One of the daily newspapers had a story of Nirbhay’s village in Ballia and how her grandmother and other relatives had gathered to pray for her. On hearing “Ballia” my memory spiked back to what now appears to be another era and the name of another famous person from Ballia in Eastern UP, the part of UP that is still relatively poor and backward compared to Central and western UP. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Ballia was represented in Parliament by Shri Chander Shekhar. Starting his political life in the Praja Socialist Party, he was later known as a “young Turk” in the Congress and was a member of the “Socialist forum” within the party. He later left the Congress Party and went on to become Prime Minister of the Samajwadi Janta Party government in 1990-91. He was, as affirmed to me by two eminent professors, a large hearted and generous man. With only a little exaggeration, one could call him a “Socialist Prince” who operated on the principle that a good leader must be generous to his subjects. As Prime Minister he led India into the fiscal-BOP crises of 1990-91.
Jump two decades to 2011 and 2012 and to twenty three year old Nirbhaya a child of the new era. She and her parents came to New Delhi from Ballia, which has probably changed little in these two decades, compared to Central and Western UP. These parents from one of the most ‘backward’ regions of India had educated their daughter to the extent possible. She was training to be a physiotherapist, acquiring a skill that would earn her a decent income and dreamt of a fulfilling urban middle class life. She represented the dream, not only of herself and her family, but a number of women and men who came out on the streets to protest her brutal rape and attempted murder on a bus. According to press reports, they included female house workers, lower middle class working women, young people from all walks of life and women of all ages, who saw something of themselves in her.
These two people from relatively poor and backward Ballia, one a dominant male member of the post-independence political elite and the other a young educated girl from a modest background are metaphors for an era of hierarchical patronage and government largesse (Mai Bap Sarkar) that has ended and the beginning of an era of democratic equality and fulfillment of the right to “Life, liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.”