The lynchpin of our rule is a dysfunctional criminal justice system. It has taken us years to ensure that wrongdoing is allowed to flourish — and we are now being asked to dismantle this system!
There has been a furore in our national capital. What is most apparent within the furore is that the politician’s voice has not been heard. Why have our politicians fallen silent? The reason is that they now lack the courage to state their beliefs. Therefore, though I am only an ordinary elected Indian politician, I would like to speak out. Our voice too must be heard and understood on this matter of rape and related issues. The mistrust, outrage, and helplessness of the citizenry is shared by people in my profession — only, for reasons very far from those expressed by the people out in the streets.
The recent outrage of rape in Delhi is shocking, true. As a politician, however, what has shocked me is not the rape but the fact that citizens — vagrants, vandals, and other forms of population to be kept in check — have been allowed to voice a vast outrage over what is, in the end, an everyday incident. Small molestations are an accepted part of our culture: it is natural for boys to tease girls. Naturally, the bigger molestations, such as the present one, are regrettable; it becomes necessary for us to take note. And we do. A white paper is called for, a judicial commission is asked to deliberate on the recommendations of the white paper. A time frame of five years, extendable by a further five if thought necessary, should in no circumstances be exceeded — unless thought necessary. In any case, in the present instance, given the strength of the outcry, our first action must be to contain it. Every politico knows that protest must be allowed in small doses. Protest is, in fact, desirable provided it functions as a simmering kettle, the steam escaping slowly, the water evaporating in time. But when it grows into a pot that boils over, protest is merely evidence of political ineptitude. What has alarmed me to my bones is the idiocy of a regime that has allowed the pot to boil over and spill out. Their failure to anticipate and contain protest threatens the very fundamentals of our system.
Political incompetence of this variety imperils what we as a class have fought for since 1947 — the right to continue from where the British left off. For this we are often thought callous, accused of shutting ourselves off from those who have elected us. The accusation strikes me as odd. For what possible reason could we have stood for an election if not to feel that, when elected, we would have succeeded in removing ourselves from the electorate? And yet has the distance rendered us inhuman? No. At the approach of every fresh election, our humanity is apparent. TV sets, blankets, whatever the unelected happen within reason to want at the time, are distributed. We have also reassured citizens that the politicians overseeing them are properly elected and no longer comprise the white-skinned. I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised by how consoling many among the unelected find it when told the same methods of rule are now not the same thing at all since they are executed exclusively by people of their own kind. It has given the unelected the feeling that they too can join us someday, become us. Such small assurances have been a big help. They have promoted the feeling that we are all part of a great democracy, the Indian dream.
Naturally, it is alarming when our perfected system centred on justice denial shows signs of breaking down. My political hackles rose when it became clear that the Delhi protesters were not to be jailed en masse even on the day that we were buying weapons from Mr. Putin. The magnitude of the national shame was clear. It also became apparent that we are not China: would the Chinese premier have allowed the international image of his country to be besmirched? No. He would have had the protesting rabble rounded up and put in Beijing’s Tihar long before the international guest arrived. One has to be grateful for small mercies: at least Mr. Shinde had the courage to call a spade a spade when he made it clear that the shame to a nation accrues not from everyday incidents of rape but from large protesting mobs visible on its streets.
Politicians as doctors
This takes me to a related point: recognising the protester as a form of virus. Politicians are doctors in the political realm. The citizen is a bacterium, the citizens’ mob is a virus, a protest movement is Japanese encephalitis. Allow the plague to spread and a system of management perfected over long years disintegrates. We inherited certain key ideas from the British and refined them to suit our needs: the white paper, the commission of inquiry, the court adjournment. Where would we be if, after every rape, the rapist were quickly tried and punished? Some of my colleagues might then end up reading this in a non-airconditioned cell instead of a government bungalow. The lynchpin of our rule is a dysfunctional criminal justice system. It has taken us years to ensure that wrongdoing is allowed to flourish — and we are now being asked to dismantle this system! Has the country gone mad?
My final point: ours is a change-resistant country. It is what makes India eternal: we dislike change. Have we changed the caste system? No. Have we given up patriarchy because Rammohan and his friends forced us to give up sati? No. Gandhi, Ambedkar, and Nehru tried to undo the fundamentals of our civilization by saying we must follow the West and become individuals instead of components within a hierarchy. Have we accepted them? No. Our achievement is to have forgotten them. The citizenry is afraid to say this. It requires political courage to say it.
My straightforward and sincere outline of our political reasoning will be drowned by the roar of a roused rabble. But as an ordinary Indian politician, it is nonetheless my duty to make myself heard. The woman raped is not the victim. If the system we have perfected over the years is disturbed, I am the victim.
(Rukun Advani is not an MLA or politician but he’s lived in Delhi and seen enough.)