Richard Loitam, Racism and its Violence

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Richard Loitam, a Manipuri student in Bangalore who died reportedly after he was assaulted by his fellow students, presumably was not the first student who died resulting from nasty brawl amongst students; and under the criminal justice system of this country, this is also not the first case that concerned authorities have refused to follow up a case properly or sought to cover-up crimes. Given this, one must ask and be honest as to why so many, particularly from the Northeast, have come out crying for “Justice for Richard Loitam”? The answer will invariably bring a context which will speak, not only about the nature of the present case but also the nature of the response against the death of Richard Loitam.

Justice for Richard - Protest at Delhi
Justice for Richard - Protest at Delhi : Click the image to view the gallery

 

Racism and Its Violence: It’s Not a Private Affair Alone

We must ask four questions in order to put the unfortunate death of this young student from Manipur in perspective:

  1.  When those people who reportedly hit him so badly to cause his death, the very act of hitting/assaulting him at that moment, will it be free from a consciousness or sense of Richard being “different” from them? And that this marker of being “different” will not have anything to do with (a) how he looks (his “racial” feature), (b) he does not belong “here” (correspondingly, he is from a particular place) and (c) he speaks a different “language” or come from a different “culture”?
  2. The subsequent conducts of the police or college authorities which sought to cover up the case (amongst others, insinuating that he died of an accident or drug related death) will not have anything to do with the fact that Richard Loitam was a student/person who belonged to a distant/far off place (and hence the response of the police and authorities (sort of, can get away with the cover-up)?
  3. Do the experiences of being marked out or treated differently or having faced outright acts of discriminations and humiliations have nothing to do with the decisions of those from the Northeast to join the outcry here (such as on social network-sites)?
  4. Correspondingly, some sense of outrage or resentment that their friends from the Northeast face undesirable experiences of being marked out/treated differently or discriminations/humiliations in the hands of people from outside the region have nothing to do with their involvement in this outcry?

Answers to the above questions shall tell us something about “racism” vis-à-vis the present case. Indeed, these four questions will reveal that Richard’s case is a larger concern which has a collective stake rather than being merely a case of justice for an individual or a family. For instance, it seems, going by the preliminary post-mortem report and pictures of Richard’s dead body and his room that are being circulated on net, the nature of the injuries that had led to his death were not the results of a regular brawl with his fellow students who did not have the intention of causing injuries that might lead to his death or a consequences of a scuffle in which Richard fell and got injured. Prima facie, these pictures and the preliminary post-mortem report seem to suggest that the injuries that led to his death were results of a brutal assault. It is here that one is forced to think of the intent of those who allegedly assaulted him, and the above first question gets implicated in the present case which simultaneously makes Richard’s death a part of a larger issue of “racially” motivated acts.

Besides, legal fraternity will tell us that large part of the denial or subversion of justice under the criminal justice system in the country starts with the lowest level of the system, that is, the police. From refusal to register the FIR or registering it in ways that are detrimental to the victims to shoddy investigations, the denial or subversion of justice began from there. And more than any other class of people, it is the marginalized and weaker sections of the society who are more likely to face such an experience of subversion of justice is a well known fact. There is no point in denying that there had been an attempt to subvert justice by seeking to brush aside Richard’s death as a natural death and hush up the case. After all, the present outcry has been a reaction to such an effort to subvert justice. This being the case, what are the reasons for the attempt to subvert justice by the concerned authorities? Is it a case of familiar attempts of our criminal justice system which often denies justice to the weaker or marginalized sections of the society (here, the case being that Richard was a member of a particular people from a particular region which is marked by a marginal status vis-à-vis the larger Indian society)? It is this aspect of the present case which implicates the above second question, which, in turn, makes Richard’s death a collective concern over and above being a concern of his family and friends.

Needless to say, the outpouring of resentment and anger against the manner in which he was allegedly assaulted that led to his death and the initial responses of the concerned authorities have been presumably informed by a general sense of being marked out or differently treated or having faced outright acts of discrimination and humiliation by the people of the Northeast and an empathy with them by other citizens of the country. Only a self denial (due to ignorance or vested interests) of those who are used to seeking private solution (such as buying inverter) to a public malaise of institutional failures (electricity) in Manipur would deny that Richard’s case in not merely a concern or affairs of a private kind (family etc) but that of a public and collective concerns which speak of the place and experiences of the people in/from the Northeast. Arguably, it is also precisely because of this public concern that implicates the people from a geo-politically sensitive region that the Govt. of India and political class scrambled to respond to the outcry.

In order to understand the present case, both the unfortunate death, responses to the same and nature of contemporary understanding on racism, we might as well take note of the following two aspects:

  1. Social scientists, researchers and commentators have time and again noted that there is something called “racism without race”, a phenomenon wherein prejudices or acts of marking out a difference and treated differently on the basis of “race” have been attributed/displaced/deflected to other attributes other than the victim’s race. Such responses are not necessarily CONSCIOUS acts; these are done subconsciously or unconsciously.
  2.  Sociologists have pointed out that while the perpetrators of communal carnage commit their acts and justify the same in the name of the “people” (often by conflating that “people” in a majoritarian sense with the “nation” as “we, the people”) while the victims respond to the violence by seeking redressal in the name of “justice”. In short, while the majority speaks the language of (by appropriating) the “nation” that marks out the minority as the “other” while committing the violence, the minority victims speak the language of “citizen”.

The above aspects, the different “languages” of the majority perpetrators and the minority victim are points to be noted for us to grapple with the violence that has led to the death of Richard Loitam and responses to the same.

Need for Informed and Honest Response

Incidentally, and perhaps expectedly, on the other hand, there are some who have a misplaced, if not a sinister or deliberate, attempt to distract the issues at hand by raising the insecurity-driven-xenophobia which are often expressed in terms of “identity assertions” and violence against “outsiders” (or amongst the different communities) in the Northeast. Incidentally, some of these people who raise such issues have never spoken out against such xenophobic violence before they choose to raise the issue in this case. Raising such issue is not only reflective of a lack of understanding between the two forms of violence but also an attempt to distract, wittingly or unwittingly, from the issue at hand. The present case must, therefore, be addressed for what it is through proper investigations, which entails an informed and honest effort to take into account the context of the violence and the responses to the same.

It has been pointed out that the inmates (Jews/gypsies) of the Nazi concentration camps were/are not the only ones who were/are traumatized by the experience; the camps guards also suffer from the de-humanizing experience. However, juxtaposing the trauma of the camp guards to de-legitimize or sideline the dehumanizing and traumatic experiences of the inmates of those camps can only be a misplaced concern at best and at worst, a sinister move to deny the sufferings of the inmates and justify and perpetuate racism which had produced the Holocaust.

We must also remember that fight against “racism” in any form or manifestation is not an anti-state act. Indian State, constitutionally speaking, is not a racist State. Article 15 of the Constitution makes any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, race, sex or place of birth illegal. If the spirit and letter of the Constitution are not respected or followed by the Government or parties, one must not be apologetic about standing against the same. Notwithstanding the Constitution, we must know that our lived world is not entirely determined or covered by the constitutional provisions or laws. We might eulogize Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar as the father of the Indian Constitution. But, I suppose, Ambedkar must also be acknowledged for his insistence on or preference for “social transformation” over “political transformation”. Perhaps, the Constitution is like an “interview guide” that researcher uses while engaging with the realities of the “field”; the actual outcome depends on what the researcher actually “does” with it. In short, the kind of “transformation” that he had in mind must therefore be judged by what we do with the Constitution. In fact, Ambedkar’s concluding remark in the Constituent Assembly on 26 November, 1949 on “those who are called to work it happen” must speak a lot to us today.

In short, the case of Richard Loitam brings home the familiar lacunae in our criminal justice system and the reality of “racism” with or without “race” which has often been underplayed, if not actively denied, in this country, including by those who are incidentally at the receiving end of “racism”. Sooner we realize this and seek corrective measures, better it would be for one and all.  Seeking justice for Richard Loitam must be a part of that effort.

 

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1 COMMENT

  1.  I think this article’s basic premise seems to be wrong. One sentence says, “When those people who reportedly hit him so badly to cause his death….” The final medical report ruled out the possibility that he died because of the beating. And to put things in the right perspective now, the police were right in filing a case of “unnatural death”, and not of “homicide/murder” – the final medical report confirms that.

    Another sentence says, “Prima facie, these pictures and the preliminary post-mortem report seem
    to suggest that the injuries that led to his death were results of a
    brutal assault.” Now, should one trust the conclusion of the medical report from reputed doctors or from the author which is based on seeing the picture of the body on the net?!! It even feels ridiculous to pose such a s question.

    Can the author say what is he basing his argument that Richard was beaten to death on? It doesn’t suit his stature to keep on harping on this wrong assumption like many of our fellow students did – they can be excused for being emotional and immature, but the author cannot be excused for that.

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