Sunday, 30 December 2012

Unfinished business

I sit here watching images of what has been going on in Delhi in the last two weeks. The unspeakable horror that was inflicted upon a 23-year old Delhi student, her 13 days of struggle for life and the deplorable politics that ensued at all stages has enraged the country like never before and the outpouring of grief is unprecedented.

But, the irony is that this is not an isolated incident, it is certainly not the first and probably not the last. Some of these incidents make big news and we have public and media outrage, despair, calls for action...Perhaps we have become too quick to brand our events into hashtags: #lokpal #corruption #Damini #Nirbhaya #alltimelow #stoptheshame.....The awakening of 1.25bn people at last! Our own revolution, led peacefully by the youth and complemented by social media (bravo!).

The government on its part, does nothing and remains silent. The sniggering continues, what! after all this the PM could only say "#TheekHai" or worse, some idiotic politician brands the protesters as "dented-painted women" which just shows how bad their mentality is.

But soon people get tired of protesting, the media finds another issue to highlight, the Twitterrati move on to happier topics... No laws are passed, no law enforcement is strengthened, no accountability is restored. The crime, the violence especially against women, the corruption continues..


Because a system as broken as ours, a society as corrupt as ours cannot be fixed by one or two "uprisings" alone. Because believe it or not, we live in a democracy, and democratic governments are not toppled by a candle light march at India Gate (or Jantar Mantar).

So all the calls for action, special sessions of parliament, better laws, better law enforcement will fall on deaf ears. Because the political class knows they are in power and the person on the street is not. News Anchors, social activists and the like can shout all they want on national TV -"has the political class lost sense of ground reality?" "Have they lost touch with modern India?" 

But, I think that the exact opposite is true - modern India has lost touch with politics.

We have always known that India is a land of diversity - there are many languages, religions, cultures, caste, creed etc. However, any marketing guru will tell you that aside from the regional differences, there are also socio-economic segments, broadly: The rich, the consuming class, the climbers, the aspirants and the destitute. These segments are extremely disparate and they sometimes have very little in common between them. 

India is a growth story because the consuming class and the climbers have become a sizeable chunk of the population and are growing significantly. Add to it the so called "demographic dividend" and this creates a perfect opportunity for businesses around the world. But the important lesson here is to know your segment and cater to that segment only. To win over a segment, you might even have to alienate the others. 

Our political class probably learnt this very important marketing lesson a long time ago. And so they play in their little segments based on regional or socio-economic differences. They know they cannot please everyone, so they only cater to people that will actually put them into power. 

You and I, the educated consuming class of the country, the upwardly mobile climbers or even the aspirants - are not the target segment of any politician today. 

Why? Because we don't bother to speak when it actually matters. We don't vote, most people haven't even registered to vote. Because well, who do we vote for? "The candidates do not represent us". "We believe in no one." But then who is our icon, our leader? Will the real youth icons please stand up? 

We need someone to represent us in parliament, to take up our issues, to create laws that matter to us and ensure that these laws are enforced. Our revolution will come from going inside parliament, not by protesting from the outside. 

But is this incident only about politics, bad governance, lack of law and order? No, it is not! The issue is actually much larger, the issue is about how our society treats women, the attitude towards women which manifests itself in many crimes against women. It is hard to talk about all these issues in one go, but let me highlight one particular issue:
Whenever something like this happens, the media is quick to pose the question: why do we disrespect our women, why are women being objectified? Celebrities and Bollywood personalities are quick to join in. But ironically, every Bollywood movie these days has an "item song". Every heroine wants to have a song like "Sheila kee Jawaani", "munni badnaam huee" or "chikni chameli" to her credit. These songs with skimpily clad "hot" woman dancing among 100s of men supposedly from the "masses" and the "hinterland" are constantly streamed onto our TV screens and radio channels. The latest such song has lines to the effect "main murgee ka leg piece hoon, gataka le alcohol se; meree photo ko seene se laga Fevicol se..." Why are we so quick to lap them up and happily dance to them in our weddings and celebrations? But of course that is OK, because it is entertainment and sure pop songs all over the world are provocative, edgy and objectify women... But have we ever considered that some people might be taking this too literally, that their idea of entertainment might be attacking a woman on the street...Have we ever considered that treating women as objects has become part of our pop culture...

The issues go on....but there are no easy fixes and somewhere the blame lies with us.

Sure, maybe this time, some action might be taken. Maybe the six men will probably get a death sentence; but that is not the point. The point is that we all know that such events will happen again, that we will have to protest again, but the only way to make these protests meaningful is to not just call for action, but to ACT as well...