As gory images of the violence unleashed during the Delhi riots started streaming in, there was soon a point when one could not see anymore. When I went to take classes in Jamia Millia Islamia on February 26, sitting across from students who experienced a night of terror — fearing that their localities, homes, places of work and worship may be next — words failed me. How can people become this inhuman, they asked. Who does one turn to? Those dialing the police for help were reportedly told tum chahte the na azaadi, ye lo azaadi (You wanted freedom, here’s your freedom).
The reason for this deep-rooted hatred and inhuman violence lies in the politically-designed, socially-embedded trajectory of Discipline-Hate-Punishment, which we routinely see playing out before our eyes. Nothing about the riots that unfolded in Delhi, the police repression of the student protestors in Jamia Millia Islamia or the mob lynchings of Muslims, is spontaneous.
Disciplining entails regimenting the popular consciousness towards a stereotypical construct of a particular social group. A means of numbing the human mind to reason and predisposing it to only see Otherness. This construction, by its very definition, dehumanises the Other. Given this disciplining of consciousness, the resulting hatred just requires a pretext to be translated into punishment.
We can see this process unfold in the constant stereotyping of the Muslim community. The stereotyping of the Indian Muslims — as jihadi terrorists, traitors who cheer for the other side, be it in cricket or war, “termites” hollowing out the nation, innately aggressive, educationally backward, a “population bomb” that will soon overtake the Hindu majority — has resulted in demonising Muslims as the enemy within. We are constantly fed these caricatures in films, television serials, schools and universities and in conversations at informal gatherings, and on Facebook and WhatsApp messages.
This construction of the imaginary Other stirs up hostility and hatred. The manifestations of this aversion range from mere differences of opinion to social boycott to outright violence. The simmering hatred needs a mere pretext to be converted into retribution for all the imagined wrongs committed, a punishment which can be meted out to any member of that group.
This disciplining of the popular consciousness serves the political function of seamlessly allowing micro-level realities to connote macro socio-political economic meanings. For instance, a person caught on the suspicion of eating beef, which is against the local cultural ethos of certain communities, automatically becomes a cow slaughterer Pakistani, and thereby deserves to be lynched. Students voicing their opinion against the establishment in a progressive university become the seditious group trying to advocate secession from India. Roadblocks caused by peaceful sit-in protests (primarily led by women, students and Dalits) with the national flag and Constitution in the hands of protestors, become a licence for regarding the protestors as traitors — and unleashing inhuman violence on them.
Intellectuals (including Nobel laureates) who criticise government decisions become anti-nationals. Those wearing a certain dress become terrorists. Those entering in inter-religious marriages become jihadis. Those not chanting certain nationalist songs become traitors.
The political functionality of this construction also lies in its remarkable adaptability, which not only serves to homogenise the Other but allows an assembly line production of Others: Urban naxals, left-leaning liberals, armchair intellectuals, tukde tukde gang, pseudo seculars, hijabi jihadis and so on. It sets into motion an insidious spiral of binary choices, each indicative of being a (hyper masculine religious) nationalist or anti-national. The actual and critical national concerns of unemployment and jobless growth; social questions of exclusion, frustrated aspirations, persistent patriarchy; and, the political questions of representation are deferred to eternity, to be addressed in the future owing to the urgency of punishing the Others who are compromising the Nation.
As we stand silent witnesses to “nationalist” speeches that spew hatred, arms wielding mobs burning homes and shops, we, too, become participants in this vicious cycle of discipline, hate and punish.
Also read | Tavleen Singh writes: There is more repression in the air than at any other time except during the Emergency
This article first appreared in the print edition on March 16, 2020 under the title ‘Discipline, hate, punish.’ The writer is assistant professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
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