Tuesday, 25 December 2012

"They don't really care about us."

Note: This post is a follow-up to an earlier post (click here), wherein I've made certain preliminary arguments on the Delhi gang-rape & murder incident. 

A thought has been bothering me for quite some time now: I’m not sufficiently anti-establishmentarian enough; that, after a point, I’d still be willing to invest whatever little bit of faith I have in my reserves in the machinery of the state, rather than ideologues, demagogues and the so-called civil society. That illusion has shattered.
It’s been about a week since I have been angry and outraged at the brutal gang-rape of a 23 year-old physiotherapist in Delhi, and an equally brutal assault on her friend. I’m still angry, and I want to be. But when I saw cosmetic protests organised at my college just the other day, or when I heard a clamour for death penalties and castrations on the social media, or when I saw politicians and celebrities and god-knows-who-else behave like they’re freaking PhDs in dealing with violence against women, I was disillusioned. The state, I knew very well, was as indifferent as hell. And as Vivek Kaul so rightly wrote, the only reason why the six perpetrators have been arrested – despite the Delhi Police Commissioner’s claims of the blind case being solved in record time – is because the perpetrators were not some politician’s kids, nor were they associated with any political outfits; neither were they cops, nor army-men; or anyone on a very long list of people who will never be held accountable for the crimes they commit.
That’s the first failure. Unfortunately, there have been several more, far too many for me to articulate in this space.

Three problems
Three things that have bothered me, more so with respect to the aftermath of this incident: The first of course is the way in which the media manufactures conscience and outrage (my incredibly crass interpretation of Chomsky’s “propaganda model”; I refuse to call it the “press” or “journalism” because those values, I believe, are entirely absent in public discourse). The industrial nature of the news media requires this manufacturing of conscience; it doesn't care about causes. It happened with the deaths of Keenan and Rueben in Amboli last year; with the Guwahati assault earlier this year; and now, the Delhi gang-rape incident. I’m not commenting on the good or bad of reporting: clearly, some channels and papers are providing exceptional coverage of the incident. But very few manage to break away from this discourse of manufacturing conscience. However, since I've dealt with this issue sufficiently, I shall not bother the reader with any more polemics against the media.
My second problem is with the ideological response to the incident, primarily by politically motivated groups – like the BJP, or the ABVP, or Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party – they have, all of them, hopped on to the “dissing-the-government” bandwagon. For them, essentially, this case isn't any different from the FDI in retail, the 2G spectrum allocation scam, the coal block allocation scam, or any of the UPA’s other bluders, for that matter: they are at India Gate to garner political mileage. This is political posturing at its worse, and its most crass levels. In a Kafila, post arguing against this political double standard-ness, Shuddhabrata Sengupta decimates Sushma Swaraj’s callous comments on the nature of the crime; Swaraj, who said that rape is “worse than death”, and the victim was “zinda lash” or a living corpse, Sengupta argues, is actually “endorsing the patriarchal value system that produces rape”, and that she and the rapist “are in perfect agreement about the worth of the life of a rape victim”. In another Kafila article, Pratiksha Baxi argues that the right-wing politician is “not concerned with how a strident Hindu nationalism is built on the violated bodies of women”. No one in the BJP (or anywhere else, for that matter) cared sufficiently about Dalit girls being raped and set on fire in Haryana; or when women in the North East, like Manorama, continue to raped, molested and killed by army men and paramilitary forces; or in the Naxal-affected areas, when policemen are engaged in custodial rapes; or when politicians and their goons get away with rapes, and get elected into parliament. Unfortunately, rape is reduced to the violation of the woman’s honour; as an aberration to the normalcy of things, where ‘normal’ is defined as a state where women and marginalised groups blindly accept their exploitation and maintain the status quo.
Third, and finally, I have a problem with the state’s violent action against the protestors at India Gate. Make no mistake, I’ve never taken warmly to protests, marches, vigils and all that; there’s a deep sense of scepticism I have towards “well meaning” civil society action; but a deeper sense of disillusionment at the failure of governance: something I've called a governance of paranoia – wherein the political (and powered) class is informed by illogical reactionism, and not a coherent ideological standpoint. This is not to suggest that the problem is merely anti ideological. It is the failure on the part of ideologies, and modes of governance to adapt, to say: “We were wrong”. Because it is precisely this posturing, this ambivalence in governance, this resistance to acknowledge the truth that “the emperor has no clothes”, is what maintains the illusion of power. I concede that this argument is incredibly complex, but I shall attempt to deal with it further on.

Disparate discourses
There is a parallel I see in the Delhi police commissioner, Neeraj Kumar’s, insistence on not acknowledging the fact that the police screwed up at India gate (and on several occasions in the past), and in the National Rifle Association’s unapologetic stance (summed up with the ridiculous reasoning: “Guns don't kill people, people do”) in the aftermath of the Sandy Hooks shooting massacre in Connecticut, just over a week ago. These are disparate incidents, separated by thousands of miles and, on the face of it, have no commonality. Yet, I believe that they are deeply connected. For one, the brutality of shootings and rapes are borne directly by marginal groups, in this case, children, students, and women – groups that require the state’s protection, by any standard of liberal democracies. Secondly, and unfortunately, both the United States government and the Indian state have, time and again, refused to acknowledge the chronic nature of the problems of gun-proliferation and shootouts, and rapes, respectively; nor have they offered any long term solutions; from President Obama’s teary eyes to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s incoherent and, ultimately, inconsequential mumbling, the state, in both cases and countries, has simply sidestepped the issue, proffering only symptomatic solutions and empty rhetoric. Right-wing ideology and patriarchy are powerful ideologies, no doubt. However, that fact that a sovereign nation should so consistently fail to keep both in check is staggering, unless, of course, there is a deeper problem in the very nature of governance itself.

What we've got here, is failure of governance
Clearly, I’m disillusioned with both major parties in this struggle: the protestors, and the state. My scepticism of the Delhi protests is informed by two major ideas: one, is the criticisms levelled against civil society by the Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek; and idea of the “political society” formulated by the subaltern studies scholar, Partha Chatterjee. While Žižek’s criticisms are founded more on the ideological nature of civil society in his native Slovenia, Chatterjee, being much closer to home, offers more relevant insights. That the nation is following the India Gate protests so closely; that many such protests are being replicated across the country, in Bangalore, in Mumbai, and other cities, is what Chatterjee calls the domain of the “civil society”. Opposed to this civil society is the “political society”, i.e., the social groups like Dalits, de-notified tribes, slum dwellers, who negotiate with governing agencies, usually bureaucrats, low level civil servants, but people who exercise considerable power at the micro-level (my apologies to Partha Chatterjee for reducing his arguments to this dichotomy, but I've done so for the sake of better comprehension). 
I’ve had the chance to observe such negotiations first hand on several research projects: where people living in bastis spend every day without the certainty of work, or that their makeshift houses would be standing by the time they get home from work. There have been many incidents of rapes in similar areas across the country, most of them usually go unreported, or are a column in newspapers which dedicate full pages to advertisements. Things are worse in states like Orissa, or the North East, where atrocities are carried out against women like clockwork. The brutal nature of the crimes against these women, many of whom brave tremendous odds to fight for justice (for instance the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir has done commendable work in the Shopian murder-rape case), does indeed unite them in a discourse of resistance.
Despite of all my cynicism and scepticism, I empathised with the protesters at Delhi; while I do not endorse their views, I do share their anger, their frustration, their angst and their fears. From the ground at Raisina Hill and India Gate, Nilanjana Roy and Aditya Nigam wrote that the protestors were anything but violent in the initial phase, and that they did wish to engage in dialogue with the administration, before the police started lobbing tear gas, that is. Why, then, did the administration, in this case, the Delhi police, not engage in dialogue with the protestors? Why must the Indian state’s response always oscillate between abject apathy and excessive brutality? I suspect it is because the very nature of governance, as I mentioned before, is based on the insistence that the emperor is indeed clothed – and the Indian state insists on insisting with tear gas, water cannons, lathi charges and Section 144.
I understand I've not been very clear about what I mean when I say a "patriarchal nation-state" or "governance". Let me address this ambiguity. First of all, with respect to the nation-state, many greater minds before mine have argued that the very nature of the modern nation-state is patriarchal, i.e., it values a particular class of citizens over others; in the West, it's exemplified by the WASP - White Anglo-Saxon Protestant male. In India, as the authors of Why Loiter? Women and Risks on Mumbai Streets have argued, it is the upper caste, upper class, heterosexual, Hindu men who form the top section of this hierarchy. Women, Dalits, lower caste men, Muslims (young men, in particular), gays, lesbians, transgenders, hijras, and a host of other categories constitute the "undesirable" body, in a descending order of undesirability. The patriarchal nation-state discriminates against these very groups, by policing them, by marginalising them.  And this is an anathema to the very idea of modern, sovereign liberal democracies. And by governance, I mean not just the official mechanism of the state, but, following the French Marxist scholar, Louis Althusser's "ideological state apparatus", includes the official state mechanism, the institutions of the family, ideology, religion, media and so forth. In a patriarchal-nation state, these elements, these parties come together to form a virulent discourse of exclusion and belonging; of policing and punishing it's members; of fear and false consciousness (which, Žižek or Sloterdjik would argue, is actually the peoples' cynical acceptance of the fact that they are being fooled).  Perhaps, there is a problem in my usage of the term "governance" itself, which assumes that there can be an ideal mode of governance, that is, in the liberal democratic sense. The assumption, I am realising now, is certainly ill-founded, as both Althusser, and the French social theorist, Michel Foucault (particularly his works on governmentality and biopolitics) would agree.
Rape, then, is a political tool against dissent: it is an articulation of violence, of intolerance, of the severest insensitivity; of patriarchal governmentality’s recourse to extrajudicial means to crush any and all levels of transgression, political, social, or otherwise. Delhi police’s action against the protestors at India Gate was rape; it was an assault on democracy; it was a step into a fascist future, right alongside the demands for death penalties and castrations; it was an act of violence which endangers not just women’s safety and rights in our country, but that of citizens’ altogether; particularly social groups which do not have access to media coverage, let alone the posturing of political parties, or the sympathies of the general Indian public. And the failure to acknowledge the fact that rape is a problem - that it is not about sex; nor is it about "men assaulting women", or about morality; that it is used to further political agenda, to silence dissent, to obfuscate the nuanced nature of violence, is a muted justification and a shameless vilification of rape.

“They don’t really care about us”
The patriarchal nation-state, the elite civil society and misogynistic political ideologies, by their nature, are inimical to the discourse of women’s access to rights, to address the burning issue of violence against them. Violence against women, in this case rape (‘women’ being incredibly fissured category) is either a political tool itself, or is of absolutely no concern to the parties I mentioned above. Women claiming to speak for women, like the BJP MLAs, propagate the patriarchal ideology of subordination of women by placing a price on their honour and chastity; families would seek to police women, restrict their mobility; the state, as we have clearly established, fails on so many levels – failing to ensure protection, and at the same time, violating it; civil society, on the other hand, is limited by the very narrow nature of its interest; and as for academia, well, I certainly can vouch for the feeling of helpless that has gripped me.
Who, then, speaks for the women? Who cares for them? Are women, as many feminist scholars argue, merely property in the patriarchal political economy? – To be terminated as a foetus, or be killed before they have a chance to live? – That raped women, or those who exercise their sexual freedom, are “damaged goods”?
At this point, I have nothing better to offer than a handful of these questions: questions that I hope someone would answer; or, more importantly, that someone would ask. Personally, I have no hopes for an answer. I am angry, and at the same time, I am reflecting back on my masculinity, on the assumptions that society has thwarted on my gender. Unfortunately, I do not know how many men out there are doing so. Responding to my previous post, one of my professors suggested that rape is a man’s burden…that there is actually soul searching to be done by every man, because at some point in our lives we have all done violence to women. I want to disagree with this, but I know that I can’t: for, not speaking against injustice is also to exacerbate it, if not to partake in it. That is one of the reasons why I write. But, if ever the process of writing was cathartic, it has now ceased to be so.

Acknowledgements: First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who read, and commented on, the earlier post: their comments and responses have been incredibly motivational. To Shubhra Rishi, for once again being critical and supportive, and for the engaging discussions over GTalk; to my teacher, Fr. Joseph, to whom I am indebted for the sociological nature of my arguments; to my class mates, particularly Natasha Patel, Tasneem Kakal and Simone Salazar. And, finally, to Runcil Rebello, Achyuth Sankar and Anubhav Dasgupta for being such avid readers, and for all the 'Shares' and 'Tweets'.

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