The thing about violence is that it is very hard and very easy to talk about. Describing it is simple, empirical, instinctive. There are facts, logistical details to hide behind. Motives to be ascribed, an “incident” to be explained. Mohammad Akhlaq. Dadri. A mob. A(nother) Muslim (dalit/trans/worker/woman’s) body. Meat that is not beef. A murder. A lynching.

Facts are useful. But they also hide things from us. They make violence about its incidence. It’s not. The act is banal. Ordinary. Expected.

Mohammad began to die a long time ago. When violence against particular bodies becomes legitimate, becomes a series of “misunderstandings,” it is not violence at all. It is the order of things. It is not prejudice but probability. Beef, property, a panchayat election, love jihad, a job, an argument, a WhatsApp message – these are not causes, they are just modes. The last circuits in a motherboard whose pattern is set in place.

Mohammad began to die at least as early in 1992. When we speak of his death in September 2015, it is already too late. The violence is not his death. The violence is that his body lost its right to be murdered because it has slowly been stripped of its life, bit by bit, for years.

I happen to write this on the road; in a train station in an America that is reeling from the deaths of young black men. Here, it is the same. A scramble to reduce violence to its acts as a last defence to believe something about our selves, to hide from from how ordinary this violence is, how much we are a part of it. So we speak of impunity rather than inevitability; deflect to the important but also helpless questions of which act, which law, which court can punish as if punishment were closure, as if punishment could speak back to the violence of having a body that is stripped to bare life, stripped of its right to have enough dignity to be violated.

I write this reading the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, a young, black father writing to his 15-year old son, as if he speaks of Dadri: “I write to you in your fifteenth year. I am writing to you because this year you see Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; Renisha McBride show for seeking help; John Crawford shot down for browsing in a department store … You know now that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate over-reaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if destruction springs from foolish policy …. All this is common for Black People. All of this is old to Black People. No one is held responsible. There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even in this moment. These destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country … You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”

I wonder what a Muslim father will say to his child today.

I wonder what we must say to ourselves and each other today.

And however weary we feel now, talk we must. But not just about murder or lynchings, about the NSA Act or the investigation. Because then we will hide in our parentheses. In piece after piece I read, I see these parentheses that answer the unasked question, betraying our own anxieties. The parentheses that describe the incident and, while amazed that it should matter whether the meat was beef or not, will still say: “this meat (which wasn’t beef)” because we are still fighting for the right of Mohammad to have enough dignity in life for his death to have meaning. To say that he didn’t make a mistake, as if a mistake and death can sit so easily in one story. As if his killers would not have killed him if the empirics were clear. As if they considered his life, his body, of value. As if this political moment was not doing everything in its power to give those men the power to destroy that body.

We must talk instead about what violence makes us, compels us, forces us to talk about. What its narratives force our discourses into. We must fight against the denigration of the bodies of others around us, and accept that in this moment and this time that denigration seems emboldened, quickened, louder. We must begin to fight earlier, louder and more insistently and not wait for a Beef Ban to give one more mode to an overfull arsenal. To call out every move, every utterance, every policy, every law, every textbook, every rental agreement, every novel, every moment that denigrates the bodies of “others,” so often in our names or the parts of us that belong to majorities, to privilege.

We have to do so recognising that in different moments, different forms of violence become more legitimate than others. Patterns of durable and inter-connected inequalities are still marked by moments when one particular strand becomes more visible, more powerfully marked. In this moment, the gauntlet has been thrown. One line of violence, of otherness, has become raw. We must put our finger on it.

We must then flood our everyday lives with other words, other imaginations – ones that assert other ways of reading, encountering and seeing these bodies. We must not be defensive. We must not hide in our parentheses. We must not seek to behave, to assert that we should be not subjects of legitimate violence because then we will only debate what the lines of legitimacy are and they will always be loaded against us. We must assert our words so that the violence slowly, painfully becomes less banal, less ordinary and we are horrified again. We must not just seek punishment for Mohammad’s killers. We must insist, again and again, for his right to live in the first place. As we do so, we must know that there are already many among us – killers and killed – who will not believe us, who have lost faith or never sought it. And, in their name, more than anyone else, we must endure.

10 thoughts on “Untitled”

  1. Very well written piece. It asks us to awaken to the fact that violence is global and while the names and forms of the “majority” and the “other” differ, the process is the same. Nations only define who is the “majority” and who is the “other”. Global connectedness allows the vengeful to seek retribution, and the violent to seek indulgence anywhere in the world, mostly other than where it has great consequences for the self. It also allows the feelings of victimhood to flow unhindered, but express its licence in spaces where one feels strong.

  2. Universe, they say, began with a ‘big bang’ –violence. Life began to reproduce from one to the other –violence. Life began to ‘struggle for existence’ –violence. Life metamorphosis from one archaic to more developed form through destruction and construction and destruction and re-construction till the ‘survival of the fittest’–violence. Animals and ‘social and political’ animals prey upon each other : plants in Africa (pitcher plants) suck incect blood –violence and biolence! Did not Hemingway say ‘fish! You are my brother: but I will kill you and eat you’–to gain strength? (The old man and the sea) –violence again! We come into the world violently and leave the world violently signifying violence. (Paraphrasing Shakespeare)

  3. Why go back to 92 or reduce it to specific ’causes’: the day a Hindu is battered with a sewing machine for eating beef, the way Mohammed was, let’s start writing about individual liberties and the right to eat what have we.

    The day a Hindu is lynched on suspicion of being a Pakistani spy, as a poor muslim was in Kanpur’s Maharajpur area just last week, then let’s say mob violence is getting out of hand now. (We can confirm if he is Hindu later by pulling his pants down eh?)

    The day a Hindu student is shot for walking in a protest march against the Hindu Yuva Vahini in Aligarh, as Alamgir was just last week, then let’s say dissent is being clamped down upon.

    The day a Brahmin is killed just for wearing a dhoti outdoors, because online vitriol got to some crazy, the way Mohsin was a year ago in Pune , then let’s say free speech and religious identity is in trouble.

    Till then our only honest headline is:

    ‘They may have been slapped about or something if Hindu, but they were Muslim already..’

  4. Reblogged this on She Talks Too Much and commented:
    You cannot be wronged if society has deemed you as something wrong with the world. They came for the black people, they came for the women, they came for the queer folk, they came for the Jews, the Muslims… the boundaries of unacceptability seem to be growing everyday.

  5. Sorry to say this but it is too late to raise our voice against it. A majority has decided to turn a blind eye to it in the name of more urgent needs called “Vikas” or “Development”.

    I sometimes get appalled to see reaction of educated Hindus on such subjects. Just to be loyal to political party, they are ready to sacrifice even a minimum sense of rationale or humanity.

    We are too late to oppose it. We are in minority. We lost the opportunity long back.

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