The Impossibility of Empathy – Part II


By Soibam Haripriya

Empathy could be, in this context, thought of as identification with the tormented. The word identification is surprisingly beautifully described in the dictionary as “the process by which one ascribes to oneself the qualities or characteristics of another person”. Another entry describes it as “the perception of another as an extension of oneself”. The latter word is potent enough to keep one thinking as to why is the word ‘solidarity’ is used when extending our ‘solidarity’ to another struggle. Identification is certainly a more difficult location to inhabit, to perceive another as an extension of oneself is certainly an investment that is deeply enmeshed with set identities that prevent this.

An extension of the earlier discussion of certain cases of violence sees mobilisation on starkly certain lines. The few months old discussion of racism which has certainly died down now too sees this trend – that many are in solidarity with the campaign and yet couldn’t draw lines of identification with it. Tragically it will be another spurt of violence that will revive the discussion on racism. Crime against women, to reiterate the previous discussion is not a solitary issue. It is enmeshed with identities or the lack of it, drawn across class, caste, ‘racial’ity, ethnic otherness, etc. An age old question that gets regularly asked of groups of women fighting against crime, inequality and gender subjugation is of the possibility of building a larger solidarity of women. It is certainly not necessary that women derive their primary identification with the fact of belonging to a certain sex and gender, just as it is impossible for men too. It is however, another idea that I want to pursue, that is of individual identification building up to a larger idea of commonalities of purpose.

Identification, “the perception of another as an extension of oneself” could lead to empathy. The various crimes against women gets entangled with values of ‘shame’, ‘honour’ of a community rather than becoming a deeply felt individual violation in itself too, which it is. Certainly, there is no denying that crimes against women are tools used against communities, ethnic and class and caste others. The intersectionality of the fact of being of a certain sex, gender and caste and class and many other identities do make one be at the receiving end. The same intersectionality also gives certain other people the belief that they can with impunity commit certain crimes. While one can draw commonalities and be in solidarity with a certain individual affected by crime of such nature which gets conflated as many other things, the highly individual nature of the outrage is to be recognised too.



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