This article explores the enjoyment of violence, especially in the social media world, in the wake of the brutal violence perpetrated by the Yogi Adityanath regime in Uttar Pradesh.
‘MAZA AA GAYA YOGIJI MAZA…LATHI AISI LAGI KI MAZA AA GAYA…’
MAZA is a word used often in tweets in response to police attacks on CAA-NRC protestors in UP. Unlike it’s staid, sanskritized counterpart anand, maza has a charge, a buzz and could translate into English as ‘thrill’. ‘Thrilling Yogiji thrilling’… ‘The way the lathi struck…thrilling’. I’ll return to such tweets to explore the following questions.
Might it be that there is an erotic charge to political violence? Might it be that the erotic charge is not limited to those who perform the violence but also animates the millions who hear, see or read that such violence has been meted out? Well beyond “not caring”, might it be that they “get off” on such violence? Can the proactive, enthusiastic support for political violence be understood only in terms of “ordinary folk” being corrupted by evil leaders? Might we also need to see what within the collective psyche could be pushing them towards a terrible kind of enjoyment of such violence?
Towards engaging with these questions, among the tweets I will share and reflect on some or even many might be tweets by paid troll army members, and this might be comforting for the liberal psyche, but even such tweets give us rich material to analyze support for political violence. In reflecting upon the tweets I will be using the lens of psychoanalysis. I will also draw upon work that I have undertaken towards a book entitled Fantasy frames – Sex, Love and Indian Politics, to be published later this year.
The tweets I began with were in responses on to ANI footage[i] of a police lathi-charge on protestors in Bahraich on December 20th 2019.These and other tweets were liberally strewn with the emoticons that have faces with laughs, winks and tears. The excitement about the violence in these tweets was incremental. It rose palpably from,Ye plastic ki lathiyo se kya hoga. Ladke (sic) ki lathi do inko vapas (What good are plastic sticks. Hit them back with wooden sticks) to Lathi se nahi Water canon chodiye Burf wala sb bhagte nazar aaynge (Use water canon – the ones with ice – not sticks and watch them run) to Flame thrower sahi like (sic). Less strange than the Hindi used in this previous tweet by “Warhead”(whose logo is the Indian flag) but high on glee, is the tweet “Shoot at sight fireeeeeeeeee.” Lest we don’t get the point we have in caps another tweet demanding rifle fire “NO LAATI (sic) CHARGE PLEASE ONLY GOLIBAAR THEY ARE MOTHER (INDIA)FUC*ERS.”
Freud would have had a field day analyzing the tweet above, but I would like to draw your attention to the incremental nature of desires, because this is an expression of a larger phenomena: that of excess and of the ever heightened bar of what is taboo, ideas to which I will return.
For now two words about why I am using the word erotic in the context of enjoyment of political violence: “prohibition eroticizes”. I’m quoting here Bruce Fink, a psychoanalyst, who mercifully makes accessible the French thinker Jacque Lacan. The “erotic” here is not limited to the sexual, but shares with the sexual the possibility of intensity, a high, a psychic charge, very likely an excessive psychic charge, of too-much-ness. The erotic as that which enables ecstasy, the greek ancestor of which is ekstasis – ek (outside) and stasis (standing still)[ii], which takes us beyond ourselves.
That prohibition eroticizes is something we know, perhaps from our own sexual desires. Fantasies that turn us on and disgust us all at the same time are a familiar albeit disturbing expression of this. Might it be that the play of prohibition in the erotic is not limited to the personal realm but also extends to the political? The feminist mantra personal is political can help us see that in politics too we “get off” on that which is prohibited, that which is taboo.
In the tweets, for instance, there is a charge, a delight in saying that which is vicious and blood thirsty. What is considered “prohibited” shifts and moves, often incrementally. In the context of Hindu Nationalism for example we can no longer think of prohibition only in terms of that which is prohibited by the law of the land. In the recent CAA-NRC related violence for instance, the police is either allowing (as in JNU)[iii] or performing violence themselves (as in Jamia Milia Islamia[iv], Aligarh Muslim University[v]and across UP[vi]). By prohibited what I mean is that which is prohibited by norms of humanity and human rights.
The online space is particularly conducive for us (and I’m risking here the inclusion of all ideologies) to engage in that which is prohibited, to get off on the deliciousness of saying that which we might not dare say in other contexts, unfiltered and uncensored. The psychiatrist and writer Jerry Goodman, in his article ‘The Ego, The Superego and the Twitter’, asks whether we remember fondly the days of being the “class wit”, the one with the “quick, sharp cutting remark”.
He moves further back in time from the obnoxious child to the infant who can “eat, scream, poop, sleep whenever and wherever” it wants. Then fast forwarding to when we become adults and need to modulate our responses, rather than simply being derogatory and deprecating, Dr Goodman writes about moments when we are able to be precisely like that, “Not a moment’s thought or reflection. No judgment, prudence or censorship… We Tweet.” Although Dr Goodman is writing in a more general context, the same applies to the political realm. Social media, and twitter in particular, with it’s brevity and fast pace, allows us to express publicly, that which norms of humanity and human rights prohibit.
Permission to say the prohibited is also to be had also from the ideology that we subscribe to. In the instance of support for action against anti CAA-NRC “protestors” in Uttar Pradesh, permission for the expression of violent thoughts and feelings seems to flow not only from Hindu Nationalism but from the Chief Minister himself. Even beyond permission, responses on Twitter indicate that Yogi Adityanath emits the power to be able to say that which is prohibited by humanity and human rights. I would like to take the example of responses to a tweet[vii] made on 27th December 2019 from one of Yogi Adityanath’s two official handles. The tweet translates as this.
The original Hindi tweet has a rhythm and feel that reads almost like a poem. Although some powerful responses snipe at Yogi Adityanath for a megalomaniac hashtag and ask where is the compensation for public property destroyed by his Hindu Yuva Vahini etc., the vast majority are ecstatic about their leader.
These responses include a tweet admiring him for being spasht bhashi, jo kaha vo kiya (the one who has clarity in his words, and who does what he says). Hailing Yogi as the one who makes possible the impossible, another tweet says Namumkin ko mumkin kar de, #yogi hai to mumkin hai!!Other tweets describe the Chief Minister as “decisive”, “unapologetic and courageous”. One of the tweets says that such is the strictness of the actions being taken by him that it inspires the heartfelt desire to rush to UP immediately to find refuge there. The Hindi word used for refuge – basera – can mean a perch and a place of rest, evoking a strong sense of security.
Expressing the potent mix of monk and politician that Yogi Adityanath embodies is the tweet that speaks of his rudra roop. The reference here is to the destructive, almost demonic, avatar of Shiva. The tweet[viii] that seems to say it all has a meme with Yogi Adityanath characteristically with one arm raised and finger in the air, with a blurred Modi in the background, and the words “If you are BAD, I am your DAD”.
Each rioter is surprised.
Each rampager is taken aback.
Seeing the strictness of the Yogi government, all their scheming has been stilled.
Do what you want,
It will be from those who have done the damage that it shall be recovered,
This is the proclamation of Yogiji.
Every violent act will cry because it is Yogi’s government in UP
Here then is the leader who offers certainty and security, in a context in which so much within and around us is blurry and scary, not least because the other is perceived as a source of unending danger. And when Dad, the big Other, himself is leading the charge, there is permission and more to say and do, at last, in life, that which has been prohibited. Since infancy and childhood our desires have been sought to be curtailed by authority, the big Other, in different forms – a parent, teacher, boss, the law etc. etc.
My desire and the desire of the big Other – clashing. But what if the big Other grants me permission for my taboo desires? At the intersection of permission and prohibition lies what in psychoanalysis is called jouissance. Interpreted in many ways, jouissance can mean a terrible kind of enjoyment. That “terrible” and “enjoyment” can find space in the same sentence might not surprise us perhaps if we connect once again with fantasies that can turn us on and disturb us all at the same time.
I would like to conclude with a tweet[ix]which says “Yogi, modi, Shah ji rocks…india need such daring leaders to teach lessons to traitors” and a meme. The left hand side is titled UP and right hand side is titled Delhi. The image on the left is that of an angry yogi holding the feet and hanging upside down a man wearing a green kurta, a skull cap and a beard, in the white pajamas the crotch is as though exposed and coloured pink. Rupee notes and a dagger are shown falling out. On the right is a man with a topi, a caricature of Kejriwal, on all fours, tongue handing out, with one arm holding up a gift box wrapped up in a pink ribbon which says sarkari naukri (government jobs), above which is written Rs 5 lakhs. On his back is sitting a man, again a caricature of a Muslim man with hands outstretched towards the gift, a small rock as though falling off him (presumably part of his ammunition) with the word dangai (rioter) written on him. Behind him, also sitting on Kejriwal, is a man in a green shirt with the word balatkari (rapist) written on it, holding up another pink ribboned gift box which says sewing machine, above which is written Rs 10,000. Written as though farted out of Kejriwal’s bum are the words “free, free, free.”
Here we have it. The erotic charge of violence against Muslims (or whoever else happens to be the other) needs to be understood in terms of the fantasy of stolen enjoyment. Muslims have stolen our joy, and they are having all the fun. Rewinding back to an earlier moment in history we can hear this clearly in UP election speeches[x]in 2017 by Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi too in which Muslims were the ones who were taking away “our” land(even their dead took away “our” land for graveyards), they enjoyed electricity during Eid while we suffered cuts during Diwali; their daughters got scholarships etc.
More common is the whining refrain that they enjoy not one but four wives. And not the least is that they, the love jihadis, steal our women. The ones who have stolen our joy must be punished. It is only in making them suffer that we can snatch back enjoyment.
This idea of stolen enjoyment is essential to understanding the erotic charge of political violence. Thomas Blom Hansen, an academic who has undertaken intensive research on Hindu Nationalism writes in his book The Saffron Wave, “The search for fullness as Hindus, the overcoming of the ‘lack’ of being a full community” is a continuous process “ultimately impossible ever to realize”. Hansen here is building on the thinking of Slovenian Lacanian thinker Slavoj Zizek according to whom a nation or community’s enjoyment “can ultimately only be expressed through the narrative of its loss and impossibility, ascribing to the ‘other’ (nation, group, community) an excessive enjoyment, which ‘steals our enjoyment’ and prevents a community from fully enjoying its particular way of life.”
The other is forever stealing our joy, whatever be their material plight and socio conditions (it is fantasy and not fact that is of relevance here) and must continuously be punished. The punishment must in fact taken on newer and increasingly higher forms in order to continue to provide satisfaction. It is not surprising therefore that in the context of Hindu Nationalism in the recent past punishment has meant snatching back Kashmir, Ram Janmabhumi, the damage claimed to have been done to private property by anti CAA-NRC protestors in UP and the threat of denial to the very right to citizenship. For the punishment to carry an erotic charge it must offer “excess”. Taboos of a higher and higher order must be broken to feed the hunger of the collective psyche.
In the midst of the never-enough-ness of erotic nationalism however appears the hope – such as embodied in the bursting forth of the Chandrashekhar Azad in the midst of the many who gathered at Jama Masjid in Delhi on December 20th 2019[xi]. And one more and more dares to hope, in what anthropologist Akshay Khanna is calling ‘erotic citizenship’ – protests, big and small, across the country, against Hindu Nationalism as the other who is stealing our joy, and not just the fantasy of it, also carry an erotic charge, of being part of something beyond and much larger than ourselves. Uniting us in newer and newer ways.