The Politics of Shaming

On December 2, 2012 by admin


 Manash Bhattacharjee

As the 5th annual gay parade in Delhi walked the streets with colourful pride on 25th November, 2012, I remembered the outrageously disturbing story two years back, which shook every gender sensitive conscience: the alleged suicide of Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras. The possibility of Dr. Siras committing suicide didn’t hold much conviction in the face of everyone’s disbelieving shock upon receiving the news. Those who were empathetically in touch with the AMU professor claimed he was happy about the Allahabad High Court’s decision to stay his suspension. Dr. Siras was also quoted as saying he wanted to go to America, where he would be allowed to live freely as a gay man. He wanted to spend the rest of his life fighting for gay rights. It’s tragic he had to fight the first battle, without luck, for his own life.


The Question of Evidence:

If it is a Miracle, any sort of evidence will answer, but if it is a Fact, proof is necessary.

~ Mark Twain

The police and others said it couldn’t be murder as the doors were locked from inside. As if locked doors were such a conclusive clue. The farce of prima facie evidence had always sought to transform countless murders into suicides. Suicide is the official euphemism for murder in India. It has become the most convenient cover-up story. What comes readily to the investigating police officer’s lips is “suicide” whereas the most obvious possibilities of deliberate poisoning or other subtle ways of stage-setting a murder as suicide doesn’t seem to occur to the qualified gentleman. Such a defensive strategy raises more suspicion than hope. Worse is the tacit assumption that suicide is an angst-ridden private act whereas the reasons behind even legitimate suicide cases are socially instigated.


The Question of Shame:

Thus speaketh the discerning one: shame, shame, shame – that is the history of man!

~ Nietzsche

The lure of shaming others publicly now has a lethal weapon: the spy-camera. The spy-camera, used to shame something ethically private before the eyes of the public, gets into a dangerously unrestricted territory of manipulation. It ends up being a bizarre syndrome where neo-perverts exploit others for money or revenge. The film LSD showcased how women are used as tools into unknowingly performing sexual acts before a hidden camera for the sake of profit. Other people are made victims of hate because of their queer sexual identity. Their sexual practices are termed ‘immoral’ by the moral police who comprise religiously conservative, heterosexual goons. This psyche was exemplified by those students who surreptitiously filmed Dr. Siras’s consensual sexual act. As if Dr. Siras being gay posed a threat to the paranoid norms of the hyper-masculine, heterosexual brigade. They decided to strike back at the professor with a fascist mindset. It was a premeditated act by the students in the name of stirring up an utterly reactionary public scandal. They saw themselves as representatives of the entire heterosexual community’s moralistic concerns. This seemed to legitimise their act. They gave the impression, as if acting in the larger interest kept them outside charges of private motivations. But what is most private is the pleasure involved in shaming. The pleasure of shaming occurs in the individual, even though it is shared in the larger realm of public consumption. The pleasure of shaming comes from the desire to humiliate. Humiliation is instigated by the breakdown of erotic and altruistic ties among human beings. In such an exceptional situation, hate wages war against shame. Shame is the irreducible, ethical essence of a human being. Humiliation is aimed at the dis-possession of the other’s shame. But it includes the violator’s shamelessness. Shamelessness is the most consciously violent mode of terrorising shame. It can be best defined in modern times as possessed rationality. Humiliation is the most venomous form of shamelessness, while erotic shame, always exposed to the possibilities of assault, is the most vulnerable part of our solitude. Kafka had painfully discovered “the violation of solitude”(to use Milan Kundera’s phrase), chased by the state’s secret police. Dr. Siras had discovered a similar kind of violation in the shape of a bunch of heterosexual moralisers hell-bent on exposing his private life to public gaze in the name of social duty. What is common in both cases is the desire to humiliate the victim and try and ensure that “the shame of it must outlive him”, to quote the last line of The Trial.


The Question of Justice:

Murder is not the crime of criminals, but that of law-abiding citizens.

~ Emmanuel Teney

The question of justice takes on a different dimension after the victim’s death. It shifts the whole responsibility to the public who are concerned about the victim receiving justice at the hands of the state. Dr. Siras symbolised a collective cause – of gay rights and a respectful place for sexual minorities in Indian society. The question of justice in Dr. Siras’s case encompassed a larger justice which is awaited in favour of the gay cause in India.

Emmanuel Teney seems to tell us, we cannot make easy distinctions between criminals and law-abiders. People follow the law to keep their own hegemonic interests intact. The law itself is a product of and run by the dominant class. It suits this class to be within law. But once the hegemonic order is threatened by people who challenge their social, cultural and sexual norms, the dominant class takes recourse to violence outside the law, in the name of another law. It is the notion of justice before justice – a pre-judicial justice, violently meted out by the moral vanguards of society. It challenges modern law and the foundation of its secular institutions. These institutions have to be predisposed in favour of the victimised crusaders and act against such criminal law-abiders. Or else these institutions of justice would be accused of being complicit in fostering pre-judice.

Dr. Siras’s case was a reminder for the law to push its horizons further in order to expand its vision of justice. It asked of law to empower those identities struggling to gain a foothold in our society. In a democracy people should have the right to have sex, ideas and values according to their human dis-positions. The state of hypocrisy and denial in our society can’t be cajoled by the institutions of justice. It will be a national shame if people who want to live truthfully are made to live in fear.

The acts of pre-judice which provoke hate-crime and push people towards death needs to be redeemed by the law. Until then, justice will elude the victims of endless violence.


Manash Bhattacharjee  is a writer and scholar in political science, working from New Delhi.

Comments are closed.