Sunday, November 25, 2012

Politics of Atrocity: Towards Understanding Caste Violence

Dr.P.Kesava Kumar

The word ‘atrocious’ is an adjective form, meaning very wicked or cruel or shocking. The noun form of it is atrocity, meaning wicked or cruel act. Atrocity is an act. Legislation preventing it is confining to the limited objective of avoiding such act. Legislation is intended at prevent of cruel act because it is unbearably inhuman, appealing to our realist aesthetic. The statist use of a term atrocity does not go beyond its apparent inhumanity and explore into socially constituted intersubjective meanings of the atrocity. The state already assumes a sanitized picture of society as consisting of simple individuals located outside caste bound cultural contexts. At least it intends to build such a society, completely ignoring the intersubjective nature of social meaning.

Atrocity annihilates all attempts to give life meaning and destroys forever a subject’s possibility of seeking justice as well as the individual’s relation with the world. The idea of atrocity is associated with acts of assaults and violence against an individual or group which are illegitimate, inhuman and cruel. It has different contextual and structural meanings. Genocide, caste violence, gendered violence, rape, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, war, slavery and torture are some examples of atrocity. The terms atrocity and violence are often used as synonymously. But these are two distinctive categories and are invariably related to each other. Violence is a sociological and cultural category .It is mostly descriptive in nature. Atrocity is a moral and political category. It is evaluative in nature.
I believe the philosophical discourse on atrocity may be providing a new meaning in freedom of the self in a caste society. The idea of atrocity had different dimensions in case of caste violence. Caste violence could not be reduced either to physical or psychological phenomenon. More than physical and psychological, it is a social, cultural and religious phenomenon. The phenomenological method may provide link to connect the victim, perpetuator, state, social structure and social agencies involved in the phenomenon of caste violence. The purpose is not to identify or describe different political positions in the phenomenon of atrocity. But it is to strengthen or justify the moral and political position of victim of atrocity in relation to other positions. This phenomenological method may help in grounding the possibility of communication by negotiating with other.

Public intellectuals tend to either subjectivise or objectivise the social world. Poets/writers tend to  subjectivise the meaning of social act like atrocity while academics tend to see this as end product of play of objective forces like class. Public movements-when they attempt to remedy atrocity, they do so by trying to mobilize people by conscientizing them throughteaching the objective picture of the world and thereby making them consumers and carriers of that picture.insightful analyst could gives us some kind of intersubjectivity intrinsic to social world. Either subjectivist or objectivist description deny the possibility of accessibility to intersubjectively constituted social world. Invoking phenomenology cautions us about impossibility of making social world according to our wishes. Social worlds can be understood culturally constituted intersubjective social meanings. Atrocity occurs and it is an instance of crises of normative hindu social order due to alteration in the internal perspective of the actor. However, the norm remains to be hindu social order. Reconciliation takes place through readjusting each other’s perspective according to that norm. Atrocity also happens in the context of invoking objectivist just conceptions of the world into the village social world or also in the process of negotiating intersubjective veracity of objectively just norms.

‘Dalita Rananinadam’(2005), a compilation of analytical essays on atrocities against dalits , that took place between 1985-2005 provides an understanding of atrocity viewed by dalit intellectuals who are actively involved dalit movement of this period.  Chunduru Nethuti Charitra (2008) is about Chunduru massacre, contains the testimonies/witnesses of dalit victims of that massacre produced in SC/ST special court, published by Kulanirmulana Porata Samithi. Kathi Padma Rao, the dalit leader emerged from the struggle against Karamchedu massacre argues that Upper caste (kammas) are targeted dalits of Karamchedu by consolidating their energies all possible way (kamma manpower of nearby seven village, tractors, weapons and by keeping police under their control).When the dalits are not organized, they used to attack individual dalits in their cattle sheds. Now they changed their strategies by understanding the collective strength of dalits. He illustrates that the perpetuators of Karamchedu massacre and the dalit victims have different philosophical background. Whenever dalit castes are resisting the feudal caste hegemony, the upper caste are killing, raping and massacring dalits by consolidating their political, Social (caste), economic power. In establishing their caste hegemony, they are unifying their social force. This atrocity has to simply understand as an issue of economic or political oppression but as an hegemonic caste massacre. This has to be resisted through the weapons of philosophy of annihilation of caste.[i] K.G.Satyamurthy, another dalit leader commenting on Chunduru massacre, though there is significant economic change in agrarian society of coastal Andhra, but in corresponding to this, there was no change in social and cultural life. If that change took place, upper caste would not respond in such atrocious way against the idea of self-respect of dalits .[ii] Another Dalit writer Ravi Kumar in his foreword to S. Viswanathan’s Dalits in Dravidian Land expresses that caste violence has not only changed its pattern and also changed its geography. Even when a small development or incident leading to the empowerment of dalits takes place, casteist forces are at the forefront of efforts to quash it. The instruments of the state cooperate with these forces. The judiciary too plays its part. And further adds that the important aspect of recent caste clashes was the fact that the dalits had begun to retaliate. It is more explicit in most of the caste atrocities.[iii]
Caste violence is socially located and had an historical continuity. It manifests in many forms. It is constituted and a cognitive act. It is relational and intentional. The perpetuator, caste hindu and the victim, dalit makes sense of their acts and came up with different meaning to the same act. Dalit victim articulates the caste violence as an atrocity committing against him. The perpetuator, the caste hindu justifies his act of violence by pointing out the violation of social norm by the dalits. The perpetuator projects the targeted dalit as violent, anti-social and potential threat to ‘public’. Rather observing the caste violence as an emotional act took place between individuals or a group, we have to take note of social structure and institutions that are undercurrent of this phenomenon. The social merit of these structures has to be evaluated in terms of social justice and common good. As dalit leader Kathi Padma Rao observed, the perpetuator and the victim have two different world views. It is the clash of brahminical world view of upper caste hindu and the world view of annihilation of caste represented by dalit. As it is observed, for dalit leaders understood atrocity as a reaction to retaliation of dalits against caste hegemony for the sake of self-respect. For caste hindu , his act of violence is to maintain his status and control over dalits, which he has foreseen as losing with the assertion of dalits. State has seen the atrocity as the breaking of law but in practice unable to implement it due to its social character. As a result state limiting to itself as a dealer of compensation for victims rather intervening in the social process to minimize the social inequalities. The academic understanding on atrocity is a reflection of this process and ultimately ends in reproducing the knowledge, which is mostly empirical in nature. It lacks proper theoretical direction and obviously keeps in status quo of society. The social scientists are limiting themselves in explaining the social conditions that leads to violence rather providing normative and political understanding of the issue. At most the theoretical understanding is confines to liberal humanistic or Gandhian in case of understanding caste violence. In this context, dalit literary writing to certain extent captured the idea of atrocity and provides the normative meaning to atrocity by locating it socially and historically. Though it was a cultural construction of dalit writer that reflects his subjective position, but to a possible extent they opened up the diverse subjective positions. In Bojja Tarakam’s Nela, Nagali and Mudeddulu, we may find how dalit subjectivity got erased by the caste hindu, who happened to have control over the land and resources. The power denies the identity of dalit as a human being and reduced him to a third bull. An attempt to live as human being leads to knowing about oneself and questioning the power that obviously leads to violence. The author    has not only depicts the conditions that leads to violence and explains the functioning of the social structure as a whole against the labourer, subordinate, dalit. To overcome this atrocity of slavery, he suggests that dalits should have land, education and political power. To transform the society requires courage to fight against this inhuman and oppressed society. Kolakaluri Enoch’s Oorabhavi provides the multiple meanings of atrocity by capturing the complexity involved in the society and explaining the caste violence. It also provides the strategies adopted by the dalits in resisting the everyday caste violence. In our philosophical understanding of atrocity we have to take note of these dimensions of caste violence in order to change the inhuman, oppressive and exploitative social system. Rather describing the phenomenon of caste violence, our understanding of atrocity has to acknowledge the politics of resisting the caste violence.

End Notes

[i] Padma Rao, Katthi Karamchedu O Charitrika Malupu, Dalita Rananinadam, Hyderabad: Yedureetha Publications, 2005,p.6

[ii] Satyamurthy.K.G.quoted in Dalita Rana Ninadam, p.55

[iii] Ravi Kumar, (2005) Waiting to lose their Patience, In:  Viswanathan,S. Dalits in Dravidian Land, Chennai: Navayana, , p.xxvii

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