Late on Friday evening, Women and child welfare minister Sathyavathi Rathod bore the brunt of the angry neighbours of the 27-year-old veterinary doctor. The ire was directed at the minister because her security personnel pushed away a couple of neighbours to make way for her. Given that the police have not covered themselves with glory in the case of the doctor’s murder, what the security did understandably led to verbal altercation.
Home minister Mahmood Ali, Animal Husbandry minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav, Education minister Sabitha Indra Reddy – also visited the family to pay their condolences. While it conveyed the support of the Telangana government in cracking the case at the earliest and promising to fast-track the trial, there was an insensitivity when it came to optics.
The sight of several policemen and minister’s security detail clearing the way for the political VIPs stood out like a sore thumb on a day when the Cyberabad police was accused of making the victim’s sister run from one police station to another because they could not decide whose jurisdiction the crime scene fell under. Even as the VIPs sat in their swanky SUVs till it reached the family’s doorstep, many voices articulated that the men in uniform are deployed to protect the VIP, not the common citizen whose taxes pay for their salaries.
In the wake of reports that there was no patrolling by the police, there is a case being made for reviewing the security of many of the ministers. A convoy of five to seven cars is hardly needed for anyone who does not face a security threat. Deploy those men to make the public secure instead of helping the minister feel over important, is the demand.
Prof Soujanya, one of the victim’s neighbours, said the government does not realise that for over 50 days, the RTC employees were on strike and there was hardly any public transport available. The Hyderabad Metro does not connect to this part of the city.
“I have no option but to opt for shared auto. But then I have to first check if there are any women in the vehicle before hopping in,” she said. Others added that Uber and Ola weren’t safe either for women to travel alone.
The home minister’s suggestion that the victim should have called 100 instead of her sister created a furore. But Cyberabad commissioner VC Sajjanar insisted that the response time when 100 is dialled is five minutes suggesting that it could have helped avert the crime.
But the question that arises is at what stage should a person dial 100. Is “feeling vulnerable and unsafe” as the doctor explained to her sister that night, adequate grounds to call the cops? Will the police be understanding if they get such requests? Will they drop every such person seemingly in distress to their home? Does the Telangana police have such manpower and womanpower to attend to so many such calls?
An alternative or supportive mechanism that ought to be developed would be to incorporate key employees at every establishment – from a toll plaza to a departmental store to parking lots – as men and women without uniform. Empower this large civil society force to be the citizen extension of the uniformed force, to be able to intervene, provide help to anyone in distress. Let them know the law and have the uniformed personnel on speed dial to be able to escalate the issue and ensure timely relief.
At the end of the day, there is little point turning into digital lynch mobs, demanding kangaroo court justice or blaming the government. The solutions have to come from within civil society. And it is the state’s job to help facilitate.