December 04, 2013

Our Outrage AND Tejpal (Not Our Outrage AGAINST Tejpal)

If our collective conscience, such as it is, is assuaged by the collective expression of outrage, that says remarkably little of it. What exactly are we trying to achieve with what seems to be becoming a biannual spectacle of our supposed support for women’s rights? Our support, often coming complete with our insatiable appetite for updates about select (or selected) individual cases, our often gleeful voyeurism, our disregard for the manner in which abused women may want to address the abuse they’ve faced.

Here’s the deal: We don’t know exactly what Tarun Tejpal did at this point of time other than from the accounts of the woman who has made allegations against him, from his eMailed admission so vague that it reveals little, and from the notoriously unstable versions we’ve heard have been made in public and in court. We don’t know what happened at Goa even if, from a reasonable reading of the chronology of events (and correspondence), it appears that Tejpal did something reprehensible. What we do know is that some of his statements such as his allusion to the woman 'staying out late into the night' are reprehensible.

And the level of outrage against him may well be entirely warranted. I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t care about the validity (or lack thereof) of the outrage against Tejpal. From what it's possible to glean from media reports, it appears that the woman who has made allegations against Tejpal has been receiving both good legal counsel and social support, an anomaly in itself which I'm content to leave this case at. Issues with the legal system aside — I don’t see this one case as 'worthy' of being intensely focussed on; I don’t see any one case being 'worthy' of that kind of attention. (Particularly if the attention comes complete with the possibly non-consensual release of explicit details which the public has no conceivable need to know.)

Because — and here’s the thing, Tejpal aside — there is not one case of violence against women which is an isolated case, standing apart for its being entirely unique. And acting in favour of women’s rights isn’t about ranting against six men in one year — or is it seven? It requires far more sustained effort than that. It requires changing our socialisation of gender, it requires recognition of the patriarchal structures of the law, it requires developing systems to counter violence against women, it requires addressing discrimination against women, it requires promoting education (and, hopefully, financial independence down the line), it requires promoting healthcare ...and that’s just the beginning of the list.

Not one item on the list of things which we need to do if we are to meaningfully address violence against women is easy (or immediate). Expressing occasional — or is it periodic? — outrage about the select individual case, however, is easy (and immediate). Patting ourselves on the back for feeling outraged and supposedly being progressive for having felt outraged is even easier. It is also entirely meaningless (beyond its possible impact with respect to that one case) unless it is backed by the initiative required to address violence against women as a whole.

Expressing outrage against Tejpal alone — or, for that matter, any other select (or selected) individual man — will not change the status quo. It will not change anything apart from leaving us feeling good about ourselves for a while... and at the point when the fix our last bout of outrage provided begins to wear off, we will undoubtedly find another target to express outrage about. All the while, with our usually doing absolutely nothing worth mentioning to change the system and the society which helps create so very many potential targets of outrage. Unsurprisingly, with this modus operandi, we’re never likely to fall short of selectively chosen targets of outrage.

The solution to addressing violence against women doesn't entirely lie in expressing unrestrained outrage against the abusers or alleged abusers of select (or selected) victims. In fact, ideally, it should not even (need to) involve spectacles such as those we have created in the recent past.

    Screenshots of part of the stories on the NDTV and IE websitesIncidentally, remember the woman from Assam who was mutilated, possibly gangraped, and murdered a few days ago? She’s disappeared from the news for a while; she wasn't selected by the media to have the abuse she faced be turned into a 'watershed moment in the fight against VAW'. (Update: Though on December 6, 2013, the Indian Express published a piece saying that the incident had been an accident. The dates in the Dec. 6, IE report and an earlier NDTV report seemed inconsistent.)


This post is that first draft which likely shouldn't be published, and will likely be edited later.

Sadly, I remember making the same point a year ago though in a considerably more measured post: "A profusion of CCTVs is not the answer to the question of how to curb violence against women. Neither is the aggressive repetition of acceptable rhetoric." (Source: On VAW, Rape, Reform, and Rhetoric)

Also see: Countering Abuse by Filing Cases