My siblings and I were the kind of earnest children who woke up early on the morning of January 26, switched on the television and watched with pride and glee the might of the Indian Republic as it paraded down Vijay Path in all its finery.
The colour, spectacle and splendour of the event fascinated us. It gave me goosebumps to think I lived in such a diverse and magnificent country. I was awestruck by the perfect synchronicity of the men and women who marched past and watched the gravity-defying stunts of the daredevil Army bikers nervously. I loved the caparisoned elephants on top of which India’s brave children waved shyly to the rest of us. We laughed when the President’s Bodyguard on their regal horses left a mess of poo on the road and felt bad for the school kids who’d have to dance on the same road later. I critiqued the tableaux and waited expectantly for the folk dances to start — kalaripayattu from Kerala, drummers from Punjab, the intimidating warriors’ dance from Nagaland. My brothers would drool over the gleaming Army trucks on display, while giving a running commentary on the make and year of commission. (We had a soft spot for the Army because Dad was part of it.)
And when the Indian Air Force jets flew over Vijay Path – a magnificent display of synchronicity, colour and acrobatics – we’d be on the edge of our seats. As soon as the last jet disappeared into the TV’s cloudy horizon, we’d rush out and clamber to the terrace to wave at the jets that reached the skies over Noida, where we lived, within seconds of leaving central Delhi.
I’m not a regular parade watcher, but old habits die hard and on Republic Day, if I wake early, I usually switch on the television and relive those childhood memories. This year, however, no matter when I wake up, I will not do that. This year, I will boycott the parade. For I believe that a country that cannot protect its women and children has no business showing off its military might.
Republic Day was created to celebrate the Indian constitution, which came into force on January 26, 1950. This is the document that guarantees each citizen the right to life and liberty, but has the government been able to uphold its part of that promise?
Look at the statistics: New Delhi, the capital of this billion-strong wannabe superpower, reported 706 cases of rape in 2012, which is the highest in the last 10 years and a 23.43 per cent increase from 2011. Given many cases are unreported or unregistered because of social stigma or police apathy, the real figure may be much higher.
But this is not only about Delhi. In India, a woman is raped every 22 minutes if you go by 2011 figures for registered rape cases.
But this isn’t only about rape. It’s about the state of women and girls in India. The sex ratio is a shocking 914 girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group as per the 2011 census. The corresponding figures for Delhi and Haryana are 866 and 830 girls to 1,000 boys respectively. Is this surprising? No. Because we all know rampant female foeticide, sex-selective abortions and an impotent government ensure that too many girls are not born. And if they are, many don’t survive beyond their first birthday.
But this isn’t only about crimes against unborn girls, toddlers and women.
I will boycott the Republic Day parade because it will be held at the very place where thousands of people were prevented from mourning the death of the woman who was gang raped in Delhi last month.
To whom does India Gate belong? The government or the people? Why were citizens barred from its ‘hallowed’ precincts?
All the Delhi protestors wanted were a few words of reassurance from those walking the corridors of power. Instead of answers, they got water cannons, lathis, an arbitrary shutdown of metro stations and silence. The silence of an arrogant state that is complacent enough to believe this too shall pass, that takes comfort in a history that suggests the anger of people who are consumed by their fight to survive does not last.
The government unleashed its insensitive police force on the protestors. The message was clear: We are the rulers, you are the ruled; never forget that.
On January 26, it is likely that those very forces that turned on protestors will march down those roads as members of the government, with their servants and minions cheering them on.
I refuse to be one of them.
For me, the once awe-inspiring and colourful display of might is now just an ostentatious display of power that mocks its citizens. It re-establishes the state’s brutal and chauvinistic power over us. I see it as a symbol of an arrogant government hopelessly and painfully out of touch with its people, and I reject it.
So I’ll say it again. A country that cannot ensure the safety of its women, of its unborn children, of its baby girls has no business showing off its military might to the world.