Situated at a historic conjuncture of mass-mediated outrage, this conference will attempt to interrogate the political register of ‘hurt’ vis-à-vis its conditions of production and retaliation. Recent events such as the furore over a public reading from Salman Rushdie’s banned novel The Satanic Verses, the fractious debates in the Indian Parliament over an Ambedkar cartoon in NCERT school curriculum and the arbitrary removal of a Ramanujan essay on The Ramayana from university textbooks are only symptomatic of larger tendencies in political expression. The latter has invented a new vocabulary of vulnerable political subjectivities, constantly living in fear of difference and critique. It has then periodically called upon the sovereign state to revive its pledge for democratic pluralism through punitive-prohibitive checks on the freedom of expression or protest. The currency of ‘hurt’ as a claim to and pretext for political correctionism – and often taking recourse to the logic of the anti-popular as anti-state – has helped institute a machinery of censorship, ever governed by the economies and excesses of a “marketplace of outrage”. It is this ready vocabulary of a potential victimhood and how it can become an excuse for repressive regimes of state-vigilantism that we seek to map through dialogues and discussions at the conference.
Moving past the clinical notion of ‘hurt’ as bodily harm, one needs to discern the definitional contours of this new economy of fear and pain. What constitutes the tangibility of ‘hurt’, in order to be recognized by the political apparatus as a sentiment worthy of redressal? Or, in other words, when and with how much of it does ‘hurt’ become political? Does it need to be reciprocally collectivized in order to gain political credence and visibility? Would some individual litigant’s petition in the Delhi High Court against an apparently ‘defamatory’ depiction of Bharat Mata in a film song count as a case of ‘hurt’? Or, must the litigant – as indeed he did – necessarily reference “all Indian citizens” in his PIL as a precondition for the seriousness (because, publicness) of his ‘being hurt’? Is the political emergency of ‘hurt’, therefore, in its inherence within a logic of the community -- the people-as-state? And does it hence empower the state to act on behalf of its citizens, by summarily outlawing ‘difference’ as criminal – a social therapy for a public injury? Significantly, Section 153 of the IPC makes a criminal offence of anything that “promotes disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes and communities”. Does ‘hurt’ then authorize the law-court [read: sovereign power] to counter-hurt or counter-offend as the only legitimate cure for it? Or, is it that the authoritarian state manufactures and strategically facilitates different articulations of ‘hurt’ to potentially eliminate every threat to its own constitutional sovereignty, every trace of dissent?
Inasmuch as the epistemological validity of ‘hurt’ is in its being only a claim based on perception(s) of potential threat, it is yet unreal(ized). And despite its logic of a pure possibility of harm or pain, this political definition of ‘hurt’ as claim-against-threat has mobilized an entire history of real oppression through legislative action. While the state’s condemnation of motivated fundamentalist attempts to ‘hurt’ (through divisive rhetoric and hate speech) must of course be lauded, when does power end up using popular sentiment as a pretext for self-defence?
While on the one hand dominant majoritarian forces have repeatedly injured the sentiments of religious-ethnic communities, they have on the other ironically fetishized ‘hurt’ as the only guarantor of a status quo. M.F. Hussain, arguably India’s most eminent painter, was charged with “hurting the sentiments of the people” by the court in 2006, for depicting female Hindu deities in the nude, and faced death threats from various nationalist groups in India. Arundhati Roy, writer and political activist, was charged with sedition in 2010 for a purported “anti-India” speech. The four writers, who read from The Satanic Verses at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2012, were threatened with physical harm, to say nothing of the author of the text, Salman Rushdie, who has been labouring under the excesses begotten by the fatwa against him. A people’s Chief Minister in an Indian state made way for the first anniversary of her term in office by ordering the arrest of a university professor for circulating via e-mail a cartoon graphic of her. The instances have been many, but it would seem from these instances, that the many people of India remain in a ready state of hurtfulness, amenable to the slightest provocation, the smallest incitement, and least aggravation. It is this state of ready hurt that led senior journalist and editor, Mukund Padmanabhan, to term ours a “republic of hurt sentiments”.
This conference aims to bring together all these different events to bear upon the ‘politics of hurt’, and investigate the many ways in which such hurt is expressed, engendered and elaborated.
Dr. Rina Ramdev
Department of English
Sri Venkateswara College
University of Delhi Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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