Paromita Vohra: Moving beyond ideological ping pong
It has not been an easy week in some years of uneasy weeks
It has not been an easy week in some years of uneasy weeks. How shall we describe what we have been confronting? One way is to say that we are struggling with the brutality surrounding the rapes of an eight-year-old child in Kathua, Jammu and a 16-year old in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh.
That people are capable of violence, and that the more their power, by virtue of their position in the gender, caste, community and class hierarchy, the more avid the violence against those below them — we know this and struggle with that knowledge. But, this week we are confronting baldly, another cold-blooded version of this violence, that of deep administrative complicity, of lawyers, police, government in abetting, condoning, defending this violence.
We all have the right to our ideological positions, our partisanship, as private citizens. But, public office and public life are about upholding commonly held principles of law, not being limited to our private or even social identities. It's sad for us all, irrespective of our political affiliations, that even our Prime Minister has not spoken about these cases as a Prime Minister of the country, but rather, while performing his role as campaigner for his party.
So, as citizens we have to push ourselves past our electoral affiliations, insist on being more than just that. We have to struggle for a language of public conversations not restricted to establishing these affiliations, but capable of confronting the political heart of an issue. Otherwise, we are little more than petty players in a game of ideological ping pong. It is now a first, primarily (but not only) right-wing response to say, "why are you protesting this murder and rape? Where were you when another rape by another community happened?" Perhaps the question has to be turned around: if you did protest that other rape then surely you should be protesting this one, too.
But there are enough whose idea of demonstrating liberal-ness is to seize every opportunity to express bristling contempt for those who voted this government into power. Whatever. In the end it isn't about that. It is about holding any and every government, including one you did or didn't vote for, to account.
For that reason too, one must resist speaking more about Kathua case than Unnao. The declaration by Maneka Gandhi, that the POCSO law should be amended to include death penalty for rapists of children below 12 is that sort of deflecting abstraction. This is not about pretending we need yet another law but ensuring administrations rise above partisanship and fulfill the intent of law, which is justice for crimes. What's the point of changing the laws if custodians of law do not respect it? It is also not about choosing to let the particular brutalities of one case move you while being oblivious to another.
It is about recognising that each brutality is brutal in its way to the victim of that brutality. A dead child's rape must receive justice. So must a living girl's, whose father died in custody when he complained — and others before we've remained oblivious of, or those to come. We must hold on to the language which allows for more than one thing to matter at a time, so we can walk not just the high road, but the long road.
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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