ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Humiliation: Class Matters Too

All the dalits actively protesting against the humiliation of Devyani Khobragade through email and social media campaigns would not have even heard of Soni Sori, let alone what the Chhattisgarh police did to her. But isn't Sori a member of their class, the class of the exploited?

Three weeks have gone by since Devyani Khobragade, Deputy Consul General (DCG) for political, economic, commercial and women’s affairs, was arrested and humiliated in New York on 12 December 2013. But the uproar in the media is yet to subside. This is surely not the first time that the US autho­rities humiliated Indian note-worthies, even our ex-president A P J Abdul Kalam, but the public outrage and angry reaction of the government over this episode has been unprecedented. As any sensible person could guess, the only factor that explains the din is the times in which it took place. Yes, this is election time! The results of the recent elections in four states have bolstered the confidence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), causing grave anxieties to the ruling Congress Party. The opportunities presented by the great post-election coalition game have also activated all the other parties to seek to maximise their prospects. This episode served them all to exhibit their jingoism. There has been another aside to the episode. Devyani happens to be a dalit, the daughter of ex-Indian Administrative Service officer, and in that identity, she perfectly represents the vocal dalit middle class. Right or wrong, taking cudgels on her behalf serves two important electioneering objectives, viz, appealing to the masses by invoking patriotic sentiments and appealing to dalits, by showing concern for their honour.

Devyani happens to be the daughter of my long-standing friend; personally, I would sympathise with her. But the episode threw up many important issues in public and so I cannot be blinded by personal feelings. The main thrust of the argument in her favour is that she was humiliated by being handcuffed, allegedly strip-searched, and made to stay with ordinary criminals for nearly four hours before she was released on bail against the bond of $250,000. In the “socialist democratic republic” called India, we are conditioned to see institutions treating individuals differentially, depending on one’s social rank, and hence we cannot stomach the idea of equality before the law. This is not to say that the US has completely shunned racial profiling. But, in comparison, its law enforcement machinery treats people equally and operates uninfluenced by any pressure. Of course, in the post-second world war period, the US has been the biggest imperialist bully, exploiting people the world over, even killing those whom Washington considers its enemy, this with impunity. But the Indian ruling-class parties and the government, which are now displaying their defiance in this episode, have never uttered even a word against its exploitative role. On the contrary, they have always bent over backwards to curry Washington’s favour. This episode reeks of many such duplicities and doublespeak behind the jingoistic noises for Devyani.

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