Moga encounter shames the country

The encounter in a moving bus in Punjab’s Moga district involving the molestation of a 13-year-old girl who was later pushed out to her death is chilling in the extreme. Her mother too was shoved out and is in hospital with injuries. The incident is a reminder that nothing fundamental has changed since the December 16, 2012 Delhi gang rape case where the victim was cruelly assaulted inside a moving bus. Though the Delhi case led to a complete overhaul of the country’s rape laws making punishment far more stringent than earlier, the Moga encounter indicates that far more needs to be done to effectively prevent such incidents. Whoever would have thought that travelling by public transport would turn out to be hazardous for women.

What makes it worse is that the Moga encounter happened inside a bus run by Orbit Aviation, a company owned by Punjab’s ruling Badal family. While the owners may not directly know the staff who manned the bus, they cannot escape responsibility for what happened. The government should bring in stringent regulations to govern the running of public transport services by private operators. There must be rules that the staff of public transport buses should be forced to adhere. CCTV cameras should be installed in all buses and must be checked frequently to ensure they are in working condition at all times. In addition, the transport department should organise counselling camps for the staff and address niggling issues as and when they are detected. Millions travel by public transport across the country – from bustling metropolises to isolated villages and towns – and it is incumbent upon the government to ensure adequate security to travellers especially women. The Moga encounter should trigger a bout of soul-searching for private owners of public transport services but evasive initial reactions from the Badal family indicate otherwise.

Public administration in India today is characterised by de-sensitisation to people’s needs and the Moga tragedy is a direct result of lawlessness and a complete absence of accountability where the rich and powerful more often than not get away, literally with murder. In the case of Moga, for instance, reports say no case has as yet been filed against the Badals despite the fact they are the owners of the bus in which the encounter occurred. Compare it with the Delhi Uber rape case in which the government went after the taxi aggregator. Such privileges, like the Badals enjoy, make some people more equal than others, and tend to encourage high-handedness and disdain for the larger public good.

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