By Shaina NC
Vaishali Omble is an ordinary citizen of this country – young, with aspirations, aware of the opportunities and challenges. Except that she is no ordinary person. Her father, Tukaram Omble, captured Ajmal Kasab alive, eventually making the supreme sacrifice for his duty and our country. For her, time stood still when she saw images of her father fighting a heavily-armed Kasab with a stick.
Time moves on relentlessly and has great power to heal. Vaishali says that she too has moved on with life, though the events of 26/11 remain indelible in her heart. The sense of loss, the throbbing pain that refuses to subside, the question as to why her father had to die – these feelings just refuse to melt away in the mists of time. Nothing will be able to make good her irreparable loss, but there are three pointed queries that persist in her mind, without any evidence of being addressed, let alone resolved.
First, why have the perpetrators not been punished? We read reports that Ajmal Kasab is being maintained at the taxpayers’ expense, with Rs 16-50 crores already spent, depending on which report we choose to believe. He is being pampered with the choicest cuisine, as if it were his last meal, though the legal process is still far from culmination. Is it not possible to dispense quicker justice in such cases of extreme audacity and monumental scale? The larger question is whether enough has been done to secure the custody and subsequent conviction of the masterminds ensconced in Pakistan. It seems not. On the contrary, the Government seems to be in a hurry to secure enduring peace with Pakistan, on any terms. Has the immense pain suffered by Vaishali (and indeed several others) been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency, or for someone’s desire to go down in history as one who achieved the impossible?
Second, has enough been done to prevent a recurrence of an incident of this magnitude and brazenness? While the awareness is certainly there, enough preventive action on the ground seems to elude us. We continue to live in the same morass of uncertainty and unpreparedness, almost waiting for the next attack on our life and well-being. Vaishali, points out vehemently that the sticks have still not been replaced by modern weaponry, and the metaphor is too clear to be missed. Political bickering and passing-the-buck are still the preferred activities of the powers-that-be, rather than focusing on making this city a safer place to live.
And third, it’s appalling to see politicians of several ilk resort to unemotional tokenism – posing for pictures besides a newly-unveiled statue of Tukaram Omble. Representatives from channels and newspapers linger around, capturing these pictures with the intent to have some more ‘breaking news’. Can tokenism never be replaced by concrete action that stems from conviction?
While we struggle to mitigate Vaishali’s lingering pain, her desire is that “it should never happen again…to anyone”.
Is it really ‘eve-teasing’?
Reuben Fernandes and Keenan Santos have become well-known personalities, though sadly only posthumously. Their lives were snatched in a cruel twist of fate, by some ‘eve-teasers’. ‘Eve-teasing’ is probably one of the euphemistic terms in popular vogue today, while masking a problem that is considerably more serious.
‘Eve-teasing’ evokes romanticised notions of Bollywood cliché, wherein the hero teases the heroine as part of the wooing process and invariably, the latter succumbs to his ‘masculine’ charms. The problem that real women encounter in packed buses and trains, in restaurants and bars, virtually anywhere outside their homes, is hardly romantic. It is indubitable sexual harassment of women, irrespective of any demographic profile. In extreme instances, like in cases of Priyadarshini Mattoo, Madhumita Shukla, Shivani Bhatnagar, etc, it becomes pure and simple ‘culpable homicide amounting to murder’, and not the milder (and more romantic) ‘crime of passion’. The question is ‘How does it all end, if at all’?
In a country that’s eminently over-legislated and under-enforced, administration of the law is a challenge in itself. Police officers are indifferent to such crimes in the best of times, and callous in many situations. Neither their unwieldy processes, nor their antiquated technology, nor their attitudes are conducive to even comprehending the extent of the problem. Coupled with this are hare-brained though widely-held beliefs that women invite trouble upon themselves by dressing inappropriately. What this notion conveniently forgets is that as far as we know, this country allows personal freedom. But the fact that overworked, slothful and corrupt policemen will continue to proficiently pass the buck, is hardly unexpected. Haven’t we heard of several instances when cops have sought to harass young men and women enjoying a few moments of solitude in a city where even space to breathe is a luxury of sorts? Even their technology mirrors their callousness. In the Reuben-Keenan case, the emergency ‘100’ number had no response for several minutes, while the two young men stood up valiantly to a bunch of goons while defending their lady friends.
In my view, the real problem is that of attitude. Attitude of men, that’s fed on images of male-driven popular culture, false notions of machismo, and treatment of women as property. Even if the administrative machinery girds up its loins to enforce the freedom and safety of women, are the men ready to accept women as equals, especially in a society that’s churning quite rapidly? Are men ready to concede that their centuries-old domination of women is ending, and that the Constitution of the country is a catalyst in that process of change? I don’t believe so. As long as the mindsets remain fossilised, caught in some time-warp, these crimes of sexual harassment will continue to happen. Education is one antidote that can drive change, but obscurantist social norms and beliefs are a greater hindrance. Enlightened liberal people and the media must highlight these issues, whilst the deterrence of the enforcement machinery is an imperative.
(The writer is a social activist and member of BJP National Executive. She is a fashion designer by profession)