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Indian civic action shows way for 2013

If for its horrific character, any event toward the close of 2012 could overshadow the massacre of innocents in a United States primary school it may well be the gang rape and murder of a young student in Delhi, India.

The woman was set upon by a gang of men who, after perpetrating unspeakable sexual and other violence on her, flung her off a bus. In revulsion, the world, and pointedly Trinidad and Tobago, were brought to sobering, and chilling, realisation of the outer limits of civilized behaviour and expectations.

Around then, too, in T&T, everyone was moved to ponder the depths of depravity to which humanity is capable of falling when a father, in a fit of feral rage, bit chunks of flesh off the body of his days-old baby daughter. These events lectured the world about the beastly potential residing in people and in places that, by other measures must be considered advanced and knowing.

What is to be done? This is the question confronted in the US and in India, and should be engaged in a T&T that may become numbed to an insensate condition over horrors regularly intruding into normal life.

Overnight, New Delhi gained the shockingly unenviable reputation of being the rape capital of India. Internationally, people who had never before heard of it suddenly became aware that, in India, that vast democracy, with superpower ambitions, one woman is raped every 14 hours.

As it turned out, Indian democracy has also shown an exemplary way to respond to this ultimate smear on its international standing and its self-esteem. What started as a protest against the Delhi gang rape appeared to turn into a revolution.

Demonstrators occupied the streets, demanding tougher laws against rapists, more effective policing against this crime, higher public consciousness of the life experiences, the status of and the perils facing women, and more serious prosecution of rapists. Much was made of the fact that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took one week before issuing a statement on the rape that the world was talking about.

By when, however, the victim's body came back from Singapore, where specialist treatment had in vain been sought, Mr Singh and ruling party leader Sonia Gandhi were at the Delhi Airport. Their presence was meant to communicate political commitment to action against rape, commonplace gang rape, and under-reported sexual harassment.

If India will likely never be the same place again, that is to the credit of civic action by groups and individuals who even defied heavy-handed riot policing to express a revolutionary will to denounce and move against violations of women's rights.

Therein lies a timely lesson, at the dawning of 2013, for the world and for T&T, about the decisive potency of civic action to combat governmental abuses and to override, where necessary, political indifference.

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