A family in my locality had once filed an FIR against their live-in domestic help for stealing money from them and running away. The domestic help was caught staying at her native village, but the authorities couldn’t find the stolen money anywhere. What they did find were bruises on the woman’s arms, and her version of the story, which was that the family she worked for would often hit her, pay her poorly, and make her work for inhumane hours. She asserted that she hadn’t stolen any money but had only run away from the toxic work environment she was in.
Without the money, there was no actual proof of whose narrative was “right”. The verdict, however, had already been passed. The other families in the building complex grew increasingly wary of their own domestic help. There was an official circular circulated about being careful of who you let into your house and who you trusted. People would follow their domestic help into every room as they worked. This was a classic example of why you shouldn’t be too nice to, or too friendly with “them”, everyone said. The domestic help on their part saw the incident as a reflection of the grave injustices they faced on the daily, and began to avoid taking up work in our building complex.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of this incident, and the way it silently but dramatically fuelled people’s divisive conditioning, as I watched the revelations of the Hitesha Chandranee vs Kamaraj case unfurl over the last week.
Hitesha And Kamraj’s Conflicting Versions Of The Incident Are Being Used To Pass Toxic Generalisations
Videos uploaded by the Bangalore-based content creator, Hitesha Chandranee, had taken social media by storm last week. Her story of a Zomato delivery man, who had arrived late with her order, becoming aggressive when she refused to pay him, and punching her in the nose, was met with widespread shock and outrage.
“Zomato – are we really safe using ur services?? (sic)”, Hitesha captioned her viral video, and people online echoed these sentiments. Her narrative of a man assaulting her in her own home, was, unfortunately, not hard to believe, and people’s anger was justified. The generalised male-bashing and classism that followed, however, was not.
“THIS IS WHY I NEVER TIP THESE PEOPLE!!”, read a comment that I now unfortunately (and fortunately) can’t find, under her video.
Soon after her video went viral, the Zomato delivery man, Kamaraj, came out with his version of events. He denied her allegations, and explained that she had abused and hit him. “She started hitting me with slippers and while safeguarding myself, my left hand touched her right hand and the ring which she had worn hit her nose and it started bleeding,” Kamaraj has said.
Kamraj’s version of events in a world where injustices and discrimination faced by the labouring class is persistent and prevalent is, just as an unfortunately, just as easy to believe. His narrative was also all that the men’s rights enthusiasts needed to dismiss and attack all women who speak up.
A post with a large “MEN TOO” stamped on top began to be shared with text that read, “We live in a society where a man accused of fake rape charges suffers in jail for 20 years and makes no Twitter trend or comes in any news, but a girl who plays fake victim about a delivery guy hitting her makes it to the trend list, because women.”
Neutrality Or Immediate Action – How Can Truth Win?
“Let the truth win,” says Kamraj.
The truths we do know – the underprivileged being treated inhumanely and being held guilty by default, is a common occurrence in India, as is the harassment and assault of women. So common are both truths, that almost all of us have seen, heard, or experienced them happening in our own domestic bubbles.
The truth is we don’t have enough evidence for there to be such definitive verdicts and generalisations being passed online – whose version of the story is “right”.
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In no version of the story does Chandranee’s behaviour with her food delivery man not come off as entitled, and unnecessarily troublesome. In no version of events, at the same time, does her behaviour justify violence in return.
People’s vehement, public support of Chandranee even after Kamraj revealed his version of the story, and their demands for Zomato to fire him, is an extension of everyone’s deep-seated privilege that sees the labouring class as merely existing to enable their lives. People’s readiness to believe Kamraj and disregard all of Chandranee’s claims, on the other hand, reflects a patriarchal conditioning that still victim-shames, belittles, and silences women.
In a situation with so little third-person evidence, and so many opinions, how can justice be identified, let alone served? Zomato’s response to the issue – of assuring that they will pay for Chandranee’s medical expenses, Kamaraj’s expenses while he’s suspended, and all his legal expenses – is clearly neutral.
Being neutral is not always okay, especially in situations when the evidence is there, but people’s differing mindsets cause conflict. Neutrality in such a situation is just privilege and passivity. Chandranee and Kamaraj’s case, however, is not such a situation right now.
While it’s important to take action and speak up for what one believes in, what one believes is in turn shaped by what we expose ourselves to. Neutrality doesn’t always mean passivity; sometimes, it is the only way we allow ourselves, and everyone else, to actually listen.
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