An Adivasi youth named Madhu was beaten to death in Attapadi, Kerala by the public, for having stolen food items.
Following the death of Madhu, there has been an outrage against the murder and the murderers, who were not just inhumane to beat Madhu to death but also rejoiced the entire act which has been reflected in their acts of taking selfie during the incident.
While this outrage is justified, let us see what could have been an alternate script…
Madhu subscribes to the middle class values and believes stealing is bad, unethical, immoral and also criminal. But since he is hungry and as a result, dies of hunger.
The fact is before us. In Attapadi there have been several incidences of death among the Adivasis because of malnutrition and starvation. Madhu would have added himself to the statistics, had he not attempted, in desperation, to steal food items.
Facts tell us that Attapadi, heartland of Adivasis in Kerala, is where the Adivasi land was encroached in the last few decades. It is ironic that the settlers who deprived Madhu and his community of their way of life and way to living have now murdered Madhu, for stealing food.
Yes, the ones who beat Madhu to death needs to be condemned and be punished for their crime. But in the midst of this outrage against the murderers let us also be brutal on ourselves a bit and scratch the matter below the surface.
If this alternate script was to play out, who would have been responsible for his death/ silent murder? If this alternate script was to play out and had Madhu died of starvation, to begin with his death would have gone unnoticed and even if it came to our notice, we the middle class would have questioned Madhu why he wouldn’t work (hard like us), why he wouldn’t take up a job, and similar questions.
We are, secretly, thankful to the murderers because they have saved us of some guilt. But we are such hypocrites and worse, deceptive, that we are using this as an opportunity to play holier than thou with all our statements about the murderers.
Let us not forget that we are a part of the system which led to a moment which handed over Madhu to the murderers.
The question of identity is not something that can be ignored in the case of Madhu’s murder. It is not just the middle class morality around stealing which has led, as I see, to the murder of Madhu. What we also have to ask ourselves is; whose ‘unacceptable’ (the question ‘to whom?’ remains) acts irritates, angers and outrages us to the point of murdering them? Of course, not every act unacceptable to us awakens the murderer in us. Some people’s actions anger us more than that of others. Who are these people, who are lesser humans to the society at large? More than often, people who are weak, economically, socially and politically. In other words, it is the poor, the women, the Dalit-Bahujans, the LGBT community and also the Adivasis.
By reducing the death of Madhu to a matter caused by poverty we are trying to hide the issue of identity, in such a hierarchical society, because we have not been able to liberate ourselves from this prejudice even while we fancy ourselves as just, caring and sensitive lot.
Madhu being mentally unstable gives the society more courage to be violent because the mentally ill have no social, economic, legal and political power and representation in this country.
Let us now be positive (a great fancy of the middle class, aspirational India) and imagine another alternative script of Madhu…
Madhu went to school and later got a seat in some prestigious university.
We the middle class would start complaining about how reservation is eating up our seats in educational spaces and at jobs. We the middle class would laugh at Madhu for his English pronunciation, for his ‘not-so-civilized’ mannerisms and then ask whether the subaltern can adjust themselves to the mainstream way of living.
Madhu’s murder is not the first murder caused by the insensitivity of the greater commons of this country. And every murder leaves behind several questions, which we do not even acknowledge, forget coming face to face with it. Of these questions two seem significant, to me, at least at this point; how many murders does it take to be called a massacre? How many murders does it take for us to become humans?