Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Tree That Replaced Auschwitz: Latehar And Signs Of Our Times

When human beings were pushed into a soon to be sealed chamber and gassed in the concentration camp of Auschwitz they scratched the cold, hard, thick walls with their nails. Who knows what they were trying to do? Leaving a mark that once they were alive too, also a human being. Or did they think that by sheer force of human will they could scratch the wall out and free themselves. Maybe it was utter desperation, maybe it was utter hope. Maybe more tragically, it was both at the same time. As I looked at the picture of Latehar Killings I was taken back to what I have read about Auschwitz and seen in the pictures. I was wondering when I saw the pictures of two human beings (one just a 12 year old boy) hung from a tree what had they to scratch to tell their story of torture and murder. The setting was diametrically opposite from that of the gas chamber. There were open fields and the lone tree on which this once-living bodies hung. It was not Auschwitz but it was equally, if not more, efficient in achieving the desired result which the camp set out to do. The tree had replaced Auschwitz.
There is now no more need of a camp. No more laying of the logistical apparatus of killing. The bureaucracy of citizen killing has been replaced by a form of free competition of butchery. The entire country has not been turned into a concentration camp. Camp would mean something which is stationary even if for a short time. A day, a month, years. Auschwitz camped from 1940 to 1945. It involved infrastructure, bureaucrats, doctors, army; an ensemble of state apparatus. Also gas. Even that must have cost money. Latehar might have lasted for just a few minutes. How many Latehars have we seen already and how many bodies have passed in front of our eyes? Do the math and tell me which one is more efficient and cost-effective? Everything is being contractualized and outsourced then why not the scientific extermination of people.
Like everyone else, I am trying to make sense of Latehar Killings. It has been variously called lynching, mob violence etc. I humbly disagree. Lynching and mob violence has an element of spontaneity, something devilishly elemental. This, on the other hand, was as cold as death. The calculation must have been precise and the chilling thing is that it becoming more and more precise with each incident. Compare Dadri to Latehar. If you are of a certain age in India hanging bodies from a tree is not a new thing that you would have witnessed. Sometimes the images came from abroad. Najibullah might still ring a bell. Then there was Badaun. The list could go on. I want to find a pattern here to make some sense. Maybe there is something to it. I am also making sense in a more autobiographical way. One of the alleged murderer in Latehar shares my first name: Mithilesh. I have lived my entire childhood in Jharkhand. I have been to Latehar. I lived in Khunti, Hazaribagh, Jamshedpur, and Ranchi in that order. I was in Khunti when a certain charioteer was arrested in Samastipur. That was the moment. A moment when a child of 10 could make the difference between one religion and the other and that the other is actually an alien. Needs to be driven out. It is a knowledge after which there is no forgiveness. Who knows what this Mithilesh who has been arrested for the alleged murder was doing on 23rd October 1990? But our fates, as it were, sealed that day. And maybe just here I could make some sense, not of the killing per se but of the planning and the politics of it. I must also add that this was precisely the time I heard the word Fascism apart from Scud Missiles, Patriot Missiles, Kuwait and a little later Sarajevo. I also for the first time saw on the pages of The Hindu (I think) a young couple kissing while a city was being bombed by NATO. These images are compressed in my memory but I hope it makes a point and I urge the reader to send me a copy of that picture if they find it. I have been looking all these years. But this is a digression.
The recent events need not be mentioned here as we all know it. One word which has come to be used to describe our times is Fascism. It is a useful term to think of our times after all it is the most odious form of state arrangement human civilization has yet seen. But it is my submission that we will be missing something important if we start looking for correspondence between the Fascism of yore and what is happening now. This is one thing which I think has been missing or not dealt enough in our analysis. We began with Auschwitz so let us dwell on it a bit. The Fuhrer wanted the Jews, in toto, to be exterminated. That was the final solution he was so assiduously seeking. For him there was no “Good Jew” or a “Bad Jew.” Being a Jew was enough. Not so now. One has to bow down on the altars of state and non-state power and prove that one is a good Muslim, a good Dalit or even a good Marxist-Leninist to escape punishment. All else is bad. The Fuhrer mobilized one against the other. But the one and the other were homogeneous. The Aryan and the Jew. What the modern leader seeks is to fracture the society at every point of identity. It will be fractured even, say among, Dalits and Adivasis. There will be concerted attempts to woo a section of these oppressed peoples. A wedge is then driven. This is micro-managing conflicts or rather micro-manipulating conflicts. It is not only Hindu and non-Hindu but if one looks closely the schism is sought to be created on every available identities. It is also not divide and rule. That is too crude an instrument for the rulers now. It is centralizing power through decentralization. It is mobilization by fragmentation. It is an inelegant phrase but it will have to do for now. It is precisely because of such decentralization that the camp is becoming increasingly unnecessary if not totally redundant. There will always be a need for a prison or an Abu Ghraib to concentrate the centrality of power.
With this fragmentary mobilization comes a new technology of killing. We do not need a bumbling bureaucrat of an Eichmann. Each file he had to push has now transmuted itself into a human capable of killing those who have been identified as enemies. The bureaucracy of killing is not needed. Bureaucracy leaves too much of a paper trail and can lead to trials as the governments have increasingly found out. The state, or at the least government, can be challenged and questions ask of it. Latehar will never lead to a file in a government department almost certainly. It is this informalization of killing by the state that is a new phenomenon. It is not giving up the monopoly of violence just networking and channelizing it differently. What it does then is that it makes every Latehar an issue of “law and order.” Even the progressive elements ask for the perpetrators to be arrested and punished. Law to be more assertive and punitive. We must be a little careful here for that is what the state wants too. A law punitive enough to discipline its subject closely and if possible to the point of the individual. Radical and emancipatory politics needs to come up with a vocabulary and politics to match this phenomenon.
Finally, to the tree that has witnessed the killings, which became the instrument of killing. Auschwitz is now a museum that reminds us of the horrors humanity is capable of. That tree perhaps one day will be cut down or felled by lightning or by itself but it will always remind us in its anonymity that we are living in a time when we can’t even erect a memorial for those innocent lives that have been massacred. There will be no nail marks. And maybe from this realization we have to learn new expressions, new vocabulary of resistance that strongly challenges the state that has failed its citizens.
Mithilesh Kumar is a PhD Candidate at Western Sydney University, Australia. His interest is in the issues of logistics, migration and labour, political philosophy and theory. He wants to work on the nature, evolution and innovation of the Indian state with respect to social and political movements in India. Email: kmithilesh@hotmail.com
The above is from countercurrents.org

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