New Delhi: Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has conceded that India's image has been battered beyond recognition after the protests over the Delhi gangrape incident, adding that people expected their leaders to communicate. The Union Minister made the observations in the context of the near breakdown of communication between the political class and the protesters.
Speaking to CNN-IBN, the Union Rural Development Minister said, "It exposed everybody. As a human being and as an Indian, I still feel wounded." He further said, "People are expecting their leaders to communicate - in the process of communication you can sometimes make mistakes but you have to be communicating."
Acknowledging the groundswell of anger, the minister said that the onus was now on the government to respond and gender issues would be a priority in the Chintan Shivir of the Congress, which begins at Jaipur on Friday. Jairam Ramesh was speaking to Rupashree Nanda.
CNN-IBN: The Congress Chintan Shivir comes almost exactly a month after the Delhi gangrape - especially how to ensure their rights and futures - also keeping in mind that ever since that rape happened, the city hasn't become any safer?
Jairam Ramesh: Well, one of the five themes for the Chintan Shivir is gender justice, gender dignity, gender empowerment, security and safety for women. This has always been part of the Congress agenda. Ten years ago, we had a Mahila Shashatikaran Adhivesan in Delhi which laid out the agenda for political, legal and social empowerment of women. We have come a long way. But clearly, as Delhi gangrape demonstrated, we have a long way to go even in the national capital. A young girl was brutalised. That brutality unfortunately is not an isolated incident. It is a reflection of the atrocity that continues to take place on women and children across the country.
CNN-IBN: It (the Delhi gangrape) exposed the manner in which our political class responded - it exposed a compassion deficit, a communication deficit?
Jairam Ramesh: It exposed everybody. As a human being and as an Indian I still feel completely wounded. It was an attack on me as a human being. This was a horrendous, horrific attack. And our responses, also given by many different people, also betrayed a completely obscurantist mindset, our patriarchal mindset. My point is we have this horrific incident. It is a wake up call for all of us. It is a wake up call for the police, it is a wake up call for the judiciary, it is a wake up call for the government, wake up call for society at large.
CNN-IBN: There have been wake up calls before?
Jairam Ramesh: But something about this has touched the chord of every Indian across the country. And there is anger, there is hope and expectation that we will do something. And, I think the political class cannot be found wanting. And it is not an easy solution. We can pass laws, set up fast track courts, we can give deterrent punishment but ultimately it is an attitudinal change. A change in approach in the very way we look at gender issues. It requires multiple sets of action...on the development front, I have been saying, for example, sanitation and hygiene is one of the most essential component of ensuring the security and dignity and self esteem for women. Nothing, nothing has hurt India more in the eyes of Indians and in the eyes of the world than what has happened last month in Delhi. It is a matter of shame and it should anger all of us. The image of India has been battered beyond recognition.
CNN-IBN: We have two women at the topmost positions in Delhi and at the Centre. And we have a very young leader, Rahul Gandhi, who is there but their voices were not clearly heard. They could not reach out effectively - would you agree that there was a gap in communication, in compassion?
Jairam Ramesh: That may be your perception. But, the fact of the matter is that there was an effort at every stage as I can see. We are talking in an office which overlooks the Rajpath where most agitations were taking place. There were efforts being made, but look, there was anger, there was legitimate anger, this was a protest of very young students, middle class housewives, people coming out on the streets. It was a spontaneous outburst. I think I look at it in a positive way...I look at it as a reflection of the expectations from us. The ball is in our court. The onus is on us as a government.
CNN-IBN: Will this be taken up as a priority in the Congress Chintan Shivir?
Jairam Ramesh: Definitely, this is one of the five major themes of the Chintan Shivir - political, economic, gender issues, foreign policy issues - there is one specific separate theme. I hope that not only women will be in the sub groups, there will also be men in that sub groups because gender issues are not only of concern to women and women's organisations. Gender issues are family issues and we must engage in all sections of society. As a man, I must be in the forefront in arguing for women's empowerment - not just women's organisations, women activists or women journalists.
CNN-IBN: Do you feel that our leaders need to speak more, especially when we have expectations of and those we see as future leaders?
Jairam Ramesh: There is no question about it. Communication is the name of the game. You have to communicate and communication has to be proactive - different people have different styles of communication.
CNN-IBN: Why don't leaders speak when people need to hear them?
Jairam Ramesh: I am not a spokesperson for any leader. All I can say is as a general principle, I think people are expecting the leaders to communicate. In the process of communication you can sometimes make mistakes but you have to be communicating. But as I said different people have different styles and I can't impose my style .Some people say I over communicate and in this process of communication I cross some Laxman Rekhas, like my temple and toilet which I still stand by.
CNN-IBN: Would you say that the general secretary of the Congress party perhaps needs to be heard more especially at critical times?
Jairam Ramesh: No, no. This is not an interview about the general secretary of the Congress party, let's not divert the issue.