A Rape in Delhi
No one is addressing Indians’ anxiety for law and order.
Indians are outraged after a gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi earlier this month left the victim struggling for her life. People gathered peacefully last Saturday in Delhi, Calcutta and Hyderabad to express a variety of demands, some to show solidarity with the victim, others to clamor for speedy justice or even the death penalty for the rapists.
Elected leaders paid lip service to improving law and order, but the lack of a sense of urgency enraged some demonstrators. That was one factor leading street protests to spin out of control in Delhi, where the police locked down the city after demonstrators set fire to barricades. A mob attacked a Delhi constable, who died Tuesday.
The anger won’t subside until Indians’ deeper anxiety about law and order is addressed. Large parts of India are effectively lawless, partly thanks to a drastic shortage of police. India fields 140 cops for every 100,000 persons, far from the global average of 270. Cases languish in the courts for 15 years on average.
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Indian demonstrators holds placards during a protest calling for better safety for women following the rape of a student in the Indian capital, in New Delhi on December 27, 2012.
When they do get access to the justice system, Indians are likely to discover that it’s corrupt. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde now compares the Delhi protesters to Maoists, but the comparison is perhaps more apt than he realizes. In his 2007 book “Red Sun,” former Journal reporter Sudeep Chakravarti tells the story of Maoist leader Sabita Kumari, who is thought to have turned rebel when she went to file a police complaint and officers asked her to provide sex in exchange.
Fairer and faster justice calls for overhauling the police and judiciary, but consider what some officials offer instead. After a previous incident, Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit advised women not to “be adventurous.” After this month’s assault, a police officer in another part of the country recommended that women carry chilli powder to ward off assailants, the Guardian reported.
It’s not just politicians who need to step up. An extreme form of male chauvinism is the norm in many parts of India, and civil society leaders also need to encourage change. The good news is that 20 years of rapid growth and rising living standards have opened the way to start these conversations.
Aspirations for change mean that the risk of violence rises when politicians don’t keep up. Popular demands may still be amorphous, but the onus is on elected representatives to mold sentiment into a political solution. The wonder is that in a supposedly vibrant democracy no leading figure has risen to the task.