Jaya Bachchan's response in the Parliament to the Delhi gang rape incident was mostly illegible to the point of being ridiculous. Wherever it was legible it echoed the words of Sushwa Swaraj who, with a portentousness that carried her signature militancy, took away any chance that the victim has of leading a normal life past the trauma. The victim was condemned further to being a Zinda laash if she survived at all! Inside the highest seat of legislature in the country! By the leader of the opposition! The Parliament was united in portraying the plight of the victim and then arriving at the conclusion that a 'harsher than harshest' punishment needs to be meted out. That was all! In the media the debate on death-for-rape has been opened again and on every channel one can find youth being asked if it should be so. As if the rapists thought of the law while raping!
I've not seen the entire discussion (only highlights) in the Parliament but I wonder if anyone talked at all of a state funded post-traumatic care program for victims of sexual abuse including rapes.
Rape is a crime. Crime is a fact. But perhaps it is the supremely humiliating nature of this crime, its ability to shatter mentally in a permanent way, that demands a vigorous response to stop that humiliation and shattering. The State needs to do everything to stop (rather, reduce the incidents of) rapes. (Though I don't think any legislative correction aimed at deterrence is required). But perhaps the State also needs to accept its blame, and bear the responsibility of bringing the victim back to life - mentally. State-funded life-long psychiatric support is the first thing that comes to mind.
It is indeed reactionary - and I know it is difficult not to be - to focus mostly on punishment and a little on prevention. But one who has the (necessary?) cold heartedness to see that this is not the last we will hear of the word 'rape', will also see that we need to be able to bring back a semblance of normaility back to the victim. Can we talk a little of curing rape as well, however improbable it sounds?
The top half of the front page of the TOI - the Delhi and thereabouts edition - proves again the arrogance of this petit-bourgeouis-titillating newspaper. There is no news. Instead there is a stupid headline (I don't remember it exactly) in two sentences regarding the rape - the full-stop in between intending to lend the headline an air of judgment. Below the headline is "Times View," which I've not cared to read. And on the side in the 6-point agenda for prevention / punishment of rapes. There is a aggressive let's-do-something-about-this tone to the whole thing.
The headline is important, though. It announces that the popular media has passed its decision. It has written the judgment and the program. Now it is for the legal system to catch up. The 'report' also absolves the media (TOI and its tentacles, or its similarly tentacled clones, are all we have in the name of media, right?) from any more reporting on the issue. Don't be surprised if the TOI gives a highly depreciated coverage to the news now. Except of course if the victim's health situation lingers and becomes a potentially emotion-churning event.
But the more important issue is - what is the ethical role of the media in the aftermath of such a crime? What would the TOI - had it been a responsible newspaper - done? I'm totally puzzled regarding this. I do not think that restraint in reporting - whether in reporting details of the crime or in the reporting its aftermath on the criminals or the victim - is possible, or even advisable. What I'm certain of, though, is an outright ban on all attempts to mobilize public opinion. For what? Why would a crime require a mobilized public opinion? A crime is a crime, to be punished by the written law. The reaction to a crime is judicial action, not vox populi. That a crime takes place does not warrant a relook at criminal laws. While I do not have a view today on the death-for-rape question, I'm particularly scared of the impassioned collective yelp for it in the last couple of days, a yelp that the media loves to create, show, and grow. I'm scared because I see no end to this. Once, if at all, death-for-rape comes to be, the hideousness of the crime will still evoke an anger whose satiation at that time will not be achieved even with the death of the criminal as well. It is not absurd to imagine, especially in such a time, a demand that a rapist be tortured for the rest of his life. This is the path these vox-populi, these interviews with angered citizens, these what-do-you-think-should-be-dones that follow rapes will lead us to.
The most common reply to the media's question of what should be done is 'Something'. The most common reply to the death-for-rape question is, understandably, death. The first answer is a presentation of helplessness. The second, we have to understand, is only a re-presentation of that helplessness turned into anger.
As comments that day
(1) But why should be not blame the media for being a business? Your individual skirting of the media circus is in a way a rejection. That media in India is not a vanguard of liberal-capitalism as it is in the West, but perhaps raw-conservative-captitalism itself. Your rejection of this media is not its rejection, but its acceptance. It is exactly what this media wants you to do!
(2)Your looking away will worsen things. Your looking away is what made the things be this worse in the first place. While the revolutionary Marxist idea of taking the affairs of the state in your own hands may be too far fetched here, it may help to stress some point regarding apathy. >>You not watching does not reduce TRPs as much as it provides the sanction to show that which you could not watch<< Watch, and perpetrate ridicule.
(3)I agree with you on 'detail' of reporting being self-censured. But that is it - it can only be censored by media itself. In the West the problem is fetish. An example is what is shown in movies: Recall here the amoral portrayal of the most visual violence in Killing them Softly, or the complete cult-making of psychopathic violence in Pulp Fiction: Is it not ironic that Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino are the best directors in the US: and is it not revealing that the best American novel in last 40 years is Blood Meridian -- the creative industry in the West is the most creative when detailing crimes; the gaze of the Western artist and the Western journalist is without shackles; theirs is a fetish for the Real. In the East the problem is pre-modern. Crimes like rapes and not acts of pure psychosis but still in that symbolic zone of the assertion of male superiority. I think the question of detailing crimes has different ways to come to the answer in the East and the West, though the answer may be the same.
The protests in Delhi yesterday brought the news back.
From the liberal-democratic perspective, to be part of a protest following a crime in which all the perpetrators have been caught and a fast track court has been set seems - it has to be said - pointless.
A smaller protest (though largely deluded with what the media really wanted to show - common man interviews) by high court lawyers made more sense. The demands were more accurate. Harshest punishment (not mentioning death) and non bailability as amendments in the law, and sensitization and training in the way of law enforcement.
Kiran Bedi made a point about police reforms.
Coming back to the protesters, it is no doubt that they are ignoring the specifics of the response this case has received within the powers of the law. I saw banners for castration. I saw banners for death. It is almost as if, amidst too much noise and little agenda, people were protesting for immediate justice. Do it right now! One girl said on TV that the victim is going to wake up and see that she has not been given justice. She said that is what makes her participate in the protest. What does that mean? Should there be no trial? Should some monarch or some supreme power or some dictatorship with no care for the constitution suddenly arise, take the seven accused out of the lock up, and condemn them to be burnt alive publicly? Asked this way, the question evokes a No in many (most who will read this - the Facebook-using, the English-speaking Indians, the 1-lakh-a-month-or-getting-there-soon Indian), for we are inured with the ideals of liberal-democratic-constitutional environment. One could go as far as to say that this will evoke a No in all the 'sensible' people who 'really' hold the reins of this country (We are excluding here the 'neta' who despite holding some reins might end up saying something horribly inane on TV.) The debate often ends with this No.
But why No? Why not Maybe Yes. Yes, the people know the truth and want to act. And the big Other - the liberal-democratic State - cannot let that happen. Are we not witnessing here an existential question posed to the State itself.
"We know the truth, you know the truth, then why cannot you do something now?"
At this time, this truth concerns a gang rape, an out an out crime. As long as this question contain the element 'you know the truth' it will not contain the power to be a revolutionary idea. But then, one has to ask, how far are we from something like this:
"We know the truth, and we know you did not want us to know the truth, and who are you to do anything now?"
Very far? Not very far? I don't know. Wikileaks is coming up with a lot of files.
I've been pondering if the death of the girl could do for India what the Tunisian salesman's self-immolation did for the Arab world. (I jump from one thing to other here, a bit, because this is not the place)
The immediate reaction to this conjecture is bound to be that what happened in Tunisia was socio-economic-political while what happened in Delhi was a crime of one against another - a social event with political dimensions insofar as the story remains the focus of the media and the opposing parties (there are indications that media will now look for a maudlin exit / isn't the deluge of "Main jeena chahti hoon" in bad taste - isn't it, in some ways, a display of how surprised we are that a person could want to live after suffering what she did / by merely saying it, aren't we saying that we can't believe it).
I would like to argue against that, the revolutionary potential of the event (there, I said it). What happened in Tunisia was also a crime of one against another - female policeman slapping the educated grocery(?) seller - followed by an impossible-to-ignore event - the self-immolation of the person. What it led to was an immediate riot which was at first nothing more than a pure show of desire. The desire did not know what it wanted - more specifically, it did not know at first that it 'wanted' the ouster of Ben Ali. The desire was initially a desire for justice, but justice in what form and manner it was itself unaware. Haven't we seen a similar show in Delhi? Chants of "We want justice, we want justice" whereas everything constitutional in the direction of justice is already been done and already been communicated. The desire was simply not met with the fast track court, or with a promise of changes in the law. Simply because it was a raw desire. The desire for justice never knows what it really wants till it becomes a signifier for something else, something that is not simply desired but demanded. The desire for justice is initially just a howling fantod of "No...no...no"
In addition to this howling directionless 'No' we have witnessed the rather ghastly politics of the Sipahi's death, and the silly statements by a politician (I predicted such a statement in a similar write-up two days before it came, which makes me wonder if it was a political move, but more on this later), the inexplicable moving her to Singapore theater, et cetera. It is these peripheral events that have made the articulation of a demand easier. But for that demand to be heard, there has to be a political event.
Here perhaps we come to the question: how does this immediate riot become a historical event. Alain Badiou defined a historical riot as following:
"A riot becomes historical when its localization ceases to be limited, but grounds in the occupied space the promise of a new, long-term temporality; when its composition stops being uniform , but gradually outlines a unified representation in mosaic form of all the people ; when, finally, the negative growling of pure rebellion is succeeded by the assertion of a shared demand, whose satisfaction confers an initial meaning on the word ' victory'."
What it means as imperatives for the possibility of the ensuing protests to gain the semblance of a historical event are following:
1. "...grounds in the occupied space the promise of a new, long-term temporality"
There has to be a 'site' - like the Tahrir Square in Cairo where the demonstration or show (what name we call it now is immaterial) has to house itself. In being housed in one place its tenants will be easy to renew, and to the world it will acquire a long term temporality.
2. "...composition stops being uniform , but gradually outlines a unified representation"
The Delhi protests have to stop bearing the look of college-going students howling. From a purely symbolical perspective (despite the obviously political connotations it will at once evoke), it is imperative that jats, and gujjars, and other factions of Delhi and around (reasonably closed social groups usually considered paternalistic and anti-cosmopolitan) come out on the street and join the protest while displaying their identities (this last caveat is important). It will become unified only when its sheer diversity makes it unclassifiable for the big Other (as for now it is alright to consider the Other as the Congress government)
3. "...the negative growling of pure rebellion is succeeded by the assertion of a shared demand, whose satisfaction confers an initial meaning on the word ' victory'."
This is the most important! To this I would want to add (not from my own, these thoughts are also borrowed from Badiou) that this demand be at first impossible. This is so because for a riot to be historical it has to change the dimension between possible and impossible. I do not know what it should be, frankly, though this does not mean that its not being known to me or not being known now is a bad thing. It just hasn't evolved yet (This is, however, some cause for concern as poitical events in India are getting in a habit of not articulating themselves - recall the fizzling out of the Anna event as it tried to talk of corruption-in-itself rather than the bill-in-specific. My hypothesis, however, is that it lost direction because what it demanded was immanently 'possible', but more on this some other day)
To me, this is the biggest chance Indians will get to effect a political truth through the presentation of the general will. That there is a slit that gapes into the territory of raw truth, of that I am certain, too.
As comments that day
(1)I missed a thing: a historical riot is also that which says: "The representation of my country by its state is false" Isn't this the objective response to the hazy, all-pervasive, timeless angst against our elected representatives.
(2)That Tunisia was waiting for a trigger makes one feel that the people were armed and crouching, while the truth is that it was the trigger (so-called) that armed them and progressively made them aware of what were they to fight against / saying that the common man or society is degraded is probably the most degrading thing to say, for it once absolves the sayer from both. You obviously are not the common man and don't count. You obviously are not part of society either. You're ether. You say what you say but you may as well as not say it because you are not a part of us. The only response to this is "who is the common man - me or the rapist?" / The common man's battle is the assimilation of Westernization, but nothing points to the fact that it condones rape / What is the problem with the (conjecture? of eve teasers protesting? This way we may also end up surmising how many wife beaters are protesting! These symbols are not important here.
(3)Only to present my point in another way: I don't even care if it's rapists protesting - frankly these interstices of the identity of the protesters (interstices which can only be conjectures) are not important. Other known and visible interstices of identity are important, as I said jats, gujjars, et al. Of course, this does not mean to say that I condone eve-teasing during the protest, if that is what you took to mean.
Mr. RSS Chief Bhagwat made a wonderful comment today - that rapes don't happen in 'India' but in 'Bharat'.
If, in his symbolic order, Bharat was the ultimate, un-achieved idea of this country, his statement would be correct. In my symbolic order, it is in fact correct. I will repeat it: there are no rapes in my Bharat.
But it is clear that Bhagwat's symbolic order is not of any ultimates. His Bharat is quite clearly the Hindu-rural Bharat, one that he astonishingly regards to be closer to the liberal-cosmopolitan essence of pre-Muslim-invasion Hindu society.
One should not argue with Bhagwat statistically. It is possible that there are fewer rapes per 1000 women in rural India. What he has said is a dangerously attractive idea whose subjectivity is in itself a solid defense to objective qualifications. One has to move the battle to his field: Let us say that there are fewer rapes in Bhagwat's Bharat, as opposed to Facebook's India. Is it because the society there is liberal, or is it because the society in Bhagwat's Bharat is fanatically misogynistic and conservative to the point of curtailing basic rights of movement and choice? If the latter were true (once again we abstain from statistics of female infanticide, child marriages et al), what then? If the latter were true Bhagwat's notion of Bharat will be severely soiled. One can imagine him doing a cognitively-dissonant volte-face at this, saying something like the conservatism in Bharat is a response developed to centuries of invasions from other quote 'religions'.
That is the real hidden danger of what he has said. By suggesting an obscure value in his Bharat's society, he points not so much to the halcyon days of Vatsyayana (yes, the Kama Sutra guy), but to the hideous status quo of protect-by-prisoning thy sisters.
This is the most horrendous idea to have come out of the whole circle of events lately. It strikes precisely where the biggest slits in this country's yarn are, bringing to fore the linguistic-historic-cultural rhetoric from an ideological viewpoint.
The worst would be if a Muslim political group was to say that rapes don't happen in Hindustan. In which symbolic order would 'Hindustan' lie? Would it be even relevant to look at the statistics of rape in Muslim India and compare them with the rest?
In such hectoring, a subjective truth exists precisely and merely because it is fabricated so in its utterance. The listening audience is the proof. But the danger of these parochial truths is that they lend ammunition to the ambush against the small gentry that is moving toward the absolute truth: That there are no rapes in the country we all want to make.
P.S.: The altogether sarcastically beautiful scenario of a party in Kashmir saying that rapes don't happen in Kashmir just crossed my mind. That would be something.
There is a Q&A with the feminist academic Nivedita Menon in the TOI editorial page (quite hollowly called THE TIMES OF IDEAS at most times). I've seen Nivedita on youtube once, in a serie where she was participating with Slovenian Marxist Philosopher Slavoj Zizek's in a lecture to a decent crowd at India Habitat Center in Delhi. I give her credit for thoroughly irritating Zizek at least once during that debate (about Zizek having Stalin as his poster boy)
The said short Q&A is about feminist politics in the light of rising violence against women. (As a digression, which is a digression and yet related to the context here, let me point out to Zizek's avowal of the impossibility of feminists and psychoanalysts agreeing on the topic of rape; Zizek sees (this may be horrifying to those reading and trust me when I say that I'm completely non-committal here) in rape being the horror of horrors because it brings a probable fantasy to the realm of the Real). Nivedita says that while the usual (Indian) understanding of rape is within the patriarchal discourses of honor, feminists have long tried to build a 'desexualised' understanding of rape, as simply an act of violence that brutally violates the integrity of the body. She also says that this latter understanding is gaining currency, as evidenced in the tone of the most recent protests following the gang rape.
I want to stress on the last part, that we have had any substantial (when I say substantial I mean politically substantial) evidence of youth looking at it differently. Let's say they do, then we have to ask which socio-economic class do these young belong to? Is there 'sufficient' universality in this class? Their so-called political representatives very clearly maintain a patriarchal discourse - one that leads to comments like "Don't step out late at night," "Wear decent clothes," et cetera. Also recall Sushwa Swaraj's horrible "Zinda Laash" comment that I talked of in this space.
We might want to look at it from the perspective of electoral normativity. Crudely saying, those who do not vote are protesting against the representatives of those who vote. The self-made outcasts are on the streets (or on FB), while those who participate in the system are silent.
"But there are no casts without outcasts," as Ambedkar once said, and Zizek recently found beauty in.
In other words, it is through the outcast that universality exists. It is in the young-who-do-not-vote, who are part-of-no-part, who engage in the economy but are not sentient of its true exploitative mechanisms, who engage in society-as-it-is but are distant from its patriarchal mechanisms, that we can hope to arrive at a true universal idea of India. It is when this outcast is trampled, raped, brutalized, and when it responds violently or otherwise, that we might find an articulation of 'what should it be, now, to be Indian.' That the protesting youth are students, probably even some "dented-painted" factions that politicians are clearly not afraid of because they don't impact politics, that the protesters belong not to what we may call the participating miserables, the voting proletariat, does not matter. It would have helped the revolutionary cause (perhaps it was immature of me to talk about it) if, as I said before, north Indian caste-based factions like jats and gujjars (traditionally patriarchal and not so-called low-castes, therefore carrying a symbolic energy that cannot be dissipated in digressions) had joined these protests keeping their identities. But that hasn't happened. So be it. Something did come out: the protesting faction has once again realized that the State does not represent the outcasts, the State and its atoms are vulgarly patriarchal (and that Aseem Trivedi, although not a true artist, is a vulgar artist of the kind that is most apt in response to the State), the State really sees rape as that which is brought unto herself by the woman, the State allows the two-finger test, the State and its Police are unconcerned, the State thinks women are to be 'protected' by men.
The State is the cultural pressure that the outcast youth experiences.
It is this young, politically-disenchanted, I-can-only-talk-on-FB India that has any chance at ultimately emancipatory politics. Simply put, it is the outcast that has a shot at being the 'unity' in 'unity in diversity'
But this outcast faction has to appreciate the potential of its universality. It has to gape inside from the outside. When some on FB say that they have stopped reading a certain newspaper, or a certain magazine, because of the atrocity of the journalism, they are doing precisely what that newspaper wants them to do - get a sharper amicable customer segment, weed out those who do not want "this kind of reporting". While not exercising franchise is a political stance, turning away from popular media is to lose precisely the right to have that very stance. You see, it is through its learned stupidity that mass media has, it is a genius that is almost sublime, gained an impunity regarding vulgarity of reporting, regarding choice of programming, regarding distorting what is Indian into a inordinately vociferous, scandal-mongering, inherently-cynical representation of culture and society.
Indian media is the rape of India. Protest against it, you self-made outcasts.
Today, since I've nothing else to quibble about, I will complain about the fact that Nivedita Menon got so little space in the editorial. In a paper that continues with that eternal moron Jug Suraiyya's stupid cartoons and articles - the one today is about a woman thanking global warming in a conversation with another, saying something like how terribly cold would it have been if there was no global warming!!
I would have liked to know more about Nivedita's viewpoint rather than the half-apologetic snapshot that was provided.