New Delhi, Dec. 22: There probably lies a story in where the swirling anti-rape protest came to clot. Not at the portals of Delhi police, nor of the Delhi government, nor, indeed, of the Delhi chief minister. It came to clot at the bottom of Raisina Hill, gateway to the government that runs this country.
There probably also lies a story in what the protest eventually cried loudest about. It was not merely a cry against the police. It was not merely a cry for justice; in fact, a deep and bitter irony rang through that cry, it was not so much justice as a tit-for-tat violation being demanded ' hang them, hang them on India Gate, stone them, castrate them and do it here and now, and if you cannot, hand them over to us, we will.
It often sounded like a cry for mob retribution, Nebuchadnezzar's eye-for-an-eye maxim tweaked to "you rape, we chop" on a poster in the hands of a teenage girl among the protesters.
But the cry that resounded most was not even the cry for retribution. It was a cry against government: Where is the government? We have no government, and if there is a government it does not deserve to be there. Amidst all the rage and fury venting on placards against the rapists at Raisina Hill was one that railed at quite a removed target. It read: "Manmohan Singh chooriyan pehno", don bangles Manmohan Singh.
This was not merely about one grievous-heinous violation on the streets of the nation's capital, it was a carryover from similar angered tides that have surged and subsided several times over the past couple of years. An Anna-Kejriwal redux without that dramatis personae in the lead cast. Almost in no time, the rape protest had become a febrile pinhead of all manner of grievances, immediate and accumulated, against the incumbents of power: dereliction, inefficiency, insensitivity, corruption.
What began as a wintry morning's student vigil around India Gate to demand action against the guilty quickly travelled up Delhi's central vista and became a siege against the government at the base of Raisina Hill. They were mostly young people to begin with, responding to looped calls on cyberspace and android telephony ' Facebook, Twitter, mobile texts ' a gathering of the concerned and the disturbed wanting their outrage heard.
Slowly, but surely though, it became an assault on the government. Shriller, fed by anonymous but distinctly anti-government sentiment, in spurts even provocative and violent. At the barricades, where riot police stood taut against the possibility of a sudden breakdown, some in the crowd itched for a fight, hurling abuse, hurling paper balls and pebbles, hurling odds and ends off the street.
Part of it was even grisly. Posters sprang up portraying dismembered body parts, perverse sexual acts, brutal hangings. And all of it got directed at the government. "Nothing works," screamed a college student into a television boom mike thrust into her face. "Nothing works in this country, it only works for corrupt politicians, they have to go, why are they here if they cannot even provide us safety?"
It was a simmer of sentiment worth tapping into. BJP MP Tarun Vijay sent a letter to home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde requesting that his security detail be withdrawn. "At a time when the entire nation, led by brave Delhi people, are protesting demanding more security for citizens and praying for the recovery of the unfortunate girl it will be unbecoming of me if I continue to have the security cover provided by you in the wake of the death threats I had received from the terrorist organisation Indian Mujahideen," he wrote.
"Even if I die at the hands of the terrorist in the absence of a security cover, I shall still have no regrets, as the people on the street, who are our real masters, need this protection more than any politician." Vijay had broadcast his letter much before it would have reached the home minister's offices.
The leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, tweeted she was demanding a special session of Parliament to demand death as punishment for rapists. Her party colleague, Meenakshi Lekhi, appeared on the sidelines of the protest to make common cause. As did Brinda Karat of the CPM. As did student and youth fronts of political formations from extreme Left to extreme Right. The protest was developing overtones that had more layers than just an outcry against poor law and order.
Psychologists say the outrage could be linked to both the incident as well as unassuaged concerns and restlessness over a period of time. "This rape was only a trigger, I'll call it the last straw," said Harprit Kaur, assistant professor of psychology at Punjabi University in Patiala. "It appears to have unleashed concerns relating not just to insecurity in society but also long-delayed justice."
Experts say that while the brutality and circumstances of this sexual assault may have contributed to the scale of the protests, the outrage also appears aimed at giving vent to perceptions that the guilty often remain unpunished in India.
"This is an expression of anger against the police and against the government," said Subodh Kumar, a clinical psychologist at the Bokaro General Hospital in Bokaro Steel City, Jharkhand.
The experts say India's recent history of a surfeit of scams and tainted individuals but few convictions also appears to be fuelling the current protests.
"There is a widespread perception that those well-connected can escape punishment," said Vandana Prakash, a senior consultant clinical psychologist at Fortis Hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh.
But psychologists say the circumstances of the rape ' perpetrated in a public transport vehicle on a student who was returning home after watching a movie in the nation's capital ' have allowed vast sections of society to identify themselves with the victim.
and Metro on Sunday