Saturday, December 22, 2012

Delhi protesters need good leadership for success….

The protesters in Delhi are onto something noble and good. Something that could help the country eliminate or at least curb the scourge of rape. But for that to happen, they need good leadership. Leadership that channelizes their energy into something meaningful and productive. Without good leadership, they could end up becoming mere rabble rousers. I personally felt the Anna movement also was good, but it failed to achieve its objective because it suffered from poor leadership. Had the leadership been smarter, we would have had a Lokpal by now. There are traps that the protesters need to avoid.

The protesters are demanding that the perpetrators of the rape be given the death penalty. Fair enough. But they must remember that many women’s groups themselves are not in favor of the death penalty. Many like me believe that India should abolish capital punishment in all cases except terrorism. What we need is harsh punishment, but not death. Fortunately, there are examples of this happening even within our present laws. A court in Kerala yesterday dispatched off a madrasa teacher-rapist to 22 years in prison. We really don’t need new laws. What the protesters must demand is strong police investigation, followed by quick and timely justice, not necessarily the death penalty. The trap is that by demanding instantaneous death, they are letting their emotions get the better of them. They are forgetting that this is India, not 18th century France when the guillotine became the symbol of the revolution. Most importantly, they must believe in the judicial process…..and let the courts decide the punishment. The death penalty cannot become the rallying point for the protesters.

Protesters can also help the cause of rape victims by ensuring that a rape is not treated as if it is the end of the world for them. It’s a serious crime, and a crime that needs tough punishment, but it’s is nothing more than physical abuse. A rape victim should not be shunned by society, her job and marriage prospects should not get hurt, and her attempts at re-building her life must not be thwarted. For this, protesters need to fight with several orthodox elements of our society. This is tricky but they should be ready to do so.

Protesters should also not mindlessly target the establishment, or even the Delhi police. The poor souls did not rape the victim. Nor could they have prevented it from happening. Rape is a crime of opportunity. A perverted mind searches for an opportunity. No matter what the strength of the force, a rapist will always find an opportunity. Just think about it. Bang in the middle of this national uproar, an educated man in Delhi raped a 3½ year old child in her playschool. He happens to be the Principal’s husband, so he found a convenient opportunity. Or the case in Mumbai which is even more despicable. A woman came from Nepal in search of her husband. And she was raped by three different people, all unrelated to each other, on her very first day in the city. Such depraved people are all over. Could the cops have prevented these incidents? Maybe. Maybe not. Remember, many more rapes happen in the developed western world, with far better policing and far better technologies, than in India. The truth is that the Delhi police has done a good job in nabbing the culprits. The public pressure has worked. Give them a little credit. Guys, the cops are not the thugs here. They are on our side.

Protesters should also be careful that their agitation doesn’t get politicized. The Anna movement failed because it became a tirade against just one party, as if all the other parties were spotlessly clean. Protesters should ask themselves why the protests are taking place only in Delhi? Agreed, Delhi is the rape capital of India. But Delhi accounts for just 575 odd rapes out of the 24000 that take place across the country. The scourge of rapes is all over; we must vent our anger over all these 24000 rapes as well. There is no point attacking Sheila Dixit just because she happens to be in the national capital. If we have to, we have to protest out the offices of the CMs of MP (3400 rapes a year), WB (2350) and UP (2000) as well.

In avoiding the politics, protesters will have to guard themselves against the trickery of the politicians. Sushma Swaraj and the BJP is apparently demanding a special session of the Parliament to pass strict rape laws. Can Sushma Swaraj please make up her mind whether she will allow this special session to function? Because her party disrupts most sessions and it has become a habit now. Also, will Sushma Swaraj please demonstrate the same fervor in demanding a special session of the Karnataka, MP and Chhatisgarh assemblies so that new laws can be enacted and debates on thousands of rapes that take place in these states be held? These are BJP ruled states, so might be a little inconvenient for Sushma. Has Sushma forgotten that law and order is a state subject after all (has she forgotten her lectures on the federal structure of the country which she so dramatically enunciated during the discussion on NCTC)?

Protesters must recognize that the real reason for so many rapes in India is that we are a perverted society. People call it patriarchal, but in reality, we are a perverted society. Our men disrespect women and treat them lower than themselves. Like Shobha De writes in TOI today, we even kill female foetuses. And like GK Pillai, the former Home Secretary writes in ET today, many men eat before their wives do and then the wife gets the leftovers. This mindset has to change. For this, the protesters must be ready to take out morchas inside residential colonies, searching for potential rapists there, and pushing the men to look inwards. Anna failed to do this; pretending that corruption exists only in government and the people are squeaky clean. Protesters must be willing to take on the khap panchayats who treat women like home furnishings. They must realize that rape is just the most heinous form of women’s abuse – the full range of abuse is far wider.

And lastly, protesters must realize that while media can be their best friend in such activism, media can also be ruthless. One fine day, as something else breaks, media will quietly abandon their cause. Media did that to Anna also. Protesters must be smart in using media. Remember, in handling media, time is of essence. In today’s fast media lifecycle, no story can survive for too long. Protesters have to achieve what they have to achieve quickly. That is why it is important to compromise, to be flexible, if required. Talk to the government. Take commitments from them that they will act. But then end the protest gracefully. This is a long battle. One that has to be fought over a long period of time. There will be more work required to be done in the future. It cannot be just a single protest.

The real truth is that the protesters are doing a great job by raising the issue so strongly. But they need to stay focused. They must not look at themselves as revolutionaries out to change the whole system; but as samaritans who want to find solutions within the system. Protests with a belief that things can improve, that everything is not miserable, can result in big changes. Let make sure this movement does not go the Anna way….

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