Bring the Badals Within the Orbit of the Law !

A 13-year-old Dalit girl was molested and flung to her death from a bus in Punjab, along with her mother who survived with grievous injuries. The molestation, which took place in broad daylight, has rekindled memories of the December 16th 2012 gangrape and murder on a bus in Delhi.

The Congress Government of Delhi headed by Sheila Dixit had rightly been held responsible for the failure to provide safe public transport for women. The Akali-BJP Government of Punjab bears an even more direct responsibility for the Moga crime, since the molestation and murder were committed by the staff of the Orbit fleet of buses, owned by the Badals who head the Punjab Government and the ruling Akali Dal party.

The Orbit buses enjoy a monopoly on many routes in Punjab. The bus service is part of Orbit Aviation Pvt Ltd, which in turn is part of the vast business empire of Punjab’s ruling family. The staff of the buses are well known to be goons, intoxicated with the impunity that comes from Badal patronage. In particular, Punjab’s poor and dalits bear the brunt of the arbitrary violence by the Orbit staff.

The bus in question had tinted glasses and curtains, in defiance of the law. The staff molested the girl and her mother, and when they protested, flung them from the speeding bus. Even before this incident, CCTV footage shows the bus swerving dangerously from one lane to another, in total disregard for road rules.

Answering a question in Parliament, the Akali Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal initially pleaded ignorance of who owned the Orbit transport company. This soon proved to be a lie, since her own affidavit to the election commission in the last elections, revealed her stake in the company which is co-owned by her husband, Punjab’s Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal.

The Punjab police has till date refused to even question the Badals over the Moga incident, let alone book them in the FIR. This is in stark contrast to the precedents in the Uber or Fabindia cases, where owners were questioned for acts of sexual violence that were committed by their employees in services provided by their company.

The Central Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Secretary RK Singh of the BJP had been quick to seek bans and even criminal prosecution of Uber following the rape in one of its cabs. They are significantly silent on the atrocity committed in the bus owned by leaders of the BJP’s powerful political ally and partner, the Akali Dal!

The Punjab Government that failed to provide safe public transport for women, was prompt to provide protection to the Orbit buses! Following massive protests in Punjab, however, the Badals have had to withdraw the Orbit buses from the roads. Sukhbir Badal has said that the service will be resumed after Orbit employees complete an ‘orientation course’. This excuse for reinstating the Orbit buses must be resisted. Safe, accountable, public-sector bus services must replace the lawless monopoly of Orbit. The Government cannot be allowed to promote the transport business owned by the Chief Minister’s family, at the cost of the lives and safety of Punjab’s poor citizens.

It is also outrageous that the Badal Government has chosen to pay the father of the victim Rs 20 lakhs as compensation, from the public exchequer rather than make the Badals’ own Orbit company pay.

Adding insult to injury, the Punjab Education Minister Surjit Singh Rakhra trivialized the molestation and murder as an “accident” that was “God’s will” and “nature’s will” that none could prevent. An Akali Dal MLA Joginder Pal Singh also echoed the same outrageous argument that the victim’s death was God-ordained!

The Moga incident also underlines the stark social and economic divide in Punjab: where the crony corporations and the nexus of big business and politics is protected and promoted, but the lives and dignity of the poor and dalits are considered cheap.

Justice for the Moga victim must mean an end to the cruel rule of crony businesses over the lives of Punjab’s poor. Sukhbir Badal, the owner of the Orbit company, must be booked for his role in permitting, promoting, and protecting the criminal conduct of his employees. The Government whose leaders are callously calling the brutal murder of a little girl to be ‘God’s will,’ needs to be taught a lesson about people’s will!

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