Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Response to "[Delhi gang rape] Lest we forget and move on, yet again"

A response to Prachee Sinha's piece "Lest we forget and move on, yet again" which was published on this blog yesterday.

Delhi Gang Rape: A Political Response

- Sumandro (Riju)

Sharing a few thoughts about your note. I believe you have keen observations — empirical and theoretical — to make about the relations between revolutionary politics and women’s liberation (especially about the failures of the former to seriously address the latter). and I share my thoughts expecting that they will be clarified from your responses.

# You never mention ‘capital’. Not that all pieces of writing always must have that word, but it seemed quite pertinent a category for the event you wrote about. While sexual assault in particular and violence against women in general is surely shaped by feudal-patriarchal social structures that you mention, the everyday economic exploitation also create the underlying context of such violences. You do mention the term ‘justice’. but the piece does not explain what you mean by ‘justice’, neither does it explain the nature of the ‘onus’ to ensure justice. As you do not mention ‘capital’, and neither ‘state’, it becomes rather difficult to begin to define such a justice — not because such a justice must be delivered by capital and state, but because the social-material context of delivering such a justice is shaped by capital and state. Especially in the context of the event concerned — what would count as justice to this girl and her friend? As we write, the students of JNU Students’ Union blocks the road in front of the Vasant Vihar police station, Home Minister promise swift justice (five fast track court and all), and politicians across parties express their shame and explain how capital punishment is the answer to women’s freedom. As you say that the onus to ensure that violence against women becomes an ‘intolerable’ and ‘inexcusable’ act is upon all of us, it worries me how easily your statement would suit the purpose of such reactionary political responses. To clarify, I use the term ‘reactionary’ not as an abuse but a technical term that describes an act that restrengthens the liberal-democratic order.

# A key question that the event (of the girl being gang raped in the bus and his friend is beaten up, and both then thrown off the bus) raises is that of the political response. All responses I have heard of till now are reactionary, as they point out the failures of the capitalist state. the differences lie in how they define justice (capital punishment or not) and appropriate police intervention (CCTV and civilian-supported patrolling). Interestingly there is a convergent appeal to both the ‘sovereign’ (punish the unruly) and ‘pastoral’ (discipline and securitise the public spaces) modes of statecraft (ref: Michel Foucault).

# Unlike many other incidents of rape happening across the country, which are often justified on the (shocking) grounds of improper behaviour and history of the victim (as Prachee points out), this one case gets squarely located within this political debate about the role of the state and to justify extensive (even participatory) securitisation. This makes it a very different kind of political situation than an incident of honour killing would be. Now what can be a revolutionary political response?

# Ratna Kapur on ‘The Hindu‘ (thanks to Renu for pointing at that article) expresses a theoretical position I hear elsewhere too — “[Indian women] are entering male bastions of power has challenged the sense of superiority and entitlement of the traditional Indian male.” Are we to seriously consider that the girl and her friend in question challenged the sense of superiority and entitlement of the traditional indian male present in that bus (a facebook post mentions that the rapists were friends of bus driver, who were *subji wallah* from *Bihar*) by entering the bus? My problem with such statements is not (only) about their theoretical/empirical basis but the kind of political response they lead to. Ratna Kapur argues that “[w]hat is required at this stage is not more protection and security, but education”. If indian society is so deeply located in traditional feudal-patriarchal values that Ratna Kapur (and you too) mentions, how does this enlightening education get operationalised? And who implements this enlightening education? The onus to do falls back on the liberal-democratic state and the modern elite.

# So my provocation is this: the incident of rape in question cannot be understood in the same way as honour killing and other violences against women. This rape did not happen (of course I am hypothesising) because traditional feudal-patriarchal lower-class men felt their entitlements are challenged by this girl and her friend. This rape happened because the traditional feudal-patriarchal lower-class men realise that this girl and her friend embody all those entitlements that they (the rapists) would never have but entitlements that are promised to them by all forms of popular narratives of the greatness of capitalist order, where the slumdog can become the millionaire. So what do the traditional feudal-patriarchal lower-class men do when they realise this irreconcilable (under present capitalist order) difference in entitlements? They respond with violence against the immediate and vulnerable reminders of that fundamental contradiction. Without doubt their violence is gendered (like everything else), that is it is shaped by the traditional feudal-patriarchal understanding of gender and sexuality. Now, the same traditional feudal-patriarchal understanding of gender and sexuality are equally in display when various people (men and women) ask for public castration of the rapists followed by capital punishment in public, and even the horrific suggestion that the rapists should be raped by *gays* before they are hanged (all references from opinions found on facebook).

# Now should we really be envisioning a model of education that will make everybody forget about the fundamental contradiction in the material entitlements we have, and start behaving as true modern rational citizens with complete respect for private property and consensual interactions (sexual or otherwise)? Or should we talk about the fact that such education is not possible under the present capitalist (bio-political) order?

# It is absurd to make claims of a ‘we’ without defining the ideas and the acts that the ‘we’ stands for. Having an onus to create a society that does not tolerare or excuse (or normalise) violence against women is not sufficient defination for a ‘we’ to be formed. I am sincerely worried that as my friends, maybe including some of you who are receiving this email, in Delhi join the protests at the India Gate tonight, they join forces with those who believe that rapists should be subjected to public torture and (even Slut Walk Delhi demanded capital punishment for rapists). I do believe that one should join such public ralies in support of such public causes, I do believe that there will be dissenting voices at Indian Gate (voices against such reactionary and brutal measures) but I really do not believe that such voices will prevail at India Gate tonight. I also believe that Delhi Police will strike down on the protesters at India Gate. And all that for nothing. The popular sentiment will soon go back to a reconcilation of state-must-kill-all-rapists and state-must-strike-down-unruly-protesters-especially-the-ones-against-captial-punishment. And the concrete cause and the popular vibrancy around it that attracted the left activists to the protest will again prove to be an illusion — this is what I cynically fear sitting in Shantiniketan.

# So in a nutshell — I am suspicious of any political response that suggest changing society through education and/or setting up alternative structures of surveillance. Not because such measures are impossible. But because such measures are impossible under capitalism. When demands for enlightening education and alternative systems of surveillance are made without refering to and taking in account the capitalist reality, not only they are bound to fail but also they are bound to distort society further (including educational elitism and gated communities). The latter often work in smaller social-spatial units — say universities (am thinking of anti-sexual harrassment struggles in JNU and DU) — but are not expandable to the city-scale. The problem of scalability does not arise from limitations of such structures but is determined by the nature of capitalist space that cannot allow for such alternative and parallel systems of politics. Rape in Delhi, and in other Indian cities, are more typical result of the everyday exploitations that the city-dwellers are subjected to, and are less explainable by theories of changing gendered entitlements (which may or may not hold ground in other contexts). The exploitation is as much economic as it is sensory — the staggering inequalities among the city-dwellers and the continuous ubiquitous on-your-face consumption of the spectacle-of-inequalities that Delhi embodies can only express itself in various forms of mindless violence. As I said earlier, the form of violence takes shape from feudal-patriarchal-casteist values existing in the urban society.

# Now what is the revolutionary response? The incident of rape in question is not simply an incident of gendered violence. It is an expression of everyday structural violences at work in the city. Such structures are produced and sustained by capitalism. The state and the police — as liberal-democratic capitalist institutions — will only minimise labour discontents by increasing state-approved(including exceptional) violence. Incidences of rape like the one in question cannot be stopped by increasing approved or exceptional violences by the state (securitisation and capital punishment and the others). They can only be stopped by changing the capitalist system. This is not to say that there will be no rape in a post-capitalist society. Rape is an act of violence. It may happen in all societies. But rape under capitalism is not merely an individual act (which interestingly is exactly how the capitalist judicial system would address it), it is a symptom of larger system of violences. Those must be questioned.

After writing all that, now I feel that I am only rewriting old ideas. I know I am. So what is the ‘new’? One may say that ‘new’ comes from teleological fantasy of filling out empty time with possibilities of progress. But seriously, do any of you find anything ‘new’ to talk about the terrible incident? Was there anything ‘new’? I guess the only people who needs the ‘new’ in this case are either people saying that police and the state and the politicians are acting much faster this time (because of the public pressure) or the people who says that violence in Delhi is going up and now this is a ‘new’ record of incidences of violence. Do you seriously believe either of these ‘newnesses’? Or is it a case of old style gendered violence, emanating from various old style socio-economic-emotional violences that societies have been built on for ages?

Note: This piece was first published in Sumandro's blog ajantriks


Mac said...

This piece of observation pares off all the hope that bulids up as I reach to the point where it says there is no reason to believe that post-capitalist society would be rape free.

"This rape happened because the traditional feudal-patriarchal lower-class men realise that this girl and her friend embody all those entitlements that they (the rapists) would never have but entitlements that are promised to them by all forms of popular narratives of the greatness of capitalist order, where the slumdog can become the millionaire."

But, if reports are to be believed, the victim herself comes from economically deprived section. Her dignified parents make do with 'namak & roti' and she being the eldest child with two younger brothers had aspired to becoming a doctor, for which her parents sold their landed property.

Does this mean that the victim was not looking enough disentitled to the ones who visited her the horror in apperance, who otherwise would have spared her by identifying with her actual economic plight? Or, is it possible even in post-capitalist society to distribute wealth equally? Or, is it the flawed aspirational narrative of the capitalism that is at the bottom? :/

Ujwala Samarth said...

In response to your statement that the men had no reason to feel threatened:

One news report mentioned that the girl argued with the men about their lewd behaviour, and one of the men told police later that was his reason for 'wanting to teach her a lesson' -- in his view, she was not only out at night (and therefore fair game), she also was 'talking back' to him and who was she to do that (a bigger sin, since perhaps, in his worldview, there is nothing worse or more offensive than a woman who does not cower in front of men...) So in a sense, they did see her as a threat(a TYPE who they feel threatened by..) ...No, nothing new in this. I was a young woman in Delhi 30 years ago and every day as I walked into my workplace at Nehru Place, at least one random man would mutter as he walked past : "Phaad dey.." It was like a stimulus-response -- I wonder if they were even conscious of what they were doing...Where does one even begin while dealing with such entrenched misogyny?

sumandro said...

Dear Mac,

Thanks for the sarcasm. It was productive.
I am sorry that from my writing it seemed that I think the victim was assaulted because she 'looked' entitled. The reason surely is more complex. My hypothesis is this: she was raped and her friend beaten up because they represent a way of being (anybody can study medical sciences and work in software firms) that capitalism promises and does not deliver. Not because how they (or she) was looking, or what she said.



sumandro said...

Dear Ujwala,

Apologies that my piece gave out the statement that men had (have?) no reason to feel threatened. I am neither sure threat from what you are talking about. In no way am defending or rejecting the reality of misogyny.

I do not know if you are member of the NSI mailing list. I have just replied to Prachee on a similar theme.

All I am arguing is the practice of misogyny is intertwined with capitalist exploitations. If one addresses one and not the other, then the response can mean only deepening of not one but all the kinds of oppressions.

If my earlier text suggested something else, then my apologies for that.



galen nikolaidis said...

RIP to the girl. I really don't know what's happening to India right now why they are the rape capital in the world.
The delhi gang rape case is so brutal that it shocked the world and grieving over the girl. Those suspects should be hanged for good. They don't deserve to live anymore after what they've done to the girl. Maybe because of drugs and some other stuffs that influence them to do the deed but no one's exempted to the law even if they have a million reasons they will still be punished.I just hope this will stop sooner than later. personal injury medford

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