The ‘ghar-wapsi' of shame

The ‘ghar-wapsi' of shame

Midlife Musings

Indu Anand

I was raised on a steady supply of shame. My first recollection of shame is when I scribbled on a wall of the house. That was the last time I defaced anything, ever. I was shamed for ‘showing eyes’ to an elder, however right I was. I was shamed for less than first-class marks. I was shamed for squabbling with my siblings. I was shamed for not waking up on time, for being late. There was a large handout of shame for ever not upholding the ‘family name.’ Shame was the grinding stone of guardianship, the guardrails I held tight to, pressing hard into my side with its familiar ache.

But things change, and shame has been replaced by a spectrum of shaming. There’s the very prevalent body shaming, with fat shaming being more frequent than skinny shaming. Another popular variant is the open-and-shut cases of slut-shaming. There’s breastfeeding shaming, but there’s also bottle-feeding shaming, Caesarean section shaming and epidural shaming. Religious shaming is now such an international sport that it’s a sub-culture of sorts. In this bouquet of brickbats is parent shaming, femme shaming, addiction shaming, identity shaming, age shaming, anonymity shaming, smart shaming, even a thing called reintegrative shaming. However, I am suitably ashamed to say that in this surfeit of shaming, there still isn’t enough shame. Even I had managed to shake off my shapeless shadows of shame -- my 20s and 30s were spent in a strident rejection of it, and I silenced, one by one, all the sounds in my head, like one of those bubble-popping apps, by screaming out loud all that I had kept unsaid.

Then the Nirbhaya gangrape happened, holding me hostage to its every gruesome detail. Before that had been the stupefying sickness of the case of Baby Falak. Long-forgotten sensations returned in waves. Since then, it has been a veritable tsunami of shamelessness of all sizes, shapes and forms. The Kathua case, the Unnao rape, and the list goes on and on. While the financial scams and scandals, each the value of a smaller country’s GDP, keep us busy as a laundromat, cases like the serial sexual exploitation of girl-children at an NGO-run shelter home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur is where the shamelessness really sends out a proper stink.

Most recently, it is the lurid allegations against a geriatric ‘godman’, complete with yet-unproven videography of a generous but gentle rub-down allegedly by a young, unrelated woman. As I attempted to ‘unsee’ that, came the closed-circuit TV recording of demonic domestic violence, splashed all over social media. Following sharp on its heels is the stinging slap struck on the face of a wife by her husband amidst a crowd of companions, or maybe they were campaigners. As someone whose childhood had the single scare of Ranga-Billa etched in whispers, I now struggle to scroll past these ‘cases’ fast enough. Try as I might, it seems impossible to remain unsullied by this epidemic of the ‘rarest of the rare’. If data is the new oil, or the new gold, good old-fashioned shame is yet awaiting excavation even to be known.

Distracted by the high decibels of the digital ‘dhobi ghat’, we are misled into believing that naming the shameless, trending hashtags and all, #MeToo style, will somehow set the world to right. But when fans of a fanatic can ‘trend’ a benediction for him on his casualty’s birth anniversary, then that delusion lies decomposed in the soaking shamelessness of casual character-less social media-speak. When shame becomes the preserve of the mostly silent, self-effacing, sickened spectator, what will a day or two of troll-tampered trending on Twitter really do, or undo?

Shame is displaced from its place within our actions to being a torrent of reaction. The kind of shame that holds us back from ourselves, that silences us before we defend the indefensible, is now in slim supply, and a naked shamelessness is running riot. And before anyone asks, shamelessness is so secular that shame’s faith is not germane.

In ‘New India’s’ new narrative of making India great again, it’s time for the ‘ghar-wapsi’ of shame. It’s time to make shame fashionable again.

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