Monday, August 07, 2017

The politics of painting the victim as the perpetrator

Ratnakar Tripathy

I have never heard of a historian who complained of too much factual material to build a story. But these days I keep hearing historical and contemporary narratives that seem to not simply keep a safe distance from well-known facts but to even reverse the story on the basis of wild theories and postulates that reflect the beliefs of the narrator and no more. What is striking here is the apparent lack of conviction that starts on a note of denial and posits completely white lies as facts. As human beings, we are equipped to deal with situations when there is some minimal consensus on what may have happened. We are ill-equipped to deal with situations where a blatant lie is presented in front of us as the obvious truth. It is worrying for some that they are unable to prove the existence of Unicorns, but isn’t it even more worrying that its definite non-existence cannot be demonstrated either? In brief, faced with a white lie, we get stumped and begin to stammer incoherently and perhaps even consider plain yelling if not physical assault!

That Mughal and western history seem irrelevant to syllabus-makers in Rajasthan is a serious enough matter but it doesn’t hurt with the same immediacy as the lies that attempt to turn a victim into a perpetrator – recently when a lady named Varnika Kundu was driving to her home in Chandigarh at around 12 AM, a vehicle tried to aggressively block her path though she managed to reverse her car and report the incident to the police. I first got this piece of information from Facebook through an elaborate post by her father, an IAS officer. I saw it as a horrifying incident that was duly aborted and forgot about it. But the very next morning it made national news when the stalker was revealed to be the son of a senior BJP leader in Haryana.  The lady in question, a career woman took matters in her hand and managed to get help from the police, largely I feel since she is the daughter of an IAS officer and couldn’t be dismissed lightly. The offenders however were faced with extremely light charges by the police and let off in no time. The offender perhaps comes from a family of warm-blooded men and women who take it for granted that men will assault and that it is the girl’s onus to keep out of the way. If a woman is unlucky enough to fall in the way, well, she has just been unlucky and must get over it soon. All these matters are what we call ‘cultural’, a distortion from the feudal days which is why a BJP leader from Haryana demanded an answer to his question – what was Varnika doing on the roads at 12 AM in the night.  

What is not cultural however is when a BJP spokesperson N C Shaina, a highly educated person demanded justice for the perpetrator Vikas Barala instead of showing sympathy for the victim or just plain keeping her trap opportunely shut. She has since deleted her tweet more out of shame than remorse, although Nidhi Razdan, the famous TV presenter scrupulously copied it and preserves it, engraved as it is forever in the digital stone.

I am of course moved by the plight of the gutsy young lady from Chandigarh who claimed that like many other victims, she doesn’t care to stay anonymous and since as a victim rather than a perpetrator, she has no reason to hide her name and face. But I also feel concerned by a general tendency to paint the victim as the perpetrator these days – the media does it and so do the politicians on the right. The farmer, the tribal, the villagers asking for rehabilitation, the conscientious teachers, the whistleblowers and the suffering students are now the new villains of a society that has lost its moral compass. Such reversal can turn our entire vocabulary toxic and snap the last straw of human decency, forget the higher ideals of goodness and rectitude.

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