As discussions and protests swirl around the United States following the recent Grand Jury decisions in several cases of police violence, Gyanendra Pandey’s discussion of violence, specifically in relation to South Asian nations, is applicable.
There is a violence written into the making and continuation of contemporary political arrangements, and into the production and reproduction of majorities and minorities, which I have called routine violence. The present study is concerned with the routine violence of our history and politics. It is about the enabling conditions of what is commonly seen as violence, but suggests that these conditions – political stipulations, history writing, the construction of majorities and minorities, the education of marginalized and subordinated groups and assemblages – are themselves shot through with violence (Routine Violence: Nations, Fragments, Histories 1).
The violence, in Pandey’s terms, extends well beyond the tragedy of physical violence. The ways that we mark difference in society, generating divisions that privilege some over others, and the ways that we narrate history and individual experiences, championing our victories while hiding those whose losses made the victories possible, and even the labels that we validate through our repetition of them, all of these become acts of violence that make possible the violence that the news media covers because of its immediate, tragic nature.
When I reflect on the students whom I have had the pleasure to get to know over my years teaching, I can group them in all sorts of ways based on one of various aspects of outward appearances: body type, gender identification, skin tone, hair color, style of dress, etc. Whatever aspect of appearance that I select to construct different groups, though, it is fascinating how different the members of any of those groups are, their interests, their personality, their style of speaking and writing, etc. Yet, the natural act of grouping can be seen as a factor in the enabling conditions that Pandey describes as routine violence. Grouping people encourages an assumption of commonality that ignores the specifics of each member of the group.
We often use this assumed commonality rhetorically to discipline members of our groups and other groups, to promote our interests. Americans believe in equal opportunity and justice for all, right? Perhaps invoking that as a disciplining violence in efforts to promote change can be useful to encourage beneficial reforms (although we have to consider who benefits from whatever disciplining is employed). As Pandey suggests, this disciplining within a nation or other group can be an enabling condition for other forms of violence, including physical violence that creates tragedies. As participants in any society, we can all be indicted for the perpetuation of violence in various forms.
Photo credit: CSPAN/US Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons