Identity Politics and Dynamics of a ‘Victim’

“Even people who listen to you are a resource – only when people listen to you can you move from one place to another.” – Sankari[i]

The above quote was shared by a participant at the National Consultation on Sexuality Discourses in India, organized by Nirantar on 16, 17 June 2016 in Delhi. The consultation was a step forward from the sexuality mapping that we conducted in the year 2013-14. . Through the mapping exercise, Nirantar started to interrogate conversations around sexuality happening in different spaces. One of the primary points of discussions that emerged during the sessions was that of Identity Politics, “political arguments that focus upon the interest and perspectives of groups with which people identify”.[ii]

Identity, an infinite and deeply personal marker of the ‘self’ is enmeshed with the extensive political sphere, be it that of the ‘private’ or the ‘public’. Does one begin with one’s identity, and hence risk the labels that come along, to begin their journeys into the political or should it be the other way around? Is there a need to separate the two? Or should we talk about the discomforts we have when we merge the two together? Rooted in the feminist philosophy of ‘personal is political’, how do we understand victim-hood and where should we place this intricate ‘identity’?

One of the consultation participants commented on the State and self, “To engage with the State and get rights, you have to first articulate your identity. The state recognizes me as a transgender and that recognition confers certain rights upon me – whether I like or dislike that identity, my rights are born out of that identity and these are the rights I want. I recognize myself as a woman – my experiences came before the tags of ‘Trans’, ‘Kothi’ etc – but these tags are apparently necessary to negotiate with the outside world and there is this dissonance between the identity and what I feel…” 

At the core of identity politics lay issues of access and justice. The tone of the consultation was rightly spelt out by the participants on the morning of the first day, “Let’s talk about privilege, justice, and access”. Some of the stories shared by the participants are a telling narrative of these inter-linkages.

“As long as identity remains at the heart of the claim-making process, there is an ugly race to the bottom, where a competition for the status of ‘good victim’ pits us against one another, where an inherent divisiveness prevents us from discarding performances of the worthy victim.”[iii]

Where does our victimhood lie in our perception? If there is a hierarchy of victimhood and we think our victimhood is the biggest or believe we’ve suffered the most violence, we tend to place our victimhood at the centre and those of others’ at the margin – we try to direct attention to ourselves, obscuring others. When we articulate our victimhood as most vulnerable and then raise demands from that location, we other-ize those that share the same condition. This competition for victimhood is also fuelled by NGOs and projects that fund this narrative of victimhood and privilege a certain kind of victimhood.

When we forefront the victim identity is it because it allows us to engage with power? Or is it a way which then works its way out of a power structure? When a girl says I am not a victim but media has made it out to be, can she choose her victimhood or reject it all together?

Some of the questions raised through consultation deserve deeper reflections and further interrogation; “Through the imagination of sexuality as a frame, could a viable alternative to a continued preoccupation with identities be an intersectionality of frameworks rather than identities? Going beyond the one plus one logic of seeing identities in conjunction, to examining instead how particular lens, or ways of understanding, interact to cast light on lived realities. How can we imagine a politics beyond identity?”[iv]

 

*This piece is based on excerpts and reflections around Identity Politics from the Consultation and Sexuality Mapping Report. To get a copy of this report, please mail us at nirantar.mail@gmail.com

[i] A Trans rights Activist, based in Chennai

[ii] Wikipedia

[iii] Sexuality Mapping Report

[iv] Sexuality Mapping Report

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