30SundayDec 2012

Sankarshan Thakur

New Delhi, Dec. 29: Well before the candles were lit this evening, the one at the centre of it all had been blown. Jantar Mantar was aglow with the light of the extinguished one — a suffering life that had stopped to struggle in the dead of night and given on to a morning of outcry and crying, condoling and condemnation.

Well before the Singapore hospital gurney was cleared of the remains of a feast of cannibal lust, well before she returned home for her final journey, her tragedy had been robbed the courtesies of silence, her wake abducted to a raucous stage of bickering over who’s to pay.

It’s not just summary gallows for those that have committed a crime that challenges the limits of barbarity, the hooded six who must now countenance the unspeakable darkness they brought upon a young woman’s life. It’s not just “down-down” to the Delhi police whose wanton derelictions have frequently deserved derision. It’s death knell for Manmohan Singh’s UPA, whose second watch has recurrently been slapped with virulently adverse verdict: corruption, chicanery, and now callousness.

It ceases to strike a chord when the Prime Minister empathises in the name of being a father of three daughters. It ceases to assure when his government moves rapidly to nab the culprits.

It raises suspicions when he decides, on expert medical counsel, to transport the victim abroad for speciality care: it’s to wash their hands of her, it’s to wish a storm off their doors, the mob screams. “Where’s the government? Why is it in hiding? Why these cordons, it’s a free country, isn’t it?”

It ceases to impress that the man the UPA is lining up to succeed Manmohan Singh has notions of representing the new India, the youth, the future. Rahul Gandhi rankles; he has become the object of street satire.

“The youth are here,” cried a voice above the clamour of Jantar Mantar today, “but where is the youth icon?”

It came followed by a more pointed taunt spun on Rahul’s bid to erect a campaign on atrocities against women in western UP last year. “Kahan hai Bhatta Parsaul ka maseeha (where is the messiah of Bhatta Parsaul)?”

Jeers followed, cheers followed, if they could have clapped a government down, they would have at Jantar Mantar.

This is more than a picket against rape and murder, more than an irate remonstration against a metro’s descent into disorder. The often unremarked irony this past week has been that Delhi has been the scene of disorder protesting disorder, a dodgy flirtation with uncivil liberties.

Prohibitory orders flouted, barricades toppled, restricted ramparts climbed, bricks chucked. The citizenry has turned to twist the very arm it has demanded better protection from. It has seemed at war with the very system it has subscribed to.

This is more than a picket against rape and murder; this is urban civil society’s second enraged run on the government. The Anna upsurge re- ignited by flames torn from coffin-side poignancy and turned into a flambeau against an establishment this march wants dumped.

Four years ago, on the crest of an unprecedented growth rate, India’s metros raved Manmohan Singh into a second term — man of integrity, man of vision, Singh is King. He’s turned a man with a headpiece full of straw in the eyes of the same votaries; they’d sooner make an effigy of him and set fire to it. The once-anointed herdsman countenanced with the violence of the lambs; so what if he has put the locks on the six Hannibal Lecters.

A trickle seeped through the khaki-choked arteries of central Delhi this morning, a renewed eddy of anger and anguish nudged into a security flue and deposited into one secured auricle of a convulsed heart: Jantar Mantar. It was cold; the minders of the capital had assumed firm grip on just how high they would allow temperatures, how many beats they’d permit the city’s pulse.

The avenues leading in to Rajpath’s central vista stood sealed; use of the Metro in the Lutyens neighbourhood was proscribed; an undeclared curfew sat up and along Raisina Hill whose unruly, blood-curdling siege last week had panicked the government into volatile recoil: cane-charge, water cannon, tear gas, trample-chase.

This afternoon, the helmeted policeman behind the barricade spoke out a practised instruction: “Not allowed, Sir, warna sarkari I-card ho ya VIP ho to bolo.” Entry prohibited, tell us if you have a government identity card or are a VIP.

Pigeons fluttered over the square, an eerie echo ringing from their flap over the colonnaded emptiness. “Parinde hain,” the policeman said, as if to assure they had a licence, “parinde aur police to kahin bhi jaa sakte hain (they’re only birds; birds and policemen can go anywhere).”

Saturdays are cooling days for the government behemoth. The weeklong hum of air-conditioning takes a break in the vast blocks of bureaucracy, shutdown switches are thrown on computers, metal detectors stop beeping, the phones fall silent, the shadows turn mostly inanimate and Delhi’s resplendent trees get hosed.

This Saturday, the government had curled behind protective metal and uniformed men, cordoned off from a fury that may well refuse to abate anytime soon. It was doing but it was also defensive. It shed tears from its protections, both deeply meant and mandatory, but also futile to the purposes of the protest. Their absence would probably have fuelled more anger, their falling calmed nothing.

“Sonia Gandhi kahan gayi, bhaag gayi, bhaag gayi (where’s Sonia Gandhi, she has fled, she has fled),” ran the chant among one group of demonstrators shortly after the Congress president had appeared on television, near lachrymose at the rending news from Singapore and firm of promise the guilty will be brought to swift justice.

That wasn’t fetching an ear in the islanded torrent of Jantar Mantar. “Sonia Gandhi kahan gayi, bhaag gayi, bhaag gayi!” the cry rippled, almost joyous the opportunity had arrived to thrust another blow at the establishment.

Well before the anti-rape protest descended on Jantar Mantar, it had become clear it wouldn’t be about that one horrific transgression alone. Well before the first candle was lit at Jantar Mantar, it was evident it wasn’t merely a candle.

It was a phosphorescent bulb that has lighted up more than just the darkened room where sexual crime has long heaved and passed, its victims quietly shamed, its shameless perpetrators at large. The bulb now burns in the eye of Raisina Hill.