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Media or anyone else should necessarily speak of victims like the young Hathras rape victim as a Dalit woman, because the politics of identity matter.
The recent horrific alleged rape at Hathras has shocked India. During the many discussions on the incident, on the one hand, hashtags demanding justice for the Hathras victim trended on social media but on the other, several upper caste Hindus questioned the media reporting of the case.
One of my friends texted me, “Why do we need to always say that the victim is Dalit in such rapes cases? No one reports in the same way for an upper caste rape victim?”
Her naïve question made me think about the role identity plays in the current violent landscape of India. So, I decided to look at certain events and navigate the politics of identity within them.
In January this year, one of the most reputed of Indian institutions, Jawaharlal Nehru University, was vandalized. Students and professors were attacked by masked goons. Even though several news channels (the ones which are still committed to report fairly) showed multiple evidences that Komal Sharma, member of a right-wing student union, was actively engaged in carrying out the violence against the left-wing students of JNU, her Savarna Hindu identity was conveniently ignored by the mass consciousness.
Many of my well-meaning Hindu friends said, “we don’t trust the evidence shown by media. Let’s see what police says.” The police, given its alignment with the political party in power, maintained the same stance as the upper caste Hindu majority. Sharma’s identity was made debatable, pushed under the rug, and she was never arrested. Those on the infamous left side of things were arrested without a pause. Right wing political alignment gave Sharma’s identity undue power over that of others.
Similarly, in Hathras incident, the importance of identity of the deceased is being made debatable to trivialize the caste-based violence that constantly hounds the Indian Dalit community.
Ignoring the identity prefix in both the cases have one result—maintain the hegemony of Hindu/Savarna supremacy without holding it accountable. Ignoring Komal’s upper caste Hindu identity is a tool to grant impunity to the likes of her to carry out violence that breeds out of bigotry. Questioning the media attention to Hathras victim’s Dalit identity is a tool to continue keeping the Dalit community in the position of subservience, which eventually lays the ground for the Komal Sharmas of India to act according to their hateful rhetoric.
In both cases, identity that serves the political motives of the ruling class and the upper caste has clear advantages.
Another example of the politicization of identity comes to mind when one thinks about the amount of cultural investment in Sushant Singh’s Rajput’s alleged suicide case.
A national upheaval has been generated by critically inept so-called fans of Sushant, who despite any concrete evidences have worked tirelessly to argue that he was murdered. Contrastingly, the same wannabe Hindutva avengers are ready to overlook the obvious marks of violence on the Hathras victim’s dead body.
The public that believed the police investigation of the Delhi riots is questioning the Mumbai police in Sushant’s case. The same public refuses to see the problems with the ways Uttar Pradesh police handled the Hathras gangrape case. Why so? If local police has the capability to protect the powerful and not pursue a fair investigation in Sushant’s case, can’t the same be true for Delhi or Uttar Pradesh police too?
Moreover, if we are arguing for the Dalit identity to be absent from crime reporting then why are we invoking Sushant’s Hindu identity in his death despite the fact that Sushant at one time dropped his last name to retaliate against right-wing mob violence? The dead cannot speak for themselves and hence become easy targets for the state, and for the dominant culture to twist, turn, ignore, morph their identities in whatever ways it deems fit.
The Hathras gangrape is a rule but seen as an exception, while Sushant’s death is an exception but seen as a rule.
The violence against Dalits, especially women, is a blot on Indian society. I am in no way trivializing Sushant’s death or denying that there could be a possibility of foul play in his death. But I am definitely exposing our hypocrite venture to turn his death into a national urgency while having the willful ignorance to question, “Why do we need to always say that the victim is Dalit in cases like Hathras?” I am saddened by our cultural overlook of the Dalit bodies, which are repetitively being turned into killable bodies by the appalling negligence of the Indian state and apathetical public consciousness.
I am an Indian woman, living in US. If I am killed by a man in a hate crime in the US, I would want American media to explicitly mention my nationality. I would not want news articles to say, “A man killed a woman.” Why? Because I am a minority in a country that is full of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia—fueled by its right-wing government. By mentioning my identity, the media will be able to draw attention to a specific kind of violence that its government and local police would want to push under the rug. Also, it will help my murder to become a case, get national/international attention, and my kin to demand justice. That is precisely why specific minority identity markers must be reported by media incessantly.
The quintessential upper caste Hindu still has to experience what it means to live like a community or a citizen of a country with unequal rights. They still have to experience what it means to be minority in a system that has always suited them the best. Unless the desire of unlearning the privileges stems from the privileged upper caste Hindus of India themselves, the identity of the dead will always be manipulated to strengthen a system that benefits some over all.
Image source: By Simon Williams / Ekta Parishad – Ekta Parishad, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
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Ankita is a PhD scholar at Louisiana State University and her research is on Bollywood,
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