With India having declared her “tryst with destiny” they disappeared into their homes and got busy with the India developing story. You would see them in private photos and spaces but barely ever on the democratic canvas. While they labored over raising decent families, the political evolution of the country was left to a strange breed of Indians. These either rose to become leaders through labour union conflicts and college youth politics or came to inherit dynastic crowns.
Whatever their mode of entry, this power hungry brand of Indians were one in sullying the word “leadership”. From a fight for freedom from the Imperial crown, politics came to mean the fight to usurp power and money for self and the next seven generations to come. Bloated with a sense of self-importance, our MPs and MLAs cultivated the convenient delusion that the only India that mattered wore the tag “disadvantaged”. They dismissed, ridiculed, and even mocked the middle classes. The political growth of the country thus came to read as the story of educated India’s marginalization. By declaring politics dirty, the ruling class effectively put it out of reach of the regular God-fearing, family values driven, sanitized Indian citizenry.
This bulk of polite people grew increasingly disconnected with the drivers steering their destinies. Escaping to foreign lands was the most they did to deal with the mess their country was becoming. One profession they tabooed their children from considering was politics. While the good India stuck their head into the sand, the leaders grew fatter with the lucre of misappropriation. It was tolerable when limited to an inefficient, rude and corrupt government but all that changed on the 16 Dec night when a young, paramedical intern was beaten and raped in a private bus, only to breathe her last thirteen days later.
The inhuman brutality of that attack ending in the brazen throwing out of her mutilated body onto a busy road made India’s somnolent bhadra lok sit up. This was too close home. Cries of “it could be me” rang across the subcontinent. India’s sleeping giant was raising the head. The Lilliputians began to scramble off in rage and fright, dusting off years of apathy and resignation to step out, in twos and threes, in groups and clusters.
I joined them at Jantar Mantar, walking up on leaden feet, alone. There were grim faces, not a few teary eyes. I stood around, breathing the air of pained incredulity. The only two faces I recognized were those of Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechury, both senior CPM leaders. Some NSD persons and TV channel bosses rang familiar. But it was the faceless crowd that I was most at home with. It felt strangely like family. It felt like a complete emotional and mental and moral spa. At long last we were thinking community.
My countrymen, who are ordinarily gluttons for TV cameras, celebrating even if it is their elbow caught on the screen, were pushing the gadgets away. I stood by, watching with pride as some young Indians took the mike to speak with quiet but impassioned dignity. There was no shade of awkwardness. They communicated with confident clarity, quiet pain…no scramble for glory, I did not see any posing for the cameras, and for once the gadgets were inconsequential.
This was a gathering different from the usual raucous, grimy and unthinking milieu. I was caught off guard to receive a couple of apologetic "sorrys" in the crowd on accidentally brushing against strangers! People shifted and made space so you had a better view. When a voice rang out, requesting people to sit down, they promptly obeyed. I saw complete strangers using their grey hair to advantage, delivering motivating speeches to young groups. The crowd kept the odd misbehaviour in check. There were people pouring thoughts and emotions on paper lining the road. Twenty year olds spelled inconvenient truths into public address systems and people applauded affirmatively. I heard astonishing words and sensed a simmering anger born of frustration and fear.
There was a master mind in the throes of a public catharsis out at Jantar Mantar that day.
These ordinary citizens are the rightful owners of India’s airwaves, I thought to myself. Their education and self-sufficient means gives them both the onus and the ability to reclaim the Indian story. Let them come out in greater numbers, I prayed. Dear God, for far too long, they have sanctioned the moth eating of their country with their silence.
Pledge, pledge, and pledge...I screamed in my head. Pledge to raise our sons and daughters equally. Pledge to protest gender crimes. Pledge to speak, write, and communicate anguish at injustice. Pledge to reach out and connect. Pledge to demand a safe, equitable and clean India. Pledge not to let this assertion die.
I came away with a mental shot of the sign a protester carried, “I have not felt this hopeful in a long, long time.”