You know the phrase Occam’s razor? Of course, you know it—this idea that in most situations, the simplest explanation is preferable to a more complex one. And of course, if you have ever watched a medical show, there is inevitably a sardonic older doctor who smirks at their residents and says, “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” Unless, of course, you were watching that old horror show House, in which whenever anyone heard hoofbeats, they assumed it was lupus.
Occam’s razor is a relaxing rule of thumb if you have a tendency to anxiety or to second-guess yourself. And many of us use it without thinking about it. Unless the situation is one where there is a charge of sexual harassment or assault. In which case, the public tendency in India is to switch to Occam’s Extreme Knots. I was watching some of the responses to the young wrestlers’ accusation of sexual harassment against Bharatiya Janata Party MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. And oh my, the knots were spectacular.
Smriti Irani, Union minister for women and child development, for instance, reportedly said in an interview to Times Now that she had spoken to the wrestler Babita Phogat, a cousin of the wrestling champion Vinesh Phogat, who is at the forefront of the protests. She said: “I had a chat with Babita Phogatji. Do you think a world-famous wrestler like Babita Phogat will sit with the people who exploited others and especially her family members?” The idea here is that 33-year-old Babita, referred to respectfully with a ji and “famous”, is to be relied on to be truthful and unswayed. She is unswayed because nothing has happened. The other young wrestlers, while also famous and potentially “ji’s”, are not necessarily to be trusted with good judgement. They have been manipulated by the opposition parties and other evil forces. Babita Phogat also told India Today that she feels her peers have been influenced and misguided. Other stories being pushed to the media suggest that the accusers belong to an akhada run by the Congress MP Deepender Singh Hooda or that if indeed Sakshi Malik felt sexually harassed, why did she invite Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh to her wedding and so on. Basically, the moment you accuse a powerful man of sexual misconduct, your judgement took flight. Every other story is more likely to be true.
Now, I have to tell you about the wildest Occam’s Extreme Knot I have witnessed. At a party some years ago, I overheard folks discussing how their alma mater, an all-women’s college, had been shut temporarily after protests against one (perhaps two) professors accused of harassing students sexually. This is the conversation that followed.
Two girls accused the professors, leading to the protests. They must have been paid. How much do you think they got? I am sure, at least a lakh each to do all this. Who would have paid them? Someone with vested interests in the education field. I know that X family and Y family have started two girls’ universities in the state in the last two years. Ah, it must be them.
Within five minutes, it was done. The case had been solved—means, motive and opportunity. The two-three folks in the conversation were able to return to their snacks with ease and peace. I watched with my mouth open. There hadn’t been enough time for even Law & Order to make its dun-dun sound.
You know how they say that when you are in an emergency and have to save a loved one, you become super strong or fast? Like the mother who flips a car to save the baby stuck under? I think when faced with the imminent prospect of thinking that you actually might have to suffer some moral crisis that affects the symbolic order, then your brain starts cooking up fantastic fiction. You reorganise the information so your precious one doesn’t have to be the villain and the random accuser is just one big vested interest, like Sunny Deol in a Rupa ad.
All this, I understand. I understand it as long as the situation is like in Monsoon Wedding, where the Naseeruddin Shah character had to deal with the idea that the rich and generous man married to his sister whom he is indebted to may have molested his young niece. It’s a big mess and it’s your big mess. I can understand people’s brains cooking up any old story to not change the status quo. She is lying. She misunderstood. She wants attention. She is angry about something else. Anything but he raped her. I have seen it happen close to home and I am so sure you have also.
But the public Occam’s Knot made to defend some random politician or lecturer you don’t know in a university you attended 30 years ago? That baffles me. How did he become your precious one? How is his innocence necessary for you to continue to enjoy your palak pakora? She did it because she is aligned with this government. She did it because she wants to be aligned with the opposition party that you think can’t get the pakora order together. She is lying. She is innocent. She wants attention. She has gotten too much attention. She has had too much sex. She has not had enough sex. Anything but he raped her. A case where you hear the hoofbeats and you don’t want it to be in black and white.
Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.