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India's Daughter: How Delhi's suffering from the "living room syndrome"

It is the burden borne by Delhi’s elite class to decide what the rest should think, what opinion they should have and express.

 |  4-minute read |   06-03-2015
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It is not easy to be objective amid stormy protests against the rapist's interview in the documentary India's Daughter. The nightmare has now become personal with every delay in justice, with every futile television debate, and with every insensitive statement. Perhaps, it is even more difficult to be objective as a woman living in Delhi, who must brace against demeaning glances, words, gestures every day on its streets paved with silent humiliation. No point in asking how they deal with their own sisters and daughters, the rapists' lawyers have made that clear in their stated views.

Legal objections to the interview hold true and impact on impressionable minds may be real. Objective analysis, painstakingly equidistant from the experiences of Delhi and the extremes of free expression, points to a hidden social trend masquerading as a cause. That is the "living room syndrome" of the elite where every view must go through many conditional gateways to be accepted and defended. But first, it has got to be in English. Second, it must have gone viral on social media. And third, it should make one look good.

The affliction to the syndrome is most apparent when the elite deal with the rest, the unwashed and the unpredictable. Glowing and good-intentioned, they speak for those on the fringes, feel for them. History is the dubious witness to the reforms in our polity that have happened because the elite know how to help the underprivileged. Whether they should be given jobs to get out of poverty or offered welfare; whether they should live in villages or cities, or whether they should work as construction labour or remain farmers. The thinking elite decide on their behalf because they know what they want, need, and how to give it to them. And therefore, they also know what the unprepared masses shouldn't have, cannot handle and must be taken away from them. It is also the burden of the enlightened few to decide what the rest should think, what opinion they should have and express. For, without such guidance, it is unlikely that people, criminal or otherwise, would ever know what to say on interviews that may be telecast on the BBC.

That explains why an anxious class objected to the airing of the documentary that contained the rapist's interview. After all, they had fought against death penalty to the rapists, even if the right to life of Nirbhaya was curtailed. It takes certain nobility and forgiveness, the singular traits to be found among the elite. However, they draw the line at candid interviews. Reality has rough edges that are bad for the upholstery of well-appointed living rooms.

Delhi is the living room of India, and why not. It articulates the aspirations of those who can never hope to be heard, seen or remembered. This is not without evidence; in the Assembly election of February 2015 the well-heeled of Delhi voted with the autowala, the rickshaw driver, the pavement-dweller, those harassed by cops and forgotten by state. Normally, a bus driver would fall in the same category. But for the elite, the syndrome requires that they control the opinions of such people, decide for them, own them. That way, the natives would never say something unacceptable. It may not be the truth, but what is "truth" if not a lifestyle choice. This is easily sorted with a round of attentive discussions on funding raising strategies for awareness, or perhaps, a bit of well-curated slumming.

The "living room syndrome" helps in other ways as well. It separates the elite from the rest. For instance, it ought to be clear that the people who protested against the interview never made a sexist remark, never used the usual Hindi expletives that are derogatory towards women. They never stared in that depraved Indian way at women in public, never mistreated women in their own families and were not among the parents who gave birth to two or even three daughters hoping for a son.

Finally, who needs to know what the criminal thinks? Not everyone is Nathuram Godse. Also, television should be wary of unfiltered telecasts, and governments should ban anything that the elite find uncomfortable. Then one day, who knows, perhaps the whole world would be one beautifully done-up living room right out of that glossy magazine.

Writer

Kota Neelima Kota Neelima @kotaneelima

Kota Neelima is author of the bestselling political fiction ‘Shoes of the Dead.’

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