Hyderabadis woke up to a terrifying morning. In the early hours, the four rapists and murderers of a veterinary doctor going home were shot dead in the same area. It was an “encounter” killing. The fakeness of it, and the violation of the standard operating procedures, are obvious. Why was the reconstruction of the scene done at that unearthly hour? The men were unarmed. Why, if they were really running away (a highly unlikely occurrence), were they not shot in the legs?
No, this was mob justice. The undivided state of Andhra Pradesh has a long history of it. They have killed many people, from acid throwers to rapists to Naxalites to other dissenters in this fashion. This was to please the middle class who have been baying for the blood of the rapists-murderers since the incident came to light. This is to quell the misplaced and highly problematic rage that has been spilling across the media and the social media.
The police and the media have been incompetent throughout. The name of the victim, according to Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code and a directive by the Union home ministry of January 2019, should not have been disclosed. It was bandied about by the police first (in consultation with the victim’s father) and the media followed. Days later, she began to be called Disha. The stable doors were closed but the horses had already bolted. And these were deranged horses. The media was egging the police on, the social media was beserk (and are in a collective orgasm now). With V.C. Sajjanar in charge, not much else was to be expected. This was the same man who shot down three acid throwers in 2008 in Warangal. He became a hero then. He was garlanded and paraded on shoulders. Clearly, he wants that exhilarating feeling again.
But whose is this “public anger”? Why is the murder done in our names? Why must the government show itself as gutsy by gunning down people in a clear prevarication of the law and due process?
To be sure, there is a mad anger all around. Young, intelligent women are sending me WhatsApp messages in capital letters saying how delighted they are. The Internet has erupted in a bloodcurdling orgasm. But what are we celebrating? Perhaps some counter-questions will help.
Why hasn’t BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar been shot dead in an encounter? Why is it only the poor and the disenfranchised who are shot dead so easily? When politically powerful and upper caste men rape, the system colludes to prove that it was not rape at all. It lets them burn the victim to within inches of her life. When lower caste, lower class men rape, they become good fodder in which to produce a fake catharsis and call it a demand from “angry citizens” in “massive outrage,” call it a way to “calm down tempers”.
Is this how one calms a temper? By killing four men in cold blood? By breaking with law and order, due process and any semblance of democracy? If the police do this in our names, what are we legitimising here? Hundreds and thousands of men rape and do much worse every day. Do we line them all up and shoot them?
Is this really a catharsis? Catharsis in Greek tragedy is a collective recognition of one’s own complicity in violence, in the structural nature of a violation. The audience empathises with the man who has committed a crime (like Oedipus sleeping with his mother and killing his father) and feels with him. Is this a catharsis? Is celebrating the murders of four stupid, disenfranchised and dehumanised men who did something terribly wrong a catharsis?
Why does it make us feel better? Will all rapes stop today? Is this how justice works? So, all we need to do to people who commit any crimes is to get them out on the roads and lynch them, shoot them down? Is this really what we want? This is a deeply juvenile, masculinist idea of justice and solves none of the structural conditions that produce rape. How does this make us any different from Saudi Arabia? Do we now want public lashings, stonings, branding people on the head for the crimes that they commit?
The four boys/men standing in the police station, looking terrified, remorseful, defiant (all four standing with their arms crossed across their chests), scared, quite beside themselves, reminds one of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil”.
All four of their mothers wanted them punished.
All came home that night and went to sleep. The Muslim guy told his mother that he had an accident, a girl had died. And then he went to sleep. The Hindu guy told his mother that he had killed a girl. And went to sleep.
All were arrested by the morning.
The alcohol and the hangover had worn off their bodies in that footage. They have now been killed.
There was no one to help them process the horror of what they had done, pull them back from the depths to which they had dehumanised themselves, that made them dehumanise a woman who did nothing but trust them. Did they even realise they were snuffing the life out of her, something they managed to do in seconds, that they were necrophiliacs having sex with a dead body? Is that the measure of their distance from, and desire for, the female body?
But they will never be allowed to ask themselves these questions, never receive answers from themselves.
But, more disturbingly, we are not asking ourselves these questions as we celebrate these murders and call it justice....