Controversies have a way of fragmenting the narrative of stories. They also have a touch of scandal which generates not merely outrage but also an epidemic of political correctness. The recent ban of the BBC documentary, titled India’s Daughter, on the Nirbhaya rape case, is an example. I sat and watched the documentary. It is powerful and compelling. What holds one’s attention are the fragments of conversation from the convict and the quiet responses of the family. What is irrelevant or possibly elliptical to the movie is the commentary of the NGOs that spread out like politically correct icing. The reactions of Krishnan, Kanth, Seth, all sensitive people, are reasonable in themselves but they do not touch the core of the narrative.
The story, presented in its rawness the rapist’s narrative and its various thematic elements. Listening to the narrative, I was sickened by the sheer lack of humanity. I felt as if I did not want to be part of the human species. I was wondering where I had watched a similar display of responses and the sheer ordinariness of the comments reminded me of Hannah Arendt’s study of Eichmann in Jerusalem, a controversial but classically relevant book.
Arendt’s book talked of Eichmann, wondering how to make sense of the sheer ordinariness of the man and the enormity of his crimes. Eichmann claimed he was merely obeying orders; that he was an officer enacting his daily chores. He appeared “normal”, or as one psychologist admitted “more normal than I was after interviewing him”. The nature of the crime here is different. Adolf Eichmann committed genocide; our rapist killed and disembodied a woman, a paramedical student, removing her intestines as if it was a bit of garbage.
If Eichmann saw himself as a responsible bureaucrat following orders, our rapist saw himself as a pedagogue punishing deviants around the city. He sees himself as a moral policeman, as a surveillance mechanism tracking and punishing couples roaming “irresponsibly” around the city.
The rapist in this case becomes not a pathological case, but a symptom of the normalcy of our culture. In fact, it is the sickness of our culture that we witness through the words, the attitudes, and the body language of the perpetrator.
The rapist seems ordinary, dressed in a T-shirt and with the makings of a beard. He could be sending arakhee message to his sisters, full of mild complaints rather than talking of the woman he raped. There is no remorse, no sense of loss; he sounds like a man who has had a meal and appears to be complaining about it. In fact it is the sheer normalcy, the patriarchal normalcy of the story that creates a link to Arendt’s analysis. What one witnesses is the sheer absence of guilt, the banality of culture.
Click here to read the complete article at The Hindu.
(Shiv Visvanathan is a professor at Jindal School of Government and Public Policy.)