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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 6, January 26, 2013 - Republic Day Special

Chilling Scenes in Delhi: Disturbing Response of the Authorities

Tuesday 5 February 2013, by Rajindar Sachar

It appears to me that in India we are rushing on that route envisaged by Rousseau. This foreboding I am getting because of the latest situation in Delhi where the well-intentioned non-political young generation (who still retain faith and idealism) people were brutally dealt with by the police while protesting against the manner in which the horrible inhuman gang-rape of a young woman has been casually dealt with by the Delhi and Central governments.

One sees the horrible chilling scenes of the police using water-cannons and brutally lathi-charging young men and women, even ignoring that these incidents are being televised live. I had thought that after the first day of the telecast of these events, the police will be cashiered and Ministers and leaders, both of the Central Government and State governments, will take proper steps to control the situation, but I was mistaken. What is most disturbing is the response of the Delhi and Central governments. Here was a mass of young boys and girls, mostly students, massed together spontaneously to show their anger at what has happened and demand action. In a democratic country, one would expect the Chief Minister of Delhi and the Central Home Minister or Congress party leaders like Sonia and Rahul to go to the spot and interact with them. Nothing of the sort happened. Disappointment among the youth was thus natural.

Though the mass gathering was peaceful, they were met with brutal beating by the police as if we were back in the imperialist British régime blowing out the freedom fighters’ heads. This insensitivity was further intensified by the closing down of nine metro stations—as if a civil war had broken out.

The death of a constable on duty is extremely tragic. All sympathies to his family, the government’s announcement providing jobs and compensation to his family are unexceptional. But is the government not acting in a extraneous manner by spreading the canard that he died at the hand of protestors? This story has turned out to be concocted. The hospital authorities denied that the constable had any external injury—rather their prima facie conclusion is that he had a heart attack and though he was put on a heart machine immediately, he could not survive.

Yet the whole administration was persuaded to attend the funeral ceremony to project the constable as a victim of protests. Of course, all respect to the dead and provisioning for his family are acceptable and correct. Only one would like to know whether any other constable had received such respect as the presence of the Union Minister of Home, the Chief Minister of Delhi, and the emotional carrying of the hearse of the constable by the Commissioner of Police. There are any number of constables who have died during their duty to arrest dacoits and terrorists, but without being honoured in such a manner. Does the administration think the public is so infant that they will not see through this game, which has the sole motive to malign the protesting youth.

The Home Minister, in a very unseemly manner, says he is willing to meet any deputation that wants to see him. But he forgets that in a democracy, in such a situation, Ministers who are, in fact, the servants of the people, must go to their masters and explain their conduct. Had any of the leaders of the government or the party gone to meet the crowd, the matter could have been eased and the constable would not have died.

The functioning of the state had broken down when we found the Police Commissioner of Delhi complaining to Home Minister Shinde about “interference” by the Chief Minister of Delhi in the recording of the statement by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate.

The cause of death need not await the result of trial or the Verma Committee’s findings. The doctors’ version and the inquest report should be immediately made public because already even the President, while saying that the “anger of the youth was justified”, added that violence was not the answer. Now if the doctors’ version is correct, have not the Home Minister and the police misled the President and embarrassed him in public?

Political parties wisely kept away from the protest meeting so as not to permit the government to politicise the movement. The Socialist Party (India) showed its pain by observing fast at Rajghat in support of the rape victim and showing its full backing to the protest by the youth.

THE police has become so emboldened because of the silence of the authority that the complaint of teenaged girl-protestors that they were detained in Parliament Street and beaten because they wanted to march peacefully from Jantar Mantar to Parliament Street is proudly confirmed by admitting that they were allowed to go after their details were noted down under the Police Act, and that they had given an undertaking. Are we living in a police state or a democracy?

Press reports say that Prime Minister Man-mohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi “have advised the security forces to exercise restraint”. How I wish this advice had been given on the very first day of protest.

The youth need to be congratulated rather than demeaned (as is the effort of the Central and Delhi governments) in bringing out this vital human right issue of rape victims to the fore.

I must point out the breach of certain well-established conventions. It appears that the date of trial was announced by the Home Minister after a personal meeting with the Chief Justice of the High Court. This was a judicial matter—a proper application by a government lawyer before the Chief Justice and heard in his chamber would have been the conventionally correct course.

The Congress-led government seems comfor-table with the open spat between its own Chief Minister in Delhi and the Commissioner of Police under the control of the Centre. It is as if we have reached a stage where each agency is working on its own without being under any Central control or single authority. It would appear that the corporate reform-oriented and foreign direct investment (in retail) lobby has succeeded in creating a situation where Karl Marx would have been happy to see that at last his prophecy that one day the “state will wither away” has become a reality in India. No self-respecting Indian, however, can live at peace with this picture.

The author is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.

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