In a few days, we will be observing the 140th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation. I must confess I’m incensed to see some who have absolutely no place there file past his samadhi on anniversaries and the like. For obvious reasons, I shall not name them, but they are those who want to acquire some respectability by being caught on television as they parade their loyalty to the Mahatma and his ideals. These are people guilty of exactly what Gandhiji asked us to desist from. Not only are they venal, it is well known that many of them do not hesitate to unleash violence to promote their interests.
What appals me most, among several other facts of life in India, is the speed at which we are regressing from the Mahatma’s fundamental message of non-violence. Without doubt we have become a nation where the cost of human life is as negligible as in the worst parts of Africa. Where on earth would a woman accused of adultery be dragged into the streets and be beaten up by other women? Where else would girl students escaping from flood waters be molested, starting a deadly stampede at a school? If such incidents do not stir our politicians into action, it’s because many of them thrive on violence and disorder. Even if they do not themselves indulge in violence, they command packs of hoodlums who do. Every election sees more and more criminals getting elected to our legislatures while decent people watch helplessly. This unfortunate aspect of our polity has had more than a ripple effect on crime in general.
When we want to study crime trends in our country, our almanac is ‘Crime in India’ (CII), an annual publication of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), attached to the Union home ministry. Its figures are not exact, given the police tendency to under-report crime and the public’s growing reluctance to lodge complaints. Still, the CII is the only authentic crime report we have, in the absence of public opinion surveys on crime that the US and UK boast of. According to the CII, crime involving bodily harm increased more than five per cent in 2007, the last year for which figures are available. My guess is the rise was far higher.
I am, however, more concerned about violent crimes against women, whose safety was paramount in the causes espoused by the Mahatma. There were more than 8,000 dowry-related deaths during 2007. The number of rape cases was 20,000, a 35 per cent increase over the decade. This is a trend that should shock us out of our wits. Remember, rape is a form of crime that is highly under-reported, given the social stigma that attaches to the victim. You will be even more shocked to learn that culprits get away in as many as two-thirds of the rape cases that ultimately reach court. The chief reasons for acquittal are faulty investigation by the police and dishonesty on part of key witnesses. Quite often, the perpetrators of this abominable crime are moneyed and influential; more importantly, they often happen to be friends or relations of the victim. This is why it is not the police alone who are guilty; society has to share the blame. In my view, it’s time we think of how we can raise a whole generation of citizens resolved to intervene wherever and whenever they see injustice, especially to women.
I have the greatest contempt for our film world, which systematically promotes violence in general and the ridicule and abuse of women in particular. Murder and rape are the staple of many of our movies, which ape Hollywood shamelessly and with the utmost insensitivity to our traditional values. I was appalled to watch Kamalahaasan on TV the other day, justifying the depiction of violence in his productions. He seemed quite pleased when the NDTV interviewer referred to his movies as among the most realistic in showing violence. He wasn’t apologetic either. He denied he was promoting violence and said he was merely reflecting what was happening in society. What a clever way of saying that nothing else sells!
Coming as that did from a polished and remarkably talented actor-director, I was immeasurably pained. What do we do to put some sense into the likes of Kamalahaasan so that future generations are exposed to movies that will teach them to abjure violence and cultivate the nicer sentiments of life? This is a mammoth task. There’s a crying need for creating an influential body of opinion leaders who will set score by what the Mahatma taught us.
(The writer is a former director of CBI.)