Delhi gang rape: protests for women’s rights attract politicking instead
The perfect recipe of a bad curry is to do everything right, then add one wrong ingredient, or add the right ingredient in the wrong amount. In this case, the ingredient is the mango, or as they call it in Hindi, “aam.”
I attended a candlelight vigil on Sunday night in Bangalore to stand up for women’s rights in India. The vigil was a peaceful version of the protests that have swept the nation after six men were accused of gang-raping and battering a 23-year-old medical student in New Delhi last Sunday.
A group of people arrived at the vigil in Bangalore’s Freedom Park, saying that they were members of the Aam Aadmi party. (“Aam aadmi,” for people who don’t speak Hindi, means “common man,” with the word for mango, “aam,” taking on its other translation: “ordinary” or “common”.) They urged the crowd of about 150 people, mostly students, to decide for themselves whom they want to support in the future. At another protest against the rape, held at Bangalore’s city hall on Sunday, other people who said they were from the Aam Aadmi party did the same thing.
Amid the calls of “We want safety for woman” and “We want stricter legislation”, emerged the sharp voices saying, “We want PM’s resignation”, or “Let the people decide who they want to vote in the next elections.”
There is a simple message that any party in India should heed: protests and vigils supporting women’s rights and speaking out against a culture that looks upon the rape of women and women’s rights as no big deal are not political conventions. People are not attending them to engage in party politics.
Similar reports have come from Delhi. People who have gathered to urge swift action against the accused and stronger laws against rape and assault have seen their efforts taken over by hooligans and political groups to gain leverage for their ends. In Delhi, this has produced scenes of mob violence and the destruction of public property.
Here’s an excerpt from an article in The Hindu:
The protest saw organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP, and the newly launched political outfit Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal jumping into the fray, which was strongly questioned by the students who have been leading the protest for the past few days.
“Why are political groups hijacking a students’ movement and hurting the cause? I think it’s a really unfortunate turn in the protest which was peaceful expression of public anger,” said Ritika, a student present at India Gate, while expressing her shock at the fact that groups with ‘vested interests’ who want to “hijack” the movement were resorting to violence.
The Delhi Police in its report to the Union Home Ministry said these interests joined the protesters and were instigating violence.
This is not what people who are protesting against the way women are treated in India want. Why should everything water down to the ineffectiveness of government? I would prefer to withhold commenting on whether it is about the government or not. Now, the problem is figuring out how to effect societal change; it is about how to respect women, regardless of their stature in society, their profession or how they dress.
If anything, the incidents that I witnessed clearly demonstrate the lack of sensitivity and empathy among those who are trying to win power in the country. Voting out the ruling government coalition will not solve the problem unless people in authority see rape as being on the same level of heinousness as murder. This is a lesson that any political parties attending the protests and vigils would do well to learn.
Note: The Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, known as the ABVP, has never said that it is the student wing of the BJP, as the excerpt from the article in The Hindu says.
(Demonstrators shout slogans as police use water canon to disperse them during a protest in front of the India Gate in New Delhi, Dec. 23, 2012. The Indian government moved on Sunday to stamp out protests that have swelled in New Delhi since the gang rape of a young woman, banning gatherings of more than five people, but still thousands poured into the heart of the capital to vent their anger. Reuters photo: Adnan Abidi)