Whose campaign is it, anyway?

Silent observers when a ghastly crime occurs and 25,000 supporters for the victims once it becomes news. What does this tell us? Citizens’ awakening is an important aspect of civil society, but are individual cases of ‘no tolerance’ enough?

The news: At Amboli in Mumbai on October 20 after a night out a group of youngsters were in the street having their post-dinner paan. Some goons tried to molest one of the girls. After a verbal tiff, they returned with more men wielding sticks and knives. Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes, the men in the group, were assaulted in the most horrendous manner. Keenan died soon after reaching the hospital; Reuben survived a little longer. These two young men are dead. Their friends had tried getting through to 100, but no cops turned up. And no one helped them – restaurant staff, hawkers, passersby.

This news has been reported from the day after the incident. The campaign group is doing its best. However, I do hope they stay away from the ‘conscience-pricking’ lot. Let it not turn into a media event, although it is in danger of becoming one now that it has gone ‘viral’ on social networking sites. I understand the reach, but the idea being pushed is to have a “Jessica-like fast-track justice”. The Jessica Lall case dragged on for years because the culprit was influential and the people protecting him were too. There are still unresolved cases, including that of Aarushi and many unknown numbers.

To what extent is citizen journalism a viable alternative? Can it ensure that cops are on duty, that the emergency helplines are available, that goons don’t stalk the streets for prey, and most important of all that people who are around assist those who are being assaulted?

Think about it. It is easy for us sitting at our keyboards to talk about how the hawkers and those in the restaurant should have come forward, but how many of us would have done so when you see a bunch of guys molest a girl who is with her male friends and there is an argument, after which they have the gumption to return with weapons? It is not just fear of the consequences of intervention, but of having to give statements to the cops, attend court hearings, always be on tenterhooks that the criminals or their friends could trace us and make life miserable.

Would we, who are now talking about a campaign and candlelight vigil, ever go and help a female hawker?

What those who are fighting the case – and do not call it a cause because it will immediately become just another ‘rally’ing point  – should ensure the safety of the friends. Then, get the police to act. The culprits have been identified and confessed. There is talk of stricter laws. Of course. But can a law prevent people from indulging in such acts?

Indeed, as they say, this could happen to anyone. It is not a question of ‘could’. It has.

Posters and support groups need to push for access to emergency numbers besides 100, and the presence of police chowkies or at least cops at night every few kilometres where there is social activity going on. These culprits do not have clout, fortunately.

That is the reason I say: avoid the Jessica Lall reference. Her killer, who is now serving life imprisonment, has sought parole from the Delhi High Court to attend his brother’s wedding. What is shocking is that on earlier occasions when he was granted parole he would visit discotheques and violate the other conditions. Apparently, only a one-year conduct of the convict is taken into account for granting him leave. I do not see how convicts, unless they are dreaded criminals, would get away with misbehaviour inside the jail premises. Their conduct would out of necessity be quite unremarkable, and harmless within the confines of prison walls.

Should a person serving a life term be granted parole at all for anything, except perhaps a tragedy in the family? Can you picture this guy dancing at his brother’s wedding? I would imagine that his friends, or even onlookers, would take photographs on their cellphones and post them on some networking site, which will immediately be grabbed by the media to show us the ugly face of justice. Why do they not say anything before? After all, the Jessica Lall case was touted as a media victory.

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Just the other day, there was a protest against the immolation of Tibetans and the brutal Chinese regime on the eve of the G20 Summit to pressurise various government heads to raise the issue. It is a subject that gets mileage, but no concrete action is taken.

Before the rally, an email was circulated. It said, among other things:

We, the Delhi Chapter of Students for a Free Tibet, with a bulk number of members and Indian supporters are organizing a protest action tomorrow. The action will involve street theater, flash mob, and photo opportunity. If you're interested in covering it, please get in touch with the organizers directly. They can fill you in on more details.

"Photo opportunity"? This is what always worries me.

Citizens, however concerned they are, play into the hands of some establishment or the other. It could be the government, the police, the courts, the media and the ‘watchdogs’, who just wait and watch.

RIP Keenan, Reuben, Jessica, Aarushi, Shivani,Tibetans, and the thousands that go unreported and unsupported.

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