by Georgy Kuruvilla Roy
(This article has been taken from Round Table India, with the author’s and RTI’s permission.)
While the debate between Huma Dar and Partha Chatterjee over the past week has been enriching and enlightening; the point of this article however, is to show as Klemen Sarkoja sings “the structure of the joke is that this so called progressive intellectual, in order to score his small narcissistic point, oh, I dusted the balls, totally ignores the suffering there”. I have no intention to either speak about Israel or Kashmir or refugees or anything. My intention here is to bring all of your attention to one particular incident that happened in the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, and ask my teacher Partha Chatterjee what his stance is with regard to all that happened here while you were here. Maybe you might have forgotten what had happened here because you were thinking about Israel or if you haven’t please do enlighten us with your take is on the incident.
The incident that happened on July 15 involves a contract labourer at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata. The said laborer, belonging to the Dalit Muslim category, was made to do sit-ups in front of a lot of other staff of the Centre by the Registrar. This was done as the laborer did not pick up the chairs as his supervisor asked him to do the day before, for some meeting that had happened.
Coming to know about the incident, a group of students came together and sent a letter to the director asking for an apology from the Registrar and the Supervisor and also the installing of a Committee for looking into various long term issues at the Centre. While our letter was received with the same indifference by the officials, as is every letter to the administration, the way in which an eminent academician, who is also our Director, dealt with the issue is both appalling and showed serious lack of concern about the incident per se. Though at this present moment, the institute has agreed to do a seminar on labour rights and also gave a nod for the committee, the incident as the director says she personally does not want to bring up again. This is what I call the progressive intellectual stance which would make a committee conduct a seminar to appease the protestors but would not even ask a public apology from the Registrar- or in extending the metaphor just dust the balls. Isn’t this similar to the stunts that all these multinational corporations do whenever a news channel finds that their factories in some South-East Asian countries do not pay minimum wages or have inhuman working conditions?
Every time, inevitably, a spokesperson of the company would come out and say “We have instituted a committee” and five years later another news channel will find the same problem and then again they will repeat the same response. My point here is that if there is a committee which does not acknowledge and reprimand the perpetrators of the current incident then this is all a bluff. If another incident of a similar nature happens in the future, what is the guarantee that you would take action against the culprit? There has been a story circulating around the Centre that this said supervisor who was responsible for the incident went and said something to a woman employee, when this incident had cooled off, and she had responded that she will complain to the Committee. To that, he had replied “I got out of this I will get out of anything”. Will such impunity be done away with just by the institution of a Committee?
Now, coming to the reason for the Director not asking for an apology from the Registrar – she says he is an efficient Registrar and that she doesn’t want him to resign. Let me make the facts clear here – the director has told us that the Registrar has acknowledged that he has committed the crime and that he has, in a personal email to the Director, apologized for it. The question here is: for an instance of public humiliation is just a personal apology enough? So why wouldn’t he apologize openly? As per the Director, he will apologize but then he will also have to resign. The point being made: since the criminal is an efficient officer I will protect him as much as I can. Here, isn’t the Director clearly standing with the criminal? Does the efficiency of your Registrar give him the guarantee to do whatever he wishes with his employees and still get away with it? It seems you are saying so. Still more, when a group of us students went to meet her demanding an apology from the registrar she categorically refused to demand any apology from the Registrar. But she assured us that she will come and speak at the Seminar on what the institution has done. At that moment we were appeased and stopped the fight. Retrospectively, by agreeing with her and making the Registrar not even come to the public, were we all being part of the same plot of protecting the criminal?
Another issue that the administration brought out was when someone leaked this letter to twocircles.net. Suddenly, the administration was telling us that we are tarnishing the reputation of the institution? Here, one question should be asked: wasn’t the reputation of the institution already in tatters when the incident occurred? By hiding it, aren’t you further taking the reputation of the institution further down the drains? If the institution had reprimanded the perpetrators wouldn’t it have enhanced the reputation of the institution? Or, let me go by your word, if you want to keep the reputation of the institution intact by hiding this incident then let’s all do one thing: let’s hang a photograph of the victim in the front of the Centre with the caption “The great man who sacrificed his self-respect for the sake of the institution!”
So now let me give it to the director – she told us that she had all her files ready if the National Commission for Minorities comes to her. So she has conducted the enquiry, she has acknowledged that she has found that certain people were guilty, but she won’t do anything about it. She will provide the files to the minorities commission if they come to her. Her claim that the Centre has done something about the incident is a blatant lie. Other than the mere words that she doles out to people who go to meet her, there has not been a public acknowledgement of the incident. And she promises to leave it to the minorities commission.
The minorities commission is another big joke. For instance, when the twocircles.net report mentioned that they have gone to the minorities commission and the Commission is sending a fact finding team to the Centre another mass hysteria overtook the Centre. This time it was about how the Centre would be taken over by the caste politics of the state and central governments and how they will ruin the centre. The point being made was: that these governments are looking for an opportunity to get into the centre and this incident would give them a leverage to enter the Centre, so this should not be reported outside. The logic: since we have a right wing government at the national level and a state government playing caste politics for its electoral gains we should refrain from asking for justice from any of these institutions as it will bring these forces into the “sacred space” of the Centre. Aren’t they also behaving like the governments – hiding their crimes saying that justice is impossible? What is the difference between them and these governments that they claim they are resisting? They are not resisting, they are rather protecting the institution from them and in the meantime becoming like the same despots that they resist.
It is high time to bring a distinction between justice and popular politics. Let us imagine a scenario where our friends the communists are in power at the national level and that this incident happened then. Wouldn’t the communists also send a fact finding team? Of course they will have their propaganda. But by bringing in all this, these so-called intellectuals are further mystifying justice and making it impossible for anyone to attain justice. It is at this juncture that our politics should start – for even an apology for such an incident seems to be impossible in the present situation.
Another allegation leveled against the students was that where were they when the workers were having other problems? We supported them and all that. Yes, we acknowledge that you have supported them but how did you use the support when it came to this situation. You asked the victim not to complain and you appeased another person by saying that, do not get into all these we will give you a permanent job and your problems will be solved. You used your cynicism to save your own asses. The director also says that what can we do with the everyday issue of violence, no one can do anything about it. So she is saying that since everyday issues of violence cannot be done away with these kinds of extreme forms of brutality should also be normalized? Here we can see the same protectionist attitude of these people coming into the fore again. What they want to do with this attitude is to create, as Kanshi Ram says, chamchas out of the laboring castes and classes. Their entire slogan about protection of the poor is not to protect the poor, but to protect themselves from the poor rising against them. It is this that one has to resist. It is here that one should understand the idea of Slavoj Zizek’s “political act” – a political act is something that changes the entire symbolic coordinates in a particular situation rather than doing something just for the sake of doing it.
While all this was happening, Partha Chatterjee was there teaching us Marx and then he flew away. There were no comments, no points made by him in the public against or for this incident. My point is that yes! we all acknowledge that the Israeli government is fascist and what not. But my allegation is also that you keep your own ass safe and speak about the Israeli government but why do you not speak about this incident of violence that has happened under your very nose. Over here, have you also not acted like a despot by not speaking against what has happened? I would like to end my article by quoting Klemen Sarkoja again- “I don’t say let’s do nothing. I say sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do”
Georgy Kuruvila Roy works with Dalit Camera in its Bengal Chapter. He is pursuing PhD in CSSS, Kolkata, where the incident happened.