Remember back with me the days when we were little children. That was before parents knew that it was wrong to beat their kids.
Remember the famous lines — “I beat you because I love you,” “this hurts me more than it is going to hurt you,” “put your hands down” — and then comes the stinging slap across the face. Those of us, children from “good” families, knew the ground rules. Never raise your hand to defend yourself against an adult. Never try to hit back. Don’t even run. Just work at “taking your licks” with no expression, but without any visible sullenness.
By a certain age this became possible, for some of us. Others continued the strategy of crying, knowing that adults took this as a sign of surrender, and ceased all hostilities.
But the children in the slums were our heroes, because they had complete disdain for these rules. They told us of the knife they sharpened and kept under the pillow, for when the father came home drunk and ready to beat. Just hearing about the hidden weapon made us, too, wonder about the “rules”.
“They won’t amount to anything,” said our parents. We, on the other hand, were destined for college education in the US and Britain. So we learned to play along, and follow the rules, knowing that we had been “bought off”.
Take your licks
I am told that this story is also familiar to women who are victims of wife beating. “He beats me because he loves me.” Being “punished” for something “wrong” they have done — which they now, also, have learned to see as legitimate provocation for violence. Never raising a hand to strike back at a man, but “taking their licks” with dignity. And being bought off in the end with things, like jewellery, or silk sarees.
What is it that these adults, these husbands want of the children and wives they rule over'
The word genocide is bandied about a lot these days. Modi’s Gujarat. Bush and Blair in Iraq. But if the metaphor of child-beating and wife-beating is correct, Gujarat and Iraq are not cases of genocide. They are the equivalent of drunken sprees of domestic violence. Or the ice-cold control of the psychopath husband acting out a “hunting scene”, with his terrified wife as the prey.
What these parents and husbands want is not for their children and wives to die and vanish. That would leave them without any outlet for frustration. What they want, these days, is simply submissiveness, their victims’ acceptance of a lowly niche in a shock-and-awe hierarchy with big men at the top. The Muslims of Gujarat (and of India), the people of Iraq are being set up as “wives” who must “learn their place”, and accept the occasional beating that reinforces the hierarchy.
Hierarchy, of course, presupposes inequality. You do not argue back with the boss and have the issue resolved fairly then and there. Instead, the boss is empowered to overwhelm you, and you have no option but to accept, and the frustration travels downward. Subordinates, wives and children will now be the innocent recipients of a violence that has its roots elsewhere. “Kick the cat”.
Violence, like capital, is to be extricated from its original context and reinvested elsewhere, where it is “safe”.
So where do we go from here'
Since our present road has reached a dead end, we go backwards, to a time when the spirit of the age was equality.
We begin by questioning the rules that separate rulers from the people they rule over. We refuse to believe in man-made hierarchies. We insist on “answering back”, and trying to settle disputes on the spot. We absorb the primary impact, and do not transfer violence downward toward the innocent. We open our minds, once again, to the possibility of another way. To a time when instead of countless wealth there was boundless safety.
And then stand up and be counted among those who reject the present power structure that has taken over our planet.
Another world is possible.