Gurugram viral video compels us to think about the role of ‘shame’ in feminist practice
A sight now across many hallowed screens, the video stages an embroiled conversation between a group of young women, one of whom is known to be Shivani Gupta, and an ‘aunty,’ the obvious and immediate antagonist, from whom an apology is, by any measure, to be extracted.
As the dust settles on the rabidly viral video from Gurugram, it is perhaps time to call it an event in feminist politics.
The video stages an embroiled conversation between a group of young women and an ‘aunty,’ from whom an apology is to be extracted.
The video begins and ends with the terse, but deeply succinct threat worded to ‘aunty’ throughout – apologise, or ‘I will make this go viral and ruin your life.’
As the dust settles on the rabidly viral video from Gurugram, it is perhaps time to call it an event in feminist politics, especially in so far as it follows many forms and phantasms of the relatively better known #MeToo movement. A sight now across many hallowed screens, the video stages an embroiled conversation between a group of young women, one of whom is known to be Shivani Gupta, and an ‘aunty,’ the obvious and immediate antagonist, from whom an apology is, by any measure, to be extracted. Contextualising the video, Gupta told her several thousand viewers that she and her friends met the ‘aunty’ at a mall in Gurugram where she, the ‘aunty,’ took the wanton liberty to comment on the length of Gupta’s dress and, Gupta retells, ask a bunch of men to rape her. In the nine or so minutes of the video, Gupta and her friends follow ‘aunty’ to a home décor store in the mall, making their outrage and infuriation felt, and for the viewer, clearly resonant. Many minutes of impressing upon our philistine ‘aunty’ the immediacy of rendering an apology follow, an effort in which Gupta and her friends are joined by a progressive woman, or as she is addressed in the space of the video, ‘ma’am.’ ‘Aunty’ refuses to apologise, and in an unabashed encore of the utterance that presumably provoked the making of the video, tells the women that short dresses are worn to “encourage all to see them,” and that lest this lead to rape, parents watching the video must “control the girls.” On this vitiated note the video ends.
As a viewer, one’s first reaction was and is of unadulterated horror – ‘aunty'’s words, both presumed and witnessed, are thrown too carelessly and by every measure, hurt any ethical sensibility. Developing a violent progression from honour to dress and dress to sexual violence, ‘aunty’ paints for the female and feminist viewer a vignette of horror which, additionally, is for the female and feminist viewer a vignette of the everyday – ‘aunty’ is often various figures of the families we belong to and the institutions we go to. To offer, then, a ‘defense’ of ‘aunty’ is both morally impoverished and misguided. Similarly misguided, as in the principal contrarian social commentary that has emerged on the issue where there is also much of merit, is a plea not to ‘pit person against person’ in a social world where a person is already pitted against a person. It is difficult, if not dishonest, to ignore the various convoluted uses that ambiguities are often put towards to muddle what is evidently wrong, unjust, unfair, and in precisely that spirit, worthy of condemnation – when ambiguity allows an Avital Ronell the fillip to teach a course on the trouble with boundaries, it is difficult to be ambiguous. Let one begin by stating, then, that ‘aunty’ is unambiguously impossible to agree with.
Yet, critique demands that the video be read in the spirit of reading and interpreting utterances. Over the course of the video, ‘aunty’ stands for many things. She is introduced to us, in the words of one of the persons behind the camera, as a person of minimal brain capacity. She is often called crazy, and as one is told repeatedly, morbidly obese. Thus, the unforgiving ally of Gupta and her friends, or ‘ma’am’ (and never ‘aunty’) tells ‘aunty’ that women who have a body to flaunt can wear ‘such’ dresses while ‘aunty’ does not because, unsurprisingly, she cannot. ‘Ma’am’ goes as far as to say, albeit in murmurs and in the margins of the video, that ‘aunty,’ too, should be raped “kapdo main (in clothes).” When ‘aunty’ suggests that she does, in fact, have a body to flaunt, figures of the video, even silent onlookers and bystanders, find it utterly laughable. One of Gupta’s friends tells ‘aunty’ towards the eventful close of the video that her kurta is “too tight.” Throughout the video, ‘aunty’ is a figure not just of moral condemnation but of complex social commentary – her body is laughable, her accent is funny, and she is a figure who just doesn’t ‘get it.’ As this post words incisively, “shame only circulates. cannot be wished away. so the women in the video build a public around shame and deploy it towards aunty.”
A final, but more problematic, however, is where this leaves feminist practice. The video begins and ends with the terse, but deeply succinct threat worded to ‘aunty’ throughout – apologise, or ‘I will make this go viral and ruin your life.’ The only other disciplining power invoked in the video is the police whom ‘aunty’ wants to call to her protection and whom the friends’ vocal ally, ‘ma’am,’ too, invokes to ask ‘aunty’ to apologise there and then and prevent ‘this’ from reaching the police beyond the space of the public of the mall. Contemporary feminist practice’s recent visitations on the political substance of shame have been salutary in prefiguring this terrain. Shame is a potent force and yet, in brisk simultaneity, a force incredibly difficult, if not dangerous, to harness.
It is interesting that going to the police or propelling something into online virality are the only two carceral alternatives presented in the video. What implications does this have for our digital spaces? But what demands immediate underlining and presents a compelling ethical question for feminist practice is the nakedly articulated desire to ruin ‘aunty’’s life. Can an apology rendered by the fear of virality and public ridicule mitigate the ruination of ‘aunty’’s careless, depraved words? It is seamless to distance ‘aunty’ from ourselves, but ‘aunty’ is often a parent, a relative, a friend, a lover. If it is anything, is not feminist practice a labour of reworking and transforming subjects? To ask of the video and the aunties that populate our world is to make this event a metaphor.
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