What does it take to awaken the conscience of a nation? One thought in 2012 it was what came to be known as the Nirbhaya case.
I was living in Burma at the time and the only access to television news was the BBC, which telecast the protests in New Delhi.
One winter day, a friend watching with me, asked what was "going down in India?"
The visuals were dramatic and I could understand why he would ask such a question. But I could not adequately explain to him why these protests meant so much to me, an Indian woman in a foreign land, miles away, even a reality away.
Nirbhaya pierced through our collective complacency. She stoked the latent anger that resided within, shattered the social conditioning that accepted excesses small and large.
She awakened us all. She even changed our politics when one witnessed the indignant response of leaders and especially youth leaders.
Made us all say "never again". But there has been an again, many times over. We have failed her and we have failed ourselves and we have failed the future.
Last week in Delhi, a 14-year-old child was repeatedly raped and forced to consume juice with acid mixed in it. It burnt her insides, peeled them raw.
She spoke of her helplessness in between purges of blood. She died. Decimated by the system from the inside out, from her bruised and blackened arms and chests, to her bleeding organs.
Her helpless parents, sweepers in a hospital, now sitting at her bedside, watched her suffer till she suffered no more.
But there is no release from this incident. And there must not be. A collective failure such as this will need to be confronted.
In the prevalent narrative of this country there has been a tendency to appropriate causes that suit political ends - a gruesome rape in Kerala is protested by some but not by others.
Politicians go on atrocity tours, their itinerary and interactions carefully chosen, victims on standby are readmitted in hospital for visiting political dignitaries.
Media reports suggest that a "relative" of the victims was planted to meet Rahul Gandhi when he visited a hospital in Rajkot, the photo ops, the embrace, it's a circus and it's appallingly insincere.
Wish one could say this was fiction, it's bizarre enough to be, but then as Tom Clancy said presciently, "Fiction has to make sense". "Facts" owe no loyalty to truth or reality but only opportunity.
And what of the oppressed? The fact is that identity politics has become "a thing" to be introduced into every atrocity, even if the victim doesn't claim it to be.
Like with the 14-year-old child, when there was an attempt to convert the brutality into a caste atrocity.
There is no denying that caste atrocities take place and are a scourge but their cynical, opportunistic use defeats the attempt to erase them, dividing people into camps, into taking offensive and defensive positions without considering the facts of the case. It is repeatedly done.
Take the recent case of the molestation in Aligarh that has people taking sides on community lines.
|All crime dehumanises the victim, male or female, Brahmin or "lower" caste, Hindu or Christian or Muslim or Sikh. (Reuters)
Was it not, before identity was introduced into the narrative, a case of a criminal thug who happened to belong to a certain community and needed the tough hand of the law rather than a reverse majoritarianism narrative or defence?
Will this conscience not rise for the victim and not the identity, and how it fits into the narrative we want to create - a narrative that divides and perpetuates hate.
All crime dehumanises the victim, male or female, Brahmin or "lower" caste, Hindu or Christian or Muslim or Sikh.
The perils of playing with identity are plentiful with politicians waiting on the sidelines to jump in when it is politically convenient for them.
Dignity does not result from re-emphasising caste or religious identity in situations where it isn't a factor, instead it is reductionist, reducing the victim to a statistic and eventually negating the crime by making it about identity alone, moving the discussion on to another plane.
This is not how a national identity is built; it is how it is destroyed.
It is not how justice is delivered or accountability set, it is how ownership of a tragedy is lost and status quo maintained.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)