high level media attention and coverage. And, this is the most dramatic of all, both were meted with disproportionate wrath of the government that went on an offensive defense releasing water cannons, beating up peaceful protestors, invoking emergency policing laws (section 144), blockading roads, and what not! IAC was joined by corporate houses, babas, and self-righteous leaders. What went on stage after that made a successful reality show! IAC demanded passage of Jan Lokpal Bill (still languishing in the parliament) with Anna Hazare, the face of the movement, sitting on frequent fasts-unto-deaths. As of now, the incumbents (all political parties) attempt to absolve themselves of both transparency and accountability by seeking exemption for political parties from RTI and Lokpal Bill.
Fortunately, 16th December protests could fend off unwanted political usurpations. Politicians opened their mouths to spit out stupidity. (Read: Sharad Yadav’s ‘Who amongst us have not followed girls in our youth?’ Or Sushma Swaraj’s “Fate worse than Death”, Abhijeet Mukherjee’s “Dented and Painted Ladies” and of course! babas who couldn’t stay shut). Beginning with (not limiting it to) speedy trial and justice be done to the victim, the protests demanded reforms across all sectors – judiciary, police, and law. The government set up Justice Verma Committee which provided a rather progressive set of recommendations. The ensuing Criminal Law Amendment Act incorporated some of them like including within the ambit of assault acid attacks, sexual harassment, voyeurism, and stalking. It establishes death penalty for rapes that lead to death or a ‘persistent vegetative state’ (another debate!). However, it didn’t challenge the definition of rape as an act committed by man against woman. Still didn’t acknowledge marital rape (worrying that family system would be under great stress!) and those committed by armed forces under the cloak of AFSPA. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces (Prevent, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, among other things, penalises false complaints (complaints that cannot be proven). I wonder if anybody thought about the misuse of law in murder and theft. I guess women are more susceptible to misuse. According to a report by Guardian, out of 706 rape cases filed in India in 2012, only one ended in conviction. Did the number improve in 2013? How many more cases of Rape have been registered? What is the progress on Bhawri Devi Case?
Did you note the expression/reaction of the incumbents- politicians and bureaucrats? Either they were spell-bound or foul-mouthed. The government missed the opportunity by misjudging the advantage that the protests brought. Had it not been obtuse and acted in time, through both words and actions, it would have won public trust. It underwent a circular metamorphosis, from mocking at protestors to being paranoid by them, from complacency to coerciveness, from refusing to accept responsibility to blaming it all on scapegoats (remember A.Raja? Do you also feel that if the rapists had been high-profile people, the verdict would have differed?). Each time the government initially chose to hide inside its den and then roared at wrong times, at wrong people. Did you spot the line between the state and the society? I think it is porous, something that both the society and the state need to understand. The protests did not blame the government for everything that was wrong with the country; they were a reflection of what was wrong. However, minus-government nothing could ever be set right! The protests reminded the leaders of their duty, of the social contract. Had that been taken in true spirit, the duty would have become a virtue. It is now a vice. What would you call it Andher Nagri Chaupat Raja (Darkness engulfs nation when the ruler is a wreck!). Only that this time we came with the candles to fight the darkness, and they thought we wanted to burn them. Alas!