When bureaucratic violence is norm

Updated: Aug 02, 2019, 08:34 IST | Rosalyn Dmello

The over-insistence on one's father's/husband's identity based on her marital status is a form of patriarchal violence. As though a woman is a man's property and is doomed to remain so

When bureaucratic violence is norm
Women activists stage a protest demonstration over the Unnao case where a rape survivor has been systematically been targetted for daring to speak about atrocities committed upon her by a ruling party MLA. Pic/PTI

Rosalyn D'MelloI spent half of yesterday trying to get married. It left me with an even more nuanced understanding of the phrase "bureaucratic violence", an insidious system of punishing citizens who don't conform to mainstream identity. For example, many of my Hindu friends managed to renew their passports recently with relative ease. For me, it was an ordeal.

The police were not satisfied with just my Aadhar card, I had to also produce my father's Aadhar card, my mother's Aadhar card, as well as our family's ration card. This for a mere passport renewal. I had to spend at least four hours at the police station in Kurla West, despite the fact that my address was the same as on my previous two passports, despite the fact that the procedure dictates that the police were to come to my home for the verification process, and not the other way around.

I had to pin it down to the fact that I was in a police station run primarily by Hindu policemen in an area that is predominantly inhabited by Muslims and Christians. When someone lower down in the ranks came to our home to geo-tag it on his sophisticated tablet, despite my having filed all the papers at the police station, he still dared to inquire persistently as to the exact whereabouts of my father's origin. He wasn't satisfied to hear he was born in Dadar, that his parents had migrated from Goa to Bombay before he was born. He wanted to know exactly which village in Goa my father came from. He wasn't asking out of politeness or conversational curiosity. It began to feel like harassment. I intervened to shut it down as soon as possible. I realised, once again, that for unmarried women, the over-insistence on one's father's identity as part of any verification process is a form of patriarchal violence. In the case of married women, the dependency is replaced from father to husband. As though a woman is a man's property and is doomed to remain so.

It's hard not to empathise with so many flood victims in Assam who were afraid to leave their homes without their papers for fear of being outcast from the prejudicial National Register of Citizens of India. It is through the bureaucracy that our freedoms are being compromised, to the extent that, given the vast majority the current Central government enjoys, our new reality as subjects of an authoritarian regime will have been pseudo-democratically established. Mahua Moitra, the outspoken member of the tiny current opposition, put it quite elegantly in a recent speech — why are citizens asked to produce papers to prove their identity when most politicians cannot produce any documentation to testify to their alleged education? The hypocrisy, sadly, is lost on many who are over-enthusiastic about the looming reality of a national identity premised on majoritarian religious identities.

As I was falling asleep on Tuesday night, reflecting on how it was technically my last night as a single woman, my thoughts were fixated on the critical medical condition of the Unnao rape survivor, who, along with her family, has been systematically targetted as a way of punishing her for daring to speak about the atrocities committed upon her body by an MLA from the ruling party. That her safety and security were potentially compromised by forces meant to protect her is abhorring. That she had written a letter to the Chief Justice of India to alert him to the fact that she was conscious of her life being at risk, and that nothing was done to protect her, is appalling. It is yet again an instance of bureaucratic violence, when the very machinery that was put in place to guarantee certain rights to citizens has been endemically compromised. Who do you turn to when some of the most powerful people in the judiciary cast a blind eye to your plight as a woman who has had the courage to call out her powerful oppressor?

There has never been a good enough time to be born a woman in India. This country and the people in power continue to reinforce this truism. We are deluding ourselves if we think things are better today than they were 30 years ago. For instance, how do we explain that in the last three months, not a single girl has been born in 132 villages of Uttarkashi district in Uttarakhand? How do we explain the ridiculous yet anxiety-inducing video released by the Ambani family to wish their daughter-in-law, Shloka Akash Ambani, on her birthday where at least three members of her family, including her husband, publicly suggest that by her next birthday she should have birthed the family's heir? How else do we explain the socially sanctioned verbal lynching of Aparna Sen by Arnab Goswami on television prime-time? Or the continual professional heckling of Mahua Moitra each time she attempts to speak truth to power in the Parliament.

As an empowered woman who cannot resist acknowledging the continuing oppression of the marginalised, how does one sustain hope in the feminist mission? I'm struggling with this question like I never have had to before. How do we resist the normalisation of our victimhood and seek a more empowering reality that is not founded on inequality and discrimination?

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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