English   |   Bangla

The sexual is at the heart of the political

We must unpack assumptions about class and caste and silences on the sexual if we are to change the cultures that breed violence.

 |  4-minute read |   09-07-2017
  • ---
    Total Shares

Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves in their most recent article in DailyO on the Byculla prison murder raised the issue of class and position in the torture and murder of prisoners and victimised people in general.

They pointed out that while the rapists and murderers of Jyoti Singh were slumdwellers, these rapists and murderers were middle class employees. However, not only do they leave troubling assumptions behind this broad brushstroke class analysis, but also several important issues that demand examination. First, the assumption. They write:

The Nirbhaya convicts were all poor slum dwellers, who well knew that the crime they were committing had no social sanction and that they could have the might of the State upon them and likely face its consequences.

The Byculla killers, on the other hand, were middle class employees, who had been tutored and mentored to wear such violent crimes as a badge of honour, who were assured that the whole state machinery would not only protect them from any consequences, but also likely shower them with accolades.

It is not clear how they manage this leap into the consciousness of the Jyoti Singh rapists. As it happens, there was and is tremendous social sanction to what they did.

small_070317031817_070917031824.jpg. We claim to be a democracy and we have standard operating procedures in most spaces and for most things.

Men do this to women across the country and across caste and class and regional lines. The torture and rape of fellow citizens is an acceptable form of punishment in our context.

The marking of the difference between slum dwellers and middle class employees was not needed to make the point about impunity. The point of difference is surely that the latter are torturing, raping and murdering in uniform, not their class.

Indeed, Ferreira himself, in his own jail memoir The Colours of the Cage, says he refused to file cases against the officers who tortured him as he says he saw them as mere cogs in the wheel, of lower status, mere minions and he thinks only the top guns should be targeted. The torturers, rapists and murderers of the Byculla jail might also be seen sympathetically by this logic.

This is a dangerous way in which a lazy class or caste analysis becomes a way to justify all sorts of violence. In his book Of Gardens and Graves, Suvir Kaul makes a similar problematic argument about CRPF jawans in Kashmir greeting his Hindu mother as she walks by and feeling alone. They are, once again, seen as mere cogs in the wheel. CRPF jawans also rape and murder women and men in Kashmir who do not look like Hindu mothers.

Their being lower caste or lower class does not justify that. These are things not permissible by law and should not be tolerated by anyone. The people lynching Muslims over cows might also be lower caste and lower class. That does not make lynching understandable nor can they be seen as mere cogs in the Hindutva wheel.

Gonsalves and Ferreira also leave out the fact that these rapists and murderers were women. Women can be rapists of other women and of men, and men of men. That is an important point in and of itself, but, more importantly, helps extend our understanding of rape as a political weapon. In Kashmir, for example, men are routinely subjected to the electrocution of their genitalia, to anal rape, to other forms of rape as subjugation for asking for a separate state.

In the Byculla jail, it was for asking for the right amount of food. Both are political demands and both receive rape as a form of political punishment. Neither of these practices is standard operating procedures but we all know they are.

Once again, Ferreira, in his memoir, leaves out all mention of sexual violence and glosses over the imprisonment of hijras and the attendant problems in his narrative.

The sexual is at the heart of the political which makes the police or the army man go for Kashmiri men’s genitals, the prison officers shove the lathi into human orifices and the lyncher and rapist first denigrate the victim sexually.

We really have to unpack these assumptions about class and caste and silences on the sexual if we are to get to the heart of these forms of violence — both custodial and quotidian – and change the cultures that breed them.

Sexual violence and violence in general must be made unacceptable, in and out of jail and whether by Brahmins or Dalits, the rich or the poor, women or men or transgenders and whoever else. We claim to be a democracy and we have standard operating procedures in most spaces and for most things. People who cannot do without rape and violence have no place in a democracy and must be locked away.

Also read: Custodial deaths: When cops turn criminals

Writer

Ashley Tellis Ashley Tellis @tellisashley

The writer is an LGBT rights activist based in Chennai.

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.