Guest Post by Pratiksha Baxi
Many competing frameworks have given expression to shock, disbelief, rage, grief, guilt and fear after the violence witnessed as the new semester kicked in, with a monumental tragedy, on the JNU campus. Everyone is stunned by the tragic turn of events that has resulted in a young woman battling for her life in a neuro–ICU in Safadarjung hospital. Confusion gripped the campus as the classroom became a scene of crime, a classmate became a bloodied body and the familiar transformed into the incomprehensible. It was devastating that the assailant, who succeeded in extinguishing his own life, aimed to unite in death the object of his obsession through a planned and highly performative act of violence in the routine setting of a classroom.
In the staging of this crime, we were all imagined as spectators, consumers and voyeurs—of the performance of violence—which intended to destroy its author, its object of obsession and some part of all of us. What disturbs us today is the fact that we are called to witness incomprehensible and tragic violence—whether or not we “saw” the blood, the weapons or the mangled bodies. We are disturbed since the performative power of such violence places upon us different affective claims: guilt, fear and even a demand to recognise heroism.
There are some who resist the characterisation of the dead student as a stalker, attributing this tragic violent act, to a state of victimhood. Explanations abound about the state of victimhood as an outcome of a mental health problem, illness narrative at home, penury, lack of ability to form adult relationships based on equality and respect, or even as an outcome of academic pressure. Some look for a “trigger” to explain the timing of the violence, others rightly blame institutional failure to recognise the cry for help that the student’s psychological torment evident to so many, demanded. All of these or none of these characterisations may be compelling—however, what also matters is the nature of response that this violence claims. The nature of violence is such that it already frames a response.
In some, it evokes a reluctant admiration for the stalker, who like a suicide bomber, assaults for an obsession yet cannot die alone. Typically we find victim–blaming statements, which blame the woman for provoking the violence by irrationally rejecting unwanted attention of the assailant. These responses thrive in the sub–culture where such narratives of violent “love” valorise men who assault and kill women if they cannot possess them. “Love” here is a form of colonisation, which must be conquered by force, owned and plundered. We are disturbed since the stalkers’ performance of violence intends to colonise not just the object of obsession (he can no longer see an autonomous being), but also colonises our space, as witnesses, voyeurs and consumers, by eliciting admiration, guilt and/or fear.
Equally, what happened evokes in some of us memories of the dreadful fear lived relentlessly when stalked. Some of us remember the banal everydayness of fighting fear at an unexpected meeting, a letter, repeated phone calls, abusive emails, being followed or assaulted. It entails the initial shock at discovering that one exists as an entity in someone’s obsession. Understanding that one’s refusal means eliciting violence, that being stalked means you cannot prove it or complain against it, unless you are grievously harmed. Being stalked means you have to change your routine, routes and spaces to be unharmed. It evokes memories of being colonised by fear, if friends, family, colleagues, employers, and/or the police do not stop the stalker, in a timely way.
The violence evokes the memories of Priyadarshini Matto, whose murder by her ex-boyfriend/stalker/murderer and rapist, some of us cannot stop mourning. The violence, in its performative nature, not only evokes cinematic imaginations, but it equally loops memory back to several men who tried to imitate Priya’s killer in quick succession in DU and JNU. Herein also lies the danger of how we respond to the claims of such violence.
Recognising that the performative nature of such violence is perhaps the first step towards denying its claim over us. As we find our voice, in what we collectively recognise as a crisis, perhaps we need to move away from frameworks, which essentialise a campus culture, speak of degeneration of a pristine past or locate blame in the security apparatus.
Rather we need to counter violence, by politicising the very notion of love, as a site, which births a dignified life. We need to think of institutionalising a radical politics of care in our workplaces. This also means professionalising services for our community, which attend to mental and sexual health issues; as well as institutionalise programs for legal literacy, which can help prevent escalation of violence. It means owing responsibility by creating newer institutional means at the level of each centre, school and hostel, rather than relegating the responsibility to an overburdened and often beleaguered GSCASH. It means taking strong steps against a faculty member who sexually harasses a student. It means scripting dignity in our everyday interactions. It means serious amount of labour in raising awareness on how to prevent violence. It means creating safe shelters for women on campus, and other survivors of violence for often survivors of violence need anonymity and professional help. It also means that we need to invent newer languages of care, dignity and responsibility in our everyday lives. Above all, we need to refuse to succumb to the affective claim—guilt, fear or admiration—which such performative violence demands.
Pratiksha Baxi is ASSISTANT PROFESSOR at the CENTRE FOR THE STUDY OF LAW AND GOVERNANCE, JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY (JNU)
This text was originally uploaded as a ‘status update’ by Praitkha Baxi on her Facebook Page on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 6:58 pm.