‘Murders over Moustache:’ Abjection and Brahmin Selfhood
Ms Vanshika Chaudhary, Undergraduate Student, Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi, New Delhi, India
Abstract: On 15 March 2022, two upper-caste men travelled 800 kilometers to knife Jitendrapal Meghwal for his ‘stylish beard.’ While the police report cites other “personal disagreements” as the reason for the attack and very explicitly “not the beard”, Meghwal’s case is not an isolated incident. Over the last five years, there have been several instances of violence against Dalit men for sporting moustaches— Sanjay Parmar, Kunal Maheria, Suresh Vaghela, among several others, including teenage boys. Using a psychoanalytical lens, this paper aims to investigate these events of ‘murders over moustache’ that embody upper-caste violences and humiliations against Dalit men for sporting moustaches and examine the threat they present to the seemingly absolute Brahmin Self. This threat occurs due to the blurring of the visual optics of caste and segregation that undermines the ‘abject’ position of the Dalit body as located outside the living subject. This abjection of the Dalit body is an essential a priori to the formation of the upper-caste subject within the Brahminical signifying economy. I will further examine the process of abjection of the Dalit male body vis-a-vis the feminization of Dalit men, wherein moustaches act as expressions of caste honour and virility. This paper will then go on to situate the moustache on the Dalit body within the realm of Bakhtian ‘grotesque’, where the body either protrudes or allows a passage inwards thereby opening up the possibilities of contact between the self and the other. This paper builds on this understanding of the abject: the moustache becomes a symbolic point of contact and thus transgresses casteist practices of untouchability, inviting caste-based violence. This paper argues that the Brahmin Self is contaminated by the mere visual of a moustache on the Dalit Other precisely because it disrupts ‘what caste ought to look like.’ If the Dalit person does not perform their “dalitness,” then segregation becomes a challenge— if the sole quality of the abject is that of being opposed to the ‘I,’ then any intermingling these two seemingly impermeable categories will necessitate the destabilization of both. An examination of this ‘unbecoming’ and ‘unknowing’ sense of the Brahmin Self forms the core of this paper. The Self must reassert itself as the living subject when confronted by the image of the abject. A necessary corollary of an examination of this nature is to take into account the relegation of Dalit personhood to the realm of non-being. Bereft of being, Dalit bodies become expendable and hence the site of violence; violence that originates from the fragility of the Brahmin selfhood.