I am avowedly anti-police. I am only half-convinced when I say that they are a necessary evil. The “necessary” part is what I get doubtful about. This last Saturday was different. I found myself uncomfortably on the same side as the police as I read the newspapers about Somnath Bharti’s self-righteous and racist escapades. To tell the truth, I did not immediately believe what I read. That was not because I had some personal knowledge of Bharti’s antecedents. But because, AAP was a phenomenon that I wanted to work.
These last few weeks, ever since AAP’s dramatic rise to power, I have been wafting in and out of mental states, between dreams and wakefulness. Dreams are fragile things. For me, AAP’s upsurge was a dream coming true. I come from a generation of Tamils that takes joy no matter whether AIADMK or DMK wins as long as the ruling party loses horribly. Ditto with Congress and BJP.
Now, this AAP thing was an early morning dream. I could see it, feel the joy of seeing disbelief and confusion writ large in the faces of BJP and Congress wallahs. I loved it. I did not know whether I liked AAP or not. But I liked what they did, how they did it. In terms of what they proposed to do, I had questions, suggestions and critical comments. To me, the stated lack of ideology – to begin with – was both an opportunity and a challenge.
Good dreams, especially the early morning types, are difficult to let go. And I’m a hopeless lover of good dreams. Sometimes, even after waking up, I try to return to sleep to recreate and hope against hope that I can seamlessly edit in a new scene from where I let off.
So here I was in my dream. Hope catalysed me into wanting to shape it. When doubts arose tainting the goodness of the dream with cynicism and analysis, my co-dreaming friends brushed it away with sound arguments and their own actions. I loved those friends of mine who jumped headlong into the dream. One became a member of AAP and then called for a consultation post-facto. Another was already halfway into her application for an MP ticket. Another, an elderly older sister whose faith that something good was happening, should happen, cannot not happen reminded me of all the good people that are players in this dream. This dream was different. We needed this dream after the almost uninterrupted nightmare of post-independence politics.
The possibility of the dream turning into a nightmare was real, and had to be confronted. I still hadn’t woken up. The dream scene cut to a rude interruption. Mr. Bharti entered the scene without warning. He and his goons. I don’t remember if they were wearing those funny hats that night in the dream. No. Not the Aam Admi caps. There was something else – like pillowcases with holes cut-out for eyes. It was confusion then. I saw a bunch of frightened African women. Loud voices. Abusive sounds. Shrill tones – all male — conflicting commands and directions to nobody in particular. The women were accused of being whores, junkies. The fear of the African women was palpable.
My dream was not going where I wanted it to. Like always, with this dream too, I didn’t seem to be in control. I knew who was, though — Arvind Kejriwal. Arvind is a person I know and grew to respect for all the unhesitating help he gave us when the Bhopal survivors were camped out in Jantar Mantar in 2008. It does not take a genius to know that he is one, gifted as he is with a razor keen mind that can not only conjure up an engaging framework for conducting a debate, but also overturn all other frames and draw his adversaries into his comfort zone for some easy pickings.
I knew he was in a hurry to change the world. I am too, and I can understand his enthusiasm. Unlike me, who has no real clue how to go about it systematically, Arvind had demonstrated that he has a game plan. Now that Bharti had weirded my dream, I felt certain that Arvind would do something to put the dream back on track.
But his response shocked me. First, he defended Bharti. Then he asked for the suspension of four police officers who had – in a rare show of compliance and respect for due process — refused to arrest the women or search their house without a warrant. He brushed off the harsh treatment meted out to the African ladies by suggesting that the area was a den of vice, and that the women may also be engaged in drugs and prostitution. Seamlessly, he moved to the crux of the plot – his demand that the Delhi Police were harbouring criminals, and that the force should be brought under State Government control.
Bharti’s midnight madness was not a random event. That and Rakhi Birla’s confrontation with the police over a dowry death were part of the same plot to lay claim to the police force. In itself, the demand for bringing the police under Delhi’s control is not objectionable. Neither is the use of a strategy and a plot.
What was objectionable is the Khidki plot. Bharti’s violent and racist harassment of the African women was part of a carefully rolled out plan that played on the base racist stereotypes harboured by Indians. The problem with the plot lies in the frames that it seeks to invoke and play on. The frame that Africans are oversexed junkies. The frame that prostitutes are women with loose morals, and that women with loose morals are plain dangerous. It is easy to justify abuse and violence against a woman if you brand her a whore. Contemporary Indian culture celebrates such behaviour.
AAP’s game-plan for laying claim to the Delhi police force hinged on propagating a negative stereotype of black people. They promoted a notion that because Africans are subjects of such a stereotype, they don’t deserve the due process before we raid their houses or take their urine samples.
AAP needs to revisit the stereotypes it chooses to invoke. The stereotype and the frame of a corrupt politician is a good one, and AAP has pursued that well. But morality stereotypes are a particularly deadly morass. Remember how the BJP invoked an anti-muslim frame to such deadly effect this last decade? As far as Indians are concerned, it seems that all races are screwed up except for Indian hindus who are god’s gifts to human kinds as long as they are not dalits, adivasis, fisherfolk, MBCs, OBCs, dark-skinned, or worse of all, women with an attitude.
To me, it is besides the point whether the African ladies were sex-workers or not. Whether the Africans were women or not is also besides the point. Whether they were Africans or not is also besides the point. Bharti had no right to behave in the manner he did. He had no reason to harangue the police and push them to violate due process.
The second element that hints of a nightmare in the horizon is the inherent notion of collateral damage and its inevitability or even necessity. It is projected that in this pursuit of public good by Aam Admis, some innocents are bound to get hurt, and that that is justified. The ones doing the good – like Bharti and AAP — will, of course, do the hurting.
This is a fundamentalist notion – development fundamentalists may believe that a nuclear power plant is a public good, and that the people of Koodankulam will have to smilingly bear the risks or be branded anti-national; Maoists may believe that it is ok to kill a few civilians or unsuspecting constables in the larger interests of the revolution; likewise with religious fundamentalists.
To me AAP is still a dream, not a nightmare. I am still hopeful that the progressive forces within AAP will ensure that the means are as important as the ends. AAP should not have used the African women as pawns in a political fight to secure control over the Delhi police. An apology to the African women is in order.
I was born in a screwed up world. I have grown up in one. I am living in a messed up world. I want it changed. But this is not changing it. This is messing it up in a different way. This time, the messing up is being done by those who claim to be changing it for the better.