Guest post by SIMPLE RAJRAH
This article is written in response to the article Activism as a blue whale challenge by Manu Joseph that first appeared in Livemint.
“Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt”
–Dalit Scholar Rohith Vemula, who was institutionally murdered.
Often academic interests die a quiet death due to crassly political reasons but they die yet again, due to non-recognition and to their relentless reduction to the apolitical. Much as there must be emphasis on seeking solutions to the troubles that humanity is facing, it cannot be ignored that reducing the ‘root’ cause of everything to the realm of ‘apolitical’ can be academically simplistic and politically dangerous. And why must there be an obsession with relegating everything to the ‘apolitical’ domain? Why do journalists who continually work within political systems still consider depression to be something external to the sphere of politics? Why must there be academicians who discount historicity and complexity by equating violence with counter violence? And why, similarly, must there be politicians who condemn violence on ‘both sides’? Because, even a simple reading of the political should reveal its association with power, challenge its centralization, and more importantly the show up the invisibilization that generates hegemony.
The article ‘Activism as a Blue Whale challenge’ by Manu Joseph reeks of such reductionism where the author has accentuated the role of psychological factors that leads individuals and as the article suggests, even large groups like farmers and activists to commit suicides. The idea that only psychological factors drive suicides and not socio political ones is academically naïve and politically manipulative because what one fails to comprehend here is how psychological issues are constituted. More importantly, this idea of considering psychological issues as isolated and uprooted from one’s social position is extremely deficient in understanding of both human psychology and society. Grief, sadness, loss, isolation, acceptance, love, and happiness are all political. The state’s emphasis on possession of certain minimum material wealth acquired in the ‘right’ manner, the capitalistic regulation of one’s desires captured by the lavish malls that advertise that celebration of the family communion with Sunday mall wandering, the maneuver of cosmetic products in appealing to your self esteem, the negation of certain desires as sinful and unlawful are only certain instances which ‘politically formulate’ emotions. The realm of the law and its recognition of certain relationships as worthy of an institutionalized association such as marriage, the laws of abortion, adoption and inheritance, and the labelling of sexual relationship where consent is discounted as sexual harassment are instances of the political regulation of emotions. The state’s emphasis on labelling some loyalties as nationalistic and some loyalties as secessionist, the annulment of certain transactions and associations as unlawful and the criminalization of certain desires are obvious examples of the political negation of emotions. The binary between the sphere of emotions and rationality and further the relegating of the rational to the zone of the political and the emotional to the sphere of the private, is extremely crude and fails to comprehend how rationality is constituted both at the level of individuals and civilizations.
The failure of the state to enable the farmer to actualize his/her potential, the rooting of the body of the farmer in structural inequities and the inadequate compensation provided for the material loss that the community encounters in cases of climate tragedies that drives farmers to frustration cannot be ignored. Instances of epidemic proportions of farmer suicides in India’s Vidharba region cannot be attributed to a plague of mental insanity, but first and foremost to the agrarian crises that the Indian state has plunged them into and then the failure of its public health system in addressing the isolation and psychological trauma caused by such a crises.
The author further conveniently labels the ‘institutional murder’ of the Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula as a suicide attempted because of mental issues by performing a carefully calibrated misreading of the suicide note and completely ignoring the casteism perpetuated by the university’s administration and the state government , who have now released the vitriolic Roopanwal Commission report that further harasses Dalits. No Mr. Joseph, Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi and minority students do not commit suicide because they are all depressed together, at the same time. Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi, and minority students are forcibly entrenched in a system that believes in Brahmanical merit such that most of them do not even reach institutions that can give them space to prosper and if in case they do reach, they are either excluded by being labelled as inadequate in ‘social capital’ or discriminated. The stress to perform as per Brahmanical standards, the isolation caused by upper caste dominant groups who refuse to even acknowledge the existence of ‘other’ students much less address the question of inequality and the missing narratives of their history from the educational curriculum is what pushes the boundaries and traumatizes them. The gaze of the dominant groups is unsettling, at best it has the privilege of being ignorant, and at worse it has the privilege of othering and in both cases the burden to perform as per (or reject or ignore) the gaze, falls only upon the oppressed categories of people. Dalit students battle caste hierarchies in campus spaces. Female students are constantly mansplained, ignored or harassed. Muslim students are forced to vocally or otherwise, prove their nationalistic loyalties. Queer students are ridiculed and threatened. These are not myths. These are unfortunate, shrilling, terrorizing facts. Please do not dare to obliterate our lived experiences by your farcical calculations of what constitutes humiliation and what doesn’t.
It seems imperative here to mention the harrowing case of suicides in Kota, the ‘coaching capital’ of the country where students take ‘gap years’, are packed into chambers, aloof from the world of happiness and normalcy, forced to follow an unrealistic and torturous schedule without any recreation and expected to achieve ‘success’. It is not difficult to comprehend that the multi billionaire coaching industry that has successfully created a few star performers who survived and ignored the rest by being ill equipped in handling its population’s mental health, has successfully managed to prevent these ‘incidents of suicides’ from becoming news. It is also not surprising that in this world of over achievers and child prodigies, the twinkle of capitalistic productivity and efficiency has not only alienated the intellectual laborers but also ensured that this alienation appears as foreseeable yet unavoidable phase on the road to ‘prosperity’. The same National Crime Records Bureau that the author quotes from, had noted in 2015, that every hour a student commits suicide in India. The death of these students will only meet the fate of being recognized as statistics if an honest inquiry happens but it’s being ‘too little to late’ will not obliterate the fact that between our ignorance and indifference, we have all erred.
It is extremely essential to realize that sometimes the political despondency within a culture, the immediate intimidation caused by the recognition that the state is all mighty, the failure of one’s political methods and the constant targeting, belittling, and ultimately the elimination of activists one by one, by the stable state machinery scares and horrifies many student activists from such backgrounds. Student activism thus is not always heroic, it is exhausted on some days, it’s an absolute failure on some and sometimes, it is just a day of crying alone in university washrooms. While the socio political factors that cause estrangement must not be ignored, it must also be emphasized the disturbing discourse of strength and how everyone must perform happily and enthusiastically to be considered as worthy, productive, social members is extremely flawed and biased. Not only does it ignore the different personality types and their varied methods of dealing with loss, grief and sadness, it actually does not give everyone’s a right to grieve not to mention how this right is disseminated along a spatio temporal axis marked by one’s social locations. Our post funeral afternoons are supposed to be full of metro travels back to office, where grief can be hidden behind files, folders and professionalism. Our post funeral evenings are supposed to be drowned in alcoholic battles against memory and remembrance. The mere mortals of twenty first century professionalism must always coup grief by exhaustion or by a hangover.
Such an article as Joseph’s does grave injustice to dowry suicide cases as well. Every year, a huge number of women are forced to take their own lives because of pressure to either give dowry or frustration of not being able to do so. They are tortured, rebuked, their existence reduced to liabilities for which their owner must have been duly compensated. Every year, most dowry suicides and dowry deaths go unreported. The author seems unfamiliar that section 306 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes the abetment of suicide, which is in itself an acceptance of the fact that the reasons for suicide can be external. An understanding contrary to this, the one that the author promotes, sets dangerous precedence that is a little short of labelling domestic violence as a myth. The struggle of women groups to criminalize domestic violence becomes a waste if the cause of suicides is considered to be extremely isolated from any or all external triggers.
While most movements like the feminist movement, the civil rights movement and the dalit movement have laid a persistent weight on expanding the scope of the political and refused to acknowledge the status quo and its oppression as either pre-political or natural, the oppressors have either termed this discrimination as inevitable or considered it as secondary. The inevitability in these cases is highlighted in the mere hope that this would absolve the contender of any responsibility whatsoever and make one as innocent as the oppressed. And this is primarily why counter movements such as ‘not all men’ or ‘not all whites’ fail to realize, that their active choice to not attempt racist/ patriarchal violence on other people doesn’t ‘compensate’ for their already implicit furthering of the systemic and structural violence. Choosing silence in a scenario when rapes are abundant, poverty is proliferating and mob lynching is normal is also criminal at least at the level of conscience, if not at the level of law. While one must be thankful to all men who choose not to rape and all upper castes who don’t hurl abusive slurs at dalits, the celebratory rhetoric that makes this into a slogan cannot be unsuspicious. Patriarchy and caste work in unimaginable ways in subjugating men and women and the only thing that is inevitable about these is the privilege one enjoys because of it.
The tragic reality of our society is that there is an over bearing uncomfortable silence that sits upon mental health cases. Schools, colleges and work-spaces are extremely ill equipped to even address these disturbances and at this point it will be a legal utopia to expect due compensation for the mental harassment. It is extremely essential to understand that the state health system cannot shrug away from the responsibility of maintaining a suitable infrastructure in this regard. By refusing to holistically comprehend mental health issues, we are complicit in their creation. To conclude, depression, mental health and even madness are all embedded in discourses that enable their systemic exclusion to the point we either refuse to acknowledge the phenomena itself or relegate it to the holy sphere of apolitical.
Simple Rajrah is a student of International Relations in JNU