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Outing the Self - Anecdotes, Fragments and Uncertainties of Evidence

Outing the Self



Against these ambivalences of what is ‘certain’ and ‘uncertain’ about violence, I end with an anecdote that marks what Walter Benjamin has so aptly described as ‘the true method of making things present: to imagine them in our space (and not to imagine ourselves in their space).’ There is always a problem in retrieving the terror of genocide ‘out there’ within the safe confines of an essay: the onus to report and to call attention to violence can give way to the comfort of self-righteous vindication. The trials of long-distance witnessing can even succumb to the discomfort of voyeurism. This discomfort, of course, should not be used to justify a moratorium on facts, which could merely enhance the complicities of silence. Nor is it necessary to berate oneself for the obvious ‘inadequacy’ of one’s representation: this can be a self-perpetuating gesture of a strategically nuanced ‘failed’ authorship. Perhaps, one possibility of dealing with genocide that has not been personally witnessed is to inscribe one’s distance from its location. In this distance, there is both disturbance and the possibility of rethinking the ordinariness of life in which violence ignites.

I began this essay by sharing a conversation in which I passed as a Muslim, who was always already a terrorist. I went to the extent of saying that it is ‘dangerous passing as a Muslim these days.’ Let me end by sharing another story where passing as a Muslim can also be a source of hope and renewal of self-identification.

The details are blurred in my mind. I am on a street in Calcutta, not far from my home. Suddenly, a rumour cuts through the street like a knife. There is an eruption of fear and panic suggesting the imminence of a riot. Within seconds, the street is deserted, the corrugated iron shutters of shops descend in quick succession with a clanging sound, collapsible gates are bolted, and there is ominous silence. I am left on the street confronting an uncertainty I cannot fathom, but wish to escape. A taxi is speeding and is about to take a sharp curve in the bend on the street. A split-second eye-contact with the driver is all I remember. He yells at me to get in. I sit in front, no questions asked.

Gradually, as the car speeds on this surreal journey to no particular destination, I find things returning to normal. The familiar is no longer unfamiliar. I turn to the driver and thank him for his help. Only after he mumbles that we’re bound to help members of ‘our own community’ do I realise that he has mistaken me for a Muslim.

I can keep quiet about this, and allow the moment to pass. However, something compels me to speak out: ‘But I’m not a Muslim.’ ‘What are you?’ he asks, taken aback. ‘Parsi.’ ‘What’s that?’ Before I can answer, he says, ‘Oh, I’ve got it, you’re Bohra.’ ‘No’. ‘Khoja?’ ‘No.’ These are versions of Muslims. I am compelled to clarify the obvious: ‘Parsi is something else. It’s another community (‘Alag jaat hai’).’

The driver looks at me quizzically, not entirely convinced, and shakes his head. We begin to laugh. It doesn’t matter that he is Muslim and I am Parsi, even though his mistaking me for a Muslim was the accident that brought us closer together. My passing for a Muslim didn’t deny me my identity; it became the occasion for me to declare my ‘self’.

As I recall my conversation with the driver, my memory playing tricks with an event – or perhaps, non-event – from the past, I realise the inadvertent possibilities of drawing an ethics of the self from the chimeras of colliding identities. Through these moments of recognition, mere glimmers of coexisting with the Other in others and in ourselves, we can learn to imagine a future not with ‘dead certainty’, but rather, with the living uncertainties of the present moment.

Address for correspondence:
bharucha@cal2.vsnl.net.in

Notes



[A substantially different and shorter version of this essay was first delivered as a keynote address at the FIRT conference on Ethnicity and Identity: Global Performance in Jaipur, January 2003. I am particularly grateful to Lucy Davis and Lee Weng Choy for their prescient comments on an earlier draft, which contributed significantly to the rewrite of the essay for a special issue of FOCAS.]

 1 For an elaboration on the multivalent dynamics of ‘truth’ vis-à-vis the masquerade of an assumed impostor, read Partha Chatterjee’s ethnographic blockbuster A Princely Impostor? The Kumar of Bhawal and the Secret History of Indian Nationalism. Delhi: Permanent Black, 2002. While teasing out the enigmas of identity at numerical, qualitative, synchronic and diachronic levels, and by providing conflicting evidence as to how ‘persons’ are identified at once through juridical processes and the more visceral physical and psychological modes of identification in everyday life, Chatterjee elides a problematisation of these issues. This, in essence, is the thrust of Amitabha Gangopadhyay’s dense critical review of the book (Social Identities, Vol 9, No1, 2002), which nonetheless acknowledges the provocation of Chatterjee’s central maxim: ‘If the reformed criminal law of our time is proceeded by the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty, then the modern governmental regimes must presume every individual to be an impostor until he or she is able to prove the contrary’ (pp 361-2).
 2 Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, Grove Press, New York, 1967, p 170.
 3 For an exposition of census gathering as a form of ‘imagining’, linked to the colonial protocols of museology and cartography, read the concluding chapter in Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communties: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, rev (ed), 1992.
 4 The facts relating to the construction of ‘Muslims’ in colonial Indian census reports, as represented in the next two paragraphs, are drawn from Chapter 5 of Gauri Viswanathan’s Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, pp 153-63.
 5 Ibid, p 156.
 6 For more background on Risley’s ‘pseudo-scientific’ racism, read Crispin Bates’s ‘Race, Caste, and Tribe in Central India: The Early Origins of Indian Anthropometry,’ The Concept of Race in South Asia, Peter Robb (ed), Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999, pp 241-9.
 7 Gauri Viswanathan, Outside the Fold, ibid, p 163.
 8 Anurima Banerji, ‘Legal Invention of an Artefact: Birth of Identity in Asian America,’ Economic and Political Weekly, October 5, 2002, p 4153.
 9 The qualifications regarding the exclusionary representation of the Other are drawn from the valuable comments on my essay by Lee Weng Choy and Lucy Davis.
10 See, for instance, Kancha Ilaiah’s Why I am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy, Samya, Calcutta, 1996.
11 Quoted in Khaki Shorts, Saffron Flags, a comprehensive tract on the origins of the Hindu Right, co-authored by Tapan Basu, Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar and Sambuddha Sen, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1993, p 8.
12 For an inflected contextualisation of this statement drawn from Savarkar’s Hindutva – who is a Hindu?, read Christophe Jaffrelot’s ‘The Idea of the Hindu race in the writings of Hindu nationalist ideologues in the 1920s and 1930s: A concept between two cultures,’ The Concept of Race in South Asia, ibid, pp 333-36.
13 Gyanendra Pandey, ‘Can a Muslim be an Indian?’, typewritten manuscript, 1997, I am grateful to the author for providing me with a copy of this manuscript, which has been published in Comparative Studies in Society and History, 41, 4, 1999. All references to the manuscript have been identified with the appropriate page numbers in the text of my essay.
14 This term is used by Gyanendra Pandey in ‘Which of us are Hindus?,’ included in a collection of essays edited by him entitled Hindus and Others: the question of identity in India today, Viking Books, New Delhi, 1993, p 252.
15 Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘The Imaginary Institution of India’, Subaltern Studies VII, Partha Chatterjee and Gyanendra Pandey (eds), Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1993.
16 For the representation of ‘Muslim terrorists’, see my essay ‘On the Border of Fascism: The Manufacture of Consent in Roja’, In the Name of the Secular: Contemporary Cultural Activism in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1998, On the communalisation of Muslim portraiture in company theatre, see ‘Phantoms of the Other’, The Politics of Cultural Practice: Thinking Through Theatre in an Age of Globalisation, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, pp 141-43.
17 A detailed documentation of the Langas and the Manganiyars can be read in Chapters 10 and 11 of my book Rajasthan – An Oral History: Conversations with Komal Kothari, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2003.
18 Rajasthan – An Oral History, op cit, pp 252-60.
19 This oral verification of the caste identity of the ‘bhopas’ Komal Kothari has been elaborated in Chapter 4 of Rajasthan–An Oral History, ibid, pp 111-12.
20 One of the major theorists on the ‘secularisation of caste’ is D L Seth, whose essay ‘Caste and the secularisation process in India’ is included in Contemporary India – Transitions, Peter Ronald deSouza, (ed), Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2000.
21 It should be kept in mind that there are at least three distinct musical and performative traditions relating to Pabuji – the performers of the two traditions incorporating the parh (painted scroll) come from different Bhil groups. However, the performers of the Pabu ka mata tradition in which the epic of Pabuji is narrated to the accompaniment of the mata (pot-drum) continue to regard themselves as Nayak.
22 Mahmood Mamdani, ‘Making Sense of Political Violence in Postcolonial Africa’, Experiments in Truth, Okwui Enwezor et al (eds), Hatze Kantz Publishers, Germany, 2002.
23 In a footnote, Mamdani does qualify that in describing ‘cultural identity’ as ‘consensual’, ‘voluntary’, and ‘multiple’, he does not wish to ‘romanticise the domain of consent or to detract from the existence of power relations in the domain of culture’ (p 31). However, since he does not elaborate on this qualification, it would be fair to assume that he interprets ‘cultural identities’ almost exclusively with the discourse of postmodern, liberal multiculturalism.
24 I am grateful to Lucy Davis and Lee Weng Choy for these inscriptions vis-à-vis the broader theoretical positions by Enresto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe on the internalised ‘lack’ of the subject and its production through ‘antagonism’.
25 For a cogent analysis as to why ‘civic society’, as opposed to ‘civil society’, is the preferred term in Singaporean official discourse, read Chua Beng-Huat’s ‘The Relative Autonomies of State and Civil Society in Singapore’, State-Society Relations in Singapore, Gillian Koh and Ooi Giok Ling (eds), Oxford University Press, Singapore, 2000.
26 Virginius Xaxa, ‘Tribes as Indigenous People of India’, Economic and Political Weekly, December 18, 1999, p 3590, All references in my essay to the technicalities of defining ‘tribal’ and ‘indigenous people’ are drawn from this comprehensive and sensitively researched article.
27 Ibid, p 3591.
28 I am using the term ‘political society’ as defined by Partha Chatterjee in opposition to ‘civil society’, the domain of citizenship and civic and social organisations based on contractual agreements, mutual understanding, and consent. In contrast, ‘political society’ works outside the framework of legality and constitutional norms, and its representatives (like the Siddi, living on ‘illegal’ forest land) are citizens only in a nominal sense.
29 For a fuller description of the workshop, read the relevant section in my essay ‘Between Truth and Reconciliation: Experiments in Theatre and Public Culture’, Experiments in Truth, op cit, 2002, pp 366-68. I was introduced to the Siddi by the grass roots cultural organisation, the Ninasam Theatre Institute, based in the village of Heggodu, Karnataka. For a brief description of Ninasam’s interaction with the Siddi on an adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’, read chapter on ‘Ninasam: A Cultural Alternative’ in my book Theatre and the World: Performance and the Politics of Culture, Routledge, New York, London, 1993.
30 See, in particular, the description of the saligrama improvisation, exploring secular identity within the ambivalences of caste and religion, in ‘Between Truth and Reconciliation: Experiments in Truth and Public Culture’, op cit, pp 368-71.
31 A subaltern perspective on the massacre in Lonoy can be read in Jes B Tirol’s Bohol: From Spanish Yoke to American Harness, Tagbilaran City: University of Bohol Research Centre, 1998.
32 I have elaborated on the production within the context of ‘terrorism’ and ‘September 11’ in my essay ‘Genet in Manila: Reclaiming the Chaos of Our Times’, Third Text, Volume 17, Issue 1, 2003.
33 The re-imagining of the nation cannot be separated from a larger secularisation of society. I have elaborated on this process with reference to the agencies of the state, education, media, and community in ‘The Shifting Sites of Secularism: Cultural Politics and Activism in India Today’, The Politics of Cultural Practice, op cit, pp 131-35.
34 Quoted in Gyanendra Pandey’s ‘Can a Muslim be an Indian?’, op cit, p 6.
35 For a detailed report on ‘Genocide: Gujarat 2002’, read the special issue of Communalism Combat, Mumbai, March-April 2002. Briefly, the genocide which resulted in over 1,000 Muslims killed and over 1,00,000 displaced, was justified by the state on the grounds of ‘retaliation’ by Hindu masses, who reacted violently, yet unavoidably, to the burning of around 60 kar sevaks or Hindu pilgrims, who were returning from Ayodhya. These pilgrims were burned alive in a railway compartment of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra, Gujarat, on February 27, 2002, After capitalising on the public display of the charred bodies of the victims, the BJP chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, masterminded the ethnic cleansing of Muslims with the support of the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, among other organisations affiliated to the Hindu Right.
36 This position has been argued with academic finesse by Christophe Jaffrelot in his essay ‘The Idea of the Hindu Race…’, op cit, while Jaffrelot interprets the politics of the Hindu Right from the 1920s within a ‘racism of domination’ rather than a ‘racism of extermination’, the recent events in Gujarat suggest that a more virulent form of racism is in the making, which has yet to destabilise the dominant academic discourse on the subject.
37 Drawing on the ‘graphic’ testimonies of violence by Veena Das, Allen Feldman, Liisa H Malkki, and Donald S Sutton, Arjun Appadurai emphasises that ‘even the worst acts of degradation – involving faeces, urine, body parts; beheading, impaling, gutting, sawing; raping, burning, hanging, and suffocating – have macabre forms of cultural design and violent predictability’. For more details, read his essay ‘Dead Certainty: Ethnic Violence in the Era of Globalisation’, Development and Change, Vol 29, 1998, p 909.
38 Tanika Sarkar, ‘Semiotics of Terror: Muslim Children and Women in Hindu Rashtra’, Economic and Political Weekly, July 13, 2002, p 2875.
39 Arjun Appadurai, ‘Dead Certainty: Ethnic Violence in the Era of Globalisation’, op cit, p 918.
40 Ibid, p 919.
41 Tanika Sarkar, ‘Semiotics of Terror’, op cit, p 2876.
42 Ibid.
43 All quotations from the essay in this section will be marked with the appropriate page numbers in the text itself.
44 Mahmood Mamdani, ‘Making Sense of Political Violence in Postcolonial Africa’, Experiments with Truth, op cit, pp 21-42.
45 My critique of Appadurai’s Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1997) can be read in my book The Politics of Cultural Practice, op cit, pp 172-77.
46 ‘Oddly’ primordialist, because I am, of course, aware of Appadurai’s trenchant critique of primordialist readings of community in Modernity at Large, op cit, with which I am in substantial agreement. However, in this reading of ethnic violence and the narrowing of its focus to the frenzied intimacy of the killers and victims, locked as it were in an embrace of death, there are subtextual strains of primordialism to which Appadurai submits with no critical reservations.
47 While Appadurai claims in a footnote to his essay that his preferred use of ‘person’ over ‘subject’ does not foreclose references to ‘the Hegelian idea of subjectivity, as well as its Foucauldian version in respect to violence and agency’ (p 919), he does not provide any substantial discrimination of ‘person’ from ‘subject’, I believe that a discursive analysis of this undeniably arresting key-word (‘person’) in his analysis could have complicated his reading of violence. If a ‘person’, for instance, is to be equated with the victim (now stripped off the abstraction of his or her ethnic label), is the assailant a ‘subject’? Or is the assailant a ‘person’ in his or her own right? When is a ‘person’ not a ‘subject’, and what are the conditions that provoke this shift in identity?
48 This reference to the genocidal violence inflicted on the Hutu majority in Burundi since the 1960s, but more specifically, in the bloodbath of 1972, is drawn exclusively from Liisa H Malkki’s Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1995.
49 Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2001.
50 Mahmood Mamdani, ‘Making Sense of Political Violence in Postcolonial Africa’, op cit, p 34.
51 ‘Ethnocidal imaginary’ is Dipesh Chakravarty’s phrase, which Appadurai acknowledges in a footnote to his essay, along with a note of thanks to Chakravarty for ‘alerting me to the dangers of moving from global questions to globalising answers’ (p 921). But ‘globalising answers’ are precisely what Appadurai cannot resist making in the essay, with a few disingenuous qualifications of the limits of his ‘vivisectionist hypothesis’, Indeed, the sheer weight and spread of Appadurai’s global evidence heighten the very inadequacy of his globalising hypothesis, which is almost trivialised by the complexities of the evidence itself. 2014-07-19 18:44
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