The Delhi protests: an observer’s dilemma

As an observer, how does one know what the truth is, and how much does that matter?
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First Published: Thu, Dec 27 2012. 01 23 PM IST
A file photo of protests at India Gate in New Delhi. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
A file photo of protests at India Gate in New Delhi. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Updated: Thu, Dec 27 2012. 05 23 PM IST
It is now widely held that the quality of democracy in India is extremely poor and non-inclusive in character, and one that is therefore incapable of effective (and equitable) provisioning of public goods–including law and order and the safety and security of its citizens. One could add to this view all that is known of as being rotten with the current state of the government. This is a relatively simple line of logic that biases our thinking when it comes to the government of the day. At the same time, one should not forget the crime that provoked this collective outrage. Are we as a society responsible for allowing such crimes to happen, abetting various forms of subtle and not-so-subtle gender discrimination all through our lives? Finally, in demanding for the state to wield its might against offenders, are we eschewing all responsibility for social change? This is possibly the first dilemma an observer might experience.
The second dilemma is one related to the events that transpired over the past few days, including the unfortunate death of Delhi Police constable Subhash Tomar. On one hand is the passionate submission of eyewitness Yogendra; the doctors’ first statement that the deceased had no external injuries or bruises; his family claiming the protestors assaulted and trampled him; yet others claiming he simply collapsed and died of a heart attack. There are conflicting statements issued by what one would think are credible authorities—the police commissioner and the hospital doctors. As an observer, how does one know what the truth is, and how much does that matter? If indeed the policeman was assaulted and trampled, should we support the government in its demand that the protests be called off and stand by the government, police and the bereaved family? If, however, it turns out that the Delhi Police and the government are exploiting this opportunity—a completely despicable act—should we support those who seek to intensify the protests?
For those of us who depend on the electronic and print media for the ‘truth’, it is an all-too familiar scenario—for a politically neutral person, it is nearly impossible to make up one’s mind and take a stand. In a democracy, it is the media that ought to shine light on the truth. However, in this age of 24*7 media coverage, one often feels pushed further away from the reality than ever before. Across the political spectrum, one fails to see credible action in place of hollow rhetoric or pained denial.
Unfortunately this time, irrespective of the truth behind the death of Tomar, the government’s offensive will only shift the focus further from the real issues—both the inability of the state to protect its citizens, as well our inability as a society to prevent such crimes from being perpetrated.
In analysing public discourses, one often has to resort to “satisficing”—a word coined by Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon, combining the words “satisfy” and “suffice” to explain decision-making in situations where people do not have access to complete information, or are unable to process all the information at hand. However, successive instances of such sub-optimal decision making has only added to public apathy towards the government as we gradually take for granted that we will never know what to believe in and what not to.
Finally, this entire episode affirms the most tragic dilemma of them all—the absolute lack of credible leadership choices available to the citizens of this country, as to whose hands should the reins of government be entrusted in 2014.
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First Published: Thu, Dec 27 2012. 01 23 PM IST
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