Living the Imperative of the Counter-Gaze

Our present condition has an ethical imperative. It challenges us to stand with the oppressed other Indians. The response to this imperative is more urgent because the social archive or the samsara of our society is being dug selectively and a new furnace of hate politics is threatening to keep us on the boil. Sacred spaces in our country have unfortunately become cartographies of hate. These sites seem to be emanating a panoptic ( all-seeing eyes) mechanism of surveillance creating a condition that seems to make every Masjid or the religious space a hidden temple of the past of the Hindus. The architecture of the reigning political discourse has a disciplinary imperative for the majority community which then feels duty-bound to unveil the so-called hidden temples whether real or fictitious everywhere in the country. This, therefore, becomes a disciplinary practice and a marker of being Hindu today in India. This is why there is no qualms to dig to trace signs of Hindu temples beneath the Masjids or other sacred spaces even after hundreds of years. The imperative that has become a disciplinary practice to the majority community also afflicts the minority community. The minorities feel the heat of being under a gaze and scrutiny that is not free from a profound sense of humiliation.

It appears that all Indians today are trapped under the politics of gaze and are differently disciplined by it. A disciplinary practice is a self-policing practice. This means we Indians have begun to police ourselves differently. The majority community is disciplining or self-policing itself and takes it upon itself to look for every trace of its past in some religious structures (which of course is actually the past of the upper caste) and the minority community is disciplined or take upon itself to self-police itself and begins to carry the burden of the villains of that past. The reigning politics has put everyone under a sense of being under surveillance. The majority community seems to discipline itself to become sanskari Hindus while the minority communities have to try as far as possible to image the majority community only to be discarded by the purity/ pollution principle of the upper castes. The surveillance or being under a gaze produces guilt and generates a sense of becoming a penitentiary who has to merit renewal through the politics of us and them. We as Indians are imprisoned by the Lakshaman Rekhas of this politics of us and them that confines us a place and are burdened with the disciplinary practices of self-policing. Hence, we are massified and reduced into a silenced mob watching each other.

The massification of Indians by the panoptic discursive practices has produced an imperative of embodying the panopticon as well as banopticon (desire to ban everything) in our society. Everyone appears to be keeping everyone under their watch/ gaze. The majority community is watching the minority community and the minority community is watching with fear and trembling the moves of the majority community. Thus, we seem to have become chained to a Platonic cave and are not only embodying a panopticon but are also embodying a banopticon that sees its fulfilment by putting minorities in their place. The need to bring about anti-conversion laws is certainly a result of a play of banopticon. The condition of panoptican that produces a sense of self-policing discipline is also producing is also generating a desire for a banopticon. This seems to have become especially true for the majority community that is trying to consciously or unconsciously discipline the minorities in several ways in our country. The panopticon that polices our food habits, dress code, worship etc., has become a banopticon which has taken some of us on the path of lynching people who are deemed to be violating the sacred codes of our times.

The disabling and self-chaining apparatus that we have called panopticon flowering into a banopticon is producing a new India and is disciplining each of us to be an Indian in its restricted ways. The question, therefore, is obvious: is this panoptic power architecture good for us and our country? Is there a way of getting out of the Samsara? How is this subjection to a power that polices our lives progress that we can greet as Ram Rajya? Do we have to change to slip out of this self-imposed politics of confinement ( Panopticon and banopticon)? Perhaps, we may have to ask another question: who stands to gain through this architecture of panopticon? While we are busy self-policing and disciplining each other who has gained control over the economic pie of our country? While Indians have become poor who has become rich? A frank answer to these questions may enable us to sense the imperative to turn the panopticon from keeping a watch over each of us and let the Government come under our visibility.

The challenge to shift the gaze has emancipation for our country. We have to turn this gaze on the Government that enjoys keeping itself mostly under darkness. Even the Media is working hard to darken the dark acts of the Government. Turning the panopticon on the government and bringing it under the gaze of the citizenry is fundamental for the health of our democracy. The silence of parliament guaranteed by the passage of laws without debate has kept the deeds of the Government away from the securitizing eyes of the public. This is why before it is too late we really have the challenge to shift the gaze.

Instead of locking ourselves into disciplinary practices that bring us under the gaze of each other, it is time that we learn to put the Government under our gaze. For the love of our country and its people, we have this imperative to produce a counter gaze. It is the crippling panopticon with its banopticon that has to be demolished and not our sacred spaces that have become our concern today. If we do not work to produce this counter-gaze, nothing will save us from becoming self-destructive while India and its precious resources are peacefully preyed upon by a power elite. This is why for the sake of India and for the sake of Ram Rajya, we all have the challenge to shift our gaze and live the imperative of a counter-gaze.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao