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The Delhi underbelly
Author: Sanjay Kaul
An aseptic, self-delusionary analysis of the ‘whys’ of persistent rape in Delhi will not help — its time to face the stark reality of life here
The headless chicken-ry around the grotesque case of the gang-rape in Delhi has reached its nadir. Opinions have ranged from summary executions, to torture, to flogging and castration — as if we were in the badlands of Kandahar - to more sanguine solutions like instructing children from school level, sensitising youth, gender equality classes and just ho-hum improvement in policing.
Some controversy has been generated — not on account of poor policing and the critical disconnect from law and order among the state functions — but a tiff between the Chief Minister and the Lt Governor over the sacking of the Police Commissioner. Lost in translation is the real reason why this sort of thing happens, and why Delhi has earned the sobriquet of the rape capital of India.
It is nobody’s case that law and order and policing is a prime culprit in this case, but the equal truth is that Delhi has comparatively better policing than other cities and capitals. The real reasons are therefore not to be found where we are looking. They lie in the collapse of governance in the capital. If one were to join the dots, it would take us through a complex web of governance hot spots to unravel the cause of this horrific incident and the graph would have to go through the issues of education, migration, poverty, unemployment, civic segregation, over population, transportation, cultural dis-assimilation, entitlements, ownership and social alienation, and finally, law and order.
The hasty mind rushes about trying to fit all this into a convenient template so that fast-track justice could be dispensed: A hanging that could satisfy the crowds, maybe; or hang them all, maybe. Anything so that we do not have to deal with the contours of the real dilemma of how and why this sort of thing happens - repeatedly. But there are good reasons why rapes, and other crimes will continue to have an inordinate prominence in cities like Delhi. Rape gets more attention for its double violation, but if you put the statistics together you will notice a corresponding uptick in crime in general.
Statistically speaking, crime in Delhi is directly proportional to the areas that are underserved by governance in terms of health, education, employment and inter alia, policing. Here, access to justice is in perverted conjugation with poverty, hygiene, space, general social conditions and a serious cultural misfit. That interlocks with the phenomenon of migration; that in turn, points to hovels and slums; that to poverty and that to overpopulation to the extent of living six to a room. Alcoholism, unemployment, hard conditions of labour and existence, hygiene so bad the gutter is your neighbourhood and sanitary conditions so poor women wait for dusk to relieve themselves.
Now, let’s talk about shame in the elegant language of civil engagement on women’s rights, gender equality and more esoteric subjects!
In a south Delhi slum where some of my volunteers were working, a meeting was arranged for me to intervene and see what we could do to ameliorate their situation. I pointed out that I would focus on only one thing and so asked them to tell me the one thing they needed most which we could fix. I expected them to ask for water, or toilets or roads or even regularisation of their illegal hutments but they confounded me by asking for a policeman for the area. Why? Because, every night is a night of violation for their women; every evening a drunken brawl, a gambling sport and nobody’s sister, wife or daughter is really free from the claws of depraved humanity.
Was it just an accident that this rape was committed by youth from such clusters? Or was the rape more heinous to bear because it compromises class distinctions, on some level. Was the middle class awakening laced with angst at one of their own violated by one of ‘them’? Nothing is an excuse. But the truth is not be excused either. The fact remains that the abnormalities of a poorly governed city are all over to see.
At another level, let us examine the more fundamental aspects of such behaviour when juxtaposed in the cultural context. Often told that north India suffers this sort of behaviour more than other states, we slumber into thinking it has to do with the aggression normally linked to the north and north-west belts as against the more sombre south or the relatively matriarchical eastern belt, but statistics from West Bengal and Tripura taking the lion’s share of crimes against women makes us revisit the theory. Cultural homogeneity too is no guarantee and we must come back to issues of governance.
It was no accident too that the genesis of this crime had to do with a transport issue. Underserved areas with non- existent bus networks, almost zero investment in state-run buses and out of control corruption in the handing out of licences to private parties are all manifestations of the state’s failure. For a regime that has been in control of the administration for the last fourteen years uninterrupted, the inability of the state to provide a safe and reliable bus transport network are prime basis for such crimes to fester.
This brings us to the conclusion that rapes happen because on the one hand there is the breakdown of civil arrangements of existence in cities and on the other hand a breakdown in control and deterrence, or inadequate policing. The gender aspects may all be real and right but at the end of the day a crime is a crime and if it were not that people had a general sense of being able to escape punishment, there would not be the flagrant violations we see today.
To examine why this is so only needs a cursory look at the political interconnection between statehood and policing in the capital. Unlike other states, the state of Delhi does not control the police, which is a central subject. This is a serious abnormality in a democratic milieu where taxpayers cannot demand from their law makers, law and order. In a travesty of representation of people, those we anoint have no power, or indeed reason, to protect us. The absence of a vested interest for the political class to engage with our security creates the fault lines of the situation we see before us today. You cannot vote them out for failing to protect you.
So with the victim now out of the way, and the Commissioner Police in the crosshairs, the Chief Minister of the state remains absolved of all guilt — a situation she has enjoyed for close to three terms in what has to be termed as the ultimate aphrodisiac — power without responsibility.
(Sanjay Kaul is a spokesperson for the BJP in Delhi)