The cruel rape of a toddler, a five-year-old child, has chilled the power-centre, Delhi, once more. This city was, unfortunately, beginning to forget and move on after the brutal rape that took the life of a young paramedic student in December.

But beside the obvious chilling similarity of the two sexual assaults, there was something else that disturbed me. It was the sudden focus on the favourite weapon of urban protests. Yes. It was just that. Simple. The candle.

From the time that activists took to the streets to protest against the judicial inaction in the famous Jessica Lall case, candles have become an inequitable symbol of the urban, civilised protests. In the days following the December 16 rape case candles once more lit the path of the protestors. A symbol and source of light and hope, candles were also found in the vagina of the 5-year-old. What an irony. A million things have been said about the status of women since December. While the good thing, in fact, even a great thing, is that people are finally talking about women’s issues, the mortifying fact is that nothing has changed. The police still haven’t changed. The insensitivity hasn’t gone away. And the truth of the matter is that the ‘mindset’ we have been talking about for the last few months is not going to change overnight and we can’t wait for it to change. At least, the power houses appear to have learnt one thing — that silence is not the best strategy; that the people’s anger is not just going to die, it will only get inflamed. So, the Prime Minister was quick to respond, to condemn, to “seek” actions. Yet, all the lessons have not been learnt. Protestors were again thrashed, water-cannons deployed. Armed personnel are back. The point, once again, appears to be to silence the voices, not to listen to them.

The fear within the administration is palpable. But the question is why is the Government, which claims to be putting all its ammunitions to use to fight crime against women, so scared? Maybe because all the talk of putting women first is just a placatory, political move? Saddled with a number of other high-profile scams, such as coal, maybe they just can’t afford to be “seen” as insensitive to women too? Maybe because they know they aren’t doing anything close to enough? I don’t know the answers. All I know is that the little girl in AIIMS had candles and bottles shoved into her, besides the rape, of course.

To me, this grotesque act seemed to be the rapists’ way of saying “that’s all your protests can do.” The mindset won’t change. That is obvious from the statements made by politicians in December, it obvious now when Sushilkumar Shinde, our Home Minister, says rape happens everywhere in the country. The same man had compared student protestors to Maoists in December. So, if it won’t change then the only other way is fear.

Let the policemen know that if they do not register a case, or if they misbehave with a victim — man, woman or child — they will be sacked. Not suspended, not subjected to a probe. Sacked. If there is evidence of police insensitivity in the form of videos and photographs where is the need for a probe? Let thoughtless politicians be barred from contesting elections. Let these cases be fast-tracked in the real sense of the word. It has been 5 months since the December case, a case which to me sounded like an open and shut case, yet the process is still going on. Close the cases fast. Make the punishment harsh. Send out a message.

And if the Government is scared, let us instill some more fear. These issues are real. They affect all of us — in the tiniest villages to the urban metropolises. If vote-banks are all that matter, let us make it clear that this is a political issue, one that can topple any Government.