India's rulers 'too slow' over rape protests

 
Protesters shield themselves as Indian police prepare to beat them with sticks during a violent demonstration near the India Gate against a gang rape and brutal beating of a 23-year-old student on a bus last week, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012.

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Have India's rulers become disengaged from the people?

As violent protests erupted in the capital, Delhi, at the weekend over the horrific gang rape of a 23-year-old student, many Indians were asking this question.

It took nearly a week of protests for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appear on TV pleading for calm and promising to make India safer for women. Many thought it was ironical that India's most powerful woman, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, met a group of outraged students only after massive public demonstrations had been widely televised.

Many believe that the violence could have been prevented if either Mr Singh or Mrs Gandhi, or even one of the young ministers, had gone to meet the protesters and promised stern action against wrongdoers and reform of India's broken criminal justice system.

That was not all. The city police commissioner told a news channel that even men were unsafe in Delhi as "their pockets were picked" - a shocking gaffe that appeared to equate rape with pick-pocketing. Federal Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told another channel that ministers could not be expected to personally meet every group of protestors, "like political party workers or Maoists", appearing again to equate ultra-left rebels with angry students, justly upset over the rising tide of crimes against women.

Many attribute such attitudes to the sheer hubris of India's ruling class - "they are our rulers, not representatives", was an angry refrain during the protests last week - in what many cynics describe as a modern-day "feudal democracy".

Others argue it points to the increasing disconnect between India's rulers and its people, the perpetuation of what many call a paternalistic ruling class which talks to its citizens rather than listening to them. Many politicians and bureaucrats appear to lack communication skills to engage with a young, increasingly empowered and aspirational citizenry, who are demanding more from their rulers. "Young India, old politicians," as author Gurcharan Das once described this dichotomy.

Such alienation bodes ill for the future of the world's largest democracy, some think. Analysts like Pratap Bhanu Mehta argue that it leads to the disengagement of democracy from legitimacy. "India's citizens vote in large numbers", he says, "but if the same citizens were truly engaged in the process of making laws, laws would be seen as legitimate and there would be minimal need for enforcement".

I believe there is one more reason for this anomie: the decline of genuine mass politicians.

Time was when India was known for its charismatic, mass-based politicians - Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan were just some of them - who could easily lead from the front. Today, there are only a handful, two of whom - Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee - are actually women. The reticent prime minister himself has never won an election, and Mrs Gandhi and her son and heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi, hardly speak to the citizens.

When he was going around Delhi in 1947 after India's bloody partition, Nehru saw Hindus and Muslims rioting. He jumped out of his car, broke the security cordon, ran into the crowd and stopped the clash. Mahatma Gandhi routinely travelled to trouble spots to stop religious clashes and douse tensions.

Last week, not a single leader came forward to engage with protesting students demanding safety for women.

 
Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 125.

    @ 119. Ram K Chopra
    I suggested that India whole sale copy American procedures and laws and modify them for Indian conditions.
    ##
    I support many of ur points but beg to differ here. US democracy is far better when compared to India, but many of its weaknesses r becoming clearer (since 1980s) & indicate overwhelming influence of businessmen.

    Our government & politicians reflects only ourselves.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 124.

    the solution is really quite simple : pm narendra modi.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 123.

    Horrified, sickened & incredibly saddened over this case, it's not the 1st rape crime in India and sadly it wont be the last. I sincerely hope this victim survives mentally, I applaud her bravery and wish to survive because as a woman I know I could not face another day. The rapists should have rapist tattooed on their foreheads, let's see how they then survive. Thankful to be British Indian.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 122.

    Participation of educated and well off classes is essential to move India forward. Indian political class needs their participation, contribution and help. Without this help, ruling bureaucracy will continue to perform with "Chalta Hai attitude" in Policing and all other spheres. Politicians,bureaucrats and yes news men, even at very senior levels lack communication skills to convey confidence.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 121.

    I spent a significant part of my life during 50s and 60s in UP, Delhi and Gujarat. There was a very significant difference in the treatment (sexual innuendos and harassment) of girls on their streets. Western UP was horrible and girls could be seen on the streets of Gujarat late at nights. Same country, same laws, same corruption - Go figure. Sociologist please help?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 120.

    @Ram K Chopra -you are right when you say rape is a universal crime perpetrated by mostly antisocial male mostly on female though not exclusively. However where other countries have apolitical police who can independently apply the law, where as India has a corrupt politicized police which has to get a nod from a politician to even act and then they find the rapist belongs to a party.







    h

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 119.

    Many years back during a meeting with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I had suggested that India whole sale copy American procedures and laws and modify them for Indian conditions. US has been doing process improvement for 200+ years in a democratic set up. Their local politicians hire and fire and train their own police apparatus. Mayors of small/big towns hire/contract/control police commissioners.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 118.

    Rape,prostitution and brutality against women have been around forever and everywhere, some places less than other places and other cultures. Women in UK,USA suffer sexual innuendos and harassment on streets and in workplaces. And yes rape was around before independence during British Rule in. Please provide suggestions to reduce rapes, instead of calling the government and its leaders corrupt.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 117.

    A corrupt Government with an archaic value system ruling the country with laws framed during the colonial period.....now trying to shift the blame of poor governance by making the police the scape-goat.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 116.

    rape crime figures in India are lower because the vast majority are NOT reported, would you report a rape crime if you knew there was a high chance that it wouldn't be taken seriously and the rapists would get away with it? As well as blaming the rapists, government, police -India's bureaucracy stupid men should be taught basic manners. India's film industry is a porn industry and is to blame too

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 115.

    @111. coram-populo-2010 . Agreed. My "guru" held that it was all about putting smiles on other people's faces. I've done my best to live with that as a guideline.
    But on abuse of females if government is corrupt and or ineffectual? And there is still a background of reactionary culture? (Rape victims considered "spoiled goods"? Yes, I've heard it in those terms!) It will take a generation.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 114.

    Even the most well intended laws (e.g IPC 498a abt dowry, "the most abused law") are grossly misused by "educated & independent minded women"- as per a Centre for Social Research report.

    Many, if not majority of "educated" Indians (women included) never hesitate to benefit from opportunist behavior, corruption & crime without having the ability to understand it's consequences & long term impact.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 113.

    Conservative society, less economic opportunity for women (in most of India) coupled with fewer women (for girl child killing & dowry death) is & will continue to be a major concern.

    In some cities where a section of women got economic freedom, don't either like to get married or have strict conditions set & divorce rate is increasing.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 112.

    Many women suggest that older, married Indian men are more dangerous. They think majority of older men (after 40s) forced to live a life of celibacy (manly after kids are born) but with every biological desire intact. Their wives do not allow to touch, sleeping separately, observing religious "bratas". Such husbands satisfy their "need" in a perverted way in public transport, office etc.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 111.

    @110 'Chris Brown'
    ~~
    The best way to bypass corruption of government is to treat each other better in small acts of kindness everyday. Of course we all encounter those with bitterness or are in fear of their own positions by the system. Then there are those who just thrive on turmoil for their own ends, as has always been.

    As the world gets smaller, ordinary people need to help each other.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 110.

    Having spent a good few minutes here and on the website of an Indian paper... can anyone tell me exactly what the protesters' demands are, (apart from capital punishment for rape, seen on a placard) I've not found a coherent account, or is this essential inchoate rage at an ineffective and deaf government , which has now found a trigger or point of focus?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 109.

    Just because you have a bad thought or an impulse in your head, or heart, does not mean you should physically act on it.

    What I'm trying to say is that brutality against women, children and the vulnerable lowers all humanity. Sometimes I think we are regressing and becoming more like some species of apes we see in documentaries that reflect our primitive behaviour.

    We should be better than that.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 108.

    @107. wolfpack

    So that means all Hindu and Muslim men don't respect women because of a government study?

    Even if 500m men don't respect women that still leaves you with 1.5bn who do.

    Studies in the UK show that a sizeable number of women also suffer sexual innuendos and harassment on streets and in the workplace. Does this mean men in the UK don't have 'appropriate' respect for women?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 107.

    @106. confounder
    You speak as if this is an isolated incident. What about the other lowlifes among the 2,000,000,000 that harass women and made Delhi unsafe for women? A government backed study in 2010 found that two in every three women in the Indian capital have faced some form of sexual harassment.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 106.

    @101. VMehta

    An ignorant generalisation to say Hindus and Muslims don't have 'appropriate' respect for women. 6 lowlifes who committed this heinous act out of a possible 2,000,000,000 men of Hindus and Muslims does not equate to all.

 

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