And she died on a Saturday. In a land far away. With her close family around her. A girl whose body gave up the fight against the brutality inflicted on it. A girl who was out for a 6pm show with a friend in the capital of India. A girl whose only fault was to think that she was safe in modern India.
In a country used to brutality against women in the house and outside it, she became a symbol. When she lay in hospital in Delhi, she became a lightning rod to attract protests. Those protests were as much about what was done to her, as they were about what women in the national Capital, and elsewhere, face daily.
It is not that it was the only brutal rape to take place in India; all of us who consume news daily, read the litany of tortures inflicted on women. It was not even that it was the only gang rape – again we read every day the casual violence inflicted by a bunch of men on a single woman at their mercy. This simply was the tipping point of anger at being mauled, pinched, looked up, molested, harassed and assaulted with words, with actions, of rapes that are committed in the home and outside. Girls, their mothers, their sisters, their fathers, their friends, their brothers turned up spontaneously to tell the government – hear us for we are in pain.
No government anywhere in the world, no police force no matter how efficient it is can prevent a random, violent incident. What the government and the police force can do, when faced with a situation of public grief, is to act appropriately. To provide timely information, to communicate and to reach out.
The Government of India is not an occupying force; it is accountable and answerable to the people of India. It cannot bluff its way through a situation. Unfortunately, instead of talking to the people, instead of reaching out, the government put up barriers, used violence against protesters and then to compound it, it lied.
The ancient Greek dramatist, Aeschylus, said: ‘In war, truth is the first casualty’. But, we aren’t at war. It is not even a revolution, it is a bunch of concerned citizens worried about their safety and security. Battering them with water cannons and then tear gas and labelling them all as lumpen to justify the violence is positively Goebbelsian. If not for social media and the fact that a number of protesters were active on social networking sites, this lie would have become the accepted version of events.
It is the outrage caused because of the government attack on average citizens, and then their barefaced lie about it, followed by a game of pass-the-buck between chief minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar that no one really believed the official version of how constable Tomar died.
Finally, the moving of a critically ill patient to another country was greeted with cynicism on social media and this was later proven to be true. Her move to Singapore now seems to be a political rather than a medical decision.
The great media critic AJ Liebling said: ‘Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one – the thing about social media is that each individual on it owns their thoughts. Those thoughts may be right or wrong but they are independent.
Unlike mainstream media; social media too are diverse and fragmented to be controlled. It can neither be cajoled with advertisements, nor threatened with licences being revoked. Ministries cannot send ‘directives’ to those on social media, nor can Income Tax raid millions of citizens to keep them in line. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the government is trying to stifle and restrict social media.