Damini. Amanat. Nirbhaya. And now Jyoti Singh Pandey.
India’s airwaves are thick with comments and critiques and that generic canard.
Just as soon as her friend appeared on TV, a virtual electronic frenzy broke out. I first caught news of the interview on Facebook. It was late night. The laden air sagged under the chill outside and sobering thoughts of the daughter leaving home the morning after made the barrenness of his narration even more despondent, sucking the air out of my lungs. It all hit together. The shame, the regret and the unbearable bareness of his pain. The only edge of annoyance was with the cameraman. Where was the need to zoom in onto his nostrils, watering eyes and the dry lips? His burden was writ large on the screen, screaming agony for all to see.
This was the “aam aadmi”, the “ordinary citizen”, the “regular folk”. This was you and me, I thought.
I watched and heard him, unmoving and what I really registered was his non-verbal cues. In his tone and pitch and volume was that defeated resignation, almost a dignified acceptance that defines us ordinary citizens. He was oddly apologetic about expressing any hope. There were no histrionics, no playing to the gallery. He was matter of fact. I did not hear any peppering of bitterness or expectations. He did not dramatize, did not glorify, did not embellish. He skirted the gory details with socially acceptable words. He described it skeletally, exactly as it had unfolded.
A regular Indian citizen was out with a friend, there was no safe transport and when the two came to be assaulted, there was no system in place to alleviate their misery. The structure that should have been their safety net presented itself as a useless goulash of bickering police vans, impotent onlookers and inefficient hospitals. Their horrific experience followed a predictable path ending in loss of life and limb. Their fault?! Bad timing? Wrong country? Ill informed decision? Or an outright immorality?!
These questions beg answers for now. It is the hot air balloon however, that has been set afloat by some in the aftermath that I find the most astonishing.
I am being told it is us, you and me, the junta that has blood on their hands. There were people around who stood gawking at their naked, wounded bodies on the cold, hard road, we are being told. Vehicles slowed down, took it all in and throttled away. The citizens of this modern democracy who cry themselves hoarse demanding professionalism from their state failed the most basic test of humanity. Like faithful mirror images, they reflected their leaders’ narcissistic dismissiveness of another’s pain.
So there is this talk of finding us, the ordinary citizens, punishing us, hanging us and castrating us!
And I am wondering! When did we come into this power to influence events? We have been invisible so long, I barely know me. I am the aam aadmi with my cyclic, one day ballot power. For the rest of the year, I remain dormant, rendered impotent by the corrupt inefficiency and toxic politics of my government. I am the product of a system that has banished the word “integrity” from its lexicon. I have grown up believing you either need money or contacts to breathe easy in the country I was born in. I truly believe that an honest, hardworking, tax paying Indian citizen does not count for much. Have you not seen my tribe on Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) or Satyam-eva-Jayate (SMJ)? Those are the only two forums that have bothered with me. And for all their smart marketing, I have laid bare my soul to them, sharing my life’s experiences with that same hallmark decency I show every place else.
But the din in the air continues to credit me with far more. Perhaps the term “ordinary citizen” is a misnomer in that case. Before I accept the guilt of inaction that the powers that be are trying to heap on me, I am trying to decide where in our modern democracy the buck really gets to rest.
Does it come to a stop at all?