Usually, I spend the last fortnight of any year in considering various options to party on December 31 and mulling over some light-hearted New Year resolutions which can be amended, if not broken, without getting into an existentialist crisis.
The past two weeks have been different for obvious reasons. The heinous gang-rape and subsequent death of the 23-year-old paramedical student is something that nobody in the country can live down easily; perhaps never.
Introspection is painful, but is also imperative. Having listened to zillions of arguments and debates, the endless blame-game, I tried to collate the fault-lines in the country and society. Some answers emerge clearly, even more so in the context of Mumbai though they would apply anywhere else too. But a crucial one remains agonisingly evasive.
For instance, that social divides further isolation and anger among vast sections of the population is easily established. Gated communities in the mill areas of the city were always guaranteed to increase resentment and even more social disaffection.
Of course, earning wealth is not a crime and you can’t grudge people spending the money they earn. But when Rs27 crore is spent on one wedding in Mumbai and this is tom-tommed as a major societal achievement, it reveals a certain disconnect with social reality. Such profligate spending may make for splendid Page 3 stories, but it also creates whirlpools of massive discontent.
The trickle-down effect of the great Indian economic revolution, which fairly spills off newspapers and television channels, is still faulty at best. Every rise in the Sensex sees orgiastic celebration with little awareness of how little this means to others at the bottom.
Getting down to governance and management of law and order, the police remain the best examples of how political interference can corrupt and destroy an institution. Vasant Dhoble’s highhandedness in getting Mumbai’s night-life to conform to what is considered ‘reasonable’ behaviour was imbecilic in its pomposity.
Juxtapose this with the ease with which suspected serial killer Vijay Palande ducked arrest for years because of his relative in the force and his influence and you can understand why people would rather trust underworld goons than criminals to deliver them justice.
There was also the unhindered illegal development, stealing land meant for schools, playgrounds, hospitals, low-cost housing, to feed the demands of the better off. The poor being shunted to the outskirts, the middle classes being squashed in the middle, the rich might tut-tut, but couldn’t really care.
While public ire at the political class is understandable and in recent times entirely justifiable, the flip side of public apathy can hardly be ignored. Every day, there are lots of loud noises on social media and in drawing rooms about the state of affairs, but how many care? People don’t even come out to vote, as the less than 40 per cent turnout in south Mumbai in municipal elections in early 2012 demonstrates.
But all said and done, nothing explains the brutality of the attack on the 23-year-old. Any rape is heinous, a gang-rape even more so. But this was something so bestial.
What kind of people do this? What was going on in their minds?
I give up. No amount of academic explaining and theorising works I am afraid except that this holds up a mirror to us: what we pretend to be as a people and what we actually may be.
If there are other answers, I’m willing to consider. Till then, I’m afraid, we have no choice but to finish this year hanging our heads in shame. Choose your excuse if you will, I give myself none.