Future of us

President Pranab Mukherjee's address on Republic Day eve was devoted, in very large part, to the question in the spotlight women's freedoms. It is a sign of how loudly this question now resounds in India, in the weeks since the Delhi gangrape. Tens of thousands of young people massed in the streets, in Delhi and elsewhere, to express their revulsion at sexual violence, at the systematic denial of women's agency and autonomy. The barricades were rattled; activists, citizens and politicians across parties spoke up; the Justice Verma commission prepared a comprehensive analysis of the injustice, and of how to combat it. The Congress party's Jaipur resolution acknowledged the gravity of the matter, including it in one of the five points of the declaration. And now, the president of India, the occupant of Raisina Hill, where the protests first gathered, has spoken of women's rights as a civilisational principle.

The president also spoke with equal emphasis about a younger, more hopeful India, one that struggles with great anxieties about merit, success and circumstance, one that wonders about political morality and the best way to create change. He reminded political parties that they had to tap into this restlessness and idealism. The establishment speaks of a "demographic dividend", but it must know that this could explode in its face if aspirations are not squarely addressed education, employability and jobs are desperately needed. The young woman whose rape and brutalisation brought on this soul-searching was a "symbol of all that new India strives to be", said President Mukherjee. Young women like her, who aim for a life different and better from the one they are pitched in, who study and work, and brave a hostile public culture to live a fuller life, are the inheritors of the future. Politics will have to shape itself to them, and indeed, the nation will have to "reset its moral compass" a fact that political leaders, preoccupied with rote electoral calculations, have not fully grasped yet.

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