India is not a banana republic. But certain incidents indicate that the country is rapidly forfeiting the right to be counted among the civilized nations.
Take the rape of a Russian girl in Goa. Shanta Ram Naik, a member of the Rajya Sabha, the house which sets tone to public debates, wants a different treatment of the rape cases in which women move around with strangers after midnight. The member expressed no regret for the rape because the Russian girl was outside her place past 12 at night.
I thought the Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat would have taken Naik to task. But nothing like that happened. Instead, the chief minister said that a girl who went out with a man at night was asking for something like rape. He did not care for the impression he was creating through his statement inside India and in foreign countries. Asked about the action his government would take against the member, the chief minister said: Let the Russian government write to me. Yet his police have been trying to bribe the girl repeatedly. The last offer made to her was Rs. 15 lakh.
Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna had no word of condemnation either. He merely said: Foreigners should be more careful. I do not know whether the Minister for Tourism would agree with the Foreign Minister. But how does Goa expect foreigners or, for that matter, Indians to visit the place where one of the ministers of the state says, that Goa is the rape capital of the world.
The incident prompted Moscow's Consul General in Mumbai, Alexander Mantytsky, to write to the Indian authorities about the concern he felt on behalf of his nation. According to one estimate, the Russians make up about 40,000 of the 400,000 international tourists who visit Goa every year. Sabina Martins, who runs the NGO, Bailancho Saad, has let the cat out of the bag when she says: No longer does tourism advertisements talk about the natural beauty or the hospitable nature of the state. It is now promoted along the wine, women and song line, which is different from the local culture.
What has shocked me the most is the silence of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president. She is probably busy calculating what political repercussion the action against the accused, John Fernandes, a heavyweight in the state, would have on the Congress government in Goa. True, the party rule hangs in balance because the revolt of a few members can make the government fall or bring the opposition to power. But is this what counts ultimately? No morality, only politics!
|Tourists frolic on the Anjuna beach in Goa, which is being described by some as the rape capital of India.
A television network has asked for three days in a row why no action has been taken against the rapist. Some parliament members have also posed the same question to the government. But it has preferred to remain silent. The question is whether the state machinery has any responsibility to pursue the case where a rape has been committed. The accused may be let off or there may be nothing proved against him. But how can the police, looking after the law and order machinery, sit silent? It is apparent that political pressure can let off the rapists.
This is confirmed by a case in Haryana. After 19 years, a special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has sentenced the former state Director General of Police SPS Rathore to six months imprisonment and fined Rs 1000. He was accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl. It is a travesty of justice that the police Director General got only six months in prison. The court is not to blame for a light sentence because the CBI, for obvious reasons, refused to charge the DGP for the real crime. The FIR was filed nine years after the molestation and that too was changed to a memorandum. The pressure used can well be imagined. Still the state government found Rathore so useful, then IG, that he was promoted after four years of his committing the crime.
How powerful was Rathore can be judged from the fact that goons were placed outside the victim's house to accost and harass her whenever she stepped out. Her house was pelted with stones smashing the windows. Three years later she consumed insecticide and died a day later. Her father sold the house in Panchkula, near Chandigarh, and went to Kolkata. Two brothers of the victim faced 11 cooked-up cases which went on for years before they were acquitted. The mother says in a statement: We were threatened when we filed a memorandum against Rathore for an exemplary punishment. But Rathore was given bail even for the light imprisonment. The entire police system in Haryana and the CBI which played with the investigation has to be cleaned up. Punjab and Haryana Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal can appoint a special team to reinvestigate the case. The Supreme Court did so in the case of Gujarat where it found the judgment was not correct.
It is time that the government introduces the much-awaited police reforms and overhauls the judicial system. How can a case of molestation against a former DGP go on for 19 years? All those ministers, bureaucrats and police officials who are responsible for the cover up should be brought to justice. Let this be a test case to punish even the highest in the country. After knowing the details, the nation feels abhorred and inaction would look like a compromise with pressure and power.
Yet another affront comes from an American ice cream company, Haagen-Dazs. While opening its branch at Delhi, it puts outside a board to say that only international passport holders can buy ice cream, thereby meaning that no Indian could enter. This was an outrage for a sovereign country. The company removed the board but it did not tender an apology. The company merely said that the advertisement idea did not work the way it imagined it would. A simple question that the company should answer is: Would it have dared to put up such aboard in America, the country which owns the company? The developed countries consider the third world a playground to test their arrogant and bizarre ideas. But then the third world has become prone to humiliations.
(The writer is a veteran Indian journalist and former diplomat. He was also a one-time member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament.)