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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 42, New Delhi, October 3, 2020

Sita, Yet Again! | Pallavi Borgohain

Friday 2 October 2020

by Pallavi Borgohain

It is a matter of sheer disappointment and repugnance that there has been no substantive discussion on issues like the abysmal GDP, unemployment and covid management etc in the electronic media but then I realize almost at the same time that maybe these are not the kind of issues that interest the citizens of this country any longer. But are not citizens supposed to be conscious about their rights and by extension of their violation? So is this a sign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) successfully concretizing in the minds of the people of this country the belief that the subjecthood of Ramrajya is better when compared to the citizenship of the modern state? We even saw a form of ‘coronation’ of the Prime Minister on the 5th of August when the foundation stone for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya was being laid down. The choice of behaving as subjects instead of citizens is almost always accompanied by casualties of those at the margins. As a direct observer of the stifling environment in the Indian universities, it is all the more tormenting to realize how vulnerable the entire process of knowledge formation has become. It is on one such dispirited day that we get the saddening news of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s (SSR) death due to suicide, which is now under investigation. What follows after his demise is the perfect recipe for despair in these already sunless times of the pandemic. The morbid coverage of the entire episode of his father filing an FIR against Rhea Chakraborty, reportedly SSR’s girlfriend and live-in partner, followed by his sisters and SSR’s former girlfriend Ankita Lokhande’s statements about the suspicious nature of the actor’s death indicating the role possibly played by Rhea Chakraborty and her brother is only getting animated as circus in the newsrooms. To top it all, we have National Award winning actor Kangana Ranaut claiming to be having concrete information about the cartels of nepotism operating in the industry which acted as impediments on the way of success for the outsiders, which according to her must have driven SSR to take such an extreme step.

So what follows, is that every morning we have updates about SSR’s death which is now said to be being investigated by the CBI. However, it appears that a large section of the media does not have complete faith in the investigating agency which is why the newsrooms are conducting their own media trials on daily basis upon Rhea Chakraborty. But what is driving the media to conduct itself in such an unscrupulous manner? Some might say that it is reflective of the public sentiment. Perhaps yes as it is the same public who are happy in accepting subjecthood in their Ramrajya in exchange of their citizenship entitlements. So is it the expressed wishes of their subjects that the BJP decides to put up posters for Bihar elections claiming to bring justice to SSR? That makes it an agenda item upon which they seek mandate. Is it just the exasperated me or some of you as well who are still wondering about the missing public sentiments around the migrant crisis which also interestingly involves the two states in question? Looks like gone are the days when we had a functional opposition, capable of toppling governments over price rise. For democracy to be effective, opposition and dissenting voices must be seen under constructive light. However, what we have today is the patriarch making unilateral announcements which none of its subjects dare to disagree upon, as it would be construed as an act of rebellion that needs to be crushed or at least tame the deviants so that an example is set. All of these things taken together take us to a point where we witness the pronounced gap between the visions of the subjects and citizens which is because of the obvious differences in their vantage points.

In the midst of all these political changes and its realization setting it, we have someone’s death being employed as a tool of patriarchy by the state players as well as its subjects. The state has the express responsibility of acting in a manner that shall facilitate the process of establishing and maintaining a gender-just society by situating itself above the hierarchical social order with the purpose and sense of successful implementation of the legal order. However, the exact opposite of it appears to be happening here. Not to say that this is a first of its kind as well as also going by the ideological inclination of the ruling party it hardly comes as a surprise to me that the state should behave in this way. I, however, do not claim to say that any other political party would have acted in any different manner. It would just have been a difference of style and explicitness perhaps.

Here I shall be making an attempt to bring out certain instances which are disturbing due to the presence of explicit patriarchal tendencies. To begin with, I am proposing here so as to whether one is able to see any similarity between a victim of dowry for instance with the deceased here. Just like the way the dowry victim’s family starts asking for justice after the death of their daughter, claiming to have been aware of all the terrible things that had been happening to her; SSR’s family as well is claiming to have known every wrong that they believe Rhea had been doing upon him. The question is then what motivates the families to stay silent until the deaths? In the case of the dowry victim the answer is quite known to all of us but it is bewildering to notice a similar attitude in the other case. Can we then make an assessment and say that perhaps any kind of realization that a son, who it is claimed to have been born after much prayer, could have any tormenting issues at all in life was just completely unacceptable? After all, SSR was an actor and played hero in the reel life and any amount of tinkering with the image would have cost the stake holders dearly. So it seems there was this sense of misplaced honor and insecurities driven by patriarchal value system which had played itself out.

The second instance that stinks of patriarchy is when the voyeuristic consumers are getting pleasure in relishing the two kinds of women being served on the platter. SSR’s sisters and his ex-girlfriend Ankita Lokhande fall in the category of the virtuous woman whereas Rhea falls into the ‘other’ or the bad woman category. It is a death that is being investigated into by the CBI, however what we have for our sadist pleasure is some sort of extrajudicial or the complete opposite of the Platonic sense that justice has. One needs to see through the time tested patriarchal ploy of pitting one woman against the other, or maybe the relationship of siblings against the relationship of lovers etc. After all that is how hierarchies in personal relationship set in, which then is able to give a firm foundation to the patriarchal practices. Let alone the unoccupied or occupied misogynist people doing so, but on what grounds are we tolerating the state acting as the upholder of patriarchy. The state is supposed to conduct an impartial enquiry into it under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, proceeding ahead with the dictum of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ but are we even anywhere close to it?

This whole circus brings before me the moderation done to the slogan of Jai Shri Ram which has time and again been used as a war cry to the politically newer version of Jai Siya Ram in the context of the construction of the Ram Mandir. Everything that has transpired during the distance travelled between Jai Shri Ram and Jai Siya Ram is translucent enough for one to see and also understand the sense of women empowerment promoted by the BJP. This is not to say that they no longer subscribe to the slogan of Jai Shri Ram, but that they have only altered it enough to make it look little less masculine and a bit feminine. It is this reiteration of the image of Sita as the virtuous woman who passes the agni-pariksha with distinction that is at play when its followers are expecting a similar reenactment in this particular case. After all if it is possible for people to imagine politicians in the image of their beloved gods (Vajpayee as Ram and Advani as Laxman, as in the 90s for instance), then how difficult shall it be for them to imagine and transport reel life relationships into real life and thereby not think and act irrationally. I argue here that it is this non-contemplative, non-reflective patriarchal mindset of the people which is making them sympathize with Ankita Lokhande, SSR’s ex-girlfriend who played the role of his wife in the tele show “Pavitra Rishta” as against Rhea Chakraborty who was in a live-in relationship with the actor, which is perceived by the society as an attack upon the sanctity of the institution of marriage. The consequences of such hunger for misogyny and patriarchy in the society can be felt by some of us in the way we are witnessing the constitution of this land suffering.

Hence here is some food for thought: what is it that the state is making its citizens consume? What is the language in which it is communicating with its citizens? Are they at all communicating? Certainly not with the citizens! However the subjects of Ramrajya are happy to be in tune with the state. What remains with the citizens when the ruling party is busy checking if the pressure cooker has chickpeas in it or not? The death of a person is painful but what is even worse is the death of your freedom to think, freedom to question and thereby losing the right to live during your life time. These times are marker of many such untimely deaths!

(Pallavi Borgohain is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science , Ramjas College, University of Delhi)

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