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

    Comment number 73.

    Just a reminder to all those who think that UK is far better than India. According to rape statistics UK reports 27.7 rape cases per 100,000 population in 2010, while India reports 1.8 rape cases for the same number of populaiton. Yes, UK is far better, in RAPING..

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    12. Robert2011GB

    India's people have no one to blame but themselves.


    You can say the same about yourself in the UK.. lol - truth is the indians will get better and you wont, because at 'developed' standards the UK is more corrupt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Human tendencies do not depend on locations, race etc. It finally boils down to what environment a person has grown up in and how much a person thinks he can outrun justice system of any society. Obviously, there is a big problem with justice system in India. For those who compare an apple to an orange, thank god, Jimmy savile wasn’t Indian and neither of those child abusers in recent news!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    @ 60. Kingfisherphil.
    Britain has many +ve points, but it's also 1 of the most racist countries I ever visited. No Asian, specially Indian, with decent (not great, but decent) sense of self-respect can live there for long.

    Part of current problem in India (different law for different people, separation of ruling elites from common people) was perpetuated by its former colonial ruler- the Brits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    We do see rapes and other crimes in few very civilized society (UK , USA....). Yes it is more in India or any other developing country , it can be correlated with situations in 1950 , when it was difficult to define rape and punish the offender . before laws changed in 1960 (please correct me if I am wrong) .
    It a social problem which will go as society progresses and become more educated .


Comments 5 of 125



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