The politics of naming, showing and shaming

Last Updated: Wed, Apr 18, 2018 15:43 hrs
Rape protests

Image for representation only.

On facebook, a rash of people are showing the face of the police officer who is the principal accused in the rape case in Kathua. It is not clear what is achieved by doing this.

If the idea is to shame the man, he is already going to face the legal consequences which will hopefully be much more severe than some pathetic online shaming. He does not look remotely ashamed in any of the photographs. In one, he is proudly holding a gun, a stock photograph in the facebook profiles of North Indian men.

If the idea is to deter other people from such action by terrifying them into the future idea of being shamed, it is highly unlikely that this will make them anything more than somehat excited. This man is a hero to many people. People went on a rally supporting him.

This only furthers his heroic possibilities and those of others in the poisonous project of Hindu nationalism where the Muslim is the prize victim and the adivasi an obstacle that must be brutally removed. The victim in Kathua was both.

But what is the ethics of this sort of naming, showing and shaming politics? What if the person you are doing it to turns out to be innocent? What if a person whose picture you circulate turns out to be innocent? You have destroyed him before fair trial. This is media lynch mob justice. It circumvents the law. It destroys people's lives. Each of these men might have families, wives, children. Who are you to ruin their lives? (We have already seen that Kathua victim’s family had to flee; the Unnao girl’s father was killed and both these are victim families; victimiser families also face threats for a crime they did not commit).

In the US, they put up posters of paedophiles in neighbourhoods. Next they will, as Germaine Greer in one of her more thoughtful moments, once asked the British public to do in relation to the child killer Myra Hindley, want to brand stuff on people's foreheads so that they will be marked for life. This is not justice; this is retributive rage.

Latika Vashist has written eloquently about retributive rage in her critique of the sane-sounding but deeply problematic Martha Nussbaum. Nussbaum hierarchizes emotions and responses and also calls for rational and sane responses as if one might just pull these out of a hat. Vashist instead psychoanalytically probes the anxieties we display when we express rabid rage, when we want to castrate people, hang them in the town square, disfigure their faces, put their pictures on our profiles. She finds that these desires make us indistinguishable from these people we hate.

Indeed, how are we different from rapists and murderers when we want people disfigured and hanged? How does our self-righteousness blind us to our own violence?

This new culture of naming, showing and shaming has come to Indian feminists easily. Kavita Krishnan was all for it till her take on Raya Sarkar’s list saw her on the wrong side of the fence.

The List was the most egregious form of online abuse posing as feminism. Putting someone’s name randomly online is so easy. The effects on people’s careers, marriages and lives may be incalculable. I can put the names of the brothers, fathers and loved ones of all the women who support the list on a list and then I would like to ask them how they feel.

Better still, I can put all these women’s names on a list (they clearly deserve to be on one) and ask men, employers and the world in general to be careful of them, thereby jeopardising their careers and lives. It is as easy as the click of a mouse. But there is something called responsibility and this is what we all lack in this rabid class and caste and gendered formation to which we belong.

I do not use these three terms – class, caste and gender - in the formulaic sense in which they are always invoked by internet warriors and lazy academics.

Let us take each one of them.

The namers and shamers are upper class. They have the English, the technology, the phones, the internet to wreak their damage.

They are all upper caste and practice their Brahmin backdoor entry into hegemony again through the loudest assertion of anti-caste sentiment. This is an old practice, as Christian Lee Novetzke has shown us in the context of Maharashtra. All the biggest online anti-caste warriors are Brahmins. They are not trying to work off ancestral debt; they are actually on their way to being Brahmins again.

Finally, the most poisonous circulators of naming, showing and shaming are women. They hate it when it is done to them (fat-shaming, slut-shaming, victim-blaming and a battery of terms come into play then) but they have no qualms crime-shaming, accused-destroying and public-lynching people without any trial, without any investigation, without due process and without fair trial. This is millennial vengeance feminism. Women have become the monsters men have always been. It is payback time. All the people sharing the Kathua policeman’s picture are women.

The most insidious quality of this vengeance classism, casteism and sexism is that it exonerates the upper class, upper caste female subject entirely. She is without blemish, without blame, without complicity, without violence, without responsibility. She is pure victim turned pure victimiser.

It is the ultimate bourgeois dream.

The trouble is that men want to get on that gravy train too, they want that high too. There’s dark and violent times ahead.

More columns by Ashley Tellis:

Why gender-neutral laws on sexual violence is a terrible idea

The fabric of resistance: Dalit women's deaths and lives

The failed dream of Aruvi

Gauri Lankesh's life a battle against men trying to silence her

Pissing in the wind against the Notinmyname campaign

What Justice Karnan case reveals about the Judiciary

Ashley Tellis is a freelance academic and writer