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May 30, 2017

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Of rape, poverty and India's justice system

Like any individual, the nation too has a limit of tolerance. For Delhi and some other cities, the gang rape at the national capital was the proverbial last straw. Students filled the streets to demonstrate and even had one or two pitched battles with police. One policeman has died and many students have been injured. Such incidents are bound to happen when the powers-that-be seek to manage public anger with water cannons and baton charges.

No doubt, the demonstrations at Delhi were ignited by a deep anger over the rape. But it was also an outburst of piled-up resentment against the system that neither delivers justice nor creates jobs. It is a commentary on the non-governance and ineptitude of successive governments since Independence, particularly after the early 1970s.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi tried to suppress grievances and disappointments by using authoritarian methods although she had swept the polls with the promise of eliminating poverty.

Nobody can accuse meek Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of authoritarianism but almost nine years of his rule makes it clear that he is too much of a bureaucrat to take inspired decisions. Even his belated address to the nation was insipid. At least he could have stepped in to prevent the ugly spectacle of the Delhi chief minister, the union home minister and the police commissioner of the National Capital going for each other's jugular.

The students were angry and there was a clear disconnect between them and the government. They expected some heads to roll but all they got were mere statements. This did not allay their mistrust and buttressed the feeling that there would be lack of accountability as usual. The government should have transferred police commissioner Neeraj Kumar straightaway. His explanation was a poor defense of his failure. If nobody in his force was to blame, then who had blundered? Maintaining law and order in Delhi requires imagination and initiative and not outmoded ways to which police are used. What was also lacking was a humane touch.

Delhi's lieutenant-governor was on vacation and according to chief minister Shiela Dikshit, could not be contacted. Why should then such a person remain in his post? Even his second term has ended. And, upon returning, he went through the motions of suspending a few lower-level functionaries.

The appointment of a judicial commission has not evoked much response because such panels have ceased to have credibility. The one headed by Justice (retired) BN Srikrishna to probe the 1993 communal riots in Mumbai and another by Justice (retired) MS Liberhan to probe the Babari Masjid demolition proved ineffectual. The people indicted in the reports prepared by the two panels have political clout. How does the panel appointed to probe the Delhi rape propose to be different?

The mother of the victim has complained that police were pressuring her and the magistrate who had gone to record the statement of the victim said as much in a letter she had sent to her superiors. Shiela Dikshit has rightly taken up the matter with the home ministry that has ordered an inquiry to find out if the victim's mother had indeed been intimidated by police — a charge the force denies.

1 Comment
December 30, 2012    vzc43@
Many rapes, notably those committed by the rich and influential, are not reported. They have been either squashed quietly, settled with a pittance, or just ignored. Victims from poor families or low caste are forced to hide in a corner in isolation for life. Some die of intense shock or inner injury, some commit suicide. What a disgusting world.
(mtd1943, vzc1943))
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