On victims and healing

We are all victims of something or the other. We all have the same processes of healing. We get hurt, we find our space, we cope, we re-engage with the world. There is no rocket science to it, except our own blocks. Maybe this sounds unsympathetic. But this is the truth. It is something we all have gone through with more or less severity as a part of living.

This process of recovering from victimization – whether it is bullying in a college campus, people shot dead by forces of good or evil, riots, domestic violence, whatever… involves a need for space free of the victimization. It involves developing thought processes beyond the hurt.

In India, politics permeates every aspect of public life – particularly when it comes to victimzation, because a victim touches everyone’s heart strings, and it becomes very difficult to oppose a perspective that claims to stand for victims and still come out looking ethical. It only turns them into leverage against a powerful entity like the government.

It is a kind of mental “human shield” behind which one side of a debate can hide and attack with impunity knowing that any retaliation will hurt victims and thus get widespread condemnation from the larger world. This doesn’t make what appears to be supporters of the victims necessarily right.

There are many places where such support has magnified the trauma of victims by preventing recovery through the simple process of denying space and distance from the trauma. Suffering is a state of the mind. Many people suffer fear and nightmares even from horror films without actually suffering any quantifiable loss at the hands of the villain of the film.

I think our public and people who act on its behalf, particularly people who act to aid victims need to understand this.

There has been much violence in our country. From ancient times to now. Even among people currently living, there are many who have been through many instances of violence. From communal violence, to state sponsored violence and from random murders to terrorist attacks. They have moved on to the best of their ability. It is false to look at recovery as a return to original status. We cannot erase what has happened. We cannot bring dead people back to life, or restore lost limbs or health. But governmental and social support along with personal resilience help arrive at some degree of functionality and an ability to allow new joy to enter life.

We have victims of countless instances of violence who have reintegrated with society – their violence a dark memory, but moving on with life too.

The trouble happens when our callous greed for political influence trumps our compassion as humans. We see it happen in Kashmir, where every skinny teenager who pelted stones in anger and frustration gets elevated to a martyr for a cause. The teenager accepts his place of glory in the public eye, grateful for the understanding and attention of a powerful entity angry with the object of his anger on his behalf. A woman’s rape becomes some a sacrifice, as though it was an intentional challenge suffered toward an objective.

We see it in Gujarat, where victims of riots are still being paraded for their suffering. Where their importance and value is in them presenting their suffering to make a point. Where their identity becomes one of being irrevocably destroyed by injustice. No one is interested in them moving on, recovering, and they know it. They know that they will lose the attention of powerful voices speaking up for them, if they are not needy.

Another thing that happens is that this need and gratitude is “managed” into a movement and the defeat of that movement is associated with them not getting justice. Thus, the fantasy is that if Teesta and gang fail to bring Modi and gang down, the victims have been refused justice, or if Geelani and gang fail to get their Azadi or whatever, then the justice has not happened.

What about the Mumbai riots of 1993? What about the Sikhs victims or 1984? No. I am not asking this as a BJP person does – to show that riots happened under the Congress or any such thing. I am asking you genuinely, what do you remember of these people? The people themselves. Not the incidents that happened.

Occasional interviews apart, those people have largely got on with recovering emotionally. Where they are no longer symbols of crime or evidence, but people with lives to live – even if their circumstances and loss is terrible. They can begin the process of rebuilding their lives, with more happenings not related with tragedy.

But you have been knocked down and you have risen up again no matter how seriously or grievously. Have you done that by making your grief your identity? When you got ragged in college, what was more important for you? The dismissal of the dean, or the punishment of the bullies and security in future? If I claimed that the ones ragging you should only be suspended along with the dean, and it dragged on endlessly – possibly till the time it was for you to pass out of college. While you attended countless disciplinary committee meetings to describe in detail your humiliation while they tried to figure out if the dean had a policy of allowing ragging, did I actually act in your interest?

It isn’t too difficult to separate the political or policy crimes from the incidents. Sure, address both, but spare the victim from keeping their life on hold till you fix the country. Unfortunately, this is where the “human shield” part comes in. Without the victim, there will be robust discussion of policy, practical limitations, possibly callous choices forced by circumstances, policy failures…. which may accurately address real problems in the system, but may not succeed in framing a person for a more major crime (notice I don’t say “will not”).

This risk is not acceptable to one who has decided who must hang. Also, without the “human shield” of the victim making any skepticism seem obscene, there is risk of uncomfortable questions being asked. Indeed I often think that the victim would not get support if it weren’t for the possibility of hanging the choice target. An example being terrorists killing locals in Kashmir. Those terrorists not being desired targets, there isn’t any demand for justice by the same protectors of innocents. The same goes for the Pandits of Kashmir or Hindus who died in the riots – they are not useful for the political goal – though there is a slight possibility that they may actually be human beings and not inconvenient statistics.

This kind of aid turns victims from real people into props. This is a dehumanizing of people and a prolonging of their agony in order to parade it for goals not directly related to their justice. A justice which less of a survival need than recovery, though it is an important need too.

As a country, I think we need to focus more on rehabilitation of victims and moving on. We need to stop politicizing suffering and using victims to do what should rightfully be responsibility process of the system. I am not saying that any criminal should be left scot free, but I am definitely saying that a suspect who is not directly accused of the crime and is accused of a policy that led to it should not be a factor in convicting direct perpetrators – particularly when the investigations are about separate incidences. To minimize the uncertainty and sense of injustice of the actual crime before addressing its causes. To limit the involvement of the victims in the narration of what hurt them.

There is equal need for government institutions to take responsive and cooperative stands toward investigation and justice so that those seeking it don’t need to use victims as a pressure tactic.

I do definitely think that any impunity politicians, forces or other leaders feel to command or allow the victimization of anyone should be investigated and punished and there should be systematic deterrents. However, to do this, there is no need to make victims of crimes become mascots of permanent misery. There is nothing wrong with people healing and moving on with their lives. The suffering is on record, and there should be no need to judge its credibility based on current condition. Whether it is Gujarat, Kashmir, North East or anywhere.

Creating mob mentality on two sides of a black and white stand only gets innocents caught in the middle.

Justice must not prevent healing.

This is very necessary if we are to hope for healing.

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