Let us be proud as Indians!

(I have a policy that this site will only cover issues related to art and visual culture, which is why I do not comment on a lot of other things happening around us. Today, however, is an exception. After fighting for her life for almost two weeks, the 23-year-old victim of the brutal gang rape and assault in New Delhi has died. So yes, today is an exception indeed).  

We, the Indian public, who have been on the street with passionate cries for the heads of the six perpetrators, now can have our wish fulfilled, for now it has turned into a murder case. In this context, we hardly find relevant any class issue (any possibility, for instance, that our zeal in this matter is implicitly fueled by their disempowered class status; the question as to how exactly we would have reacted, had the confessed violators been rich kids), and believe this is simply a case of Good versus Evil. So we shall rejoice when the six heads are offered us on a platter (because we know that offered they will be!); and then, having had our revenge, and having convinced ourselves of our unequivocal compassion for the victim and of our equally unambiguous hatred for the criminals, we shall retire to life as usual. We, the custodians of Indian patriarchal values, men and women alike (for yes, many of the women among us are as much upholders of patriarchy as the men), shall soon go back to viciously criticizing the woman who goes out in a revealing dress, the one who lives alone, the one who has a child out of wedlock, the one who returns home late, and so on, blaming them for provoking Indian men to violate them. There is rape, and then there is “rape”, and we believe it is simply unfair to blame a male perpetrator alone for the latter. Therefore, when something happens, the first thing we shall assume is that the victim is a prostitute. We shall be relieved if we find that she is, since violation of a prostitute is no headache of ours. If, on the other hand, we find that she isn’t, we shall thoroughly dissect her character; inquire about the propriety of her lifestyle, dress, attitude, and of her presence on the location in question, at the time in question. We shall make sure that all of us –from the law enforcement and the lawmakers to her neighbors and acquaintances– thoroughly investigate such factors, and that if issues we deem dubious do surface in the course of such inquiry, publicly question her legitimacy and expose her to the world. After all, we have the legacy of several millennia of documented civilization flowing through our veins; our parampara (tradition) tells us how our women should behave at home and outside.

The New Delhi victim, however, was guilty of no such infractions, so she is our True Victim, our Daughter– India’s Daughter. In fact, we shall even hold those women who don’t act Indian enough indirectly responsible for her fate, since they are the ones who distract Indian men from their tranquil contemplation of masculinity and compel them to commit such heinous crimes. When India’s Daughter was alive and we loudly demanded the death sentence for the six men and all future sexual predators—when we demanded death for rape as law, our argument was that rape for an Indian woman is worse than death (read: she might as well be dead), hence death as well for the perpetrators. We never, for the good reasons stated above, felt the need to entertain the suggestion that we might be deluding ourselves; that our urgency for revenge had much more to do with our impotence as a society in helping rape victims take back their lives, than with what we were convinced was our genuine compassion for this young woman as well as for all others who suffer sexual assaults.

A handful of carping slanderers, Western-influenced leftist bigots demand that we should hang our heads in shame for our miserable failure to address the larger issue of modern Indian society’s deeply troubling notions of gender and power as some of the root causes of violence against women. We, however, say that we should proudly hold our heads high for our insight, sense of justice, and loyalty to our parampara that we bring to the throbbing heart of the largest democracy on earth!

Sunanda K Sanyal

The cartoon controversies in India:

Democracy comes with its tests, some of which every democratic nation inevitably flunks. In fact, there hasn’t been any nation in the history of democracy that has passed all the tests all the time. And needless to say, a regime always finds ways to justify its anti-democratic actions, no matter how ridiculous its arguments. But what’s been happening in India (at least technically the largest democracy on the planet) with regard to free speech is way beyond poor test performance; it’s a travesty, pure and simple—and one of the stupidest kinds. I’m particularly interested in the crackdown on certain political cartoonists.

Cartoonists, of all people! COME ON!! We grew up during the ‘60s and the ‘70s in a rich culture of incisive political cartoons by Kutty, R.K. Laxman et al, an era when India was a fledgling democracy by any standard; yet I can’t remember any serious reprisals against cartoonists. Every issue of the major magazines and newspapers in the country had a regular cartoon page. These days, on the other hand, some cartoonists are being hauled to jail, intimidated, even charged with sedition (Sedition, mind you!) for addressing corruption in government and related institutions. What is more, the primary weapon of such assault is a bizarre hybrid of an anti-subversion law made by the British colonial administration in 1860 and the very recent Information Technology Act, the primary purpose of which is to ensure cyber security. Of course, the cases are going nowhere on the legal front because it’s not easy to prove a bunch of cartoons seditious. But the intimidation and hassle are enough to make a regular citizen either break down, or, as it seems in the case of Aseem Trivedi of Mumbai, become more resolved. I don’t find Aseem Trivedi’s work adequately mature in terms of skill, punch line or aesthetic. But that’s beside the point. Whenever a regime takes its battle to cultural workers, like artists and journalists, it’s a disturbing symptom of a wider disease, where quality is less important than the question of rights.

Democracy in India has never shown much tolerance for open debates, and we all know that a list of the wrongs and ill-doings of the Indian system would be pretty long; but this!! Even other police states must be rolling on the floor laughing, because ironically, these antics of the Indian authorities provide fodders for great cartoons!

More later on the question of freedom of speech and creative expression in India.

Sunanda K Sanyal

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