Sunday, December 30, 2012

We The People: An Open Letter to Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh

An Open Letter to Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh

Dear Dr. Singh,

You do not know me, and perhaps we will never meet each other; yet I am taking the liberty of addressing this letter to you. Partly that is because I am one of the 1.2 billion Indians who look up to you to rule this nation of ours in our name- an ordinary, anonymous citizen reaching out to his elected leader. Partly it is because, as a writer, I can think of no better way to give vent to the sense of outrage I feel at the recent rape and murder of a 23 year old woman in Delhi than to put my thoughts down in words. However, it is also because, among all your peers in our government, I hold out hope that you will have the integrity and courage to bring about some real change. Unlike many of your peers, you do not owe your position to the family name you carry or to favours traded in political and business deals. So I hope that with your conscience unburdened by these, you can demonstrate the courage that we the people demand of you. As an undergraduate student of Economics, I watched with admiration as you removed the shackles that tied down the Indian economy and set it on a path of acceleration and development that it had never seen before. That took real vision and courage but the challenge you face now will require perhaps even more courage. However, the payoff will be much bigger because we will truly be on the path to development not because of GDP growth numbers but when half our population can live their daily lives in safety and security, without having to worry about being thrown to the mercy of rabid animals like the six men who brutalized the young woman in the Delhi bus.

What could you do? Here are three thoughts for you:

 1.     Understand ground reality and how deep the rot really lies. You lead a rarified existence, as befits your status. However, there is no shame in getting one’s hands dirty and understanding what is actually happening in the nation you govern. Great rulers of our past like Akbar and Ashoka often ventured out in disguise to understand what was on their peoples’ minds. Today, with social networking and media, you don’t need to do that, but you do need to be in touch with what we the people are feeling. If you had been, you would not have waited so many days after the incident for your poorly edited and produced telecast to the nation. If you had been, you would know that it is not just one ghastly incident that defines the nature of the problem we face. Almost every ordinary woman will have tales of catcalls, groping and harassment in buses and public places by men who do it not just because they are barely civilized Neanderthals, but because they believe they can get away with it. Even the six rapists in the Delhi case cleaned up the bus and went on with life as usual, thinking they would never be brought to task. When people talk of bringing about change, they talk of changing attitudes and mindsets. I believe that will take time and whatever we try by way of education and sensitization, there will always be brutes like Ram Singh and his friends in any society. I believe that the cure will start when they no longer feel they can get away with it. However to act on it, you first need to understand just how deep the rot is and how strongly we the people are starting to feel about it- with this young woman’s trauma acting as the catalyst.
2.     Put your own house in order. Even before you start trying to bring about change in society, have the courage to change the very government you lead for change, like charity, begins at home. Two of our Members of Parliament and six legislators face rape charges, and a staggering 162 MPs (28% of the total) have criminal charges against them. We the people refuse to be led by rapists and criminals. Fast track these cases, and if found guilty, put them in prison where they belong, not in the hallways of power ruling in our name. Make an example of cretins like the legislator who made snide, sexist remarks about `dented, painted women’ and women who go to discos not having the right to protest. Yes, his command of the English language rivals his poor leadership skills, but he has no business being in your government. Your party asks us to `forgive and forget’ his comments, but we the people refuse to forgive or forget any more. 
3.     Take decisive action. The six beasts who killed the young woman on the bus should be tried and punished as fast as possible- let us not again have the pathetic sight of the Indian judiciary taking years to process cases. For all I care, these bastards can hang from the nearest streetlight- through their actions they have lost the right to live in any civilized society. However, it cannot and must not end there. What we need is for you, for those who rule in our name, to take pro-active action. What we need is for exemplary punishment to be doled out to rapists and molesters. What we need is for you to showcase that nobody is above the law- not even government officials and legislators like the ones who killed a serving police officer in Punjab when he objected to their molesting his daughter. What we need is the fear of God to be put in the hearts and minds of these brutes- for them to know that they will not get away with it any more. Aamir Khan had an interesting idea- of `pre-emptive’ action- of using plainclothes cops including women to ferret out these molesters and rapists and to remove them from the streets. The softer side of things, the education, the sensitization, the change in mindsets is needed, and will follow, but in the short term, our system needs a shock. A shock to make people realize that it is no longer business as usual.

The window for you to act is narrow. Not just because you and your government will lose all respect if you do not, but because if we the people realize that our elected leaders cannot protect us, we will have to do it ourselves. Today, young people are protesting peacefully, demanding action. Tomorrow, they will start taking action themselves. We all know how that script goes- the police turned against the very citizens they are sworn to protect, faith crumbling in the regime, chaos and vigilantism. It’s played out in many countries, most recently in the so-called Arab Spring. I would never wish that upon my country. India, for all its faults, is a nation I love- because it is still a nation where people can speak their mind and not worry about the midnight knock for their words, where ordinary people can improve their lot in life based on their talent and hard work, and where faith in democracy still runs strong. That’s what makes me believe in India- and makes me scoff at comparisons to other so-called Asian giants where growth numbers are high, but fundamental freedoms low. Please don’t shake that faith. Please don’t make us question the basic premise on which Indian democracy works, the premise that puts you in power to rule in our name. If not for altruistic notions or motives, please at least make your peers act for fear of self-preservation, something our politicians seem to be good at. As Thomas Jefferson said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty”.

We the people await your action.

Warm regards
Mainak Dhar