By Garga Chatterjee
Last week, in Mumbai`s Malwani area, two teachers of a children`s tutorial class allegedly forced two children of Class 2 and 3 to strip and stand naked outside class. The two children had not completed their homework and that was the “reason” for this perverted act. The fact that we have adults in our midst who think that they have the power to forcibly get children to strip reveals the naked power that is used on the vulnerable. The person who ran the tutorial has claimed that the parents of the children were present and the stripping was done on their insistence. This is not a one-off incident. Some parents are known to inflict sadistic, perverted and dehumanizing “punishments” on their children, in the belief that children are an extension of their selves and essentially can be treated or mistreated at will, like private property. Such parents probably nurture deep sicknesses of their own – the hapless and vulnerable children being victims of their parents’ failure to come to terms with own psychological problems. Stripping also has social sanction. In the subcontinent, almost every day many, many people (who are often not of the male gender) are forcibly stripped and made naked, by superior or collective force or threat. A very small minority of these cases probably make it to the so-called public domain. At that point, based on mood, sometimes there is outrage. It is also true that many of those who may be outraged at one case of stripping may be found cheer-leading stripping or sadistic sexual violence on other people in other circumstances, based on their conceptions of “innocence” and “crookedness”. The latter, they believe, deserve to be dehumanized. There are those with rage issues and then there is outrage at injustice. Many have learned to couch the former in the language of the latter.
The Malwani case has been brought to light because a passerby had filmed the abused children standing naked and then shared it on social media. The “good intention” behind this sharing shows how the kind of values a society has normalized. It points to the depths of sickness of a society that requires the social sharing of a video clip of naked children, thus surely providing consumption material to respectable closet paedophiles, to be awakened to respond. The social sharing of the video did not prompt any citizen to file a complaint. Mumbai Police filed a complaint by itself – a force some of whose members were and are involved in dealing with “under-age” boys and girls in ways that are sickening. Unfortunate are the people who have to rely on saviours like the Mumbai Police. The fact that there have not been any arrests shows how lightly a society takes sadistic perversions and promotes it by inaction. All of this is truly part of Indian values – something that no respectable person should have anything to do with.
What is amazing that nakedness per se does not evoke the same kind of outrage of suggestions of criminality. I am not talking about the voluntary nakedness of well-off individuals. I am talking to and the near-nakedness and nakedness of the very poor – children and adults, nakedness that implicates the rest in being complicit in their stripping of human dignity of which nakedness is one of the signs. That has been normalized. They are seen as less-humans or non-humans. That is when avante-garde urban radicals organize “Kiss öf Love” public kissing gatherings in Kollkata as a public spectacle, ostensibly to reclaim the freedom in public space, we forget that lakhs have always kissed on Kolkata`s streets, in the “open”. Indeed they have made love there, had children there, fought and died there. They exist beyond the solidarity of the urbane social radicals or the moral outrage of the values-mafia. A few weeks ago in Kolkata, Adhiraj, a lawyer friend invited me to an event that wanted to “take back the night”. Women`s safety in streets after dark was the noble goal. When we reached, the assembly had already left the meeting point. We asked someone who actually lived on the street about the missing group, we were told that a group had assembled, shouted a few slogans, joked amongst themselves and then went away. I don’t know whether this was our missing group. What I do know is that we know nothing about what the women who live on the streets after dark think of those who want to take back the streets at night. Those who want to take back the night and folks like me who are in sympathy with such causes may not like what we hear about what they think of us, our spectacles, our taking backs. Ignorance is safe. It can even be empowering.