Last week, as the 23-year-old gangrape victim lay in a hospital bed struggling to survive, a foreign newspaper ran an article on the brutal incident and her two-week battle for survival. 'A wasted life' said the headline of that article. Indeed, hers was a wasted life: a young woman who was on the threshold of a promising life-journey is no more today as we move into a new year because six wayward and drunk men decided to have some fun on that fateful night and government officials, who are paid to keep an eye on our security and safety, did not do their duty diligently and conscientiously. The incident led to countrywide protests, forcing the government to retreat behind police barricades and political bigwigs to come out and promise strong action against the perpetrators of the crime and measures to make our cities safe for women. But the outpouring of grief and anger, offline and online, was not a sudden event; this case was just the trigger. The anger over the rising number of cases of sexual abuse, lack of security for women and the slow judicial progress in such cases has been simmering for sometime.
After the death of the victim on December 29, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had earlier addressed the nation on TV, said that the reactions were perfectly understandable and that India desires change. Yes, Mr Prime Minister, it cannot be business as usual anymore; the government needs to be proactive and keep the promises that it made to the nation after the incident. In the December 25 edition, Hindustan Times had demanded certain changes to ensure that such incidents don't happen again: better policing, downsizing of VIP security, a better trained force, improved technology for safety, stringent laws and changing of mindsets. Some of these demands like beefing up of police patrol and five fast-track courts have been met. But there are many - like changing mindsets and making policemen gender sensitive - that will need long-term planning and sustained focus. That the war on feudal and patriarchal mindsets will be a long and hard one was clear once again last week (even as the nation was debating gender-sensitivity) when Punjab policemen asked a rape victim: "How did they touch your chest? Did they first open the shirt or jeans?"
As days go by, other news events will take over the front pages of newspapers and prime-time TV slots. All those who protested on the streets will go back to their lives. Facebook and Twitter will be flooded with comments on other issues. But somewhere there will be that nagging reminder that a life was wasted unnecessarily. And that feeling may again come tumbling out in the open if the necessary and promised actions are not taken now.