As India celebrates its 67th Independence Day, the usual stock taking and introspection of hits and misses will follow. In the life of a nation, a year is a short period especially when the elections (which were still two years away!) cause a sort of paralysis in its highest legislative body i.e. the Parliament.
However, this has been a year of extra-ordinary soul searching for India and its people. The gang-rape in Delhi on 16th December 2012 and the events that followed unleashed the long bottled up anger and frustration of not only Indian women but all those who feel insecure about the well-being of the women they are related to. Protests were organised, resignations were demanded and naming and shaming happened immediately after the incident-the usual. But what followed was unusual, the blaming slowly turned into deep introspection in certain sections of society. For the first time the debate moved beyond rape being a law and order issue to it being a deeper societal malice rooted in hypocrisies of modern India towards women rights, the unequal pace of change between different sections of society (amplified by remarks from several political and religious leaders) and the patriarchal conditioning of our otherwise invisible but always-at-work mindsets. The naming-shaming-blaming coupled with this churn of the Indian soul infused such alacrity in the state that the Anti- rape law was amended and fast track courts were set up within a few months.
Young Indians not only saw these changes through but also debated the specifics of the anti-rape bill. Some dinner table discussions centred on whether death penalty will prevent such crimes in future while other dinners were more tense with more difficult and personal conversations around what constitutes marital rape.
All this while, we were here at Oxford removed physically but not mentally from the turmoil in India. Indian students here discussed and debated this issue in every forum they had access to, whether it was an interactive session with Indian Members of Parliament, talks by women rights activists or in their socio-policy-development related academic courses. And also at dinner tables.
Speaking of Oxford, as any other journal/magazine worth its name, we will also take a stock of not only policy and development issues where we have come far but also those which we have been brushing aside since independence. The optimists will be surprised that there are any such long standing issues where we have had little or no progress in these 67 years! But to name a few- land acquisition, railways, securing women rights (still!), access to healthcare.. and the list could go on. Through this Independence day series, we have urged our writers to highlight the elements of this forgotten list which pops up its head every now and then but still manages to take us by surprise.
As for this year in the life of India, the deep tragedy in December jolted us but again reinforced the independent spirit of India. Not chained by paralysed politics, inaction or indifference, India marched on and moved a few steps forward on the issue of women’s security. The coming year will probably have a more distinguished place in the history book– it being an election year and seemingly the first one under the super-intense scrutiny of social media. However, this year should not be forgotten, as a shaken India struggled to lose itself and find itself again. Of course, the struggle for freedom never ends. It needs to be won again and again. And again.
Aparajita Bharti is pursuing Master of Public Policy at Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Twitter: @BhartiAparajita