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The brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old girl by six criminals in a moving bus on Dec 16 has shocked the nation like never before. One positive aspect has been that hitherto silent and submissive multitudes have decided to express their anger vociferously forcing the government of the day both at the Centre and Delhi to go into a huddle to find means to balm the scarred national psyche.
Girls and women have long been subjected to ill behavior at the hands of their male compatriots. They have been groped, pushed and molested in crowded buses, trains, malls, work places and so on by males of all age groups and social strata. It was heartening to see that women in large numbers decided to shed their inhibitions and voiced their grievances, in fact forced the government to assure immediate action.
Social media has played a tremendous role in coordinating the protestors across the length and breadth of our country. Crowds congregated at places flashed on social media without anyone being the leader. It is the cause that is more important than the individuals. There were a few prominent voices heard during the protests:
a. Demand for death sentence for the criminals even though the law of the land does not prescribe capital punishment for rape. The demand of course has become tenable after the death of the victim.
b. Demand to change the Police Commissioner of Delhi Police and action against Delhi police for their inefficiency to protect the interests of women.
c. Amendment in rape laws to include chemical castration.
d. Control over Delhi Police by the state government.
Political vested interest was also pronounced but briefly.
Lack of leadership in such crowds can cause confusion as the police and other government agencies would not know who to talk and negotiate. Notwithstanding this, the government's stand that "government cannot go to India Gate" to share the concern of the protesters invited sharp criticism as it exhibited lack of confidence on the part of the government of the day to reach out to the protesting citizenry. The announcements by political leaders of all parties unfortunately were mere inanities devoid of promise of concrete steps. Police forces across the country will have to develop response to this new phenomenon of cause driven not necessarily violent crowds.
Amendment of law is not guided by emotions alone. It is done by jurists and legislators after considering various aspects of emotions, deterrence, human rights not only of the victim but of the accused as well, prevalent international practices and treaties. Justice Verma Commission has invited suggestions for amendments to the laws relating to women and their protection. The public sentiment will hopefully force the hand of government to accept and implement the recommendations of the Commission to make our country a safer place for women. But stringent laws alone do not translate into establishment of order in any society. Effective enforcement of the laws by the executive is paramount to achieve this.
This brings me to the role of Delhi Police. Delhi Police has been able to arrest all the criminals in the case. There was a controversy regarding statement made by the victim in ICU to the Police in the presence of SDM. It seems to have settled now after another statement was recorded. It is hoped that the investigators have done a thorough job leaving no grey areas for the defence to exploit when the case is taken up for trial. Protection of the prime witness, the friend of the victim from extraneous pressure and allurement will also be a major task for the Delhi Police. After the chargesheet is filed in the court of law, it will be up to the courts to deliver justice. This case may be tried by a fast track court. But what about other cases where a victim has been waiting for years for justice?
On investigation of the case, I do not think many can fault the Delhi Police. However, there is need for general improvement in patrolling through out the country. Police need to keep their ears on the ground to pick up signals of smallest of tremors caused by criminals in identified breeding grounds of crimes and criminals.
The transport department has to partly own responsibility for the crime. The permits to the Yadav Transport were issued to run taxis and not buses. It is not possible that someone in the department did not know about the abuse of permits by Mr Yadav. If some upright and honest official had checked the documents and booked the operator, the situation would not have arisen in the first place. They also need to incorporate some element of security in their operations. It may increase their operating costs but will inspire confidence among their clients.
One thing is certain that the recent public outcry has woken up the state and Central governments. Past few months have been tough for the central government due to discontent among the masses on issues like corruption, inflation, unemployment and now the question of safety of fifty percent of the population. The first quarter of the new year will set the tone for the rest of the year and 2014 when the country goes to general elections.
More about Somesh Goyal
Somesh Goyal is an alumnus of the National Defence College. Views expressed by him are in his personal capacity.