The last day of the year. But the past 10 days have passed by in such a storm that the memories of the rest of 2012 are suddenly fuzzy, and seem unimportant. I was down with the most evil viral infection, so I couldn’t make it to India Gate or Jantar Mantar, though I longed to. It was frustrating. The only positive fallout was that from being an utter Twitter novice (I was just another inactive handle), I became an enthusiastic participant. Another addiction looms.
So on the last day of the year, I find I can write only about the last 10 days, the post-Mayan-apocalypse period. (As for the 23-year-old girl who became a symbol and an amazing uniting force, I won’t use any of the names foisted on her. I’ll simply refer to her as Our Girl, because I feel that is what she was, and will remain).
My 17-year-old daughter went to India Gate on the first day of the protests, and I tweeted that I was proud of her. That tweet, by evening, after the water-cannoning and the tear-gassing, became part of the ticker on a leading news channel, running for two whole days, embarrassing my poor daughter no end. But I was really proud of her, especially of what she said when interviewed by a Hindi channel at India Gate. She said that she was there not only for Our Girl, but also for all Indian women. She did not have any strong views on whether there should be death penalty for rape; that more important was that justice should be swift. How did she think up all this? We hadn’t discussed the great tragedy haunting India in our family. Well, she can stay embarrassed for the rest of her life for all I care, I am proud of her.
And there were so many, so many young people to be proud of in these last few days. Thousands and thousands of them—brave, spirited, patriotic, fighting for the most basic human rights. Of course, many of them were blood-thirsty and wanted the rapists hacked or stoned to death in public. But this is youthful rage, and several friends told me that all such kids they met were willing to listen to more mature arguments. Yes, they gave this cynical middle-aged columnist a lot of hope for India’s future.
And the bravery of these young warriors threw up in absolute stark relief all that we should not be proud of. Which is, almost everything else that happened. I cannot think of anyone in governance or politics who did not let the country down.
Our Prime Minister remained silent for as long as he could. When he spoke, it was in such inane clichés that one wished he had remained mum. And when this most educated of men whines that he understands the pain because he has three daughters, one cringes. What does that have to do with anything? Is it then natural for someone who doesn’t have daughters to feel the pain less? It is as useless a statement as all those “mother-daughter-sister” posters out there which keep women slotted in roles that our inherent patriarchy is comfortable with. Of course, the young men holding up those posters are not even aware of this, they are perfectly sincere in their sentiments, but now is the time to start making them understand the nuances. Otherwise, not much will change at the fundamental level.
Our home minister has, of course, set some new benchmarks of public idiocy. I need not repeat them (I wrote at length about them in my last piece). One can only say that if anyone does not have the right to say that the protests were denting the image of India, it is Sushilkumar Shinde. He should be sacked. But of course, he won’t be. General stupidity was never an employment deterrent for the family’s retainers.
Ah, denting! It gave me great pleasure to know that on Sunday, when the honourable member of Parliament Abhijit Mukherjee took a flight from Kolkata to Delhi, a planeload of passengers chanted “Dented! Painted!” at him. This is true democracy at work. By the way, he used to be in charge of corporate social responsibility at a giant public sector corporation. Yet another reason for rapid disinvestment.
The case of constable Subhash Tomar will remain unsolved. He did die in the line of duty, and his death is a tragedy, but there will always be suspicion that the Delhi Police tried to turn a natural death into a murder. The Delhi Police commissioner seemed to know much more about the poor man’s injuries than the doctors attending him. In fact, he appeared to know the post-mortem report verbatim even before the post-mortem had been carried out. And then his men really outdid themselves. In the face of all evidence given by two clearly neutral eye witnesses, who in fact organized medical attention for the dying Tomar, the police produced eight random men in court as murder suspects, and then admitted that they weren’t sure what they were charging them for and why.
One could go on and on, but let me finish with that one question that has been on everyone’s lips. How could Rahul Gandhi, the youth icon, let go of this opportunity? “It was just tailor-made for him, man,” a friend close to the Congress told me. “He just had to seize the moment.” What was it that held him back? That all he did was meet six mysterious young men and women who refused to reveal their identities, and issue a couple of statements which compete with our Prime Minister’s on the non sequitur charts. Unfortunately for Rahul, the youth of India, who he eulogizes and woos so assiduously at every given opportunity, may not forget his abdication so easily. Like a lot of us, they will remember the last 10 days of 2012 very well indeed.