ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Impunity

Impunity is what keeps unequal class and gender arrangements in place. It is constitutive of power in all its forms and the relishing of impunity marks the exercise of power, rendering it desirable and attractive. Whether the rapist is a citizen or a custodian of the state, the relish that makes for a particular exercise of power has to do with sexuality, and it is this peculiar interplay of sexuality and power that needs to be understood for the evil that it is.

I must confess that I have been unable to summon words or courage to speak about the horrific fate visited on the young woman in Delhi who tragically did not survive it. For one, it summoned up a longer genealogy of similar horrors and, for another, it insistently foregrounded the sheer injustice that we continually resist and struggle against, only to be returned to it, ever so often. Like many others, I felt anger, rather sorrowful anger: anger that the rapists actually did what they did, anger at the state for all that it fails or refuses to do. But I felt anger on another count: that here is a state that is clearly in crisis, for it can only respond with more and more violence and claim more and more impunity when its citizens protest and yet we are inexorably bound to this state, by history, by our investment in democracy and this republic and thus again and yet again we renew the life of the state, in good faith and hope. Meanwhile the state retreats into further impunity.

This set me thinking about impunity as such: from the local police thana to city police headquarters; from the municipal councillor to the cabinet of ministers, power and authority are shielded in this country. Impunity is what dominant castes grant themselves as they attack and destroy dalits and adivasis, and impunity is what keeps unequal class and gender arrangements in place. Clearly, impunity is constitutive of power in all its forms and the relishing of impunity marks the exercise of power, rendering it desirable and attractive.

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