Towards the new

The last year showed an India that is striving to reimagine itself — and where it is failing to.

For India to look ahead, it must look again at Muzaffarnagar. Thousands of men, women and children who fled their homes after the communal violence in September to huddle in the cold in relief camps, are being urged by the administration to go back to the villages where their attackers still roam mostly free and unpunished. A government that failed to protect them from violence, which then sought to brazenly deny their suffering, is now abdicating its responsibility to provide them the sense of security, opportunity and space they desperately need to rebuild their lives. The desolate relief camps are a reproach to all the heady claims made for a new India's politics — that it is leaving behind its old divides and hatreds, that it is becoming younger and more forward looking, that governments are being coaxed to become more accountable because of more demanding citizens and an increasingly activist media and judiciary. The responsibility for the Muzaffarnagar shame must be owned by a government that is avowedly "secular", headed by a chief minister who was seen to signal a generational shift in his party and whose electoral victory was widely read as a vote for a more modern and development-oriented politics and government in Uttar Pradesh.

Yet, as we step into 2014, something has changed, too. For one, the last year showed us that violence against women, for long a crime with no name, could be an issue that brings people out to the streets, to express outrage and demand justice. The brutal gangrape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012 led to mass protests and eventually a change in law. The law is imperfect, informed by more impatience than deliberation, but it underlines that women's safety has assumed its rightful place as a mainstream, public issue. It will no longer be relegated. A similar urgency was vested in another old issue last year. Corruption became the plank that propelled a campaign's transformation into a political party and then the party of government, all in the space of a year. On corruption, as on sexual violence, for now the solutions are informed by more righteousness and rage than rigour. But there is hope that the complacence and cynicism about politics-as-usual is being pierced, and that this will lead to something better.

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