Justice, not vengeance
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It falls on government, political leadership, to sift the message from the slogan
If the protests that gathered at India Gate caught officialdom by surprise, the anger that's fuelling them is easy to identify, and understand. The rape of a young woman this month has hit a chord among women of all ages and backgrounds, touching the fear that stalks them in public and private spaces. The anger, if the authorities and everyone who'd offer wise counsel would read it right, is a pouring out of frustration against social and official apathy to their feeling of insecurity — in negotiating interactions that should be free of menace and, importantly, in trying to get a constructive response from the system in registering complaints about assaults/harassment. By assembling at the barricades on Raisina Hill, these protesters have shortened the gap between the reality of millions of women and the abstract, clinical way in which crimes against them have been reported and analysed. This is an inchoate anger they express, and it is a test of leadership, political and official, to sift the message out of the sloganeering.
The government has responded characteristically late, and with a studied reluctance to go any farther than anodyne declarations that appropriate steps would be taken. The vast majority of these protesters were not at Rajpath to negotiate a charter of demands. Even as they vent their frustration, they have been essentially seeking assistance in articulating what it is that they demand when they seek a safer environment to go about their daily lives. In the absence of such guidance, the protests, amplified and primed up hysterically by the electronic media, are in danger of becoming even more driven by bloodlust. Justice is qualitatively different from vengeance. Moreover, in a crime against women, vengeance reeks of the very honour-based approach to women that is the problem in the first place, and the implications of which can be seen in hyper-active khap panchayats. Language is power politics, especially in gender equality. This is a key reason it falls on politicians to rescue the discourse, especially from random wannabes bounding towards Raisina Hill looking to inflate their personal profile by turning the protests into a spectacle.