yatra nAryastu pUjyante ramante tatra devatAH
yatra tAstu na pUjyante sarvAstatrAphalAH kriyAH
Much anger and outrage has spilled over in recent days across cyberspace and OpEd columns in the media over the events in Guwahati. Episodic outrage is always problematic and our public discourse over the past few days is no different. The specific has been conflated with the general to draw all kinds of oversimplifications. The media reportage has not helped either with the flip-flops by the Delhi based media even as the role of the local media came under a cloud.
Hopefully the process of Law in Guwahati will bring closure to the events of the past week . But the episode draws attention to three larger issues.
First has to do with Police reforms, a Law Enforcement that is accountable to the Local Community and a Culture of Vigilance in society in general. Unfortunately the public debate on this count has been deeply disconnected from the realities on the ground. It was very revealing to see the findings recently in an “off the record” citizen’s attitude survey on the importance attached to Local Governance. The participants felt that their vote mattered far more in the context of Local Government and immediate impact on their daily life and surroundings while being generally apathetic to state and national level elections. Clearly there is a latent demand for better and purposeful local governance as this focus group revealed. Political parties and Opinion Pundits are not connecting the dots here between Police Reforms and an electoral agenda for better and purposeful Local Governance.
The second issue has to do with the default perception within the thinking class on the issue of Gender Justice rooted in generalizations and Oversimplifications. Nirmala Sitharaman (former member of the NCW and currently BJP spokesperson) in this OpEd in the Indian Express has put the issue in perspective quite well on areas where the NCW has had an impact and on the need for Parliament to get serious about its role on maintaining oversight of bodies like the NCW.
The third issue has to do with the political dimension to Gender Justice. The politics of the specific incident in Guwahati and the flippant discourse in social media on it has distracted from a larger pattern. Starting with the high incidence of acts of sexual violence in Delhi, to the anti-women diktats by Haryana’s caste panchayats to the manner in which the Bhanwari Devi episode in Rajasthan was handdled and the manner in which the Tara Choudhary episode in Andhra Pradesh has been hushed up one sees a pattern across Congress ruled states. It is ironic that for a Party headed by a woman that also saw the first woman President and first woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha the Congress’ track record in states is shameful.
It is unfortunate that in the aftermath of the Guwahati episode the public discourse has sought refuge in sweeping generalizations in OpEd columns with the common refrain of “No country for women” when the issue demands very specific interventions in Local Governance, Parliamentary Oversight and Political Accountability in states ruled by a specific Political Party.
In closing let me also draw attention to another generalization on Gender Justice with ill-informed references to the Mahabharata by all sides. It is important to recognize that a complex work like the Mahabharata has multiple layers to it. Every act that is seemingly super-human or mythical usually has an unpleasant but factual and truthful counter narrative to it within the text itself. The disrobing of Draupadi is no exception. While the popular narrative has focused on Krishna’s divine intervention, the factual record of what really happened comes much later in the text during the stay in the forest.