Certainly we struggle as victims of other people’s unkindness. We have been sinned against. But we cannot excuse our sinful responses to others on the grounds of their mistreatment of us. We are responsible for what we do. We are both strugglers and sinners, victims and agents, people who hurt and people who harm.
– Larry Crabb
On the anniversary of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus, I tweeted an excerpt from Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon Has Blood Clots. The immediate response was tweets about continuing atrocities on Kashmiri Muslims. Even as I reeled from how it feels to pack a lifetime in a suitcase and to flee one’s own home like a thief at night, I was abruptly dragged across the other side to a competing victimhood.
On the anniversary of the Kunan Poshpora gang rapes, I mourned the unspeakable horror of a raped pregnant sixteen year old who subsequently gave birth to a baby with a broken arm. A friend speculated that the story was likely an exaggeration, if not outright fabrication.
In fact, he went on, every account that comes from “separatists” was to be suspected, that the “ripped fetus” incident from Gujarat is a myth, and that Muslim victimhood hurts secularism as it is “context-free” angst. Same goes for Hindu victimhood, he added.
Sandhya Jain, editor of Vijayvaani, writes, Hindu victims of the (Muzaffarnagar) riots were cold-shouldered and compensation was offered to Muslims only.
In his essay “The value of Hindu Life”, Rajiv Srinivasan writes, A Hindu’s life is without value as far as politicians and the government are concerned. But a Christian man’s life and a Muslim man’s eye are of great value.
Dalit rights activist Kancha Ilaiah in an interview to DNA said, “Backward caste students are generally discriminated against in these premier institutes. Instead of providing them a leg-up, they are made to feel unwanted.”
If you go looking for it, victimhood is everywhere in India.
As I reflected on my friend’s views, it occurred to me that he was speaking about victimhood as a political act while I was hurting for the victims as a human gesture.
Amidst the clanging of arguments over victimhood, we so often lose sight of the victims crouched in shadows. By dismissing victimhood, with good intent and sharp intellect, we forcibly erase the memory of victims. In the process of championing victimhood, somehow the victims are left far behind.
The Pandit leaping from the window of his burning house, the baby born with a fractured arm because the mother was raped brutally, the elderly widow struggling on behalf of her lynched husband, the frightened Kar Sevak trapped in the Sabarmati Express, the refugees trembling beneath the merciless winter sky in Muzaffarnagar. They are all individuals and their suffering should matter more than as fodder for collective victimhood.
Headlines in the newspapers, poignant photographs, screeching political debates on primetime seldom turn to look at the victim, who is as she was. And where she was.
Victimhood is born of inferiority, insecurity, and paranoia. When you step back and stare at it, victimhood sounds like a pathetic attempt to show whose scar is uglier, whose wound is deeper, and whose bruises are blacker and bluer. When you come closer, all you can smell is fear.
Those who scream hoarse about victimhood and those who smirk at it are seldom victims themselves. They merely reduce the suffering of others to clever arguments and the victims to forgotten afterthoughts, dismissing them as whiny.
Justice is a headless puppet in this country. When it is served, more often than not it is a political statement in the name of “appeasing the collective conscience”. Where the security forces should be the first circle of protection for victims and justice the next, both have been rendered powerless in the face of cold political calculation.
The struggle of man against power, Milan Kundera wrote, is the struggle of memory against forgetting. The debate over victimhood is a means of forgetting.
We must acknowledge the trauma of the victims, we must not forget them. Because it is likely memory is the only justice they will ever get.
The saddest fact is that competing victimhoods desperately try to prove that the “other” victims are not really victims. They are impostors. They are a political conspiracy. They are a fabrication.
They are everything except real human beings with names.
They are liars.
Vasudev “Vasu Toth” in the Mishriwala refugee camp for Kashmiri Pandits is a liar.
Satish Kumar Mishra, survivor of the Sabarmati express burning in Godhra, is a liar.
Vibha Sethii, who lost her son and husband in the 1984 riots, is a liar.
Zakia Jafri is a liar.
Victims are liars. Victimhood is standing strong and true.
First published in DNAIndia.com on March 5, 2014: