Shooting the Messenger..!

A few years ago, a news item appearing in Indian newspapers mentioned that people had found out that blankets offered by the Indian Railways to its passengers for their overnight journeys were washed only once in two months! Which meant, realized horrified passengers that they had slept in the sweat and dirt of sixty other passengers, before the blankets went for their bi-monthly cleaning!

How did the railways react? Did the minister in charge or the general managers put their heads down in shame? No, they didn’t! They decided to punish the people for refusing to sleep in those filthy blankets. “No more blankets!” They cried in unison, and decided to stop offering blankets to passengers.

Many years ago, I wrote a play about a man caught in a lift. Different people came up to the shut doors and offered different pieces of advice to the poor man inside. Some told him not to panic, some made him sing religious songs, some even told him to breathe slowly so as to not use up all the air in the lift. Suddenly everybody was quiet and the man inside, realized somebody important had come. “Sir, I am stuck inside!” he shouted, “Help me!”

A minister had arrived. He looked around, saw he had an audience and declared, “From today all lifts are banned!”

Instead of finding solutions to let the man out, to see that lifts don’t stop midway, the lift was banned and people trudged wearily up staircases, as much as they had to spend cold nights on trains, because the railways were caught with unwashed blankets!

In the last few years, banning has become a popular pastime in our country.

Is this how we address problems? By punishing the people?

Which brings me to this very queasy question, why was the internet, which finally revealed the depth of horror happening in Manipur banned? And why after the horror of the rapes was revealed did the government say it was going to take action against Twitter for showing the atrocities committed?

Isn’t it just like banning the blanket and the lift? And the same happens everywhere; instead of taking the blame for a rape or assault on a woman we blame it on clothes women wear, or that she was out too late. So, we ban women from dressing the way she likes, instead of making our villages, towns and cities safer.

Blame the police for not policing better and get the top man transferred or sacked as soon as such a crime is committed. Let’s stop shooting the messenger.

“Help!” cries the man in the lift, his voice becoming weaker. “Help!” cry the people of Manipur, their voices getting weaker as internet lines are shut down sporadically, and those asking for peace and government intervention are jailed .!

Robert Clements is a newspaper columnist and author. He blogs at and can be reached at