How heavenly to be alive when the youth is asserting itself. Even the sons and daughters from well-off families joined the protests. I recall the Quit India Movement in 1942 when on the call of Mahatma Gandhi, people came on to the streets to demand the British to quit. There was a spirit of sacrifice and dedication in their demonstration.
This time, one felt his or her personal loss in the death of the 23-year-old after being gang-raped. Young faces, lit by the candles they carried, adumbrated the idea of India which knew of no caste, no religious identity. It was a united nation mourning the death of its proud daughter. It looks from protest marches and condolence meetings that the gang-rape has awakened the nation to brutalities against women as well as non-functioning rulers. That the stir was peaceful despite lathi-charge and water cannons shows the maturity of participants.
The rulers had no clue of why such defiance had taken place and what they should be doing. Initially, they did not want to come in the open to address the gatherings because there was no connect between them and the students. None in the ruling leadership had fathomed the anger. Then the government panicked and leaders like Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit wanted to interact with the students squatting at Jantar Mantar, India’s Hyde Park, but she was refused entry to the place. Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, belatedly, asked the political parties to make proposals, indicating that the Manmohan Singh government was at a loss.
Hurriedly, it appointed a probe committee and a judicial commission to suggest new harsher laws. Former chief justice of India, J.C. Verma, was appointed to head the commission. I wish this process had been gone through after a joint session of the parliament as demanded by the opposition. Then suggestions made by MPs could have been incorporated in the proposed laws. The nitty-gritty of improving the legal apparatus is all right up to a point. However, what the government fails to realise is that its thinking is out of date. It is still stuck in the status quo, while the youth want parivartan (change).
The system is too effete to restore confidence in the majesty of law and to ensure protection to all, particularly women. The government’s own record is poor. It has done very little to combat corruption which dominated the debate until a few months ago. To inspire confidence, the least that New Delhi could have done is to have made the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) independent. The agency continues to function at the whim of the ruling party.
One thing which has come as a surprise to me from the current protests is that the youth want to remain apolitical. No notice was taken of the presence of Aam Aadmi Party, born out of Gandhian Anna Hazare’s movement to have Lokpal (ombudsman) at the centre to combat corruption. The youth seem to prefer people’s movement to a political party.
I find that there is some awakening in the political parties too. They appear to have started introspecting their own conduct. From the statements they have made, it is evident that they want to rise above party considerations on violence against women. This evokes hope that the government and the opposition will reach a consensus on the steps to stop even molestation and eve teasing.
The problem is the male. Without changing his mindset, there can be no gender equality. He still treats women as a thing of pleasure. His chauvinism has not lessened over the years as the remarks by some people’s representatives, MPs and MLAs, made after the gang-rape. The society is seething with anger and wants immediate justice for which neither the police nor the court is prepared.
The younger generation of politicians may cleanse the environment. And it is heartening to see that the baton in Pakistan has been passed on to Bilawal Bhutto who now heads the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bilawal’s speech on the fifth death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, his mother, shows maturity at the age of 24. I believe he wrote the speech himself and denounced terrorism as well as dictatorship which have not allowed Pakistan to come of age. Whether his sister would have been better is of the same type of debate which raged in India when Rahul Gandhi was nominated in preference to his sister, Priyanka.
I wish Rahul would tear a page from Bilawal’s book. The latter is clear and categorical in spelling out his ideology based on the values of liberalism and democracy. His particular mention of minorities’ rights is a departure from the past dominated by bigotry and extremism. It is not to suggest that Rahul is not liberal or democrat, but his five-minute speeches do not give a peep into his thinking or his ideas for the future. This is important because he is the Congress party’s candidate for prime ministership in the 2014 parliamentary elections.
Both Rahul and Bilawal should join hands to fight against the brutalities perpetrated on women in India and Pakistan. The public in both countries feels helpless against the goonda elements. A girl was raped and brutalised in India, but the nation could not save the girl’s life. Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan had to escape the country because of Taliban’s determination to kill her. Education for women was her demand which goes against the Taliban ideology. I believe that Malala wanted to come to India for medical treatment, but the government was sacred to let her in. She had to fly to London.
The fight for women’s equal rights is a long and arduous journey and requires patience, courage and sacrifice.
The society wants the youth to lead it because it has found the political parties failing. It wants a movement to give equality to women. People have felt appalled over the gang-rape of the girl at Delhi and the shooting of Malala in Pakistan. Do Rahul and Bilawal have the commitment to the principle that men and women are equal? As for support, they can depend on the youth which has come of age.
Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.