On violence of the normal times: A review of Anveshi Broadsheet on Violence

Mohamed Shafeeq K

Anveshi Centre for Research in Women’s Studies, based in Hyderabad has brought out its latest broadsheet on the issue of Violence: Event and Structure (it can be accessed here).  The broadsheet flips the commonsensical understanding of violence as an aberrational outburst interrupting normalcy to illustrate the complex and stealthy ways in which violence – inasmuch as the term means violations of life, dignity, and property – is perpetrated in extraordinary events and unusual places as much as in daily lives and routine methods.  The editors, Parthasarathi Muthukkaruppan and Samata Biswas, set out the following objectives in their editorial: (i) to recognise violence as enmeshed in peaceful times too, (ii) to identify violence in “norms”, “values”, representations, (iii) to illustrate institutional violence (iv) in their non-physical forms too, and (v) to expose the ideology that deems certain violence legitimate. As a supplement to the editorial, the broadsheet summarizes Slavoj Žižek’s book Violence: Six Sideways Reflections where Žižek elaborates on three kinds of violence: systemic, where the violence is institutional and enmeshed in the “normal” working of politics and economy; symbolic, where the violence is the violence of language as it modulates the narration of violence; and subjective, by which is meant our commonsensical understanding of violence, like terrorism.  While the former two do not give the appearance of violence and is often understood to be the normal state of things, it is the third which captures our attention and demands our action.  The objective of critique is to not be swallowed by the subjective dimensions but maintain a critique detached enough to be able to see the systemic and symbolic aspects of violence which causes and docks the subjective ones.

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One kind of violence that is often invisible, and often justified if visible, is the violence perpetrated through legality. Dipyaman Adhikary takes up the issue of smuggling in the border regions of Indo-Bangladesh border to highlight the overwhelming use of power by the Border Security Force (BSF) against the smugglers and the sheer disregard for their human rights.  A piece on the Beemapalli firing by Kerala Police against Muslim fishermen in the Beemapalli mosque neighbourhood in Kerala illustrates the role of naming (by state and media) in perpetrating violence against the victims of state terror.  The authors, Ashraf Kunnummal, Sadique PK, and Ubaid Rehman, illustrate how by naming the firing which happened in Beemapalli as Cheriyathura (another village in the neighbourhood) firing, the state constructed a narrative of a communal violence and the image of an aggressive Muslim mob crossing over into a neighbouring village (Cheriyathura) of Latin Catholics, thus effectively shifting the site and nature of the action.  This act of naming by the state and its orchestration in the media led to subsequent silence over this act of state violence, the second largest firing in the history of Kerala.  The article also points out the continued border-zoning of the area by the state through its mechanisms of surveillance and security and sidelining welfare measures such as construction of schools.

MA Moid continues with the theme of discursive violence in his exploration of the prejudices against the Muslims of Hyderabad, and towards the Old City in Hyderabad.  Moid traces the different stereotypes of Muslims to different phases of Muslim politics in Hyderabad, and illustrates how even though Muslims were at the receiving end of these trends (“backward”, “quarrelsome”, etc.) within the Muslim politics of Hyderabad, the Muslim community as a whole were given these attributes.  The role of language in producing image of population groups is illustrated also by Madhurima Majumder who identifies in the word Jihad as used by many western commentators as a cover term which obfuscates the immediate contexts of disparate events and strings these events into a narrative of clash of civilizations where the Muslim is the Eastern Other who hates “our way of life”.

T Sowjanya writes on the symbolic invisibility of the Dalit women in the discourses on and by Dalits.  One of the forms which the invisible violence takes on is how the marginalized communities gets masculinized as a particular while the dominant caste/community is able to hide itself behind the neutral category of “woman”.  However, this neutral category is not neutral at all in that the category assumes its affective potential only when the affected party is the dominant caste.  What is rape in one instance can become invisible as a routine when the woman is structurally debilitated.  The author then takes the argument further to show that this masculinization has however become hegemonic even in anti-caste thought.  She takes the example of inter-caste marriage.  Inter-caste marriage is often a preferred counter to a casteist society in anti-caste praxis.  However, the author argues, the supposed dilution of caste in inter caste marriages works out only when it is a case of Dalit man marrying an upper caste woman, and has to do with the caste baggage that the woman who enters the Dalit house brings in rather than sheds out.  Inter caste marriage fails to have such an effect when the situation is reversed, that is when it is a case of a Dalit woman and an upper caste man; rather, the Dalit woman has to suffer further violence.  Rani Rohini Raman’s piece on violence against choice marriages is a complementary piece to Sowjanya’s as the former points out how in marriages which involve men from lower caste and women from upper caste, the men, and often the upper caste women too, are murdered for “honour”.  These incidents of violence are not spontaneous outburst of hurt parents or relatives but are often deliberated and agreed on by institutional structures, or resulting from long term and persistent pressures by way of provocations which then constitute the state of dishonor.

The body of women is often one of the sites of struggles between communities and in repressive actions by the state, its operative efficacy generated precisely by the patriarchal pincer discursive move of turning the nation or the community into a mother/sister and the men into the role of the protecting sons/brothers.  Women’s body then becomes an instrument through which the enemy can be inscribed on, numbed, “dishonoured”. Sherin B S writes on the mass rape of women of the twin villages of Kunan and Pushpora in the night of February 23rd, 1991 and narrates how these survivors have turned the tables by resisting against the forgetfulness that normalize state repression, on women especially, in the borderlands.  While women’s body is turned into the site of violence meant to shame, silence, and cease, it also is in its bareness a weapon against state repression, as Trina Nileena Banerjee argues in her study of the linkage between Draupadi’s act of baring herself against Senanayak asking him, “Confront my body”, in Ojha Kanhilal’s production of Mahsweta Devi’s ‘Draupadi’ and the protest of the Manipuri Mothers against the custodial rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama in 2004 by the security forces where they marched naked to the Assam Rifles Headquarters with a banner which says “India Army Rape Us Too”.

Gee Imaan Sammelar writes about the systemic violence meted out to transgender people in India.  While the structural discrimination has made begging and prostitution the only available vocation for transgender people, laws, such as that against begging in Karnataka, are selectively implemented, such that they are denied these livelihood options too.  Favourable rulings, like that of Supreme Court in relation to change of legal gender markers, are not translated to action.  This then results in further violence as these could lead to not being able to obtain identity documents and thus citizenship rights.

The broadsheet also features interviews of the activists of Ambedkar Student Association (by Kavyasree Raghunath and Manasi Mohan) as well as a hard hitting piece by Gogu Shyamala who exposes the patriarchal nature of state and media violence involved in attributing Rohith Vemula’s caste to his father disregarding the figure of the Mother, Radhika Vemula, whose experience of being a Dalit has been formative of Rohith’s own experience and has inspired his politics and being in the world.

The editors of the broadsheet can take credit for putting together an admirable set of articles that set to illustrate and speak about institutional and linguistic violence.

[Dr. Shafeeq K is a post-doctoral fellow at Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities. He can be reached at shafeeq.vly@gmail.com]

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