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Is Delhi India’s Tahrir Square? It is, tweeted Shekhar Kapur, a famous Indian film director. Both the comparison with Tahrir Square and its symbolism might be lost on many in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world because India is touted as a model democracy. But if they have been watching the developments in India in the past several days, they would concur with Kapur’s view.
Kapur made the tweet when tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets in Delhi and laid siege to Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s Office) demanding action against perpetrators of rapes. The trigger for the protests was the gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a moving bus in New Delhi by six men, who threw her out after assaulting her fatally.
The girl is now desperately battling for life in a Singapore hospital, where she was taken for specialist treatment by the Delhi government in an air ambulance due to worries that any danger to her life would seriously endanger the life of the government. The case has received blanket coverage on cable television news channels and in the international media.
Delhi is being called the rape capital of India, much to the discomfiture and embarrassment of its chief minister Sheila Dikshit. But it’s a sobriquet that it has earned, not hurled at it, because the capital is the most unsafe city for women in the country where thousands of rapes have been reported and most of the culprits are still out on the streets. The youth had taken to the streets to wake up the authorities from their slumber, and such has been the fury and ferocity of the protests that both the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi were forced to give repeated assurances that the guilty would be punished, though the public has been skeptical about the sincerity of the government.
It’s in this context that the comparison with Tahrir Square assumes relevance. The symbolism was reinforced by another tweet made by Taslima Nasreen, a controversial Bangladeshi writer staying in India. “Women get raped in India every 20 minutes. But the authority doesn’t want women to protest against rape. Not even for 20 minutes,” she said, referring to the police crackdown on protesters in Delhi.
The most significant feature of the current protests, which is being hotly discussed and has caused consternation and ire among political circles, is that it has been organised through social media networks and is leaderless, like the Arab uprisings. Enraged politicians aligned with the government are calling it the onset of anarchy, though they themselves have caused this ‘anarchy’ by keeping themselves out of touch with the people and by failing to stop the rape wave.
Indian politicians are likely to learn their lessons from the latest events, and if they don’t, they will witness more of Tahrir Square.