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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/24/18

God's own Country, Kerala, where God is fast asleep

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Message Prakash Kona

Photographs sometimes speak volumes especially when they defy the purpose for which they have been taken in the first place. The pictures of the poor mentally challenged tribal man who was lynched for supposedly stealing rice are haunting to say the least. That look of utter vulnerability written all over his body tells us the story of human injustice and human suffering in the same breath. His face seemed to be that of a man who has no idea what he is being punished for and that is usually the saddest look we can visualize on a human person -- that look you sometimes see on a child's face who has surrendered to the meaningless violence of adults. In his book Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project, John D. Caputo calls the face "a shadowy place, a flickering region where we cannot always trust our eyes." He further adds in the same section on "The Face of Suffering,"

"The look of the other draws us into the mystery, shakes our naive belief in surfaces, shapes, and cloud formations, in self-identity and the steadiness of presence. The eyes of the other lure us into mystery and confusion, shadows and dark recesses; they are not windows of the soul but a house of mirrors. They are soft spots where the ground gives out beneath us and we plunge downward, unable to touch bottom, black holes trapping light... The face exposes the self-confoundment which envelops us all."

The "self-confoundment" on the face of the lynched man ought to have enveloped the men who not only committed the gruesome murder but also took pictures as if they would tell the truth from their point of view and not that of the dead man. Pictures are treacherous and instead are telling us what the lynched man went through before succumbing to the violence.

An episode of this kind is symptomatic of a larger social sickness eating into the entrails of the order. It is a system that has sacrificed morals at the altar of politics and therefore qualifies for a sick society. Violent acts of this kind are not merely emerging from the "banality of evil" as proposed by Hannah Arendt where completely "normal" individuals commit unforgivable acts without any real motives to do so. A deeply classist, communal, casteist and sexist order where a great number have internalized a pattern of violent behavior as normal across the board is the background to the lynching of the man. It is a society divided at the core, and fighting a suicidal battle with itself.

For all the truisms and homilies generously mouthed off by teachers, students and pseudo-intellectuals from Kerala and another state with a strong left-oriented political culture, West Bengal, across University campuses in India, the kinds of violence that happen in these states is unbelievable and reflects what is wrong with these places. In 2017 a well-known actress from Kerala was raped by her driver apparently at the behest of another male actor who had personal scores to settle with her. The very recent brutal rape of a tribal woman in West Bengal is another instance of the kind of symptomatic violence I am talking about.

The pontificators of social justice from Kerala and West Bengal would do a favor either by hanging their heads in shame or acknowledging that there is something seriously wrong with their societies and that they have to do something about it. I am not saying these things do not happen in other parts of India or the world. It is just that when people arm themselves with stones to break the houses of others they should also learn to smell the stink in their own backyards.

Infrastructurally backward, both these states have significant literate populations, where thanks to successive leftist governments, education has become a tool for nurturing activism as a full-time activity. Frankly, there is little by way of credit to be given for a so-called literate majority where everyone is a potential lawyer disrupting day-to-day life rather than doing something constructive for themselves and the world around. Education is not about making grammatically correct sentences and logically connected paragraphs. An education system that endorses the legalism of the grammarian is actually an indication of deep-seated colonization and moral bankruptcy. If education means having and cultivating a conscience that is the education I am willing to recognize.

Societies where politics overpowers moral concerns are societies on the way to destroy themselves. You cannot politicize everything just as you cannot moralize everything. But you can humanize everything and give a human perspective to everything. Humaneness in day-to-day life is the answer to narrow-minded chauvinism that consumes the soul and turns people into cold-blooded animals who can take a selfie with a man who is dying in the background, as one of the men involved in the lynching was doing.

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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