The gatherings of largely young people in different cities of India, triggered by the most inhuman attack on a young girl, have been described variously in the media. Some attributes are incontrovertible: the gatherings are spontaneous, there are no pre-determined leaders and there is distress, concern and perhaps anguish that some describe as anger. The common purpose is for now and for the future: 'why did it happen to her' as well as 'it must never happen again'. There is grief and respect for her and disdain and hate for the criminals who mauled her. Yet, there is some confusion about who is a friend and who a foe.
'Too little too late' said repeatedly on channels and newspapers comes as a painful stab to many of us in public life who are feeling the pain of the shameful act that snuffed out the life of a beautiful young lady full of dreams. Somehow some people have in their grief felt that public figures have no right to join their grieving. Then again there were questions about why we did not turn up when it started. We are lectured endlessly about how little we know about the young, that politics equals cynicism and that pain should not be politicised. No one ever said this was easy on any of us. We did not want to be ambulance-chasers or convert tragedy into photo-ops.
But we certainly didn't want to be excluded. It's our responsibility to protect all citizens. But it's equally our right to feel the pain and to grieve for the loss. Of course we do not claim that in a manner that causes more hurt. There are difficult decisions that had to be taken. But they were not taken to score points or without bona fides. We may have got it wrong but in such things there is seldom a perfect answer. But it makes little sense to say this grief is mine and none else may grieve.
The impatience with the law and law-making is understandable. There, too, the protesters are not alone. We may have greater frustration at not being able to act while the young may rightly have a greater level of apprehension. But if we have to find answers together, we must be together. There are no emotional lines of separation even where barricades of necessity appear to divide the ruler and the ruled. We will be quite happy that history records the efforts of the youth of 2012-13 as the motivation for change. Hopefully, it will not be said that we were unwilling.
The tragedy that has engulfed us cannot be forgotten ever, nor can it diminish in intensity with the growing statistics of countrywide incidents of shame. Together we can become their voice and give them space if they want it. We can make laws against depravity and ensure speedy justice. But what is to be done about indifference and bigotry? What, too, about the dishonest exceptions that are said to prove the rule?
Understandably, the crisis of conscience is about sexual assaults on women. There is an assumption that we will inevitably know who the culprits are and all that needs to be done is to pronounce judgement. In most cases that will not be so. We need rules for identifying, trying and punishing so that the guilty suffer sanction but innocents are not destroyed. We need to spot it from early signals of deviance. It would take more than a strengthened and reformed police force to do that. While we do all in our power to protect women we have to protect other vulnerable souls as well.
We unite to fight terrorism and corruption despite some people claiming exclusive rights to those menaces. Why then do we not unite to fight against oppression of women? Our contrived disunity is being projected to the world; the question is being asked, "Is India safe?" Shall we not say 'yes' together? That will be the best tribute to India's daughter who lost her life so that our own daughters live without fear or pain.
Salman Khurshid is Union minister for external affairs
The views expressed by the author are personal