Gandhi Would Weep at India's Gender Violence

By Ramesh Thakur

Never have I felt so ashamed to be from India nor so despairing of its future. The poor young woman, brutally assaulted by a pack of thugs, is dead. Will the nation atone by lifting the shroud of sexual violence from the body politic?

Mahatma Gandhi promised that with independence, the tears would be wiped from every Indian eye. Good thing he was cremated, or he'd be spinning in his grave at the serial desecrations of the temples in the air he constructed.

The violence against women is structural and requires systemic solutions. Radhika Commaraswamy wrote in 2005 about South Asian women's "vulnerability to violence at every stage of their life-cycle": from sex-selective abortion before birth and female infanticide after birth, to incest, trafficking, rape and dowry deaths. The UNDP reports that India's one to five-year-old girls are 50 per cent more likely to die than boys. Denied the same level of food, health and medical care as men in India, around two million women are discriminated to death every year.

The sad news of her death on Saturday was accompanied by a collection of related stories on The Hindu's website: "Six years after gang-rape, Sukma women give up on justice"; "In Chhattisgarh, punishment for rape is jobs in police force"; "Down the corridor from gang-rape victims ward, an acid-attack victim contemplates bleak future".

In response to the wave of revulsion, the establishment has promised swift justice. Based on past experience, the rage will pass, the story will fade and the politicians, female and male, will return to enriching themselves while mouthing slogans of social justice.

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Reflecting prevailing social callousness, Delhi's police commissioner equated women being raped to men being pickpocketed. The President's son dismissed the protesters as a "dented and painted crowd" (like damaged cars at the panel beaters) . A Marxist state legislator in West Bengal asked what the woman Chief Minister's "fee" was for getting raped.

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister since 2004, has presided over India's locust years. It took him over a week to speak to the country's rising anger at the brutal pack rape. He has neither the ticker to assert himself nor the dignity to resign. He has responsibility without power. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi enjoy power but disclaim responsibility.

Singh has presided over the greatest number of corruption scandals in India's history. Yet no politician suffered lasting damage from the grossly insensitive comments made at the time of the Mumbai massacre and none is likely to now in a regime where loyalty is all, incompetence is quickly forgiven and forgotten and brazenness knows no bounds.

The victim was apparently airlifted to Singapore, not for medical but political reasons, as authorities feared the fury of the mob if she were to die in Delhi.

The default mode of governance to any problem is makeshift solutions. The criminal justice system is creaking and dysfunctional and cases are entangled in courts for decades, so special courts are created to fast-track serious cases involving heinous crimes.

Growing up in Bihar, as British-built bridges crumbled, instead of repairs and upgrading, speed bumps were put in place to lower the strain on them by slowing down traffic. Education and employment deficits are not corrected; instead quotas are created and then captured by the family members of political leaders.

India's democracy will remain deeply flawed and unresponsive to people's aspirations so long as political parties are family fiefdoms. Disenchanted youth should unite and agitate against all candidates and any party betraying such pathology. They should publicise candidates with criminal records and sponsoring parties. Large numbers of today's MPs have pending charges of murder, rape and armed robbery or banditry. The rape and murder of young women in the nation's capital is not an aberration but symptomatic of a deeper malaise.

The young and the outraged must move from the politics of street protests to that of ballot boxes. They have the numbers. Unlike the Arabs, they do not have to fight for democracy. But they do have to become actively engaged to break the stranglehold of self-serving dynasties and time-servers who have run out of time and should be run out of office. They should turn public outrage into mass political movements. Form new parties. Run for office. Network across all big cities.

Instead of taking the law into their own hands on the streets of Delhi, the millions of protesters must take back ownership of national politics in the parliament of India.

Professor Ramesh Thakur is director of the Centre for Nuclear Nonproliferation & Disarmament at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy.

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