Out of Depth

Television news was the digital equivalent of Chinese water torture this week. The Modi sweep in Gujarat was a non-story. It had been predicted weeks in advance, but was reported breathlessly, blow by dramatic blow. It was as fake as freestyle wrestling, since the outcome had always been fairly clear.

So it was a relief on Friday when Narendra Caesar's triumph had run its scripted course and more airtime could go to an event that was shockingly unexpected, yet utterly predictable. The gangrape in Delhi is proving to be a turning point in the perception of gender crime in India, like the latest US school shooting urges a long-deferred reappraisal of attitudes to lethal weapons. Gender and weapons are powerfully emotive issues in the two biggest democracies, with essentialists regarding them as core values, even founding values.

TV is staying with the story of the woman who wants to live despite the horror visited upon her. NDTV and a few other channels have been delivering health updates with the diligence reserved for former presidents and film stars. Her story is a moral tale which reminds us of the power of the human will, even in a subhuman society.

The debate over the story questions our easy tolerance of gender crime. But oddly enough, one did not see the debate on the death penalty reopened. It was endlessly discussed in TV fora when Ajmal Kasab was hanged and the fate of Afzal Guru appeared to hang in the balance. The Delhi gangrape resulted in no fatalities, but that was not for lack of trying. The brutality displayed makes it the rarest of rare crimes. I am completely opposed to the death penalty on the grounds of ethics and efficacy, but for a moment I found myself wondering if a subhuman society like ours can readily understand law which is not barbarically retributive. A point that Manish Tewari made quite forcefully in the days after Kasab's hanging.

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