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

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The Political in Shame

The questions and challenges of our times have thrown up emotions such as shame at the centre of both social and public life. But there seems to be not enough engagement in the discipline of political science to understand emotions in their own right. The central concern of this paper is the question of the political in shame. Is shame political? How is shame as an everyday emotion distinct from, similar to, or constitutive of the shame as political? The paper tries to engage with the emotion theory and bring out the characteristics of shame both as an emotional as well as political concept. Shame instances from the Indian politicalscape are used. It has been argued that shame is a moral emotion. Shame is political (repository of power), localised (experienced in the immediate), learnt (acquired through observation and habit formation), and social (exists through externalities, not as something that is limited to individuals). It is political in the sense that it uses the same language as power and is used rather effectively to create fixed hierarchies. Shame is political in its formulation, processes, and consequences with profound bearings on democratic and decent societies.

A woman stripped off her clothes and walked up to the nearest police station in Rajkot, Gujarat in India. She carried with her some bangles and a red rose. She later presented the rose and the bangles to the police officer in charge. According to her, he failed to register her complaints of domestic violence against her in-laws and husband who were torturing her for dowry. She, at last, had to resort to walking half naked from her house to the station, saying “us admi ko sarre aam chudiyan pehnani chahiye” (that man should be made to wear bangles publicly). Bangles are remarkably Indian in culture. Aesthetically, women wear bangles for ornamentation; politically, they wear it as a mark of suhaag (used to refer to the marital status of a woman). In northern Indian cultures, bangles have colour codes. The green and red colour bangles are restricted to married women. Widows are denied ornamentation. This makes women easily identifiable, as married, unmarried or widowed. No such marking is done on or for men. Bangles are markers of her being docile, fragile, and in need of protection. We know this because men, on the contrary, are considered protectors and they are not supposed to be wearing bangles. What is so essential to a woman is a loss of face for all men.

In presenting her bangles to the police, the above-mentioned women here reduced our police officer’s and her husband’s masculine self to her “supposed fragile” self. She walked naked in the neighbourhood and effectively shamed everyone, from her abusive family, the complacent police and the patriarchal society. Yet in another incident, an actress from Telugu film industry in southern India stripped naked protesting against sexual harassment in the film industry. There were quick remarks on social media where opinions on her mental health condition were floated and fiercely debated. The phenomenon of social-media trolling is related peculiarly to the domain of shame. Calling political opponents names, body shaming them, alluding to their caste and class on social media is mostly wrapped old traditional shaming in newer techniques. But it also opened up spaces elsewhere in the media, amongst people in the film trade itself about harassment, misogyny, and casteism prevalent in the arts and cinema industry.

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Updated On : 21st Feb, 2022
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