There is nothing romantic about death, especially for the living. Rohit Vemula’s letter has created a philosophical. One is free to draw various meanings out of his disjointed and poignant suicide note. However, we all must admit to the fact that it is a suicide, a violent act at the end of the day. There are multiple articles written and being written which relentlessly affirm that those who felt the loss are not glorifying the act or the actor. What they are trying to convey is that they are angry at the social and political forces which led Rohit to take this decision. This is perhaps, a continuation of that discourse but one that wishes to read beyond this single case of suicide or a single form of structural violence. This is an attempt to rethink, actually, reiterate the importance of rethinking anger.
We have been trained to look at anger as a negative force whose transience is ugly and limited to sensory reactions alone. As the world is setting into another century of tremendous violence of all sorts, it seems counter-productive to engage with this emotional impediment. This is perhaps why we find ourselves asking the same questions, about hegemony, unchecked power, social constructions, violent norms again and again to no avail. This is also the consequence of how history has been written, where Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence is much more palatable compared to Ambedkar’s radical vision for a modern Indian nation, a philosophy which has been reduced to ‘niche’ politics. The visible success of a highly sanitized philosophy of non-violence coupled with the global trend of spiritual peace has made it even more difficult for us to identify with anger. And that too anger of a particular kind. An anger defined by its person in whom the source and site of this unbecoming emotion collapses to create something essentially illogical. This understanding of anger as an irredeemable disruption shares a significant relationship with the status quo.
There is, of course a hierarchy in the understanding of anger in this country. The most acceptable form of anger would be that which informs and is informed by a nationalistic vigor. The lower most order of anger which is also the most questionable is one which arises from the margins of the society, like women, Dalits, tribals, the working class, those who basically challenge the political order. One witnesses this in our everyday lives where heteronormative patriarchy dismisses any criticism by women as an ‘angry rant’. She is reduced to a symbol of half baked imported knowledge, a nuisance, and an emotion. Similarly, in the mainstream social media the image of a students protesting appear in a cameo role which represents laziness and misguided anger. Our moral aversion (though we practice it every day) to conflict has led us to associate anger with psychological and therefore individual incapacity of a particular person to incorporate herself into the collective. Our imagination of anger begins and ends with the person who expresses it, instead of recognizing that the source of this anger might lie elsewhere.
We have been looking at anger as an antithesis to peace for far too long. Non-violence has been understood as the most acceptable means to peace and peace has been in turn construed as absence of conflict. A misunderstanding for the times we live in where we are constantly talking about democracy, plurality and social change. We forget that social conditions and political aspirations such as ours would entail disparate and even irreconcilable experiences, views and values.
One is not romanticizing the idea of anger, neither is one saying it’s a prerequisite to all kinds of social change, but we have to assert in concert that anger becomes as an excuse for the powerful to disengage with and sometimes eradicate a particular class of unruliness in this country. One is also not talking of an emotion which creates an embittered resentment toward those who live a different experience, or hold a different view but one is definitely talking about the tragic anger which is hopeful of a better world even in the darkest moments. A hope which is visible in the suicide note where the writer shows an ironic empathy for those he is leaving behind, by apologizing and forgiving, a hope which seeks to transcend the most concrete distinction, that of life and death.
The socially constructed and historically informed imagination of anger and simply bad PR of it as a thing to be contained or dismissed or thwarted is only one dimension of how we imagine our relationship with it. The problem begins in the self for most of us. We have been obedient trainees of the doctrines of non-violence which impedes us from identifying ourselves with this emotion. The idea is that we burn ourselves in anger and perhaps we do but just like Rohit, we are not solely responsible for it. Movements were agitations were aggression was anger.