In India, the politics of victimhood and need for protection is played by Dalits , Muslims, Christians, and even the so-called upper caste-Hindus, in essense all. In India, it is fast becoming a political formula that has lost its shock value , perhaps retaining only its disruptive and provocative nature. The RSS and Hindu Mahasabha on the historical victim-hood of Hindus vis-à-vis the Babri Masjid, the victim-hood naratives of Hardik Patel in Gujarat, the seditious Owaisi brothers, the Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon moaners, Pandit victimhood in Kashmir, pellet gun victimhood in Kashmir the list is way too long. Why might some people seek to be recognized as victims – is it always only for justice or could it have hidden religious or political motives at times ? Why do politicians love victimhood narratives ? How should we attend to expressions of suffering when the so-called victim´s own expressions of suffering obscure or deny another´s suffering ?
India´s politics of victimhood seems to be most dear to many of its politicians and they are constantly on the hunt for victimhood narratives among the masses as they can whine, moan and mud-sling instead of giving results and providing solutions. By appealing to our innate sense of insecurity, politicians manipulate the language of community, tamper with historical memory and unleash the powerful religious grievance that taps into a primal and raw sense of revenge that can wreck extraordinary havoc. The law overturning the Supreme Court judgement on Shah Banu case and the demolition of the Babri Masjid are two glaring examples from Indian politics. It goes to demonstrate that the liberal left and the conservative right in India, are equally co-conscientious to crime when the victimhood card is played. It re-affirms that of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.
The victim is a hero – a hero who can claim both glory and compensatory reward and still be unjust to others without blame. In India, it is no more about winning rights for the denied or protecting the persecuted but about “enemy images” and dehumanising “the other”. There are interesting global parallels to it from international politics. In Israel the politics of victimhood is used to justify the sheer brutality inflicted upon the Palestinian people and in Palestine a similar sense of victimhood is used to legitimize terror upon Jews. The larger Muslim world enthusiastically uses the “Muslim victims of Palestine” to kindle the “conniving Jew” imagery and anti-semitism, while the rest of the world takes home the “terrorist Muslim” image. Was that the reconciliation we were hoping to achieve ? Had it honestly been about victims on either side and not about politics of victimhood, the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have been long reconciled. Evidently, the politics of victimhood is therefore as much a cause of conflict as consequence. It is this type of politics that threatens democracy today right across our nation and will make India a conflict zone . Do we want it for India ? What can we do about it ?
Genuine victims and struggles for justice do exist, but just how would one identify the genuine narratives and politically manipulated narratives ? Victim narratives usually work through media sensationalism and mobilizing public opinion and in case of political manipulation the end goal is to encash it as votes and seldom justice. There are ways of cautious practice that we as Indians can engage at an individual level. First, we need to control our itch to turn every neighborhood crime into a PR stunt and make a victim narrative out of it. A crime is a crime whosoever commits it. Let us shout from our roof-tops that a crime has been committed if need be but refrain from sexing up the narrative for scoring cheap brownie points. Second, the media uses exaggerated assertions in its headlines only because it sells. If you want to stop it, then stop reacting to it. Read more than a single news and if possible contradicting news. Despite sharing an identical mission of aiming for a “fair perspective”, each channel clearly interprets a similar incident in different ways – by way of very different headlines , language structures, arguments and visuals. Therefore, appreciating some alternative perspective might be advisable for those susceptible to falling into a conclusion too quickly. Finally, stop voting as “banks”. So long as Indians vote as banks, as Muslim, Catholic, Hindu,Yadav, Jat, under the pipe dream of safeguarding the community, we will have vote-bank politics. Politicians merely use what is presented to them. Voting in blocks bring a temporary social mobility of the community but it will radicalize society in the longer run and destabilize the Indian democracy.
Let us not become a nation of victims.