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Millennium Post

Accountability is need of the hour

Leaderless and unorganised groups of young men and women have been demonstrating demanding women’s security and just punishment to perpetrators of the Delhi gang-rape. They have defied ban orders and braved repressive police action. The death of the rape victim Saturday appears to have strengthened their resolve. But punishment in criminal cases, just or otherwise, comes only at the end of trial and hearing at three levels, which, with the best will to fast-track the process, will take time.

Ensuring security of women calls for toning up of the police machinery and reforming society - tasks that will take even more time. The protesters cannot be hanging out at Jantar Mantar and in parks in other cities while these processes go on. Knowing this, the government is resorting to time-tested dilatory measures like constitution of judicial commissions and promises of action. While the protests have been ignited by one incident which received considerable mass media attention, what has also brought young people into the campaign is the feeling that the political system is not responsive to the issue. Their exasperation is evident from the way they are steering clear of all political elements.

On their part, the ruling parties and the opposition are viewing with deep suspicion the protest movement run by those who are not under the control of any party. Their misgivings are shared by middle class intellectuals who fear the movement may lead to anarchy. Figures show a crime against women is reported every two minutes. When we take into account the fact that many women do not file complaints and even when complaints are filed, police may not register them, the actual crime rate must be higher.

The nation’s concern over the issue, which the protesters are articulating, is therefore justified. The protesters cannot be blamed for their distrust of the political class. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not speak out on the issue for days. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde opened his mouth mainly to defend police action against the demonstrators.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushama Swaraj, who demanded the death penalty for rapists, had been silent on the rape of women during the Gujarat riots. Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat, who paid visits to India Gate, was an accessory to her party’s decision to settle sexual harassment charges against two of its leaders in Kerala and shield them against prosecution.

Jaya Bachchan, who broke into tears at a Mumbai protest rally, is an MP of the Samajwadi Party that has fielded men facing rape charges in elections. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Trinamool Congress, two parties controlled by women leaders, too, have put up rape case accused as candidates. How can such leaders be relied upon to address the issue sincerely?

While the record of the politicians and the former officials is not inspiring, protesters must understand we are running a democratic system and such a system cannot be run without political parties. But they are entitled to demand that the politicians remain accountable to the people.
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