The incidents of the last few days have shaken the country’s sensitive people to the core. Out of habit, we can choose to blame the rulers for this. But this will be running away from reality. The primary responsibility of preventing such incidents also rests with our society.
The first incident is from Pataudi in Haryana. A woman and her grieving daughter were returning from a hospital with the body of her deceased husband. On the way home two tyres of the ambulance got punctured. As soon as the vehicle stopped, goons emerged from the fields nearby. On gunpoint, they demanded that the mother and the daughter part with all their money and jewellery. The mother and her daughter kept pleading with them to let them go, but the goons didn’t relent. The police’s preliminary probe revealed that the goons themselves had littered the road with iron nails to puncture the tyres of vehicles passing through that deserted stretch.
This is a country where people used to stop in their tracks when they saw a funeral procession. Leave aside crossing the path of the procession, they began praying for the departed souls and their loved ones. I’ve seen a number of friends do this in my childhood. These included Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Today, if those who rob people taking their loved ones on their final journey call themselves Indians, we should feel like getting angry with ourselves rather than take umbrage over their misdemeanours.
Similarly, a video that recently went viral compelled me to gnash my teeth in anger. A few louts had surrounded two young women in Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur district. One of them was filming them and the others were harassing the girls. Didn’t they have mothers and sisters at home, the agonised girls were asking these louts. We had witnessed such scenes only in Bollywood movies, but it was real and scary. Ironically, a campaign was launched on social media saying that all the perpetrators belonged to a particular religion. Since when did criminals become religious? Did they also conduct a caste and religion postmortem of those convicted for the December 16 gang rape in Delhi?
A day before the video went viral, the news about the Jevar incident near Greater Noida was making newspaper headlines. Even that is heart-rending. A few people from Jevar were compelled to venture out late at night since they were tending to a lady relative who had been hospitalised. On the way, goons robbed them and dragged the women from the family into the fields and gang raped them. A male relative who resisted was shot dead. A similar incident had taken place in Uttar Pradesh a few months ago. At that time, there were attempts to politicise the incident. Similar attempts are again being made. The truth is that in times when a father watches his daughter being raped, a daughter sees it happening with her mother with the son’s body lying next to them, only blaming governments won’t suffice. The monsters who carry out such crimes are all around us. We have to identify these monsters. The more you ignore them, the more emboldened will they get.
Here we should examine another point. At a time when there is talk about building a world-class highway, there is no attempt to ensure adequate security. Although ensuring law and order is the government’s job, why can’t those who revel in the spike in property prices after the construction of national highways come to the police’s assistance? Why do they remain helpless bystanders?
It isn’t that the malaise is limited to the Hindi heartland. You may recall that two years ago, people attacked a prison in Nagaland’s Dimapur to kill a rape accused. Similarly, S Swathi, a Chennai-based technocrat, was hacked to death in a public place. Clearly, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Kamakhya to Dwarka, there is a rise in such shameful acts of violence.
If we look at it, since Independence, we have discarded the model of village security. We may want to revisit our administrative history and social values. During the British Raj, a watchman was enough to keep all mischief at bay. Today we have home guards and watchmen apart from the police, along with the Department of Civil Defence. But these are misused to further selfish agendas and political gains.
I would urge those shedding tears on social media or at street-side tea stalls to discard their hollow, outspoken ways and roll up their sleeves, because the victims of such unfortunate incidents are people like us.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan