In memory of the girl (and the countless millions like her)

Black of grackles glints purple as, wheeling in sun-glare,
The flock splays away to pepper the blueness of distance.
Soon they are lost in the tracklessness of air.
I watch them go. I stand in my trance.
Another year gone…
(“Grackles, Goodbye“, Robert Penn Warren)

and so 2012 crawled to an end. its final days were bitter and angry. like most of my friends, i have been badly shaken by the brutality of the attack on that 23 year old paramedic student. this anger was later tinged with disbelief when the government decided to shift that girl, who was already in a very critical state, to a singapore hospital for organ transplants even though it was very clear that an organ transplant could not be carried out any time soon. the government behaved egregiously in other ways as well. first, it teargassed and lathicharged students amassing to protest against the rape. later, just after the girl had passed away, it placed curbs on those assembling to mourn her death. metro stations in central delhi were closed. people seeking to exit from the connaught place metro station, the main interchange point for delhi, were stopped by cops who wanted to know where they wanted to go, if they had any proof supporting that claim. #democracy #fail

if there is any saving grace in this whole sordid saga, it is that attention has again been focused on the question of violence against women, and how to ensure their safety.

however, true to form, most of the suggestions have bordered on the insane. a senior cop made his cellphone number public saying folks in distress can call him anytime. the media has fixated on fast-track courts, chemical castration for rapists and other penal, deterrent measures.

two stories in today’s economic times, by the TOI’s kim arora and me, look at the question of women’s safety from a slightly different angle. in 2005, the delhi police launched a programme called parivartan. this sought to reduce the incidence of rape in the capital by 25% each year. despite some early successes, it was not scaled up. organisational factors — like an inability to institutionalise promising new initiatives, lack of funding, etc — were to blame.

the second story takes a closer look at the context in which parivartan was conceptualised, the context indeed in which the delhi police continues to work. this story is more for the uninitiated souls like me — about the context of patriarchy and poor legal frameworks in which complaints of rape and violence against women are processed.

as such, parivartan is an important thing to study. at a time when the country is talking about answers, it is useful to look at its nuanced approach to the problem of violence against women. also, it ran aground for a mix of organisational and legal reasons. it might be an idea to try and avoid the pitfalls that nobbled this earlier, well-meaning programme.

(i am closing with some photos from the protest last saturday at jantar mantar)


3 responses to “In memory of the girl (and the countless millions like her)”

  1. Smita Premchander

    thank you Rajshekhar.

  2. Smita Premchander

    As you can imagine, I cry on most days after this crime happened… just thinking of the extent to which we have deteriorated in india;…. social attitudes, acceptance of crime against women, against the poor,….

    And with this particular crime, i am also horrified to see the extent to which people are now using her name, the incident… the other day I came across the announcement of an evening party where in addition to all the revelry that had been planned already, they re-circulated an invitation to people to join, because they would now start with remembering this girl… was sick.

    A heinous crime like this.. will get talked about, and get “normalised” …t hat is what is hurting me the most.

  3. thanks for that. corrected link.

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I am an Indian journalist with interests in energy, environment, climate and India’s ongoing slide into right-wing authoritarianism. My book, Despite the State, an examination of pervasive state failure and democratic decay in India, was published by Westland Publications, India, in January 2021. My work has won the Bala Kailasam Memorial Award; the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award; and five Shriram Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism. Write to me at


…une plongée dans les failles béantes de la démocratie indienne, un compte rendu implacable du dysfonctionnement des Etats fédérés, minés par la corruption, le clientélisme, le culte de la personnalité des élus et le capitalisme de connivence. (…a dive into the gaping holes in Indian democracy, a relentless account of the dysfunction of the federated states, undermined by corruption, clientelism, the cult of the personality of elected officials and crony capitalism).” Le Monde

…a critical enquiry into why representative government in India is flagging.Biblio

…strives for an understanding of the factors that enable governments and political parties to function in a way that is seemingly hostile to the interests of the very public they have been elected to serve, a gross anomaly in an electoral democracy.”

M. Rajshekhar’s deeply researched book… holds a mirror to Indian democracy, and finds several cracks.The Hindu

…excels at connecting the local to the national.Open

…refreshingly new writing on the play between India’s dysfunctional democracy and its development challenges…Seminar

A patient mapping and thorough analysis of the Indian system’s horrific flaws…” Business Standard (Image here)

33 മാസം, 6 സംസ്ഥാനങ്ങൾ, 120 റിപ്പോർട്ടുകൾ: ജനാധിപത്യം തേടി മഹത്തായ ഇന്ത്യൻ യാത്ര… (33 months, 6 states, 120 reports: Great Indian journey in search of democracy…)” Malayala Manorama

Hindustan ki maujooda siyasi wa maaashi soorat e hal.” QindeelOnline

What emerges is the image of a state that is extractive, dominant, casteist and clientelist.Tribune

…reporting at its best. The picture that emerges is of a democracy that has been hijacked by vested interests, interested only in power and

Book lists

Ten best non-fiction books of the year“, The Hindu.

Twenty-One Notable Books From 2021“, The Wire.

What has South Asia been reading: 2021 edition“, Himal Southasian


Journalism is a social enterprise…,”

Democratic decay at state level: Journalist M Rajshekhar on book ‘Despite the State’,” The News Minute.

Covid-19 en Inde : “des décès de masse” dont un “État obscurantiste est responsable,” Asialyst.


JP to BJP: The Unanswered Questions“.
Mahtab Alam’s review of “JP to BJP: Bihar After Lalu and Nitish”.

Urban History of Atmospheric Modernity in Colonial India“. Mohammad Sajjad’s review of “Dust and Smoke: Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism, India, c1860-c1940”.

Westland closure: Titles that are selling fast and a few personal recommendations,” by Chetana Divya Vasudev, Moneycontrol. (Because this happened too. In February, a year after DtS was released, Amazon decided to shutter Westland, which published the book. The announcement saw folks rushing to buy copies of Westland books before stocks run out.)

Time to change tack on counterinsurgency” by TK Arun, The Federal.

All Things Policy: The Challenges of Governing States” by Suman Joshi and Sarthak Pradhan, Takshashila Institute (podcast).

The Future of Entertainment“, Kaveree Bamzai in Open.

On What India’s Watching“, Prathyush Parasuraman on Substack.

The puppeteers around us“, Karthik Venkatesh in Deccan Herald.

Will TN election manifestos continue ‘populist’ welfare schemes?“, Anna Isaac for The News Minute.

Why wages-for-housework won’t help women“, V Geetha in Indian Express.

The poor state of the Indian state“, Arun Maira in The Hindu.

Book discussions

26 December, 2021: Rangashankara, Bangalore, a discussion with Dhanya Rajendran.

16 November: Rachna Books, Gangtok, a discussion with Pema Wangchuk.

29 August: Books In The Time of Chaos, with Ujwal Kumar.

21 May: Hyderabad Lit Fest with Kaveree Bamzai and Aniruddha Bahal.

28 March: Paalam Books, Salem, Tamil Nadu.

19 March: The News Minute, “Citizens, the State, and the idea of India

6 March: Pen@Prithvi, with Suhit Kelkar

20 February: A discussion between scholars Usha Ramanathan, Tridip Suhrud, MS Sriram and me to formally launch Despite the State.

6 February: DogEars Bookshop, Margoa.

5 February: The Polis Project, Dispatches with Suchitra Vijayan.

30 January: Founding Fuel, “Systems Thinking, State Capacity and Grassroots Development“.

25 January: Miranda House Literary Society