The perennial spectators

Awrup for

We love a public spectacle. From cricket, to decapitation, to rape. We are the perennial spectators. The public. The police. The administration. We like watching. And then we like looking away.

POSTSCRIPT: I wrote this on the morning after of the heinous ghastly act of assault against women in the Dhaka University area on Pohela Boishakh (the first day of the Bengali New Year). I wrote it almost in a blind rage. Indeed it reads like a rant. I never meant to really publish it. It was written to a very close circle of friends.
To quote a line from a song of my favourite songwriter, “amar lojja gaichi ami, tomar lojja tumi bawlo” (I’m singing my shame, what’ll you do about yours). [This song by Kabir Suman was on the sexual assault of Anita Dewan, in Bantala, in Kolkata].
Echoing that line I want to say, I am writing my shame, what are you doing about yours? I am reading a lot of news analysis now where these sexual assaulters are being termed as beasts among the beauty that was there on that day. Perhaps, they are beasts, and monsters. My question is to all of us. When we keep quiet, and go about our days, as if nothing happened, or pay lip service condolences and commiseration, are we not complicit too? Is there a ‘beast’ in us that keeps us quiet, turns us into mere mute spectators? This is not the first time this has happened. The people, the police, the administration have been mute spectators, again and again.
Finally, not a few months back when the cricket world cup was on the whole nation had risen up in a collective roar against umpiring injustice and took to social media in a big way. We had seen the same when a fourth rate film called “Gunday” from Bollywood was slammed on social media. We witnessed that during the Delhi assault too. Yours sincerely had started a social media protest against a Canadian fashion outlet who was derogatorily exploiting the Rana Plaza disaster, forcing them to pull down their campaign. 
I am finally posting this with the hope that it will garner more conversation around this subject, violence against women, and the silence surrounding it. If one deconstructs the act on that day, it will become clear that this was not a stray incident. It was pre-planned: a) they came in numbers, b) they acted in groups, c) they formed a ring to block the view, d) they used vuvuzelas to drown out the cries, and e) they videoed the sexual assault, as if to post it as an example. The thing is that this is not just about some sexual beast in men that we succumb too; that doesn’t explore the depths of these acts. This is far more pernicious than that. So, what was this organised assault about? And, the million dollar question: who did it? Will they slip through just like their predecessors? Are the these various attacks – murders, to harassments, to sexual assaults – trying to send out some signal? Is this an attack on what DU stands for?
I believe that our collective roar can be heard in the places that matter. That it can and will bring down this ‘spectator’ mentality of our people, and the administration. Rise up, as you did during a far more inconsequential thing like – in my honest opinion – an umpiring decision! Hasthtag, post, tweet till this culture is wiped out. We are in a democracy, let us show the power of the people.

How solid is our belief in the power of protest? How deep is our conviction about our right to dissent? How strong is our sense of patriotism?

A while ago when the cricket world cup was on, and if you happened to be on the Facebook, you must have been overwhelmed at the outpour of patriotism on your Newsfeed. No matter which countries they came from, especially the South Asian nations.

National colours were flying – from memes to photos to videos. People rooting, shouting, praying for their national cricket team and national cricketers. Colourful language, innovative and inventive expletives, new heights of abuses were being produced by thousands, and regurgitated through innumerable shares. A savvy tech start up entrepreneur could perhaps cash on this phenomena and make a mobile app out of it, and get the cricket nationalists to participate in creating a new dictionary of cricketing filth.

Rah rah rah.

After all this is the age of neoliberalism, and it’s evident in cricket too. Less governance, more privatisation; isn’t that the new mantra? Millions of dollars of corporate money – franchise, merchandise, aggrandise (repurposed as a noun), leaves you mesmerised. Makes you blinking, unthinking, tweeting trolls.

Not much different from the Roman Gladiators of the yesteryears is the modern cricket fanfare; and isn’t it amazing that the IPLs, EPLs. BPLs, and all the other PLs – that every cricketing board have quickly launched – actually auction the cricketers, owned by the filthy rich? Aren’t they then the new gladiators?

If war could be watched in a stadium, this is what it could look like. People roaring, chest bumping, back slapping, flag waving, face painting, drum rolling, sending out signals to the world that says: we will be the champions of the world. So much energy, so much patriotism, so much national pride that one nation’s army or supporters are ready to lynch another nation’s supporters, to prove who is the better, bigger, greater cricketing nation.

And when some decisions went the wrong way, rightly or wrongly, there was a collective roar, an orgasmic outbursts of statuses, and mocking memes, or newly minted hashtag protests rolling up, down and sideways on the Newsfeed. The umpires would be pilloried. Cricketers (someone else’s national heroes) would be parodied, poked, and peppered with ad hominem attacks. Cricketers’ wives and girlfriends would be textually lynched. The ICC and BCB and BCC and all the collective Cs would be shouted down as a corrupt systems, and all its officials would be character assassinated and guillotined. (One wonders, if the cricket nationalists agree that this is a rotten system, then why is winning in this rotten system such a matter of national pride? Or is it like war? It is rotten but it gets our macho-nationalist adrenaline pumping?)

When one country’s public figure erred on the side of showing gentlemanly benevolence for another nation’s cricket team there was an immediate outcry for his head: phaNshi chai, phaNshi chai — phaNshi chai is now the default justice system. From war criminals, to freethinkers, to heretics, to atheists. to religionists, to umpires, to poets, to anyone who dares to have an opinion that doesn’t agree with another group’s beliefs they would be branded traitors or secessionists. The real secessionists must be mighty peeved at their space being usurped by the cricket nationalists. What will happen to Khalistan, Boro, Nagaland, Baluchistan, Tamil Eelam, and the Shanti Bahinis of our South Asian countries then? They would have to reconsider and redefine what secession is.

The above scenario clearly presents a prospect: a reservoir of ready-to-go, roaring, patriotic citizens that our countries have – especially the South Asian ones – are pulsating and pullulating, waiting to give their all for their countries. It should make us proud. The nation states confident. What a powerful stockpile of nationalistic ammo we are sitting on. Joy/Jai/Hail ____ (fill in the country name).

One would think, if our nations’ honour and pride were ever at stake we have a motivated army of patriotic multitude, who are prepared to shake the world down on their Facebook, Twitters and YouTubes.

What a grand picture?

After the Cricket World Cup the fire of nationalistic pride is perhaps a little on simmer, perhaps dormant, and waiting to rise again in a collective r-o-a-r (we are mostly tiger and lion nations here somehow) against any injustice or affront to national pride. Right?


The Bengali New Year came with a change of season. The sun was high up. The spirits too. Our patriotic warriors were out in droves to celebrate. The strings, voices, and drums thrummed in the air of Pohela Boishakh. Vuvuzelas squealed in the purified air of new expectations of a new year. Shubho Noboborsho 1422.

And, under the din of the celebrations groups of men roamed, raping women, in public. Disrobing them. And videoing them. Perhaps another hashtag, another spate of shares on social media. And the world will see the bruised male egos, their slighted penises, and their even slighter self esteem as they like a pack of monsters (somehow I believe, in the animal world, when such parallels occur, their media report it as: “a pack of men”) ambush and rape women in broad daylight, disrobe them, and video them, publicly. (I feel the MEN must know that their time is over, soon they will be outrun, outsmarted, and outed as such, by the womenkind. Because barring the rape business, we are lagging behind in everything.)


We love a public spectacle. From cricket, to decapitation, to rape. We are the perennial spectators. The public. The police. The administration. We like watching. And then we like looking away.

Barring some brave ones who stood up, and protested, and fell down, battered with broken arms and legs. It is always some of us. The same ones really.


First we take Delhi, then Dhaka (sorry Mr. Cohen; Manhattan and Berlin are passé).

So? You must be thinking that your Facebook Newsfeed will overflow with condemnation, hashtag protests, and all the brouhaha, with the same fervour and passion that you had witnessed during the cricket world cup? That everyone will stop posting the cat and cake pictures, the food and the party pictures? Right?


This is not Page 3 material. This is not illish panta. This is no nationalistic bhorta. Not sweet or savoury enough for our palate. We don’t have the stomach for this. BURP!

Barring some conscientious ones who will no matter be there no matter what. Again always some of us. The same ones really. But, our Facebook Newsfeeds are not really broiling the same way like when cricket world cup was on, are they?

Black profile pictures? #Iamtheabusedwomen? Pohela Boishak selfies, groupfies, foodfies are what keeps scrolling up? What do you see?

Get your vuvuzelas out (a memento from another cricketing nationalist fest), let’s drown the cries.


Let’s change this sombre mood. WTF! Let’s tune into IPL, or the current series.


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