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Armchair anguish

In the competition to condemn atrocities, we sometimes forget the atrocities themselves. Acts of collective outrage, despite their forceful street theatre quality, have more often than not whittled down into mere ‘incidents’. Indrajit Hazra writes.

columns Updated: Jun 22, 2013 22:15 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
mamata banerjee,delhi gangrape,rape

In the competition to condemn atrocities, we sometimes forget the atrocities themselves. Being aghast becomes a thing unto itself, an act so self-sustaining, so perversely self-satisfying, that those entrusted with the job of stopping ferocious crimes — or, at least, putting the fear of god into potential perpetrators of such crimes — find it not worth their while to react to, let alone act on, such flailing about that may have forgotten its source.

Such acts of collective outrage, despite their forceful street theatre quality, have more often than not whittled down into mere ‘incidents’.

Whether it’s the anti-corruption-Lokpal Bill agitations that now seem like a lightning storm in the pan, or the anti-rape protests that ‘captured’ the nation after the December 16 gang rape in Delhi, such outbursts of anguish start from realising the seriousness of the crime and move on to anger against the apathy or stratagems used by the powers-that-be to ‘defuse the situation’. But then, it’s sudden clear skies again making those protests take on the hue of worthy-but-lost causes.

The horrors committed, against which the initial mass anger is directed, become urban legend genres. Rape is one genre, rape and murder a sub-genre, rape and murder of a minor a niche barbarity in a catalogue of horrors.

Increasingly these days, what follows is the condemnation against the other horror: the obfuscation, the authoritarian shrug, the patronising reassurance that hides the lullaby. Unfortunately, in the staring match between the authorities and the agitated citizenry, the latter almost always is the first to blink.

It is this inability to sustain the anger long enough to make the authorities bring about the desired change in functioning that makes almost all ‘mass’ agitations what they end up being: temporary derangements.

Playing down the seriousness of a heinous crime has been the standard operating procedure for law and order authorities. The citizenry at large has always been happy to help out.

As another armchair-loving friend of mine once had one of his characters say, “It’s like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don’t laugh any more.”

But a new breakthrough in State response was attained last Monday when Mamata Banerjee visited the home of the 20-year-old college student who was gang-raped and murdered on June 7. (Does the knowledge of exceedingly deep bite-marks found on her throat enhance our nausea?) During her visit to Kamduni, North 24 Parganas, some 30 km from Kolkata, the West Bengal CM faced angry women who wanted real reassurances from her.

Banerjee did not stick to even providing the usual statutory cosmetic comfort. Neither did she state the traditional line used by many other politicians (including the late Bengal CM Jyoti Basu), ‘These things happen’, to rationalise rape and murder in Bharat-cum-India. What she did was snap and tell the agitators to ‘Shut up!’ “Ami shune niyechhi. Apni beshi kotha bolben na, chope!” (I’ve listened. Don’t talk too much, shut up!), she shouted at a woman who had looked more anguished than angry.

Banerjee then proceeded to launch into her favourite Grand Unified Theory: the CPI(M) was behind the heinous crime. This wasn’t, as some thought it fit to put it, a ‘PR disaster’.

This is how the State reacts when people seek out anything beyond its notion of generous hand-outs. Trinamool’s Saugata Roy actually went on record on national TV to say, “The villagers of Kamduni are suffering from an exaggerated sense of self-importance.”

Five days before Banerjee’s visit there, Trinamool MLA Sushil Biswas had visited another village after another gang rape-murder, this time of a mute-and-deaf 13-year-old girl in Gede, Nadia.

Not understanding a word of what the locals were demanding as compensation and what Biswas was negotiating with his party bosses in Kolkata over the phone, the distraught mother of the girl just crumpled, shut her eyes and sat with her hands folded on the ground in front of the legislator who sat there like some visiting zamindar.

Kamduni and Gede are just two villages in the same country where on Tuesday a 55-year-old woman in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, was murdered by a mob with rifle butts for letting her college-going daughter walk around in jeans. The killers were led by a woman who had threatened her before.

I don’t know how outraged the people of Aligarh are over the murder. I don’t know whether Akhilesh Yadav not saying anything — reassuring or rabid — makes the Aligarh murder less reprehensible to us.

Without any visible proof I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing that the prime minister of the country under which Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal and all other states of the Union fall, must feel really bad when he comes across the news of such ‘incidents’ and the way the State deals with them on a daily basis. Frankly, I can’t tell.

But I do know for sure that a people who lack the patience to see it through that the State change its ways when dealing with horrors are as diabolical as the forces they decide to rail against. Actually more, since they facilitate evil while convinced of their own episodic fits of goodness.

First Published: Jun 22, 2013 16:23 IST