The politics of renaming

While the protests against the gang rape (and subsequent death) of the 23-year-old student in Delhi continue and the nation is yet to recover from the trauma, ideas are being floated, mainly by politicians, about renaming roads, flyovers and other public spaces after the woman. Shashi Tharoor, Union minister of state for human resources development, went on to suggest that the victim’s name should be made public so that the forthcoming modified anti-rape law can be named after her.

One such idea was floated by Congress MLA from Vile Parle Krishna Hegde, who suggested that the work-in-progress Milan Subway flyover should be named after the woman. This idea is not only a prime example of sham symbolism, but also suggests that politicians would go to any lengths to put themselves into the spotlight. It is political opportunism at its very best.

Take the other suggestion of Tharoor to name the law after the woman. In principle, there is nothing wrong in the suggestion. In an age of really short public attention spans, it will allow the country to remember her for posterity. But here’s the thing. The Delhi woman was not the first victim of sexual crime, and there have been far more brutal sexual assaults on women — and even infants — that have never been acknowledged by society. Why is she special to politicians? For one reason only — that the case has galvanised the country and that there is no better time to make your political idea heard than now.

What our politicians are really shying away from is a mindset change and a demand for change in our value system. It is far more holistic in nature than short-term quick fixes. Social reform in the true sense needs patience, it involves an immense amount of hard work, and it is often done without credit. But our hollow political philosophy does not let politicians deal with such things in a pragmatic manner. That, then, is the real tragedy in this episode.

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