Good governance isn't God's gift

Smita PrakashJustice JS Verma, after submitting the report recommending changes in laws related to sexual crime, said that he was shocked over the seemingly unsympathetic attitude of the administration to the public outpouring of grief, and their resultant frustrated anger should serve as an eye-opener to our leaders. Since governments don’t take people’s reactions seriously one presumes they will take commissions and committees they appoint seriously.

Try telling a mid-level government officer that a particular stretch of road is unsafe for women. His first reaction is of disbelief because that stretch falls in his area. At best, he will ask his junior to “find out if it is true.” That officer will not act unless the senior has “put it in writing.”

Demonstrators denounce the police and government following the rape of a student in the capital last month. Pic/AFP

He might then ask his junior to “do the needful.” That junior then might inform the police station to… yes, “find out if it is true.” A few more steps, if at all, and then a backward route shall be traced to who exactly complained. And sure enough if you were the silly person to have complained, a good two weeks later, you will get a knock at the door from the neighbourhood cop.

A sneer on the face, he will ask, “Were you the one who complained about the road being unsafe for women? If you don’t live near it, then how do you know? Were you ‘eve teased’ personally? Did you see anyone being ‘eve teased’? Do you know the person? Why did you not tell the police when you saw the incident? Did you know the ‘eve teaser’? Have you seen him before? Were you trying to shield him?” Your answers don’t matter. Uninterested in correcting the wrong, he is just annoyed that you complained about something in ‘his area’.

Which are the most beautiful localities in any city? It is where senior government officers and ministers live. Public Works Departments install fountains, lay tarred roads, plant flowering trees, and there is always a Mother Dairy, a Super Bazar and a CGHS dispensary nearby.

There would be plenty of parking spaces even though all the residents have official cars with drivers. Garbage gets collected in time, there are no power outages, telephone lines are neatly tucked in, boundary walls are painted and free of posters, and there are no loudspeakers blaring religious hymns or calling for prayers. Everything is taken care of. This insulation, nay secession, from the mess outside their safe islands of comfort has made our officials complacent and insensitive.

The trial against the five accused in the Delhi gang rape case has slipped off the front pages of newspapers. It is no longer ‘Breaking News’ on TV channels. The candle light brigade has also disappeared from Jantar Mantar. Does it mean that people have forgotten the victim or their desire to bring an end to sexual crimes? If you speak to cops, officials or politicians, you would think, “Yes”. Many say, “See, we told you, people will get bored and move on.” They don’t realise that people haven’t moved on in real terms. They do have to go about earning a livelihood; there are bills to pay, exams to take, meals to be cooked and dishes to be done.

It is plain wrong to take advantage of people’s surly silence. Safety and security of women is just one step above the basic livelihood needs. Disregarding it means that the rights enshrined in our constitution are mere rhetoric. JS Verma committee also noted that “failure of governance” is the root cause for sexual crime in the country. By ignoring people’s demand for good governance, administrators are overturning the constitution.

Good governance is one of the essential principles of democracy. Democratically elected leaders are placed in positions of power to govern in a just and able manner. Our lawmakers seem to be under the impression that just because they have been elected to office, their motives and manner is beyond questioning. They forget that the era of participatory governance has dawned upon India. People are no longer satisfied with merely voting once every five years and then sitting back. They are demanding similar accountability from administrators too.

There are enough expert reports gathering dust in musty government offices giving out the roadmap on how things can be corrected in the executive, legislature and judiciary. What is needed is the will in politicians and the bureaucracy to implement those recommendations. With just 15 months to go before the next general elections, the choice, which right now is theirs, will then become ours.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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