Remembering 1992

Organised violence, especially the kind that is directed towards a particular section of the society, usually takes place, in a state of exception, where law is indefinitely suspended without necessarily being repealed. In this state of exception the political subject, stripped of citizenship and associated rights, is reduced to, what Giorgio Agamben calls, bare life, where one's agency over own life is severely curtailed. Marked out and banished from the society with no legal protection, the bare life can be extinguished by anyone without attracting any moral or legal strictures.    

The violence that the city of Bombay saw in 1992-93, we argue, was made possible only after the establishment of a state of exception. State machinery, when not complicit in the violence itself, was unsympathetic and unyielding to the plight of those who were being intimidated, threatened or killed with impunity. Law enforcing bodies were biased and the legal apparatus selectively applied the laws with complete disregard to standard procedures. That some of the major protagonists of the violence were either not indicted or convicted,  in some cases both, lends credence to the fact that the state, as veteran Journalist Jyoti Punwani told us, accorded differential citizenship status to different groups and individuals during and after the violence.   

Without having recourse to law, victims of the 1992-93 violence had limited options to represent themselves. Numerous people in the interviews we conducted spoke of physical abuse at the hands of police, inability to file complaints and perversion of justice in the courts of law. In a time of such crises, Agamben points out, only certain voices are heard and the rest ignored. Even independent and quasi-judicial commissions of inquiry instituted by the state itself, like the Srikrishna Commission, were ironically discredited and their findings and recommendations largely disregarded. While such reports may appear to the state as nothing more than compendia of narratives without any political or legal import, we believe that narratives are, both important and powerful. Yusuf Muchhala, a senior lawyer we spoke to, said that the common refrain after the Srikrishna Commission Report was tabled in the state assembly and dismissed was 'aisa nahin hona chaahiye tha!' - this should not have happened!. Narrative, in a state of exception, is the only mode of representation available to an individual or group reduced to bare life. In the absence of legal remedy all the victims of such violence invariably become narrators of their sufferings. Some tell their stories to lawyers, some to sympathetic journalists, and the rest to whoever has time and interest to lend them an ear, like Farooq Mapkar, an indefatigable campaigner for justice.

We believe that though these narratives, their telling and re-telling, archiving and dissemination offer opportunities, however limited, of redemption for the victims of the violence, their real potential lies in the way they open up spaces for emergence of novel alliance and politics between marginalised groups.

Exploring Themes

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