Fear and loathing and justice

Updated: May 05, 2019, 07:40 IST | Paromita Vohra

Today, we have weaponised ourselves with the language of injustice, but also bound ourselves to it

Fear and loathing and justice
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

GuideMost women know this white hot rage. Many are the times I've got off a bus in Delhi, a jagged anger zigzagging through me, because men had groped and molested me, or when a peer had mocked my appearance or silenced me with 'Oh, you feminists'. I've heard it in the voices of my younger colleagues, as they talk about how relatives minimise and dismiss their choices.

So, when I started watching a video of a group of young women berating an older woman for saying they deserved to be raped for wearing short dresses, I knew too well the rage they felt. And yet, I felt myself back away, as the video pivoted, and they sounded less angry, more domineering with utterances such as, "I will make your life hell", "I will make you viral". That familiar, insistent rhythm of social media, of television news outrage grew; the denuding eye of the sting operation grew narrower. The video went viral; the mob humiliated and abused the woman. She apologised.

The young women were lauded by the media for courage, as if they had slain a dragon, whereas they had quelled a woman who had no business saying what she did to them. The video is a capsule of the many layers of power — gender, class, age, language — that complicate questions of private and public freedoms. It also reveals how our ideas of justice seem rooted more in retribution, than fairness. Because one's anger is justified, it does not follow that one's actions are justice.

Meanwhile, the former junior court assistant who had pressed charges of sexual harassment against the CJI, decided to boycott the proceedings of the in-house panel. She said that the insistent questioning by the panel about why she didn't complain before, the presence of the CJI on the judicial side, and her not being allowed a lawyer, intimidated her. She did not feel this would bring her justice. This might make us heartsick, but in doing so, she was not just, in her way, courageous, but also, compassionate to herself. As we know, just because there is law, does not mean there is justice. Why submit oneself to that unkindness?

In 2000, the American writer Lacy M. Johnson was kidnapped and raped by her boyfriend, an experience she wrote a book about. He was never caught. She is often asked, "Don't you wish your rapist was dead?" In a compelling interview, she said, "Perhaps it's an innate instinctual impulse to want to harm the person who harmed you, not just the way that they harmed you, but to completely destroy them… I just wanted to put some pressure on that idea, and see if there are, in fact, other ways of being, and also to think about what kind of harm we perpetuate by insisting on that mode of justice. If it is justice at all." She concluded that justice for her meant her perpetrator be held accountable, not decimated, but for herself be freed from the story of injustice done to her, to live joyfully.

Today, we have weaponised ourselves with the language of injustice, but also bound ourselves to it. When expressing injustice is the only conversation about justice, we are locked into alternately playing the roles of victim and perpetrator, policed or policing, judged or judging. We need new imaginations of justice to free ourselves from this story cycle.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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