Sometimes, the heart is so weary that the hand can barely bring itself to click on a newslink. I feel this hopelessness often these days. Active outrage is not necessarily an empathic emotion, just as immediate quietness can mean exhaustion or contemplation, or observing before opining, not only callousness. No social justice effort that demands constant engagement, with neither rest nor reflection, can sustain itself long enough for a meaningful outcome. Horrible things happen every hour (as the statistics show); terrible things capture the headlines every day; every week, our sense of shock is renewed. No one has that kind of unflagging energy, to keep shouting. Those of us who want a better world must learn how to take turns, which is not the same as passing the buck.
So when I saw the latest misogyny reported on a judicial level – the latest today, which may not even be the latest by the time you read this – I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to look properly, let alone respond. Then I did begin to look into it, and realised that there were in fact not one but two Supreme Court cases in the headlines, with related sentiments. The Chief Justice of India himself, the Honourable Sharad Arvind Bobde, asked the rapist who attacked a minor in one case: “Will you marry her?” On the same day, the CJI was also quoted as having said in another case, in which a woman alleged rape by her live-in partner, “When two people are living as husband and wife, however brutal the husband is, can the act of sexual intercourse between them be called rape?”
Behind both statements are echoes and echoes and echoes, centuries of evil that have seeped into and become a part of – even a proud, sanctioned part of – the culture. Each time such a scenario catches our attention, we must touch base again with this big picture. Otherwise, we are incomplete in our appraisal. This is one of the reasons why the weight of resistance is so wearying. It’s never about just one incident, even as we must be careful to not blur into that big picture the person or persons currently in the crisis spotlight. But the magnitude of it is mind-boggling.
What is there to say, really, when feeling crushed by this collective weight? The disgust and anger when a case is still being fought, when someone has survived, is unlike the disgust, anger and sorrow when someone has not. Some place names become codes for crimes: Unnao and Hathras, for example, each with multiple horrors that its name itself evokes. I open my browser briefly as I write and already there’s another case, another case in which a Dalit girl has been found murdered in a field, in Aligarh this time.
So forgive me: today I have nothing pithy or sharp to say, nothing that will amplify the noise. Anger is only one way to look this in the eye. The quietness – and for others who don’t even say this much, the silence – of contemplation, the space it creates for restrategising, is not the same as looking away.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 6th 2021. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.