KirtiChakra geeta chopra

Maanjhi jo naav duboye, use kaun bachaaye?

Public Memory is Notoriously Short

All hell broke loose on 17 Dec 2012. It was, as if someone had pulled the plug out!  Thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the bestial gang rape of a 23 year old medical student. To the lay public it seemed that such a thing had never happened before. Nobody mentioned the gruesome case of the Chopra children. Here is what happened, only 35 years ago, in Delhi:

  • 16 year old Geeta Chopra and her younger brother,  Sanjay had gone for recording to the studio of All India Radio for a recording on 26 Aug 1978. They were the only two children of Capt (later Rear Admiral)  and Mrs MM Chopra.

  • Those days, it was common for people, especially students to ‘thumb’ a lift. The Chopra children managed a lift up to Gole Dakkhana, and from there, they got another lift in a Fiat car, but that proved to be their last journey on the Earth.

  • The Fiat car was a virtual trap. Its inside door  knobs and handles had been removed, and therefore, as soon as the children got in, they were prisoners of the gangsters Billa and Ranga, who had stolen the car a few days before the above incident.

  • The dead bodies of the children were discovered on 29 Aug, 78. The post mortem showed enough evidence to prove that the children had  valiantly fought till their last breath.

  • The criminals were apprehended a few months after  the crime. They were hanged to death in 1982, nearly four years after the  crime.

  • Geeta was awarded ‘Kirti Chakra’ and bravery awards were instituted in the memory of the Chopra children which are granted even now. The picture above shows Geeta’s mother receiving the Medal.

The cult of ‘thumbing a lift’ was at its peak in 1978 

The media, those days was not as powerful as it is now, but the event did send out shock waves. The immediate effect on society was that people stopped seeking and giving ‘lift’ to strangers. As children we had heard the story of a good Samaritan who was always ready to help a person in need. One day, as he was returning from the market, he saw a ‘cripple’ walking on the lonely road with the help of a stick. When he reached near him, the poor man fell down. Our hero stopped to help him, but as soon as he got off the horse, another man appeared and the two of them looted the kindly Samaritan. They also deprived him of his horse, but as they were leaving, the old man yelled out to them and said, Just do me one favor. Do not tell any one in the town about what you did to me. If people get to know of it, no one will ever stop to help the needy!”

Nearer home, this is exactly what happened. A caricature artist made a sketch depicting a man with a cross, thumbing for a lift. The message was clear and loud, “If you get into the car of a stranger, you might be walking into a coffin!”  Today, even taxi drivers do not pick up a man, unless they feel safe enough!

Ever since the kidnapping and death of the Chopra children, ’thumbing lifts’ has ‘Gone With the Wind’

Crime, Law and Punishment

Crime is not new to mankind. We enact laws to protect our citizens, but the criminals are, forever, one step ahead. In 1978, Billa and Ranga used a car without door handles as a trap, and this time, the culprits used a luxury bus for the same purpose. There is an old adage:

“The robber is an artist. The police is merely a critic!”

There is an outcry for stringent laws to protect our daughters and sisters. A committee has been appointed, and there is no doubt that they will produce an airtight statute. If I were asked, I would offer the following views:

  • Certainty of punishment is a greater deterrent than its severity. Death penalty is the ultimate sentence, but if there is a good chance for the criminal to get away, he will take a calculated risk, and commit the crime.

  • Justice delayed, is justice denied. If the legal machinery takes several years to deliver justice, and during the trial period, the accused has the provision of bail and all the facilities inside the jail (including security) then it is more like a paid holiday, since the prisoner can also go on parole, if he is well-connected.

  • The law must apply equally to all regardless of the status and political connections of the offender.

To amplify the last point permit me to quote just two cases:

  • Jessica Lal was shot dead. But no one fired the gun!

  • Priyadarshini Mattoo’s soul is crying out for justice, 16 years after she was tormented to death.

A Peep into the History

Looking back, we find that in our country, resolute governments have been able to reform society. Here I may mention two cases: the Sati tradition in which widows were burnt alive along with their husbands as a religious ritual and the Thuggee cult which prevailed in India for over 500 years. The Sati Prahtha is all but gone. Thuggee of the old kind is gone, but it is beginning to return in another incarnation. My information is based on what I have seen on the Internet. We are told that the “Thugs” had the social and even the religious sanction. They joined caravans and won the confidence of the travelers. Thereafter they laid a trap exactly as Billa-Ranga and the Bus driver did on 16 Dec 2012, and robbed the victims before killing them. Here are a couple of pictures of the traditional Thugs:

The ‘thugs’ lived as clans, and they had no compunction while committing their crimes

This is how they killed their victim.


British suppression

The Thuggee cult was suppressed by the British rulers of India in the 1830s. The arrival of the British and their development of a methodology to tackle crime meant the techniques of the Thugs had met their match. Suddenly, the mysterious disappearances were mysteries no longer and it became clear how even large caravans could be infiltrated by apparently small groups,  that were in fact acting in concert. Once the techniques were known to all travellers, the element of surprise was gone and the attacks became botched, until the hunters became the hunted.

Reasons for the success of the British mission to win over this menace are given in an article in Wikipedia, which can be accessed by clicking on the following link:

The Road Ahead

The massive public outrage and the unprecedented media cover will not permit the courageous fight-to-death of this 23 year old brave heart go waste. A new law will be enacted, and the government will be forced to take some concrete steps to improve  law enforcement. Both TV and the print media have interviewed hundreds of people who are active in these fields. However, there does not seem to be any consensus on what should be done to prevent re-occurrence of such an incident. The root cause as identified by the various authorities can be grouped under the following categories:

  • Insufficient legal protection and need for more stringent laws.

  • Delay in legal proceedings and need for ‘fast track’ courts.

  • Indecent scenes in the movies and the need for better censors.

  • Use of provocative dresses by girls, and need for restraint on that count.

  • Free availability of alcohol. The need to control it and also re-locate liquor vends.

  • One or two elderly scholars have recommended legal prostitution.

  • A suggestion has also been made to subsidize the development and sale of robotic sex dolls to facilitate self-gratification, and thus reduce the male urge to resort to violence.

  • A suggestion has been made to chemically castrate the offenders, as a deterrent.

Need to Control Public Transport and Improve Road Safety

 It is common knowledge that thousands of private vehicles are being used as taxis and Buses. They employ drivers of dubious character and qualifications and are, in effect, moving coffins on the roads. There is enough reason to believe that these vehicles ply with the tacit approval of the police. It is a well known fact that our roads are amongst the most unsafe in the world. More than 1,30,000 people lost their lives last year and four times that number suffered injuries. The annual loss to the economy is nearly THREE percent of our GDP. And this figure is, incidentally higher than our defense budget! In addition to being a menace on the roads, they are a threat to our daughters and sisters much greater than the potential rapists and kidnappers

This Above All!

In my not so humble opinion, the prime need of the hour is to put an effective check on the practice of the “HAFTA” prevalent all over the country. Nearly all laws can be institutionally bypassed by paying a negotiated amount to the enforcement authority every week. This is an evil which is as serious as the ‘THUGGI’ system which the British were able to check.

The Demonstrations in Delhi and the Response of our Police

Some of my friends who have been associated with organizing rallies and protest marches tell me that it is extremely difficult to muster even a few thousand people and that too for a short period. In many cases, the ‘demonstrators’ have to be hired or transported from the neighboring villages at the organizers’ expense. They are fed and paid to shout slogans and carry placards. The job of the police is to prevent them from going beyond the limits laid down for  protests and rallies, and to prevent violence. In this case, the protests were purely voluntary and they were not supported by any particular party or organization. The response was unprecedented. Without commenting on the events, I am placing a few pictures below, since these photographs convey more than what can be written or said in words. In my not so short life, I have never seen a spontaneous demonstration of this magnitude. 

The child under the foot of the senior police officer is most certainly a minor!  This picture should be enough evidence to proceed against him.

 Which daughters and sisters are we talking about? Do the above young ladies not fall in that category? Did some one speak to them and ask them why they are there? If not, why are they being treated like criminals? What would they do if their own daughters were there. Would they strike them with  lathis? Is someone listening??? Or, are these pictures telling lies???!!!

The Summing Up

I suspect I am getting old. I am no longer able to choose the right words to express my anguish and sorrow. In utter helplessness, I have turned to an old film song for help. The lyric was penned by Anand Bakshi (1920-2002)  who incidentally started his life as a Signalman in the army. The last stanza is very relevant in the present case.

माना तूफ़ान के आगे नहीं चलता ज़ोर किसी का 

मौजों का दोष नहीं है यह दोष है और किसी का

मंझधार में नय्या डोले, तो मांझी पार लगाये 

मांझी जो नाव डुबोये , उसे कौन बचाए ?

We are agreed, that no one can control a storm

But do not blame the waves; fault lies elsewhere

If a boat rocks midstream, the coxswain steers it home

But if the Skipper sinks the craft, who can save it?

Click on the following link if you wish to listen to the song

  1. vksagar says:

    This incident truly exposes the vulnerability of our young sisters on the roads of Delhi our capital city. It also exposes our bad judicial system which awards punishments which are not at all a deterrent otherwise we would not hear rape cases with such frequency. One is also amazed at the talk of the sixth accused being a ” juvenile ” who actually assaulted the victim most brutally. Just because he is six months short of 18 years so he can get off lightly ! – Absolutely ridiculous.! I am sure if he gets off someone will chop off both his hands. With regard to the Delhi Police we are indeed utterly ashamed of them . They argued for 30 minutes about jurisdiction. ! Just disgraceful. Unfortunately we have an incompetent Home Minister who refuses to be moved. There is an urgent need of relook at the laws about assault on women. An enterprising young girl so hardworking and sincere had to go through all this to open our eyes and minds. Big shame !

  2. SM Singh says:



    S.M.SINGH WG CDR(retd

  3. Brig PT Gangadharan says:

    My Dear Sir,

    1.As has been always, you have produced a master piece.I hope some one who matter take cognisance of what you have penned down.One of the readers has forwarded to Justice Verma.
    2.We have enjoyed democracy for over 60 years.In this process of evolution we have lost our character as a Nation.The values and attitudes have changed for worst.The education system is no more concerned about inculcating values and character in our children.Every thing is materialistic.Every one is weighing others based on lust of the eyes,lust of the flesh and pride of life.
    3.Our education,politics,governance and law enforcement need to revolutionize in keeping with our societal needs. The correction must be simultaneous encompassing all elements.We hope the change will occur at least through such sad incidents and time will not obliterate it from our minds.

    • surjit singh says:

      I think the Internet will force the Government to look at life afresh. The Cross which this young lady carried will not go in vain!

  4. Suman Bardhan says:

    Dear Sir,
    the article is really excellent. Today India is going through a very challenging situation both economically and socially. If we take up the social issues, on one side we have the corrupt politicians, on other side we have poor bureaucratic bodies like police, revenue depts. The common man are too busy and are struggling to earn their day to day living.
    The voice of the “Aam Aadmi” is rarely listened.
    Thank you for writting such a beautiful article.

    • surjit singh says:

      I think our generation lacked sagacity. But I have complete faith in the ability of my sons and Suman’s friends to make a difference!

  5. Jagwant Bath says:

    Thank you for your optimism. However we are making our effort even if it makes NO difference.

    Changing of laws is not the key to the solution. Changing attitudes is.

    The most important is the change in attitude of the public (society) which is to a large extent dependent on the attitude of the police (government/politicians). Therefore what is essentilly required is the reform of the police. Not in any cosmetic manner but in a radical and essential manner. For example we are exploring the provision of a citizen’s police for the metros, to start with, on the lines of Uk’s Metropolitan Police and the Sherrif system in place in USA.



  6. Ashu Kumar Sharma says:

    Living in a city where this kind of crime gets reported every day one is constantantly worried about the future of our society.
    As individuals, we express and share our opinion as best as we can-but the question is who cares?
    From 16 Dec 2012 onwards there is plethora of suggestions but trust me it is a matter of time before this case will just be a number.
    What happened after Chopra children were killed? Did we learn anything,has the crime decreased,are women and children safer to-day?
    There is no short term solution.
    My recipe (as silly in our context as many others) is:
    -Compusory (100% )education to all commencing from village schools and greater number of women teachers at all levels.
    -Minimum education for any one wanting to join politics and contest elections-denial of tickets those against whom a crime report is lodged.
    -Police reforms
    -Individual resistance against crime and protection from harassment(by police/courts) if public comes forward to help some one in distress.
    This individual case will see early closure.
    A K

    • surjit singh says:

      I agree with you.
      And yet, I think this event will make a difference. She carried the Cross with courage and fortitude, and her sacrifice will not go in vain.

  7. JK Bajaj says:

    My dear Gen;

    We lack action/ action plans on ground and enforcement of existing rule positions & systems in our daily life!

    The Focus of NGO’s, Public & Pvt. Organizations, professionals, good citizens, senior citizens, Schools and

    Institutions has to be on; ‘To bell the Cat’? Each time… without any fear

    Can we provide that platform ? NO !!!!!!!!!!!!

    We only run small small good organization with no bold approach on ground

    Unfortunately; we don’t possess that courage!

    We all, need to build n assure that kind of ‘Courage’ support since very painful & fearful is the current state of

    affairs with the common man!

    With due regards. Jkb

  8. Neena Singh says:

    Do read this too and forward it to Keshav Sachdev and Justice Verma. It is written by Mag Gen Surjit Singh. A brilliant piece backed by logic and research.



  9. Yogendra Dutt says:

    I fully agree with your sentiments and suggestions.

    The improvement in criminal justice system in the sort term and the reinforcement of moral education in schools, colleges, other relevant institutions in the long run should go a long way in solving the menace in our society.

    Yogendra Dutt

  10. Dave Sood says:

    In India nothing happens till it comes to a breaking point. Telephones once a misery to obtain are in abundance today.

    One minister whose call was not connected arrived at Khursheed Lal Bhawan at two am with loaded revolver and the change happened.

    I think this case is the tipping point for Police behaviour, gender inequility and rapists among politicians.

    From Jan, 1 2013, we all will see the change.

  11. ppsingh says:

    I think ,the political class, our rulers, need to realize and be sensitized to the fact that they are elected to serve the community and not lord over them. They are after money and power and while achieving so do not care about the means that they adopt. This very police force they use to achieve their end and when the police are also not doing their duty, they feel compelled to save them.So this vicious cycle goes on. The local police should be made accountable to residents’ associations and people should exercise their right of franchise very carefully. But this is a long battle and would find many hurdles by vested interests

    • surjit singh says:

      I am in total agreement with you.
      I think, we should adopt the system of empowered Mayors and Serifs.

  12. I am with you Sir. When the fence eats the crop what can you do except to remove the fence? What we are seeing are the outward symptoms of the inner cancer that is eating our society. There is no point in putting band-aids on the boils and eruptions. As long as the cancer remains, it will kill us and all the band-aids in the world will not save us. That cancer is the open communalism and corruption that has not only taken root but is accepted by the common man today. There is no shame in it, nothing that we even feel remotely apologetic about and nothing that we seem to have the slightest intention to change. Once again therefore, the question is, ‘What can I do?’ Meanwhile let me share something nice – so maybe there is still hope:

    Nice news for a change.

    800 Muslims in Joshimath, Uttaranchal offered Eid Namaaz in the local Gurudwara!

    Joshimath doesn’t have a mosque and Muslims generally offer prayers in the open. This year it was raining heavily, making it impossible to offer prayers in the open!

    The Sikhs invited Muslims to offer prayers at the Gurdwara. This act of brotherhood by the Sikhs, allowing Muslims to pray at the Gurudwara and the responsiveness of the Muslims for accepting the Gurudwara as the venue for offering prayers is highly commendable.

    This is a unique act of unity and brotherhood! We need to spread news of acts like this to counter the hate mails going around.


    • surjit singh says:

      Mirza ji,
      I see no reason why this should not happen elsewhere.
      In Port Blair, the Gurdwara is managed by a committee which has Hindu, Muslim and Christian members.
      Does God have a religion?

  13. Anshu says:

    In my opinion we need extreme measures like bringing in the Armed forces to clean up our social system. The corruption which has manifested itself in many forms has to be wiped off and nothing else seems to be working. Our prisons will be full but with offenses like the most recent one there is no need to wait for the long drawn judicial process as the offenders do not deserve any sort of hearing, they are inhuman and do not deserve to live. Once the fear sets in these offenses will reduce considerably.

    • surjit singh says:

      I agree with you.
      When all else fails, the Armed Forces can be looked upon for a solution. But there is a limit to what they soldiers can achieve. Sometimes, power goes into their head and they mess it up as they did in some of our neighboring countries.

  14. Lt.Col (Retd) PGC Nair says:

    These type of incidents can only be stopped if politician, Law and Police are sincere in their respective area of duties. We Indians are not that educated and having manners to behave decently. This can be achieved up to some extent by a beginning from primary school onward and compulsory NCC training for all.

  15. Surrinder Nakai says:

    Permit me Surjit, to reinforce in my own humble way, your incisive views on the halaat-e-haazaraa (state of affairs) in our beloved country. At the first instance, let me quote Allama Iqbal -

    “Jamhuriyat Ek Aisa Tarjey Hakumat Hai, Ki Jis Mein Bandon Ko Ginaa Karten Hain, Tolaa Nahin Kartey”

    Jamhuriyat=democracy, Tarjey Hakumat=type of govt.

    “Janoon Ka Waqt Hai, Kis Kis Ko Jaayen Samjhaaney
    Udhdhar Hain Akal Ke Dushman, Idhdhar Bhi Diwaaney”. -Na Maloom


    We have therefore to ask ourselves the question, “Are we worthy of the best form of governance ie the kind of democracy that we gave to ourselves on 26 Jan 1956?” Obvious answer is ‘No’. Munawar Rana writing about too much of freedom had remarked-

    “Ghulami Ne Abhi Tak Mulak Ka Pichhaa Nahin Chhodah
    Hamen Phir Qaid Honaa Hai, Yeh Aazadi Bataati Hai”.

    For our reasons, most of us are quite oblivious of the abyss towards which we are drifting slowly but surely as a nation. A few relevant couplets, in this context-

    “Khuda Ne Aaj Tak Uss Qaum Ki Haalat Nahin Badli Na Ho Jis Ko Khayaal Apni Halat Ko Badalney Ka”. -Altaaf Hussain Haali

    “Uss Qaum Main Hai Shokhi-E-Andesha Khatarnaak Jis Qaum Ke Afraad Hon Har Bandd Se Aazaad”. -Allama Iqbal

    Shokhi-E-Andesha=ecstasy of thought, Afraad=individuals and Har Bandd Se Aazaad=above rules.

    “Namo-O-Nasab Zamin Ke, Naslon Mein Bant Gaye
    Aadam Ke Baitey, Kitney Qabilon Mein Bant Gaye
    Aaye Hai Jab Se Pesh Ki Mamat Ke Massaley Sijdey Hamaarey Kitney Marhalon Mein Bant Gaye
    Den Kis Tarah Se Qaum Ko, Ilzaam-E-Gumraahi Jab Rehnumaa Hi Qaum Ke, Firqon Mein Bant Gaye”. -Na Maloom

    Nasab=race, Mamat Ke Massaley=followers of Prophet Mohd, Marhalon=stages, Ilzaam-E-Gumraahi=blame for misleading and Rehnumaa=leader.

    Structurally, democracy is designed to function for the people only if they are aware, concerned and knowledgeable. For the less aware-

    “Bahut Si Kursiaan Is Mulak Mein Laashon Pe Rakhin Hain
    Yeh Woh Sach Hai, Jissey Jhuthhey Se Jhuthhaa Bol Saktaa Hai”. -Munawar Rana

    “Hakumat Munh Bharaai Ke Hunar Se Khub Wakif Hai
    Yeh Har Kuttey Ke Aagey Shahi Tukdah Daal Deti Hai”. -Munawar Rana

    In my assessment, the present situation in our beloved land is more than complicated; hence it would not brook off-the-shelf solutions.

    “Ibatda-E-Ishaq Hai, Rota Hai Kayaa Aagey Aagey Dekhiye Hota Hai Kyaa” -Mir Taqi Mir

    Ibatda-E-Ishaq=beginning of love.

    Further, I for one, would not like to go along with pessimists who argue-

    “Mumkin Nahin Halaat Ki Guthi Sulajh Sakey Ehal-E-Daanish Ne Bahut Soch Ke Uljhaayi Hai”

    Ehal-E-Daanish=wise persons.

    One possible direction to halt and then retrieve what is fast slipping from our possession, is indicated in the following couplet-

    “Taqazaa Hai Waqt Ka, Toofaan Se Jhoojhoo Kab Tak Chalo Ge Kinaarey Kinaarey”.

    I would like to end this somewhat innocuous suggestion; by quoting Ehsaan Bin Daanish-

    “Na Rehnumaaon Ki Majlis Mein Le Chalo Mujh Ko
    Main Be-Adab Hun, Hansi Aa Gayi To Kyaa Hoga?”


  16. Gul Dost says:

    Dear Sir,
    The pictures at the end send a chill down the spine!

  17. ABS Sidhu says:

    Dear Surjit ,

    I agree with the sentiments expressed . We Indians are very sentimental by nature, but with very short
    memory .As soon as any new incident happens, we forget the previous incident .This happens often
    with Soldiers . As and when there is some war , we the soldiers are Heroes ,but after some time we are
    forgotten .
    With warm regards and best wishes .
    ABS Sidhu

  18. Pam Handa says:

    Dear Surinder and Gen Surjit,
    More folks like you need to pen down their thoughts in order to bring about a drastic change in our thinking.

    We wish you both a very happy new year and all the best for the coming year. We hope we will all motivate our country men to bring back our former glory.

    Doc and Pam

  19. Kulbir Singh says:

    An excellent piece of reality presentation. I compliment the Author

  20. Sudhir Vombatkere says:

    Dear Surjit-sir,

    I am ATTACHING my piece on the Delhi bus gang-rape. If you see fit, do pass it on.



  21. George Poonen says:

    HI Surjit:
    Yes, the news of the gang rape was both saddening as well as disgusting. I am glad you are responding. As someone said we may not be able to prevent such acts but we cannot fail to protest. Your ideas are well thought out although it may take a lot of persistence before laws can be instituted. Besides, in the long run it may not be just a legal or police issue. As you have hinted the issue must be attacked on all fronts – social, educational, family, community, religious, media in addition to the legal. Caution will still need to be advocated.
    Recently in the US we had our own ghastly shooting of little children. It was tragic.

    Keep up the good work and may you have the strength to move forward on your ideas to prevent such tragedies.


  22. Harbhajan Singh says:

    Dear Surjit,

    How beautifully and aptly you have compiled this piece. My congratulations.

    Nothing will improve in this country of ours. Corruption has gone in our bones, thanks to our politicians. led by the Congress. WE ARE NOT SUITED FOR DEMOCRACY.

    Pictures of Policemen raining Lathis on our Bitias in our National Capital and Filing FRI against Zee TV show the mind set of the Delhi Police (neigh Indian Police). I am most scared of our police. May God not bring me in contact with them ever!!

    Please keep writing such beautiful pieces. Best wishes.


  23. Arun Mishra says:

    Dear Gen Sujit ,
    The body has to rot first for maggot and vermin to be born. The rot in Indian politics started with Indira Gandhi. After Lal Bhadur Shastri died she was put up by Congress leaders in the hope she will be chip of the old block ie some what like Nehru who despite all his shortcomings was still a Nationalist and honest with income from Book Royalties. She started wrecking the federal structure by Sacking two CM including Sukhadia of Rajasthan,made Autonomous corporations to skim off commission directly and by imposing emergency in 1975. All Swiss accounts are post Nehru and of her time. There was no looking back by ‘follow the leader type’ politicians after that. Addressing this rape incident is like looking at the tip of the ice berg . Major reforms are needed in election process, Judiciary, Police and above all education to inculcate basic values . The rot is deep and cut will have to be equally deep.

    Arun Mishra, VSM
    C-9/9122, Vasant Kunj
    New Delhi 110070

  24. Jagwant says:

    Very well written indeed Sir. Thanks.
    The solution is a change in mindset.

  25. yoginder says:

    Touching and thoughtful. Sensitively analysed, Surjit.
    Indeed, the poetic lament ‘ manjhi jo naav duboay’ is the crux.Perhaps the Creator’s algorithm is playing out i.e after the depth of depravity the renewal- hopefully the depth has been plumbed? Meanwhile all your suggestions are needed as a package.

    • surjit singh says:

      I am sanguine that we have enough talent and the courage to change things that need to be changed.

  26. Manjit Singh says:

    A very well written essay, backed by excellent research. good suggestions for the future. The attitudinal deficiency of our police force is so evident. We were always a two-in-nation. India and Bharat, co-existing. Now we have Angry Aurat vs Arrogant Aadmi conflict. This is an unprecedented struggle. The wild segment of the latter part has to be tamed. Who will do this?

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