With direction from Jacques-Alain Miller, Jacques Lacan, and Sigmund Freud’s teachings, this article is an attempt to articulate something about the social and political circumstances in India. One of the first questions that arise is, perhaps: which India are we talking about? While this is valid, as there are many lines (not just state borders) that divide this country, and many sentiments that simultaneously unite different groups across these lines, the answer is something that readers can decide for themselves at the end of this piece.
As Jacques-Alain Miller summarizes in the Turin Theory (2000, available online): “The functions and the phenomena revealed at the level of the collective are the same as the functions which are revealed, and the phenomena which are unfolded, by the treatment. They are, in Freud’s terms, the function of the ego, the function of the ego ideal, and the phenomenon of identification… The place of the ideal in a group is a place of enunciation. From there, two distinct modes of enunciation are conceivable, practicable…”
To find the first mode of enunciation, the one of opposition, one does not have to look very hard. We could take the example of the banning of beef; it is based on this kind of opposition – those who consider cows sacred and those who do not. If we can formulate it with the “all x”, maybe we can put it like this: “For all Indians, cows are sacred.” It also points to what Miller says about intolerance of the modes of jouissance of the other. Consuming beef is a mode of jouissance that is unimaginable to those who consider cows sacred.
On the surface, it creates a religious barrier – Hindus who consider cows sacred vs Muslims who don’t – if the qualifier of sacred is not-killing a cow. However, there are other possible readings of the same prohibition within the history of Hinduism. According to Wendy Doniger, professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, says in The Conversation: “As I see it, the arguments against eating cows are a combination of a symbolic argument about female purity and docility (symbolized by the cow who generously gives her milk to her calf), a religious argument about Brahmin sanctity (as Brahmins came increasingly to be identified with cows and to be paid by donations of cows) and a way for castes to rise in social ranking.”1
We could say that this signifier of banning beef, enunciated from the place of the ideal, creates at least two oppositions: Hindu/Muslim and upper caste/lower caste.
And a real intolerance of the other’s mode of jouissance: “Racist stories are always about the way in which the Other obtains a plus-de-jouir: either he does not work or he does not work enough, or he is useless or a little too useful, but whatever the case may be, he is always endowed with a part of jouissance that he does not deserve.” (Extimity, Jacques-Alain Miller, 2008.)
At this point, I would like to introduce a film, Kaala2, where the director most skillfully demonstrates these dynamics. Perhaps he follows one of the most crucial threads – land – a question of having a place in the Indian nation.3 The director deftly weaves this debate into the ‘Clean India’ campaign, which has taken multiple metaphorical forms – cleaning dirty money i.e. the step of demonetization (Nov 2016), instating the cow as ideal, banning beef (May 2017), mass arrest of ‘urban naxals’ (July-Aug 18).
It was indeed the Prime Minister himself who spelt out the metaphorical meaning of the Clean India campaign before a Coldplay concert in Mumbai: “With the cleanliness in the streets, villages and cities of the country, the scope of the sanitation campaign has also increased. Nowadays cleanliness across the border [a reference to a surgical strike by the Indian army in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir] or cleansing of dirty money inside safety vaults [referring to demonetization], everything is going forward in a grand way. In this second phase of the sanitation [Clean India] movement, I am getting your invaluable help.”
This invaluable help, based on a prescribed way of identification with the ideal, has its consequences – “without a judge, where the law would have no interpreter, where the universalizing inhumanity of the law would be applied without mediation in relation to the particular would not be a Kantian world, but a world of Kafka.” (Jacques-Alain Miller, Turin Theory, op.cit.)
The recent rise in ‘beef mob lynchings’ can perhaps be seen as a ‘massifying’ effect of this enunciation, carrying out justice without an interpreter.4 Furthermore, it is distressing how contagious these mass practices can be – recently, there have been at least two incidents, where lawyers have beaten up an accused person on the court premises.5
At the same time, there are ‘Swachh Bharat’s forgotten soldiers’6. There is a real issue in relation to ‘Clean India’ that requires urgent attention but it seemingly does not fit in the metaphorical meaning of the government’s campaign – i.e. the caste-based profession of manual scavenging, which has taken away uncountable Dalit lives. It is an important question why there is a lack of will to adopt or adapt technology widely available in other parts of the world to clean sewers.7 For investment and development in this sector might mean a real opportunity for Dalits to drop out of their predetermined destiny.
Let us now look at an inverse discourse: “An inverse discourse can be sent out from the place of the ideal, which consists of enunciating interpretations. To interpret the group is to dissociate it and to send each one of the members of the community to his loneliness, to the loneliness of his relation to the ideal…. The second discourse is imperative and de-massifying. It is an analysis of group suggestion.” (Jacques-Alain Miller, Turin Theory, op.cit.)
Maybe we can find an example of this in the queer struggle in India. Perhaps like the Hindu Nationalist movement, they are also in search of an identity. However, it’s a group that’s differently organized and went about their work using the law, the judge, the interpreter. On September 6, 2018, there was a landmark ruling on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which decriminalized homosexuality. This was in lieu of a petition filed by 5 individuals, challenging a Supreme Court judgment given in 2013. It is worth taking a look at the profile of these individuals – a Bharatnatyam choreographer, a former journalist and media editor, a former child artist who is presently a businesswoman, an owner of a prominent chain of five-star hotels in India as well as an architectural restorer, and a celebrity chef as well as owner of a niche restaurant in New Delhi – and noting that they do not belong to any political party or organized collective.1 They are individuals suffering under the weight of this law, each in their own way.
It could be that this also relates to the logic of the queer group: “To say it in one word, impossible to reduce to the “for all x” the impossible of the sexual relation… he is an at-least-one who gives testimony to his difference, and who does not spare his effort to enable others to do it also. “(Jacques-Alain Miller, Turin Theory, op. cit.)
The title of the community is quite telling in this regard. LGBTQIAP… seems to be an ever-expanding acronym, enabling others to give testimony to their difference. Maybe here we can witness individuals coming to work together based on their singular relations to an ideal – an ideal of what? Of the freedom to choose their sexual partners, like other humans in their country.
Taking it a bit further, if we read the opening remarks of the Chief Justice of India, is it not an interpretation? Perhaps the kind that sends each one back to find their own individual life script, and suggests ‘Divinity’ as occupying the place of the ideal? Divinity. An ideal that even Hindu nationalists cannot deny.
After quoting Arthur Schopenhauer – “No one can escape from their individuality” – the Chief Justice continues “[…] The emphasis on the unique being of an individual is the salt of his/her life […] Irreplaceability of individuality and identity is granting respect to self. This realization is one‘s signature and self-determined design. One defines oneself. That is the glorious form of individuality. […] identity is pivotal to one‘s being. Life bestows honour on it and freedom of living, as a facet of life, expresses genuine desire to have it. The said desire, one is inclined to think, is satisfied by the conception of constitutional recognition, and hence, emphasis is laid on the identity of an individual which is conceived under the Constitution. And the sustenance of identity is the filament of life. It is equivalent to authoring one’s own life script where freedom broadens every day. Identity is equivalent to divinity.”2
The effect of this interpretation can be seen in some of the media coverage following the verdict. It’s easy to hear each one’s individual suffering and relief. And how it affects them personally.
Finally, The last scene of ‘Kaala’
When Kaala – the leader of people’s movement, to save their land in a small district in Mumbai – is killed, what returns is the subjective relation of the individual to the ideal – someone saw him by the temple, someone prophesies his resurrection, someone says he is immortal and so on, it is each one’s subjective relation to him that keeps him alive.
The director, with a stroke of genius, leaves the end open to interpretation – you cannot say whether he really died or not. One reporter in the movie puts it like this –
“The question of Kaala’s death doesn’t arise in their (his follower’s) minds. But Hari Dada, who believes in Kaala’s death, is arriving to initiate his dream – ‘The Pure Mumbai’ project.” But he finds no place for that. Something happens, the bizarre effect of a community of individuals, which is also perceivable in the way it is depicted, an excess element of colour – starting with black, then significantly red, followed by blue, before building into a multicolored explosion.3 And the ideal returns – in the form of a spirit.
The spirit? In psychoanalysis, it’s the Witz. To speak of the spirit of psychoanalysis is a witticism. The spirit of psychoanalysis is nothing other than the subject supposed to know and it is a question of instituting the place from where it is inscribed as effect. Maybe, there is an illustration of this at the end of the movie. The subjects know something (something about their place in this country, their land, given to them as an interpretation by Kaala) and successfully institute a place from where it is inscribed as effect. For those in India who are trying to change something in these political circumstances, when enunciations from the place of the ideal are extremely loud and jarring, stirring up effects of opposition and hatred that escalate beyond anybody’s control, there might be something to learn from the queer movement and the film Kaala.
- You can find the movie ‘Kaala’ by director Pa. Ranjith on Amazon Prime with English subtitles. It is a daring piece of work, starring India’s one-of-a-kind idol (perhaps the only one who could have taken on this job) – Rajnikanth. The obvious translation of the word ‘Kaala’ is Black, however the Sanskrit word Kaal/ Tamil word Kaalam also refers to an interval of time. Kaal Bhairav, in short Kaal, is also a popular reference to a manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation.
- Ironically, the debate around cow slaughter has also become a question of place. Its quite a comical situation where we are at a loss of land where these cattle that are not of any productive value can be taken care of. Homeless, abandoned, they are often a striking visual reminder of the effects of the master’s discourse that suggests opposition.
- For a detailed map on violence related to this issue, refer to: https://thewire.in/caste/storymap-lynchings-india-cow-slaughter-beef-ban-gau-rakshak
- Here is one recent example from Chennai (July 2018) :
- I borrow this very apt title from Shalini Nair’s article in Indian Express – https://indianexpress.com/article/india/swachh-bharats-forgotten-soldiers-delhi-sewer-cleaning-4869011/
- “Data on the Social Justice Ministry’s Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers reflects this neglect: in 2013-14, Rs 557 crore was allotted for rehabilitating manual scavengers while only Rs 35 crore was spent. In subsequent years, there has been a steady dip in the allocation, and the spending is listed as nil. In 2016-17, the allocation is merely Rs 25 crore.”(Ibid. note 4)
- The first public interest litigation (PIL) was filled by the NAZ Foundation, a sexual health NGO working with gay men against Section 377 in the Delhi High Court. Read further details as well as access profiles of the latest petitioners here: https://yourstory.com/2018/09/five-petitoners-section-377-supreme-court/
- There is perhaps another symbolism in the use of the two colours (after black), for those clued into Indian politics, but this is not the place to elaborate on that.