world in which a label has to be assigned before people decide whether to feel
pain for the suffering of another human being is pretty much a broken, beaten,
and semi-barbaric world.
is bad enough that we live in a world where violence is somehow expected to
mean something else always. It is always expressed not as itself – a stark
horror, but as a bigger statement, a symbol. Sometimes we call it war, as if
some noble purpose is being served. Sometimes we call it resistance. Sometimes
we call it terror, though increasingly we find that a label that condemns violence
as terror will not stick at all times. We live in an age of enforced empathy
and reflexive self-relativization. Being liberal somehow means always conceding
that your definition of terrorism might be someone else’s definition of a
is what passes for liberalism.
are no absolutes, even when it comes to the horror of violence, that relentless
sickness of one human’s assertion over the natural integrity and freedom of
another. You cannot even feel the pain of it. It’s not formally illegal, but
your enslaved mind and atrophied conscience tells you it is. You buy the poison
words that fill our collective discourse, you brush aside the horror of
children and elders trapped and burning inside a train, call them not human
beings even, but “activists,” members of a “militant fundamentalist group,” “kar
sewaks,” a million loaded evasions a decade of activism and
corpse-dancing has not faced honestly. You forget their pain, their right to
have had a life, and a life free of pain. You remember them only in retrospect,
as a footnote to an alleged genocide, where the pain of some, and only some,
what of the one who was burned last week in Pune, the boy who was hardly a man?
look for him on Google, and you find no manifesto, no words left behind to
offer op-ed writers inspiration. You find him so devoid of power he has no
language of his own, nor a social media presence for the internet generation’s
simulated conscience to rise to his memorialization. You find him so powerless,
even the identities which were supposed to rescue him from his abject
powerlessness do not come to his rescue. “Dalit” does not stick to him, the
term that conscience demands we respect as a reminder of how injustice is not
an individual quirk but a social problem, a scourge we must all fight. You
search for the word “Dalit” on Google News, and you will find several thousand
results now about the death of a Dalit elsewhere; but not this one, not this
one who was called a Hindu by his killers and just for that reason, killed.
that the reason? The pitiably short list of articles that appear when you
Google his name seems orchestrated to get you to think more about that question
than the actual horror of what just happened here. Was his being Hindu the
reason he got burned alive? That is the subtext that drones doubts at you in
the few articles that there are. They evade the truth effortlessly. They call
him a rag-picker. They frame the whole thing not as an act of murder but as an
act of “Hinduization” or Hindu-victimization by a Hindu right-wing group. They
confidently quote the police as saying oh, it wasn’t that; it wasn’t that
communal after all.
identity is such a bizarre business, especially when it comes to the media. The
way some of the news reports, few such as there are, on Sawan Dharma Rathod’s
lynching (and this, by definition was a lynching, an act of supposed punishment
for a minor transgression of property rights), the current identity is a lesson
unto itself. The identity of the people making the “allegation” that he was
killed for being Hindu is somehow made more important than the identity of the
people who did the killing, and of course, the man who was killed, a man whose
identity ought to have mattered too.
is the easiest way it seems to decode reality from the media in India today. If a murder is not deemed communal or
casteist by the media, you know very well that it was.
there will be no spectacle around this death, no roll-call of photographable
politicians and their embodied eminence following a tragedy around like a
stench that serves no purpose at all.
There will be
no introspection about identity, privilege, responsibility, hate, violence,
nothing at all.
Shefali Vidya, who has seen the people in this tragedy from close (though she
had no need to do so at all because she is not a politician or a public servant
but only a writer and a mother),wrote inSwarajyathat one suicide is news,
and one murder an item.
elevation of identity over suffering in the way Indian public discourse is
doing of late serves neither the cause of a progressive identity politics nor a
campaign against systematic injustice and violence. It is doing to those who
have suffered and continue to suffer because of the accidents of their
identities what the so-called reality shows have done to reality on TV. They
are an ugly, tragic, and poisonous farce, a distraction from our deepest natural
faculties as living beings that help us know a murder when we see it. They are
tools for a manufactured form of mass ignorance that once sustained foreign
colonialism over us and now sustains something, even more, dangerous and toxic.
India must seriously examine its present course of
identity politics, and especially its pervasive colonization of our
common-sense notions of what it means to be human, Indian, and indeed, decent.
The challenge is that in the polarized and simplistic Left-Right framework that
increasingly dominates our thinking and draws us ever further away from our
richly complex and diverse civilizational roots, identity-warfare has already
trapped us into some dead ends. The Left has its menu card of good and bad
identities and plays them effectively everywhere. According to its logic, the
very existence of some identities precludes them from feeling the pain of
others. The Left imposes a postmodern code of censorship on a society that is
still largely premodern and doesn’t care one bit for them, for both good and
Right, on the other hand, tries to evoke a universal, pan-Indian identity
beyond all divisions, partly hoping to restore a pre-divide-and-rule
sensibility to the conversation perhaps. But it (or its leadership) mostly ends
up sounding like an unimaginative, mediocre, and stodgy imposer of judgments on
patriotism and culture and nothing more. If there is one lesson that the ruling
party must take out of this, it is to stop going around loosely calling people
“anti-national.” You cannot say this simply because a group of misguided
students decide to stand in a protest on their campus. You can debate them, you
can try and prove why they are wrong, but unless someone is running a weapons
racket in their dorm room, you cannot presume to judge them on their patriotism
or lack thereof; and you cannot assume most of all that it is a crime. I say
this bluntly because there is no other way to break the miasma that identity
politics has become.
as for the Left, with its convenient cachet of the oppressor and subaltern
identities where suddenly people lose their apparent subaltern status merely
because they get killed by a group your textbook tells you is somehow even more
exaltedly subaltern, in today’s discourse the cosmetic moral high ground is all
you have. You are not creating change, not even the knowledge needed to make
the change, despite your lofty monopolies on education and the public debate
take in young students whose native wisdom and real-life experience of standing
up to iniquity far exceeds your postmodern theories in the first place, and
turn them into ciphers of their selves. You fill the young with rage, which
when directed against injustice is always welcome, but then do you give them
hope? Do you give them respect? Love?
truth is that you are fighting not some right-wing fundamentalist group asyou imagine itbut
something much deeper and bigger thatyou do
not even understand. It is called civilization. I don’t say we
invented it because I don’t presume to think that way. It was what nature
bestowed to us, and it taught us, at the very least, not to take slaughter and
may not know yet how we will learn to see the truth again, but we are trying.
Every day, we are living, and we are trying.
@ The author's book 'Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia and the Return of Indian
Intelligence' is a discussion on the link between Hinduphobia and the problem with
Western narratives .