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Climbing bandwagons

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The brutal rape in Delhi has focused India’s attention on the question of gender violence through a spontaneous people’s movement. Politicians and political parties allowed and thrived on gender violence, tolerated and encouraged gender bias, and did nothing over the last decades to address this critical problem. Notwithstanding its record, this same political establishment has been trying to climb on to the bandwagon of the protests for the last two weeks.

The prime minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit tried to get back in touch with her constituency by visiting Jantar Mantar, but was forced to leave. Dixit’s attempt to distance herself from the union government does not wash, given the state of crime in Delhi. HT reported on December 29:

Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit was booed out of Jantar Mantar on Saturday when she arrived to light a candle and pay tribute to the rape victim. Around 500 people gathered at the Capital’s Jantar Mantar to mourn the death of the 23-year-old physiotherapist who succumbed to her injuries earlier in the day.

Emboldened by this, the “youth wing” of the opposition, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), tried their usual muscular stunts the next day. If they had been successful, the continuing movement for women’s safety would have come to an early end. The Hindu reported:

Violence seemed imminent when around 1 p.m. a mob carrying ABVP flags and banners confronted the police over an intended march from Jantar Mantar to Connaught Place. When the police prevented them, a section of the mob retreated while others tried to go ahead after breaking the barricades. Even after several instances of provocation, the police remained calm and managed to contain the mob. Following the scuffle, the police detained a few of them who were later released.

The frequent episode of violence was not the only thing which troubled those who gathered to mourn the young girl. A few complained that they faced harassment at the hands of some men. “It is an indication that there is a long way to go in creating a culture of gender equality,” said a protester.

Shashi Tharoor, whose himself has been at the receiving end of a highly gender insenstive attack, but sees no evil in neglecting similar acts within the Congress party, seemed to tweet from the heart. DNA reported:

Minister of state for human resource development Shashi Tharoor tweeted on Tuesday that the gang-rape victim should be named and honoured. He recommended that the revised anti-rape law be named after her, if her parents have no objection.

The Congress party jumped at this, of course, knowing that any law with the victim’s name on it, no matter how ineffective, could be bulldozed through any opposition: political or public. Little imagination is required to picture the Salman Khurshids and the Kapil Sibals of the party on TV excoriating people who try to oppose even obviously unproductive parts of such a law, as long as it has the victim’s name on it.

The BJP establishment continued to confuse the symbol and the act by demanding an Ashok Chakra for the woman whose brutal rape and slow murder precipitated the movement. This party is aware, of course, that rape is widespread, but is forced to forget other victims for fear that its own brutal acts will come back to haunt it. IBN Live reported:

The Delhi BJP president Vijender Gupta on Wednesday reportedly wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking the highest peacetime gallantry award Ashok Chakra for the Delhi braveheart. Gupta wrote, “Through this letter I would like to make a strong recommendation to honour the Delhi gang rape victim by awarding her with the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest civilian award for bravery on January 26, 2013, the Republic Day.

This movement will not last in its present form. The people sitting in Jantar Mantar, and their supporters across the nation know this. The political establishment will outwait it, and then try to cheapen the movement by taking its symbols and tacking them on to inappropriate laws and actions. But the republic will come. The awareness generated by this movement will inform the ones that come later: whether against the excesses of power, or corruption, or the people’s right to life and dignity.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

January 3, 2013 at 5:53 am

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