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The Warping of Indian Conscience


The events surrounding the brutal rape and death of a young woman in Delhi last month have raised some serious questions on the moral conscience of a nation considered to be a peaceful ancient civilization. It is not just the terrible deeds of a few criminals that have come to question, but the actions and inaction of different constituencies of people that paint a worrisome picture of a nation.

Let me briefly explain what I mean.  First, there are the alleged rapists who physically violated a young woman and her male companion.  Not only was she repeatedly raped by these men, but was brutally attacked by inserting an iron rod into her stomach and pulling out some of her intestines.
Second, this terrible incident took place in public transport – a bus – that was used by its driver during off-hours for extracting large sums of money from unassuming passengers and for criminal acts for pleasure. There was no accountability on the part of the transport department in the use of the bus, and no background check of the driver.

Third, the two victims lay naked on the roadside after being thrown out of the bus for nearly forty-five minutes before police arrived.  Passers-by slowed down their vehicles to look at them but didn’t offer any help for fear of getting involved and the police implicating and accusing them of the crime. There was no Good Samaritan who was prepared to rush the bleeding couple to a hospital.

Fourth, the policemen who arrived in their vehicles argued for a long time on who had jurisdiction on the matter to transport them to a hospital. There seems to have been little or no concern about the terrible condition of the victims. Nearly 2 hours passed before the victims arrived at a hospital.

Fifth, the hospital health workers took their time to administer proper aid to the victims.  The young woman was bleeding profusely and had by then lost most of her blood, and yet, it took considerable time before she was administered the initial blood transfusion.  As for her male companion who had serious injuries from being beaten by the iron rod waited until his relatives arrived at the hospital and demanded immediate attention.

Sixth, when the public heard through the media the news of the rape, there was considerable outrage among some groups, especially among women, who took to the streets to protest. It was mostly women activists who led those protests (where were the men?), and the rest of the nation waited to see what the government would do.  In the mean time, several political leaders blamed the young woman victim for traveling late evening – 9.30 pm – instead of staying home.  Some accused women of “flirting and tempting men” to commit rape.

Seventh, the national discourse turned to the demand for death penalty for the alleged criminals.  One of the cabinet members suggested that a new law should be passed to deal with crimes against women, such as rapes, and it should be named after the victim. There was very little public discussion of what the law should be all about.

Eighth, recognizing the potential for serious public agitation, the national ministerial cabinet met to decide how to prevent any widening protest by the public.  Without consulting the parents of the woman victim, the cabinet decided to immediately fly her to a hospital in Singapore to “receive organ transplant” – to replace the entire intestine. By then, the young woman was in precarious physical condition from loss of blood and the resulting cardiac arrest and stroke, at the verge of death. She was in no condition to travel and receive an organ transplant for no less than three months at the earliest if she were to survive, according to medical experts in the hospital.   

Yet, a political decision was made to ship her; passports and visas were issued overnight and she was put into a special plane to Singapore. During the flight she underwent another cardiac arrest, and there were no proper medical equipment or expert doctors in the plane to handle the easily predictable deteriorating condition. Within two days of arrival at the transplant hospital in Singapore, the young woman died.

Ninth, the alleged criminals were brought to a court in Delhi for trial, but the Delhi lawyers’ association declared that none of its members would represent the defendants in the trial. The lawyers rendered their judgment even before a judge could hear the case.

Tenth, there has been little or no open national discussion on what new laws are needed to protect women in public places, the controls to be established by the public transport system, how the police and medical authorities are expected to respond in similar situations, and how the general public can be motivated to come to the aid of victims without worrying about harassment by the police. Instead, there are plenty of public pronouncements on morality, restricted role of women and defense of government actions in this matter.

The Delhi rape case occurred almost at the same time as the school massacre took place in the United States where more than two dozen children and staff died from gunshot wounds. While the nation was in grief and shock for several days following the incident, the national discourse was mainly on how to control the use of guns, prevention of such incidents in the future, detecting and identifying individuals who might be potential threat to society, treatment for mental illness, and assistance to families who need help. The U.S. legal system and process were expected to render justice to the alleged perpetrator of the crime in normal course, and hence, there was no public discussion on what punishment would be appropriate. The need of the moment was to find solutions that would prevent a repeat of similar incidents.

In the Delhi rape matter, it is terribly sad to see so many constituencies acting in a far less moral fashion than would be expected of a great nation. It is not hard to say who all contributed to the suffering and death of the young woman -- the rapists, the passers-by, the police, the medical establishment, or the authorities, or all. I leave that judgment to the moral conscience of the readers.

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