According to police, after raping the women in Khirani Road area of Sakinaka, the accused allegedly pushed a rod into her genitals before escaping.
Nirbhaya, Shraddha Walkar to now Anjali Singh, each have headlined shameful and gruesome events from the national capital, Delhi. The accompanying brutality and graphic details pertaining to these horrors has been discussed extensively in dinner table conversations.
Politicians, celebrities, advocates, police personnel to the average person on the street, each has added their perspective and angularity to the rote debate. But it is a tired and repetitive narrative.
A sense of deja vu is unmistakable, as the template of the latest horror follows a well beaten path of minute details, public outcry, usual finger-pointing and then some vested insinuations by those who have their own agendas.
Essentially the plot, formula and end of each societal outrage is the same as it was with Nirbhaya in 2012 i.e., we fret till the next outrage consumes our meaningless verbosity and passions, yet again.
Beyond the brute insensitivity of the culprits involved and the obvious failing of the police, the larger winds of societal regression, apathy and even revisionism, are palpable and shocking.
So, who defines or impacts these dark winds that blow? In one word, leadership ~ the political leadership, the religious leadership, and all others in prominent positions of societal impact.
If only the ‘leaders’ could talk and walk the hard course of meaningful societal reforms, as opposed to pandering to populist positions and emotions, things could change.
The timeless problem of India’s populism is having its heyday as there is a political frenzy to ‘out-appeal’ the other partisan persuasions with reckless notions of nativism, reinterpreted ‘culturality’ and revengeful justice ~ all these are from the playbook of authoritarians.
Social media is flooded with barely concealed chauvinistic comments of ostensible ‘culturality’ questioning the rights of women to go out and party or walk that late at night as it happened in the Anjali, or even the Nirbhaya case ~ it is a valid concern if it were to be irrespective of the sexes, but obviously that is not the case. Supreme Court Justice BV Nagarathna presciently counterpoised, “Respect for women, being an important value in society, has to be inculcated in the minds of young boys, as this would go a long way in securing the safety of women in the country”.
But such sage advise militates against downright sexist comments about well-off urban women as, ‘par kati mahilayen’ i.e., short-haired women (by a ten-time parliamentarian from Bihar) or the even the more despicable, ‘ladke, ladke hain … . galti ho jati hai’ or boys will be boys… they commit mistakes (by a three term Chief Minister and ironically, Defense Minister).
Seemingly, politics and leadership chances are served better with such retrogressive stands. Populism is inherent as this toxic stand strives to posit the emancipated women as an elite group, not worthy of ‘culturality’.
The next leadership failure is of continuously invoking populism as opposed to more reformatory discourse, to twist raw societal emotions towards unbridled vengeance, which metastasizes and feeds other phenomenon like lynching and vigilantism, instead of the rule of law.
Vacuous talk of ‘hanging culprits’, ‘parade criminals if I had my way’ (said by an incumbent Chief Minister) or ‘shooting culprits in the streets’ all sounds like some medieval era justice in some Sheikdom that may appeal to the wounded sentiments instinctively, but actually do incalculable harm by weaponising the society and its discourse. In times like this, unhinged politicians do not waste time on the symbol of the ‘blindfolded lady justice’ with the scale of justice in her hand, but instead seek to proudly posit a ‘bulldozer’ as a symbol of strong societal action. That the ‘blindfolded lady justice’ inherently suggests impartiality, as opposed to a specifically chosen location for a bulldozer, is ironical. When extra-constitutionality is normalised and heroized, society becomes automatically violent.
National leadership has barely undertaken any policing reforms (above all, delinking lawand-order from the clutches of politicians), judicial reforms (despite staggering number of pending court cases, vacancies in the judiciary continue), or political restraints/reforms (each day a more sophisticated form of telling silences, dog-whistling and innuendo laced ‘hate speech’ is allowed).
While there has been a huge enthusiasm to ‘rewrite’ and ‘correct’ history of the land in the school syllabus across the country, no such enthusiasm to inculcate social liberality and inclusivity of the myriad societal ‘others’, be it in terms of religion, ethnicities, gender, orientation, or abilities has been equally vociferously mooted. If anything, each such incident is stripped for any plausible opportunity to suggest a partisan point of relevance/differentiation e.g., in the Shraddha Walkar case, the religious denomination of the culprit was bandied to ascribe a community’s wantonness.
A carefully curated, signaled and protected universe of what can be conveniently called ‘fringe elements’ (with the plausible deniability of any official linkages) and a handy troll army is retained to stitch-up and then dial-up up a storyline full of implicit accusations and hate mongering.
Populism is a hydra-headed curse in a diverse society like ours, as it can easily derail hard won reforms and rail against the constitutional spirit of inclusivity. Politics of populism also normalises age-old stereotypes and perpetuates the entitlement of a few. The Anjali Singh case has shamed Delhi after the Nirbhaya case, after ten years of clearly unlearnt lessons.
As a symbolic reflection of the times that be, the government had set up a Nirbhaya Fund for ‘empowerment, safety and security of women and girl children’, and as per the NGO Oxfam India Report in 2021, the fund remained underused and underutilized (later owing to unrelated issues, Oxfam itself has been facing raids and other curbs).
TV channels are meanwhile screaming with ‘Breaking News’ of case details with sanctimonious panelists discussing the issue ad nauseum, with little or no pressure building on the leadership to effect course-change or systemic reforms.
Parallel drama on the ostensible colour of a dress by an actor and the equally charged emotions heaped thereon, is a sad reminder of the triumphant politics of populism, as opposed to the spirit of constitutionality and reforms.