Friday 4 January 2013

Out of gloom, light beckons (PO)

By M D Nalapat

On December 29,2012,a 23-year old woman gave up her life after a struggle that lasted almost three weeks. For December 16 was the day when she and a companion boarded a private bus in Delhi, after being told by a 16-year old inside the vehicle that it would take them to their destination. A few minutes after the bus began to move, five men (including the minor) moved in on the woman and her companion, repeatedly beating the latter with an iron rod before inserting the same into the most sensitive parts of the woman. That is after they had each assaulted her. The bus driver kept the bus moving on its normal route, knowing that the Delhi Police would not bother to check the vehicle and find out the horror that was taking place inside. The reason why the bus driver and the animals clustering around the young women knew they were safe was simple. They had paid a bribe to the police, so that all down the route, the vehicle was permitted to pass unmolested by police pickets.

One look at the license plates was enough to tell policemen that this was a vehicle whose owners had paid their (illegal) dues to the police force. The rapists went about their devilish work unhurriedly, knowing that the men in uniform would never disturb them. Finally, after they had dumped the naked bodies of the woman and her companion onto a deserted stretch of highway, and after they had tried - but failed - to run them both down, the six parked the bus at its usual nighttime halt, of course ensuring that all traces of blood were washed away. The death of the 23-year old was the feather that finally displaced the inertia of the people of Delhi (and subsequently the entire country) at the fact that the capital of India is among the most unsafe cities on the planet, despite the billions of dollars spent on its police force ( 37% of which are in one way or the other concerned only with providing security to about 600 VIPs). Unbidden, unknown people began to march towards the colonial-era offices of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. After “freedom” came on 15 August 1947, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his ministers wasted no time in occupying the houses and the offices of the departed British colonials. They retained the same system of laws and jurisprudence that was created in order to ensure that the citizen of India remain perpetually under the thumb of the administration. Even the nomenclatures were not changed.

The administrative head of the District, the Collector, retained the same title under democratically-elected Prime Ministers as was the case under the Viceroys. This was not surprising. From the beginning, the new native administration saw the collection of revenue as its primary task, exactly the way the British had. Today, India is among the highest-taxed countries on earth, at least for those who pay their taxes honestly. A professional pays a service tax of about 12% over and above a 30% rate of income-tax. Besides this, he pays indirect taxes each times he buys a commodity or uses a service.

Some estimates claim that about 70% of the income of a highly productive (and therefore high earning) citizen goes into national, state and local taxes, both direct and indirect. In exchange, what the taxpayer gets is cratered roads, frequent power cuts, water shortage, a dishonest and incompetent administration and a public health service that specialises in turning the moderately healthy into terminally ill persons.

Because the woman who was raped comes from an underprivileged background, her father earning just $100 a month as a loader working at the airport for a private airline, the huge apparatus of the Native Colonial state moved into action in an effort to completely airbrush her name and other details, including her family. She was flown to Singapore just a day before she finally passed away. According to some doctors, this was doe so that she would pass away in a foreign country and not India, and after it was already clear that she would soon pass away. After her death, her body was brought back to India by a special aircraft that took off at such an hour from Singapore that it landed in Delhi in the pre-dawn darkness. After that, a hurried cremation took place, almost before the sun came out. Why this cloak of anonymity? Why not?

After all, was this not happening to hundreds of millions of underprivileged people across the country, people who were seen as a statistic rather than as human beings by the native successors of the British Raj? For those without money and power, a multitude of laws exist to keep them in a state of fear and servitude, while for the very rich - with a few, usually temporary, exceptions, there is no law at all. After all, as the six rapists were aware when they plied their bus safely across Delhi on December 16, money ensures that the police and other authorities look the other way. Except that this time, something happened. The frustration of decades of second-class status thanks to the straitjacket of the colonial system suddenly erupted into action.

Tens of thousands marched across VVIP Delhi, being met by water cannons, tear gas and such other favourites of the colonial state. Sometimes, clearly deliberately, gangs of ruffians infiltrated them archers for justice and created mayhem, so as to give all the marchers a bad name and to give the Delhi Police an ersatz justification for their brutality. British-era sections of the British-era Indian Penal Code began to be invoked with monotonic regularity. Clearly, the Native Colonials were of the view that only they had the right to enter VVIP zones, not the common people, those without a red light on their car or a police escort even to visits to places of ill fame. Because of the immense arbitrary powers wielded by the Income-tax and other coercive government departments, officers in which obey the orders of their political masters with alacrity, almost the entire media in India has effectively muzzled itself. Those that step out of line, even a little bit, get the stick.

For example, an evening paper published the real name of the dead victim of the gang rape. It’s editor is now facing prosecution, by the same Delhi Police whose venality and incompetence have made Delhi a city as unsafe as any war zone. Naturally, the laws invoked date back to the British period. This columnist has for thirty years been pointing out that India cannot be called a democracy so long as it bases itself on the colonial model (being ruled by brown people or white people makes no difference to those at the receiving end of the governmental stick).

At last, others have begun to echo the same cry. At last a whiff of change seems to be in the air. Those who have fattened on the Native Colonial State for seven decades will resist, but the mood of the people indicates that civil society is finally engaged in the process of ensuring genuine democracy in India.

No comments:

Post a Comment