Violence in Consumerism’s Own Country

As the stories of the DHRM and those of the successful negotiations with which the Chengara land struggle has ended continue to unfurl in the Malayalee media, contradictory messages about Dalit political struggle continue to reverberate in Kerala. Dalits have been markedly reserved about the outcome of the talks with which the land struggle at Chengara has ended. Laha Gopalan, the leader and chief negotiator, has openly declared that the settlement was a hurried one, and that he agreed to it mainly out of fear of violence, given that the divisions have been created among the landless people at Chengara, whose patience has worn thin. Meanwhile, the DHRM’s violence continues to offer opportunities for potshots at Dalit politics. The Kerala Chief Minister, for instance, issued ‘warnings’ against ‘identity politics’ on Gandhi Jayanti, as if ‘identity politics’ were the same as ‘violence’.

There have been different opinions on the left, however – Prof. Chandrachoodan, General Secretary of the RSP, cautioned against treating the issue of the DHRM as one of law and order, pointing out that the left’s neglect of social justice issues raised by Dalit people cannot be ignored (completely the reverse of the RSP State Secretary’s view of things, which are/will be exactly the same as – no prizes for guessing –what Pinarayi Vijayan, our CPM Czar, is, or is likely to be, thinking about them). What is really disturbing about the newspapers’ reporting, apart from the blithe use of newly-coined terms like ‘Dalit terror’, however, is the very manner in which the dominant media is defining violence. Violence, in order to be violence, it seems, must be bloody and public. Acts of violence which do not meet these requirements, it appears, are less glamorous. In fact, the newspapers do not want to focus on those.

I write this from personal experience: from trying to bring into the public news of the award of compensation to a minor girl, Liffina Jose, from Kollam District, by the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Kollam. She had lost her eyesight after being treated by an ophthalmologist in a large private sector hospital in Kollam, run by the all-powerful Catholic Church, who failed to diagnose her condition. The sum is a paltry one, when one thinks of the enormous sums that fill the coffers of these health-care-merchants, and the difficulties that Liffina, whose family is not well-to-do, will have to endure for the rest of her life. Yet it is no mean victory, for medical compensation cases are notoriously difficult to win, given that the medical fraternity is fairly united in its determination to prevent medical litigation from eating into their fattened pockets.  In Liffina’s case, evidence provided by doctors from a leading eye hospital in Tamil Nadu confirmed the charge of medical neglect.

I was struck by the determined refusal of most newspapers – except the Indian Express – to publish even a minor, neutral-sounding item on this award, which is certainly an important win, not just for Liffina but also for many others struggling against the extortion of the private sector medical ‘industry’ in Kerala.  The family finally approached an English newspaper (which is forever harping on about its commitment to ‘serious journalism’ and mourning the plight of the many oppressed peoples in India but taking relief that things are still hunky-dory in China). The district reporter of this newspaper, who is apparently close to the Catholic Church, turned them away on the pretext that this particular hospital was a major contributor of advertisements! So they approached other, non-Catholic reporters of this newspapers, who too confessed their helplessness –apparently because of the same reason!

I think this excuse is too weak even if it may be true – it fits perfectly the mindsets of the denizens of consumerdom who would perhaps read the offering of advertisements as indirect payments for silence. I think that the media’s reluctance stems from an increasing trend to view violence – and all violation of human rights – as events happening ‘out there’, perpetrated by ‘bad people’ – naturally, ‘bad people’ are those who are less educated, less possessing competitive capabilities in the neoliberal universe of opportunities. The violence done to Liffina is ‘passive’ – she was simply neglected – and more importantly, it was perpetrated by members of one of the wealthiest, most powerful and influential groups in Kerala, medical professionals. But its moral consequences are no less serious than the bloody and messy violence of the ‘quotation’ gang. Violations that happen in civil space are viewed increasingly through the lenses of ‘law and order’; violations in/by the market are tolerated as long as they are perpetrated on the poor and the voiceless! Of course, the logic of the market is certainly at work here  that cushions moral outrage– in it Liffina wouldn’t be an aggrieved and wounded victim but merely a dissatisfied consumer seeking redress. But if the Malayalee media cannot work through and past such logic, cannot prevent such logic from engulfing their minds and their journalism, they should simply get off their high moral horses over violence!

14 thoughts on “Violence in Consumerism’s Own Country”

  1. One question. Can a missed diagnosis or delayed diagnosis by a doctor or a group of doctors be termed as deliberate violence on the patient? If so it is high time I stopped practising


  2. That Devika is clever is not an isuue to be negotiated. It is setled in favour of her.

    But that does not mean others are not clever enough to see through some of her ” spins”, at least in this article. devika must try twitter where you cannot ‘argue’ and you can only present facts and then see how much of your cleverness works.

    Just to substantiate what I am saying. Look at this article. She starts with DHRM, mentions the violence they have done without clearly associating directly. Without going into the merit of those incidents she goes the ” root cause” argument, very cleverly, through Prof. Chandrachoodan. And they very slyly justify random violence of dalit “human right” groups by comparing with a case of medical neglect by a catholic hospital. How on earth can you accuse the hospital (or the dotors) of motivation in this case. Such cases of medical neglect is happening even to ” Savarna” caste people, not just to dalit groups.

    No wonder why dalits are still poor , for such is standard of ” social scientists” who take up their cause. Madam, its a fiercely competitive world where your silly cleverness wont work so easily.


  3. To Charakan:
    how are you so sure that the case is just one of missed diagnosis or delayed? The case was won not by “cleverness” (as Naveen would probably argue) but on the strength of the evidence presented by specialists from leading institutions of opthalmology from other parts of South India. Courts do have procedures to determine — and their queries are pretty detaliled — to probe whether the doctor’s failure is understandable under given circumstances or not. Doctors who think that medical negligence is impossible or readily reducible to “missed’ or “delayed” diagnosis and want immunity from any kind of public scrutiny, even when it is their peers that scrutinise them, are welcome to stop practice.

    To Naveen:

    That was a clever one — left-handed compliments are clever moves. But the rest of your comment isn’t even clever. Your plaint about the degree of responsibility that may be attributed to doctors and the hospital rests on a prejudice that doctors can never be negligent, they can only make mistakes. Fortunately, the courts don’t buy such ideas; they do have fairly rigorous means to probe into such cases. More than the inadequacy of the law, it is the money power and the influence of the private medical industry and the attitude of medical professionals that would sacrifice ethics to protect their peers (and the blindness of others, like you) which blocks justice in such cases. In fact, it is the ‘facts’ presented by doctors outside the Kerala medical lobby that got Liffina a favourable judgment. ‘Cleverness’ didn’t work there.

    As for DHRM, I’m actually more radical than you think — if you’ve read my earlier post — and I refuse to be apologetic. I do think that while justice must be delivered to the victims of violence in Varkala, it is necessary for us to probe beyond the police version and the political parties given the context of increasingly simulated public life and politics in Kerala. And it is much more than a class issue.

    Your reading of my post is partial and faulty (if I used your language, I’d say ‘silly’)– I never said that only dalits are subject to medical negligence or that only such negligence is culpable. Medical negligence cases, when the aggrieved party is powerless, tend to miss justice — that’s what I was saying.

    And yes, whatever you may think, when the powerful fail to admit their proven negligence and refuse to make amends even when this would not mean any substantial loss to them, to me, it constitutes serious violence.


  4. Devika, thank you for ur response. You yourself said in ur post that the hospital could not diagnose the condition and as a compensation for the loss of vision in her eye she was awarded the compensation. I did not dispute the Court judgement. I do not feel doctors are above public scrutiny.So may be I need not stop practise.right? I was only suprised at you viewing this as deliberate violence on the part of those who treated her. One more question. Did the hospital refuse to pay compensation awarded by the court?


  5. To Charakan: the medical reports from Madurai, Vellore, and Chennai all remarked that the treatment was negligent, not mistaken. The hospital has refused to pay up the compensation and is moving to a higher court. Liffina’s family does not have the resources to fight for very long. Worse, Liffina’s father is being threatened with social and religious ostracism (Liffina’s family is Catholic and church-going) by higher authorities in the Church. I wouldn’t have called it violence if there was even minimal effort on the side of the church to make amends — after all the kid has permanently lost her vision and the Church is rich enough to take care of her all her life if it so decided. But no — the family is being intimidated and pressurized to withdraw.

    My point is that our notion of intentional violence may be too narrow: it is now well-accepted in moral theory that the consequences of wilful neglect may be classified along with the consequences of deliberate and direct violence.


  6. Dear Devika,

    Let me start this time by accusing you of something you may consider the most ignominious, that you sounds like Pinarayi Vijayan answering press reporters… that is.. playing with words.
    The substantive part of my criticism about your article was your comparison of violence of DHRM and the violence (as per you) of medical neglect (and denial of justice) and the basis of your grouse against media (look even here you company to Vijayan) was of not giving equal importance to these two cases of violence. And my point was and still is that the distinguishing aspect of the two cases is not that one act is ‘bloody and public’, rather it is the Lack OF Motivation in one case.

    DHRM planned the act of violence with a clear motivation. They also had an organizational machinery, as is clearly evident from the way they organized the protest in front of Secretariat, to execute these plans. Add to these the kollam court fire and other cases. The nature of motivation is clearly evident from the propaganda video they used ( parts of it available in you tube videos and hence public). So think before you accuse me again going by Police versions.

    Medical Negligence is not a motivated act. The doctors or the hospital has nothing to gain by making the girl blind. It has nothing to do with the fact that the girl is from a particular social group. If my observation is not faulty, such cases of medical neglect can happen to anyone. Remember Mercy Ravi as one typical example. I agree with your point that in Medical negligence cases the hospitals deny justice when the aggrieved party is powerless. But that does not make it anyway near violence against specific groups (the target group were the ‘wily Savarnas’) by another organized set of people.

    Your reply very cleverly ( again!! ) avoided that chief criticism of mine and latched on to the ‘degree of responsibility’ ‘courts’ (it is at least nice to know that you have full faith in delivery of justice by Indian courts), ‘justice delivered to the victims of violence in Varkala’ (that was never my point) etc.

    I am definitely not asking you to be apologetic but would surely wanted to make you aware that your arguments looks like bordering on silly cleverness for people who have not yet dedicated their brain for “lofty” altruistic causes like me.


  7. Dear Naveen

    thanks for placing me in the company of the highest and mightiest in the land. But I must say that just because Pinarayi Vijayan thinks that the media is rotten, that does not mean that the media is (thereby) saintly. I have been criticising the media on kafila much before vijayan started airing his grouses. This comparison is very ‘clever’, but isn’t valid and it doesn’t bug me!

    In cases of medical negligence, doctors swear by the distinction that you make — between ‘motivated’ violence, and ‘chance negligence’. I do think mistakes that cannot qualify as understandable under given circumstances are marked by the medical professional’s failure to be sensitive to the well-being of the patient. And as moral beings who are expected to contribute to non-violent social life conducive to the wellbeing of all, this sensitivity is expected of us, and especially of an institution that swears by christian charity. When this sensitivity is absent, it leads to behaviour that causes harm — and in Liffina’s case, irreparable and permanent loss. And I define violence as acts that cause harm to the other. Neither the doctor involved nor the institution bothered to make any amends — which clearly means that these agents care nothing about the harm that they have caused the child.

    As for the DHRM violence, I’m still not prepared to swallow the police version — I ask why the dominant media doesn’t want to investigate. To ask for more than a police version of events is not to justify any form of violence. To demand fairness of the media — that they stop projecting all violence to the ‘outliers’, and pay attention to more subtle forms of violence perpetrated by the powerful as well — is again not to justify any form of violence.

    As for your surprise about my attitude to courts, it is the binary logic that you apply that is at fault again. there is no romantic hope in courts anymore anywhere, but no one denies their strategic utility. And maybe I will indeed borrow Pinarayi’s (snide) words to respond to your snide one about me in your last: ‘arhikkunna avajnayotukooti thallikkalanjirikkunnu!’


  8. Now the game is set. And thanks for being candid on this and not take another pretentious moralistic stand. What I am referring to is your admission that you are indeed using courts for its strategic utility (That for me is synonym for cleverness…maybe a higher order one). That sounded much humane compared to all your love for fairness.

    But I am appalled that you are still missing my point from the first post. See , I would assume any phenomena can happen at different scales, qualitatively and quantitatively, and any consideration of fairness requires that equals are compared. For example, it will be ridiculous to compare killing of a mosquito (also a case of causing harm to the other) by a frustrated Cochite with killing of a random Morning walker by a set of motivated youngsters. If that is not the case and you still wants to equate them, I’m sure even you would qualify as a violent person. For sanity, let me replace mosquito with a case of road accident. Are you saying road accident leading to death (again causing harm to other) equates to planned murder. Beware before answering as you are equally likely to commit that act of violence (assuming you own an automobile and you drive). What I am saying is your definition of violence is too loose. A better definition would be harming others purposefully or consciously and not accidentally.

    Note that I still agree on your point that denying justice after the accident by way of some form of compensation (or insurance) is injustice and hence a matter of concern. But then how many such cases would newspaper follow. I’m sure hundreds (if not thousands)of such cases are happening in our state. And the solution for such negligence or apathy differ on perspectives. We can discuss separately, if you would like.

    As for DHRM, the evidence I used to reach my conclusions and hence opinion has nothing to do either with police versions or media stories. I used their own propaganda video clippings, video interviews of colony inmates who were tortured by DHRM people, and clippings and reports of their march to secretariat. Are you saying all these people are lying.

    And not the least, I enjoyed the last line as I always knew that you cannot take a crafty politician out of a human being.


  9. I’m glad to see some ground for agreement emerging. Just a few points in response:

    You insist that I do not see your point about the lack of comparability between ‘inadvertent negligence’, and ‘deliberate crime’. I am still sceptical about your treatment of the two. I’d still differentiate between a situation in which my driving causes death due to reasons beyond my control, and one in which the death was caused because I did not take enough care to ensure safety (for example by consuming amounts of alcohol significant enough to impair my senses). The latter case, in my reckoning, would be violence.

    I do hope you will also take a look at the discussions around the recent hit-and-run cases in the country in which drunken drivers, who are not harassed taxi drivers, mowed down, many people, ‘inadvertently’, of course — in which a difference of opinion quite similar to ours was evident. I also hope you will consider the response in UK to a certain medical negligence case, in which a woman’s leg was amputated by ‘accident’ — the manner in which the guilty institution responded is also striking.

    As I made clear many times before, no one is defending any violence by the DHRM, and no dalit organisation worth its name has defended it. However, I still can’t fathom how the media and the police didn’t have a clue about this ‘sinister’ outfit till the day of the violence! And the political consequences of the media’s treatment of the DHRM violence have been worrisome, and that’s what I’ve been trying to focus on. A glib use of terms like ‘dalit terror’ have a range of dangerous consequences, from the early attempts to foist murder and violence cases on dalit organisations, to the ongoing attempts to extract proof of ‘being good dalits’ from dalit organisations. Dalit activist friends tell me that the DHRM itself is not an internally-homogenous group as the police would like to put it. They say that it is a label that applies to many groups in different localities formed in very different contexts and actually professing different shades of anti-casteism. And they are all appalled by the violence, much more than me or you, because its consequences fall more heavily on them than on us. Interestingly, when the major political parties in Kerala indulge in violence, the attribution of responsibility to ‘some troublesome isolated elements’ within the party is very commonly accepted as a valid argument absolving the party itself of responsibility — and so sections of the media not attached to particular parties refrain from using such terms. That doesn’t seem to be working here, and so the reference to ‘Dalit terror’ even in the so-called ‘neutral press’!

    Also, yes, I do agree PV is as human as any of us! Only if he and his followers were more aware of it. As for ‘cleverness’ being good or bad, I think we need to give up binary logic in which it should be either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and no other option is available for thought.


  10. where has my last post gone. Was it edited out or some technology issue. If it is a technology problem, I can repost the comment. If it is edited out, pls give reasons as to which editorial policy led to its censor.


  11. Naveen, your last comment was ‘edited out’ as it was simply repeating points you have already made in fairly lengthy repeated comments. Kafila admins feel that the debate has run its course and no new points are being made. For more details on our editorial policy please see the Kafila Policy page.


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