Friday, January 04, 2013

A Muted Beginning

      New year celebrations in India have been muted this year. The Delhi bus gang - rape victim succumbed to her injuries and died on December 29th. She had been gang - raped by six men who also viciously assaulted her with an iron rod on a moving bus. The extent of her injuries, going by newspaper reports were grievous indeed and I was scared for her from the beginning. Doctors had performed five major surgeries on her and according to their statement, her intestines were so badly damaged that they were inoperable. Later medical bulletions revealed that she had developed infection in the lungs and abdomen, had suffered a cardiac arrest and her brain had also been injured. She was air - lifted to Singapore where a team of specialists stated that her condition was critical and deteriorating rapidly as she had multiple organ failure. Doctors had repeatedly expressed their amazement that she had survived given how badly her body had been battered and marveled at her amazing fighting spirit. But her fight was nearly done and just like that she was gone leaving a nation shattered by grief.

     The trial is currently underway and 5 of the accused are being tried for rape and murder, the 6th is few months shy of 18 so he has been remanded in a juvenile home (more on than later). I had written an article on this case for BI last year. You can check out the original version here. I have produced parts of it below with some more thoughts on the incident that has galvanized a nation.

     Since rape is commonplace in India, we have traditionally given it the attention we normally accord to performing our morning ablutions and have proceeded on our merry way. But the sheer brutality of the attack has galvanized a nation out of its turpitude and tentacles of outrage have spread out leaving in its wake a churning and heaving mass of killing passion. Protestors gathered at India Gate in their thousands to head towards Rashtrapati Bhavan demanding justice but somehow lofty principles vanished in a heartbeat leaving nothing but chaos as the demonstration turned violent and the cops had to resort to water – cannons and tear gas to restore order. And at the end of it all, one more innocent became a victim when a police constable, Suresh Tomar was attacked by hooligans and left unconscious. He succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. There were also disturbing reports about female protesters being manhandled by the cops.

      This kind of savage knee – jerk reaction is so characteristic of India and Indians. We spend entire lifetimes closing our eyes to injustice. We plod on with our jobs and lives believing that if we refuse to see evil, hear evil or speak of evil then we can escape its embrace in our lives and avoid becoming victims. As long as terrible things don’t happen to us and anybody we give two hoots about, we are content. So we pay our bribes, refuse to take a stand and we certainly cannot be bothered with helping those in need or fixing our country even if it is falling apart sick as it is with the rot of corruption. And then every once in a while something tragic happens on such a large scale that we are forced to open our eyes and acknowledge that nobody is safe. 

         Becoming aware of the truth is one thing but handling its consequences is far trickier. In the United States of America, Adam Lanza killed his mother before walking into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killing 20 children and 6 adults and turning the gun far too late on himself. Fighting past the bottomless grief and despair, America has been wrestling with its conscience and trying to decide whether an American’s constitutional right to own a gun is worth so many lives. 

       In Ireland, Savita Halappanavar lost her life because of the Catholic nation’s strict anti – abortion laws. Her death saw them grapple with their faith while reconciling its demands to the needs of its people even as passion boiled over on the lava of grief Savita’s death engendered. But finally, good sense prevailed and laws legalizing abortion when the mother’s life is at risk came into being.

       In India, the Delhi – bus gang rape has resulted in a torrential outpouring of grief and anger but little else. There have been calls for rapists to be hanged or castrated or castrated and hanged. Demands have been made on the government as well. The populace will not be put off with our leaders clucking over the incident with sympathy or empty promises, they want action and they want it fast with new laws regarding rape, fast – track courts to prevent such cases from languishing in courts for all eternity and more protection for women. In a commendable move, citizens took to the streets to demand justice for the victim. In a not so commendable move, some of the protestors took to violence with the cops responding in kind. At the end of it all, only anarchy seems to reign supreme having beaten good sense into oblivion.
       Now like a drunkard or a dieter after a night of unrestricted bingeing on booze and forbidden goodies, we are all going to wake up feeling sick to the stomach and in need of a healthy dose of denial to forget the irrefutable fact that we are idiots who deserve the country we live in, the government which rules us, and the monsters we have raised ourselves to give us endless grief. Worse, nameless horror lurks around every corner and the next headline is likely to have our name on it. What does one do when confronted with the unpalatable truth? Why we do what we always have… Get on with our ablutions, skip the boring news section served up by overenthusiastic journalists and go straight to the entertainment or sports section. Then we can obsess about a celeb’s dieting woes or sex life and howl for Sachin’s retirement (and bemoan his loss when we have successfully pressured him into doing just that) and Dhoni’s blood. As for rapists and murderers they will lie low for a while remembering full well that their time will come soon when the nation has gone back to sleep the way it usually does. 
        Or dare we hope for change? Knowing our country that seems almost foolishly optimistic. But even so one can hope can't one? 

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