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New netas, old habits
No elected MP, not even the younger lot, walked out of their lovely British raj-era houses that are a stone's throw from India Gate to personally find out what the rage is about:
The joke in Delhi these days is that you must have three daughters to understand the taunts and the trauma that women routinely face from sexual offenders. Home minister Sushil Shinde has three, as has prime minister Manmohan Singh. For the time being, at least, that should absolve them from the crime of silence against gender violence that has settled over our country like a thick suffocating cloud. At least these two gentlemen say they care. Most of India's political class still doesn't understand what the rage at India Gate continues to be about.
Let's get one thing straight: If Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj and Mayawati, three of India's most powerful people, had come together and spoken from one platform to protestors in the heart of India's capital, and indeed, all over the country, imagine the shock to the system. Which 'mai ka laal' across the length and breadth of the country dare challenge this triumvirate? Imagine if they were joined by Sheila Dixit, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa. India has enough women at the top of the political heap to make a difference - if they want to.
But the brutal sexual mauling of a young girl in the heart of South Delhi nearly two weeks ago - Nirbhaya, Damini, call her what you will - is not a "gende" issue that must only be aired by women activists and addressed by women politicians and written about by women journalists. It's no longer about discussing them at controlled platforms such as International Women's Day and packing them away for the remainder of the year.
India's young folk are certainly protesting at India Gate and elsewhere in the country against the daily assault and rape and molestation and sexual groping and being touched against their will that most women in India have experienced at one time or another. But this anger is both a revolt against the feudal patriarchy that closets women as well as a renewed plea to the nation's political class - people like you and me elect every five years - to address the growing insecurities, fears and needs of a changing country.
India's youth at India Gate and elsewhere are not being dismissive of politics and politicians in general. They are simply demanding a new kind of politics where elected representatives must - of course, they must - address the primal identities of caste, class, village and community that are at the core of Indian politics, but also look beyond the obsession with numbers that Indian politics has been reduced to.
These young folk wanted to speak to someone - young MPs, women MPs, the home minister, the prime minister, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, anyone. But apart from Sandeep Dixit, member of parliament from East Delhi, not one elected MP, young or old, woman or man, from the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, walked across their carefully manicured gardens and out of those lovely British raj-era houses that are a stone's throw from India Gate, to personally find out what the heat and dust and water cannon was about.
Yes, Sonia Gandhi met a group of protestors not once but twice in the safety of her own home, Rahul Gandhi met the protestors once in the safety of his home (or office), Sushma Swaraj eloquently raised the matter in the safety of Parliament, and Sheila Dixit asked why she was not being allowed by the home ministry to run the city of Delhi, of which she was the chief minister.
Where, though, were the so-called "young MPs" that India has in recent years made so much of and put them on such a pedestal, hoping they will lead the way to a reinvented India? They should have come to India Gate, abandoning their ministerial privileges and their red beacon cars, and spoken to India's young folk whom they claim to represent. Several had returned to their constituencies at the end of the winter session of Parliament, but they could have spoken up in those villages and small towns and cities.
But except for Priya Dutt, who led a march in Mumbai, not one MP in the Congress or the BJP or the Left or in the Nationalist Congress Party or the DMK or the Akali Dal, not one spoke up.
The truth is that Congress MP Abhjit Mukherjee's dismissal of "dented and painted women" who protest at India Gate and Sushil Shinde's comments about refusing to go and meet the people (he would rather they came to meet him) is indicative of an old school of politics that has degenerated into patronage. (It doesn't matter that one is a first-time MP and the other has been in politics since 1974. ). As for Manmohan Singh, the country is still waiting to hear from him about any matter apart from the driving need to achieve 9 per cent economic growth.
Make no mistake, India is changing. The Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal-Kiran Bedi school of thought is too shrill and self-centred to make more than superficial impact. Politicians like Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati and Sushma Swaraj must pick up the phone and reach out to each other and agree to build consensus on the most urgent issues at hand. Otherwise, there is always 2014.
(Jyoti Malhotra is a freelance journalist based in Delhi and the mother of two daughters)
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