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On Waiting for Justice

So many of us are waiting. Some of us wait for a lifetime. Even Gods do not know how to wait for waiting is what makes you human. It is the silent creativity of a courage whose outlines appear years later. Waiting is one way of outlasting the inhuman, of insisting you are human, says SHIV VISVANATHAN.


WAITING as a life form has not received its literary and sociological due. Waiting is difficult to describe. It is an interlude, a bit of a rite of passage without markers. Waiting has no claim to storytelling as it has no ending. Waiting has an indeterminacy, an uncertainty about it. A woman waiting for justice after rape. A mother waiting for her son to return from some distant jail. Waiting demands, a narrative, a courage of a different kind. It is as one woman explained an epic of silences, an emptiness haunted by expectations. Everydayness helps but minimally, but everydayness is a cottage industry of time in an indefinite continent of waiting. No day is the same though everyday sounds the same till you step into it.

Waiting perpetually encounters impurity. As you wait you are liminal, marked by ambiguity. You have questioned authority and power in language of the scream and you wait for a resolution. As you wait you are marked off by others. You feel different yourself. For years you belonged to the solid respectability, the domesticity of expectations you called a household, doted on the rhythms of respectability and then you suffer stigma. You are marked off, you are different. A world changes as you get reclassified.

Waiting is a language the world does not understand. It reifies it into angelic virtue like patience. Patience works in calibrated time. Waiting has an uncertainty no quantum world can match. Nature might abhor vacuum but waiting is full of it. It is pregnant with an emptiness you cannot explain.

A woman explained that she had no calendar of waiting except her face. She was raped at 18, she was now 45. She claimed the faith of waiting went beyond pilgrimage. The Gods have a sense of mercy which no state can claim. You protest, you scream, you repeat, repeat your story again. It is as if the earth has lost its listeners. Even friends feel embarrassed.

My face tells me I am aging with wrinkles of pain. You decay as you wait but waiting has a physiology of pain one is yet to describe. Yet waiting makes few allowances. The daily chores of rituals have to be gone through. Time becomes an excruciating form of labor. Waiting has poignancies which needs an anaesthetic of its own. It is like walking in a tunnel without an end.

It is not faith that fades. It is power of language that loses its magic. Words lose certainty and a croak, a sigh has a rhetorical power no words can claim. There is something obscene about the responses. Referring to Dalit deaths in cleaning sewage, Bezwada Wilson showed for years the reports are identical, the pictures are virtually the same. A habitual announcement followed by erasure and forgetting. The piety of civics crawls with hypocrisy. You promise a future which is instantly forgotten. Waiting corrodes trust, destroys dignity. The Dalits need a different God but not from the bourgoise pantheon of erasure and absentmindedness.

Yet the everydayness of courage waiting requires is surreal. You have to enact the everyday with finesse, repeat your story timelessly where the men who harassed you, raped you watches with contempt. Rape is their claim that you no longer belong to the citizenship of the human.

Gorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer talked of the body without rights, the slave that can claim nothing. The rape victim is a Homo Sacar that refuses erasure and claims a return to humanity., waiting for years to be seen and touched as human again. When people salute you, years later, you smile wryly at the years of contempt and indifference.

The sullen patriarch, as accused sounds like a God that failed. The victory is so tentative you are afraid it is an illusion. The accused projects a wronged face, insists the world has got it wrong. He oozes a respectability, a piety and righteousness that is almost God like.

Victory takes time to seep in. Survivors join in and add their stories. As you repeat, justice seems more real, becomes more real. The defeated male looks unreal like an empty dummy, a puppet who thought he was a God. There is no sense of contrition on his face. Strangely gang rape leaves no sense of contrition. It is an orgy, an assembly line of violence that leaves no markers.

Waiting as a woman explained after 2002 is strange. It has no language of physiology or symbols. Only silence. You smell, you stink. People point you out but it is a smell and stink that society cloaks you in.

Waiting is a semiotic physiology. The symbols and signals around you corrode you. you are punished for insisting you are human. You are branded for believing in the bill of rights. The more civilisational your insistence, the more primordial you seem to become. The unfairness is in the fact that perpetrator enacts an immaculate conception while you feel the corrosion of everyday struggle.

As a listener to pain and vulnerability, I have maintained that crimes can be met with justice, with punishment, but waiting has no real closure. It is a legacy of courage you leave for others to cling on to. Waiting eludes history. It lacks a Proust. Even Proust captured the antics of time, not the rituals of waiting. Waiting at one level is difficult to retell or remember.

Even Gods do not know how to wait for waiting is what makes you human. It is the silent creativity of a courage whose outlines appear years later. Waiting is one way of outlasting the inhuman, of insisting you are human. As a joke, an aside in the Truth Commission said, “to forgive is divine but to wait is human, only human beings know how to wait”.

(Shiv Visvanathan is an Indian academic best known for his contributions to developing the field of science and technology studies, and for the concept of cognitive justice- a term he coined. He is currently a Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat. The views are personal.)