Commentaries, Feminism

The Pink Pill gains US FDA Approval

The first ever drug designed for lack of sexual desire among premenopausal women has gained approval from the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Addyi, a flibanserin drug manufactured by Sprout Pharmaceuticals has been designed for premenopausal women suffering from a condition that is formally known as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Order (HSDD). This condition is prevalent among female populace around the globe, but remains relatively undiscussed on larger public platforms due to being rooted in matters of female sexuality.

Despite working differently as compared to Pfizer Inc’s Viagra for erectile dysfunction among men, Addyi has been nicknamed the “female Viagra” is to come with a prominent boxed warning due to the potential dangers that this drug holds for people suffering from liver impairments, as well as those taking certain steroids. The drug is feared to dangerously effect blood pressure levels and cause fainting if taken with alcohol. A consumer watchdog group in the United States has linked Addyi’s side effects as a potential cause for it to be suspended from the market in the near future. However, few believe in the authenticity of their foresight. Moreover, Palatin Technologies is creating a rival drug to combat HSDD, which, unlike Addyi (which activates the brain’s sexual impulses by selectively inhibiting serotonin), will attempt to activate certain neurological pathways in the brain. Several experts believe that the US FDA’s approval of Addyi marks the start to a blockbuster manufacturing trend among rival companies. They also concur that Addyi’s clinical studies are rather promising. While several medical factions speculate the drug’s benefits versus its risks, Addyi’s entry into the market holds a very different meaning for feminist worldwide.

Termed by the National Consumers League as “the biggest breakthrough in women’s sexual health since the advent of ‘the (contraceptive) pill’… it validates (and legitimises female sexuality as an important component of health”. Clearly, issues relating to sexuality, such as sexual impulse, desire and gratification are more comfortably discussed when related to men as compared to women. Pfizer Inc’s Viagra pill for male erectile dysfunction in 1998 highlighted the issue considerably, whereby erectile dysfunction came to be accepted as a medical condition that wasn’t just associated to stigma and ridicule, but also to a meaningful solution. Similarly, the oft-neglected and seldom addressed issue of hypoactive sexual desire disorder among women seems to have a solution after all. Medical solutions for issues relating to sexuality not only provide relief to the patients suffering from dysfunctions/ disorders, but they do so while authenticating the problem’s scientific and medical roots, thus divorcing it from too much social speculation that masters the act of conjuring. This is not to say that the problem is no longer stigmatised, but finding a medical solution to the problem saves the patient’s psychosis from delivering themselves to meaningless speculations by the society, which would have otherwise caused serious damage to their personal esteem and self-worth.

Societal factors in a country like India are still coming to terms with the reality of medical conditions that hamper or impair sexual aptitude even amongst males, which is seen as one of the biggest causative factors behind character assassinations among Indian men. A man in India might find nothing more insulting and offending than being called unmanly due to his diminished sexual prowess or a lack thereof. As issues relating to sexuality are stigmatised, so is their discussion. Now, consider the same situation amongst the less-privileged gender, whose open redressal of the issue is feared to tamper with matters relating not just to individual self-images of women, but collectively to family and communal honour. In such situations, the advancement of drugs catering to female sexuality-related problems comes as a great relief to patients suffering from these conditions who, on identifying medical-backed researches that diagnose their problems, are saved from social prejudice and meaningless norm-identifications. More importantly, this approval also paves way for a larger number of the world’s female populace to find equal sexual gratification as their male counterparts, hence ridding themselves of the oft-quoted drudgery associated with the act.

When it comes to mainstream manufacturing of such drugs in India, a key consideration is that of pricing and affordability. Another is that of the rigorousness and selectiveness with which medical practitioners prescribe this drug. As optimistic as its gender dimension promises to be, it is equally important that health faculties worldwide maintain stringent rules and regulations dominating drug prescription and directions of use to its patients, with precisely laid-out guidelines around the drug’s prognosis. Leaving this responsibility to the discretion of global and national drug administrations, the symbolism of the US FDA’s approval of Addyi is significantly empowering in matters of female sexuality and desire.

Power to Pink! 🙂

News courtesy: Clarke, T. and Pierson, R. (2015). For Lack of Sexual Desire: US FDA approves ‘female Viagra’, but with strong warning. Indian Express (August 20th)

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Feminism, Opinion

Caught Off Guard- My take on the sexual threats posed to Watson after her monumental speech at the UN

Emma Watson’s recent speech as the UN Goodwill Ambassador was definitely one worth watching and celebrating, especially for its inclusive ethos. Her plea towards all men and boys to extend their solidarity to women’s movements is a move that factions within feminism and gender studies have been struggling to make. I also applaud her effort to clarify the misconceptions associated with the term feminism, and the precedence of its motivations over the term itself. It is also re assuring to see a celebrity like Watson occupy an international platform to spread such a positive message concerning one of the most pressing conditions that we live amidst- gender inequality. We have a long way to go, no doubt, but seeing the matter being raised and often acknowledged, no matter how formally, helps.

What followed (not surprisingly at all), was a chain of sexual threats made to Watson by numerous online users. Several articles have rightly pointed to the repeated connection that innumerable commenters and several strands of the media make between someone’s personal life and their political/professional credibility, and the redundancy thereof. A recent article that I read (Vox, 23rd September, 2014), points to the “get back where you belong” undertone of these threats, which should be read as an attack upon every woman. It is not unknown to feminists that feminism entails such struggles on a daily basis in ways big and small. Having said that, by no means do I intend to belittle the nature of these threats or the responses they provoke. While I encourage every feminist (man or woman, who believe in the fundamental logic of gender equality) to take these threats personally (hell yeah, personal is political!), there is something I wish to point out, which I see as another opening to the long-fought struggle of feminism. Something that makes me smile despite the daily doses of misogyny offered by news coverage, media, on the streets and even in my own backyard. I don’t mean to say that feminism has found the secret of the universe and will overthrow phallocentrism overnight. What I am about to argue is that the snide remarks and sexual threats often posed to a person making feminist claims reveals a great deal about feminism’s authenticity and political, economic and social soundness.

What was so enraging or threatening about Watson’s speech? It had a pressing undertone (and rightfully so), and was a humble plea, inviting men and women alike, to join the movement towards women’s empowerment in equal solidarity. Not only did Watson appear to invoke a more inclusive feminism, but a broader one. That is, apart from asking for male support and inclusion, it was an acknowledgement of the fact that a patriarchal and phallocentric worldview is not only oppressive towards girls and women, but also men and boys. I perceive the aforementioned sexual threats across the internet as responses triggered by a feeling of vulnerability, threat, enragement, in varying combinations. In other words, Watson’s words indicate the possibility that the professed power offered to, and claimed by most men in a patriarchal and heteronormative world are actually masquerades of oppression. That is, male assertiveness, entitlement and control are actually crucial to the functioning of a patriarchal world order, in which, men are only instruments. In being instrumental to patriarchal systems then, men, despite being more in control than women, are by no means free, and are in need of empowerment in their own distinct way.

This call, in my perception, is a potential slap in the face of any person who feels endowed by patriarchal or heteronormative systems. Contesting or evaluating the impact that gender equality has on patriarchs leads us to a different tangent altogether, and requires a separate occasion. Discussing its initial tip was important for me to arrive at my point. That is, the bare reality that such a claim reveals is something that we as a society have to contend with, as much as some misogynists and haters like it or not. The irrelevance of their threats further re iterates their helplessness in facing this bare truth. Consider this- when a media house exhausts all facts and fails to arrive at any viable claim to shame their target figure, they dig out the most redundant information, for the sake of launching an offensive to stick to their accusations. A recent example includes my personal encounter with an offender who, due to being caught in a deadlock of his own argument, posed sexual threats with the hope of inciting me. Focusing on such attacks is rather self-limiting and undeservedly discouraging. On the other hand, what these sexual threats re-iterate is the authenticity of Watson’s claims and the sheer failure of all those misogynists in responding to her with any politically sound counter claim/ counter argument whatsoever. The very absence of a politically credible response indicates the triumph of the validity of Watson’s speech. What remains rather obvious to me is that anyone who wishes to invest in a constructive critique of what Watson said, would do so with a basic degree of ethics. Do these sexual threats pay any attention to ethics? You have your answer.

We are almost entering 2015, and as Watson points out, no country on the globe has fully achieved gender equality. She also speaks about how we are in this struggle together, and as it is being pointed out, we are still very much in need of a feminism (its internal nuances notwithstanding), that pertains to everyone, men and women alike. Such a universalist claim is bound to be met with criticism and contestations on several platforms of constructive debate. It has several dynamics that require close attention as we strive towards greater gender equity. The fact that such an inclusive and sound claim is met by unethical and unimpressive (to say the least) sexual threats only points to the presence of offenders who are not only disgruntled by the harsh reality, but also choose no better way of dealing with it.

You and I need not applaud Watson as loudly as those in the UN convention did, but we are certainly better armed in our responses, if not in unison with Watson, then in ethics, at the very least.

Emma Watson’s UN Speech

Vox: The sexual threats against Emma Watson are an attack on every woman

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Commentaries, Feminism

“The Unceremonious Wedlock” of Right Wing Hindu Fundamentalism and Gender in Contemporary India

Disclaimer: This essay is a combination of several pieces written by feminist scholars in the reader by Mary E. John, the Economic and Political weekly, as well as other web archives, along with some of my own writing and analysis. The topic of Gender and Religion was a part of my academic module and I prepared this piece for my final examinations at Delhi University. I have compiled this piece and posted it on my blog so that others get a chance to familiarize themselves with this genre of analysis and to promote their further reading of the pieces individually written by the scholars that I have addressed at the end of this article.

Despite the absence of professional footnotes as a consequence of my poor knowledge on the same as an undergraduate student with poor research capabilities that are yet to develop, I would like to make it clear that no plagiarism has been intended and this work has been published on my blog simply to celebrate the works of these brilliant scholars, as well as spirit of feminist writing in contemporary India.

*In short, this blog has purely harmless intentions and no copyright infringement is intended*

 

“Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.”

Mahatma Gandhi

 

I. Background

At the stoke of the midnight hour, when India was granted its independence, there was much that the Indian leadership had to live up to. The country had risen from the shackles of the British Empire, whose sun had finally set in this part of the world, and was to seek and fulfill its own destiny. In all the glory and nostalgia that accompanied the 15th of August in 1947, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in this era popularly known as that of the Nehruvian consensus, led a range of choices that he and his counterparts made on India’s behalf, believing it to be the best and most viable at that period, or maybe, as a matter of no other choice.

Whatever the reason, what followed after that, were without doubt, India’s most volatile decades that it would expect as a newly independent country.

The elite that existed in the confines of the Nehruvian consensus, was rather embarrassed, among other things, with caste and religion, and hoped for them to disappear in the advent of industrialization and modernity. Leaders such as Ambedkar and Phule, who urged to redress the balance that was breached by the various social inequalities that haunted a post-independent India, were cast-aside as ‘not modern’ and ‘castist’. What was so striking about this period of Nehruvian consensus was that there existed a fractured modernity, as some would call it. This ‘modernity’, which consisted of claims and ambitions of the leaders of young India towards India becoming a modern, industrialized, socialist country, enjoyed these brilliant claims merely in the public sphere, that too in a limited fashion. The same voices that rallied so vociferously for India’s development in the public sphere were as oppressive and restrictive in their private spheres as we can, or cannot imagine. Development was invoked where it looked impressive and was convenient, and was withdrawn where it wasn’t.

But the ‘ugly faces’ and manifestations of caste inequality and religious disharmony could not be swept under the carpet for too long.

II. Lopsidedness

Before long, they re-emerged, with the infamous assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu nationalist, and an ex-member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh- Nathuram Vinayak Godse. And this event, was only to be followed, by decades and decades of instability and re definition, for the better or for the worse, India is yet to tell.

In the following decades, India witnessed the breakdown of the erstwhile Nehruvian consensus, and was torn apart in the midst of an economic crisis- a disastrous failure of Nehru’s socialist model, which lead to unequal distribution of wealth and uneven income distribution. The middle class was the worst hit. Moreover, uneven development in various regions led to secessionist movements in various parts of India. To add to this, the mid sixties were characterized by violence that accompanied class, caste and communal animosities. Having come this far, sexual violence was almost synonymous with the other manifestations of barbarity. As a result of all of this, the Indian identity suffered serious crisis. Further worse, there was no binding, legitimizing force to bind the Indian state together, for the legitimacy claimed by the Indian state was crippling, and could not be claimed on past glories. Following the impasse from 1975 to 1977 and the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, Indian politics were entering the decade of the three big M’s, and ostensibly, one of the most volatile decades that were to be in the history that defines India today.

III. The Three M’s

First, the Mandalization of Indian politics, which took place in the late 80’s after V.P. Singh implemented the recommendations of the Mandal Commission which suggested that a fixed quota of all jobs in the public sector be reserved for members of the historically disadvantaged so-called Other Backward Classes.

Second, the liberalization of the Indian economy by Narasimha Rao and opening up the Indian Market to the global economy in 1991.

Third, the Babri Masjid Ramjanmabhoomi Mandir issue that created room for Hindu fundamentalism and right wing Hindu politics in the national arena after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992.

The phenomenon that resulted from the combined affect of the three M’s in Indian politics was multifaceted to say the least. Despite the static rhetoric existing in nauseating volumes in most commentaries and reports around us to date, the analysis done through a feminist lens is yet unheard of in many places and avenues of pedagogy, media and debate.

From here on, begins the feminist analysis.

 

IV. A Feminist Lens

a) Dialing ‘M’ for…

The three M’s created more social cleavages than those that existed in India in the earlier decades. The cleavages created by a liberalized market further entrenched the rift between the various classes in the Indian society, putting the middle class into further crisis. Not just by simply adopting an economic model that thrives on capital accumulation and class rifts where one class gets richer and one gets poorer, but because in such a system, the middle class is the system’s favourite target as potential consumers, investments and investors and as the capital in itself as a subsidizing force.

Capitalist development in agriculture and industry leads to landlessness of many, and of bursting unorganized sectors of workers.

Let’s complicate things further by considering globalization in this scenario. A country like India has an immense amount of labour capital, which is one of its fundamental assets. In the case of globalization and footloose capital, there is an increasing rate of migration of Indian workers abroad.

These factors lead to increased dependence on women’s work and a change in power structures such that many households are women-headed due to their male counterparts who have migrated internationally, or to national urban areas in search of work.

With increased consumerism and expenses, dowry demands go up in the Indian society, which further create situations for women to ear their own dowries.
In order to take up all these responsibilities and duties that would earlier almost go unthought-of, women begin entering male spaces, be it within households or in seasonal jobs and unorganized sectors.

With this changing nature of women’s work there arises a growing awareness among them and hence, an increase in women’s movements in India.

Women’s movements that took place at this time were of two kinds- one, that exposed the most extreme manifestations of women subordination, and agitating around them, and two, connecting more extreme forms of violence to structural problems. The latter trend was more subservient as compared to the former.

With women entering the public sphere and the entrance of new kinds of symbolism into Indian culture such as the beauty queen symbolism with choice becoming the new mantra, the Indian state faced a peculiar fear of their women becoming ‘un Indian’.

Hence, a state that is crippled in its legitimacy with the break down of Nehruvian consensus is threatened in terms of its patriarchy due to the changes that capitalism and liberalization of its economy have brought forward.

b) State Sponsored Religious Fundamentalism

This anxiety and insecurity that engulfed the Indian state gave birth to what is known as state-sponsored religious fundamentalism, where the ruling party creates ideological unity by sponsoring religious fundamentalism. This process leads to the state entering a reciprocal relationship with religious fundamentalism where the former helps legitimize and re assert the latter, and the latter provides ideological justifications to re assert traditional controls and provides ideological unity, which is conducive for the state to recover its legitimacy. This relationship results in creating a pan-Indian identity, which is based entirely on communalism.

What is so distinctive about communalism? Communalism is the political use of religion in conflicts over access to economic resources and political power. It is neither inherent nor primordial. There exists no single basis for a community. It is constructed and assumes a homogenous identity, hence ignoring other divisions altogether.
Communalism picks out a particular version of religion, which best suits and justifies its agenda and presents it as the sole, legitimate version, thereby dismissing all other and alternate versions and illegitimate and false. It assumes that since a group of people share the same religion, they will, by default, have the same interests. This forced identity becomes the basis of socio-political demands. Communalism emerges as a dominant ideology hence backed by the state.

Unlike pre-independence India, the middle class in post independent India battles upon issues, which are not even remotely secular. The situation is that of a volatile middle class, a genuine crisis of identities and a state, whose legitimacy is at stake. Communalism uses this situation as a perfect chance to resurrect the lost status of patriarchy by playing through the state. This is significant in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad taking the idea of Hindutva and giving it a pan Indian resonance.

Now the interesting question really is, that how can communalism succeed in breeding violence amongst groups that have lived so peacefully in the past? In order to do so, it has to be situated historically in relation to specific socio economic and political factors.

Communal consciousness rises in situations of insecurity and fear of loss of socio-economic status and the honor of women. Sexualities of women and the dominant national discourse constitute one another. Women become symbols, repositories and barometers of communal and national identities and their identities are constructed through multiple discourses of nationalism, sexuality, gender, community and above all, in the quintessential guise of patriarchy.

The fundamental question of control comes into the picture here. Asserting manliness and controlling your women is synonymous. Why? Because the control that a man has over his woman or his women is the only sort of control that he himself can regulate. Even if he loses his socio economic status, he will always retain the power to control his own women, and this is where his dignity essentially resides. This male egoism cannot be stripped off from him to the extent that threatening his women would amount to threatening his manliness.

At a time of immense economic competition, the middle class becomes the best target of animosities, which are actually entirely external to economic cleavages. The fear of the honour of the Hindu honour vis- a- vis his Muslim counterpart takes over. The Muslim man is portrayed as ever licentious and the Muslim woman- ever fertile. This is the birthplace of the much-perceived fear of Muslim demographics taking over Hindu demographics in India.  This is the core rhetoric of the saffron agenda as led by right wing Hindu fundamentalist groups over decades of Indian politics. The sheer anxiety that stirs similar Hindu consciousness is evident in the Hindu preoccupation with destroying the sexual organs of Muslim women in the Gujarat riots.

Hence, with women typifying tradition and culture, and being identity markers, it becomes imperative for men to control and protect their women from the potentially dangerous ‘other’.

Religious fundamentalism is a crucial component of communalism, it is lethal as it seeks to prop up and resurrect patriarchal controls over women such that the key essence in nationhood lies in women subordination and this has been evident in the erstwhile state complicity during events of communal violence and state sponsorship in the same at other times.

c) The Legitimizing Discourse

Communalism becomes a way of challenging multiple, diverse identities with the purpose of fitting them in accordance with itself and ways that it finds convenient. It pioneers a Hindutva-dominated understanding of the world and legitimizes socio political power on terms defined by it. With the question of legitimacy coming in, how does this understanding get legitimized in the first place? Through the legal discourse, which is official, autonomous, and has the reputation of being a universal tool, which is perfectly objective in its intent and is equally applicable to all. Communalism and religious fundamentalism seek to challenge the dominant meanings of legal discourse and re- define it for their own purposes. They seek to do this by displacing dominant meanings of legal concepts to re define these concepts in accordance with their own version. Significant attempts of this sort have been made time and again ever since the inception of the debate around the Uniform Civil Code and more so, after the Shah Bano Controversy.

Hindutva politics welcomes the version of secularism, which calls for religious difference, and tolerance of the same because it helps in favouring majoritarianism, a word that Hindutva thrives on. Any differential treatment would go against Hindutva agendas and hence, is tagged as violating secularism.  Differential treatment in the form of special rights is dismissed by the Hindutva discourse, whose justifications are more absurd than naïve. They include the understanding that Hinduism is a tolerant religion, and only a country that is based on Hinduism will be truly secular. As one sense even they were blindfolded, secularism is made to collapse into its anti thesis.

Further, Hindutva discourse is of the key assertion that although men and women are equal, they are not the same, as they have natural differences- natural roles that are different and they should stick to this. In this regard, political roles go way beyond women’s natural roles. Empowerment of women is welcomed, only if done in the best interests of the family. Anything that does not fit into this understanding or assertion would not be entertained; rather, it would be seriously condemned. Hence, employment of women can only take place in those areas, which do not threaten traditional roles. It is not hard to decipher that the Hindutva discourse advocates sameness. Not egalitarianism but uniformity, thereby seriously repudiating and injuring difference and diversity. To top it all, if one does not peacefully accept all of this, they are un-secular and threatening, and should be done away with.

d) Women in Hindu Organizations

The much discussed threats perceived by right wing Hindu fundamentalism to Hinduism led to many Hindu organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Manch and Hindu Ekta Manch (but to name a few) backing social upheavals. The state had begun sponsoring these organizations, which were highly authoritarian, male dominated, and paramilitary. The state’s changing stance as a result of their altered electoral strategy and other deeper factors began to stifle secular opinion.

Hence the state, religious fundamentalism and capitalism all began to co exist in India in a relationship that was rather harmonious. One provided subsidized labour for the other and the other re asserted domestic roles on women by relegating them to the unorganized sectors. Women became increasingly confined to patriarchy despite their working and getting educated. How? Because their progressiveness was celebrated as the progressiveness of their community. As a dutiful wife, a self- sacrificing mother who was a competent worker and well educated, it was welcomed as being beneficial for the family and the community. The new right emerged in India that was liberal in its philosophy but conservative in its underpinnings. It desired a neo liberal economy due to being pulled by the market’s seductive appeal while clenching on to patriarchy. It aspired economic modernity while restricting socio-cultural modernity and attempting to keep it far, far away in its effort to protect its duly threatened patriarchy.

With the increasing number of feminist movements on the one hand and capitalism often causing restructuring of authority figures on the other, religious fundamentalism encourages its women to be ambassadors of right wing politics, for in this way, she does not challenge the pedestal that Hinduism and patriarchy stand on. Rather, she contributes to the further codification of the two. Right wing Hindu fundamentalists channelized women’s energies towards causes that did not challenge existing power structures but those, that resurrected them.

Post emergency, the RSS gained legitimacy. It opened a sister organization which was to be run on women-participation. It was called the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti. The nomenclature of this sub-organization is purely intentional and bears serious connotations. Rashtriya ‘Sevika’ Samiti and not ‘Swayam Sevika’ Samiti because ‘swayam’ means self-help and independence, and women could not be granted that on any grounds. They were maidens of the nation- karsevikas. More interestingly, the RSS worked through the family, which was a patient, long-term strategy. The Shiv Sena opened to women in similar regard and involved them to perform highly ritualized roles, in accordance with what their male counterparts required out of them.

The Durga Vahini, which was the Bajrang Dal’s sister organization had a journal named Jagriti, which was devoid any rhetoric. It had inspiring, electrifying content and unlike the pacified, RSS woman, the Durga Vahini woman was militant, aggressive and was characterized by the famous slogan “hum bharat ki naari hain, phool nahin chingari hain”. The militant propaganda that has been replicated in the hate speeches of Sadhvi Rithambra Devi (which included conscious audio and video modifications to make many parts sound almost like war cries) come with no co incidence. The exalted positions given to Vijayarajye Scindia, Rani Jhansi and Satyavati further illustrate the rhetoric of virtues that is expected out of the performance of Hindu women.

As Manisha Sethi puts it, the ‘longue duree’ role performed by women across time and space in India is done so in a peculiar fashion. They are ‘avenging angels’ during moments of crisis where they exhibit due militancy, and then ebb away, returning to becoming ‘nurturing mothers’ in times where their militancy is not demanded.

During the Ramjanmabhoomi issue, the monolithic representation of an innocent Ram lalla and later on a militant Ram was of no co incidence. Ram symbolizes deprivation and this puts him very close to the erstwhile discussed emasculated, vegetarian, passive Hindu male who faces much threat from his ultra virile Muslim counterpart. Monolithic representation ensures that everyone can relate to versatile imagery and hence be moved by the propaganda for causes that Hindu fundamentalism has planned so consciously and deliberately.

The larger point to be made is that while all alternate discourses are vociferously dismissed, Hindutva is placed on a pedestal with no flaws of its own. Hindu fundamentalists have, through time, remained dormant on issues of human rights pertaining to Hinduism but have campaigned uninhibitedly against social issues existing within other religious communities such as polygamy and triple talaaq.

e) Conclusion

Finally, the question among feminists remains. Should women’s right wing movements be celebrated or not?

Perspectives towards the relationship between gender and religion vary in India. The typically Marxist perspective consists of the view that gendering communalism is a theme of distributing and justifying unequal power in the society, and rectifying this inequality only lies in doing away with it.

The second perspective, as shared by many feminists is that religion has to be rescued by patriarchy, and this can be done by re interpreting religion through a feminist lens, hence breaking the static rhetoric that religion has clenched on to for so long.

A third perspective, which could be said to be held by many apologists is that religion has proved to be a haven for many women in a society, which is otherwise so oppressive and restrictive. For example, for those women who wish to escape the never- ending circle of domesticity and their housewife-roles, religion offers a perfectly legitimate career option that the society would readily accept- that of a sadhvi or nun.  Hence, women’s participation in right wing movements might not be such a bad thing after all. It could provide to be a bonding-space outside the monotonous confines of the household.

However, these perspectives are by no means static or in water- tight compartments. They are shared in their entirety, or in mixed combinations across the length and breadth of India, through the depths of India’s social strata.

The whole question of a gendered identity is not primordial; it is invented, created, resisted and subverted at the fulcrum of multiple identities. Identities don’t exist in a compartmentalized fashion. They are worked to trump or to be subverted.

Women are united under patriarchy so much because they are seriously divided on other lines. Religious affiliation is politically inclined and it divides women under multiple patriarchies. Patriarchy is a wider social formation and hence, attacking it is not just a women-centric issue but one that is central to any agenda of social change.

A Compilation of the works that belong to:-

 

1)   Uma Chakravarti

2)   Manisha Sethi

3)   Amrita Chhachhi

4)   Kumkum Sangari

5)   Mary E. John

6)   Lata Mani

7)   Brenda Cossman

8)   Ratna Kapur

9)   Martha Nussbaum

10)                   Tarini Bedi

11)                   Rohini Hensman

12)                   Nivedita Menon

13)                   Tanika Sarkar

* Reminders of any authors that I might have missed are welcome, and will be added.

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Commentaries, Feminism, Opinion

Post 16/12 (a sequel to Tinted Windows & Exhaust Fumes)

Many say that feminism in India has re awakened after 16th December 2012. That feminists pre-16th December were a dying breed in India and world wide, that it was a thing of the past- that we live in a post-feminist world. Women’s movements in India, according to Ratna Kapur were challenged by five major factors. Most, if not all of these challenges had a long and persistent history of brewing in the Indian socio-political fabric. However, they manifested themselves categorically in a full- fledged (if not pan-Indian) way after the demise of the Nehruvian consensus.
The first challenge, according to Kapur, was that posed by Mandalization- India’s adaptation of affirmative action on the basis of caste-based reservations. This re instated the already existing cleavage between the Brahminical elite and upper castes from the rest of India. As it is, identities of Indian women were steeped in multiple differences. Caste in India, didn’t simply add to the already existing divides between women in the world, it increasingly gained the primary status as a social cleavage in the Indian polity. The categorization of Indian women as a homogenous entity was more complicated by Mandalization, since women of different castes seemed to have nothing in common besides the fact that they were women. Incidentally, this was not enough to cement them into a ‘sisterhood’ like many pioneers of feminism and human rights hoped it would.
Second- was the Babri Masjid- Ramjanmabhoomi issue, back-dropped by raging Hindutva politics, which highlighted the already widely held-notion that being a Muslim citizen of India was very, very different to being a Hindu citizen. That being a Muslim woman in India was fundamentally different from being an Indian woman in India. A similar manifestation of this communalized differentiation, which had victimized Sikhs, had reached a historical- high during 1984, as many Indians belonging to generations before mine would painfully recall. However, the religious differences between Hindus and Muslims was re instated, not once, but again and again post the bloodbath that took place during partition, in a series of deadly episodes throughout post-independence history- the most recent one being the 2002 riots in Gujarat, which had, among other things, communalized rape.
Third, and not hard to guess after the first two M’s of the 1990’s, was the liberalization of India’s Market and economy, when India formally entered the league of globalization. This liberalization and the adoption of the New Economic Plan almost instantaneously gave rise to aspirations of India’s ever-growing middle- class, which was no longer content with riding a Bajaj scooter to work. It aimed to transcend its current standards of living. India in the 1990’s was brewing. Things were suddenly very different, and would grow to be even more so, in the coming few decades. This economic thrust shifted the nation’s focus exclusively upon economic growth, almost manifesting into a second wave of Nehruvian consensus, so long as it hoped for modernity to prevail over everything else that fragmented India. Hence, the women’s question was largely neglected due to the limelight that the liberalized economy hogged up while hallucinating aspirants, particularly belonging to the middle-class, with new dreams and possibilities that the pretty faces of globalization had to offer.
Fourth, was the challenge posed by people belonging to alternative sexualities, namely the LGBTQIA- the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Indeterminate, and Asexual categories. The presence and increased liberation attained by people from alternative sexualities questioned the Universalist discourse of the category of women being an unproblematic, ‘naturally’ determined one. Universalism could no longer swallow up alternative and ambiguous identities like it had been in the past. There could be no universal movement pertaining to the ‘universal woman’ especially since a universal conception of womanhood wasn’t present any longer. The intimate friction between women and specificity had triumphed over the Universalist conception of womanhood and a movement pertaining to it in all exclusivity.
Finally, Modernization Undercurrent posed the fifth challenge, and many attributed feminism to be a feature of modernity whereby threatening the nation’s culture and traditional roots, that India was so proud of.
The five challenges to the women’s movement in India as stated by Ratna Kapur, accompanied by my commentary based on a historical, socio-political understanding of the Indian state clearly suggest that the challenges had resulted in two major phenomenon- one, the burial of the universalist discourse on women by problematizing the universal identity of women and acknowledging the fundamental importance of specificity; and two, as a consequence, and cultural adaptation of one, fragmenting the idea of who essentially was an ‘Indian’ woman. Her inter textual being- the complex matrix of identities possessed by the Indian woman that interplayed at various phases in various segments and sequence, fractured the possibility for India to have a pan-Indian woman’s movement.
Despite the various forms of violence inflicted on women- physiological, psychological, social, political, ideological, religious, cultural, the focus of the Indian state tended to shift to more ‘glaring’ issues, as already mentioned, and more so since India entered the globalizing world as a promising contestant. However, it goes without saying that the various social cleavages of the Indian polity cropped up in various manifestations at different points of time, while India rode the wave of globalization and development in a ‘post-feminist’ world.
And then, came December 16th, 2012- a chronological landmark as important to feminist discourse in India as that of 9/11 for America. A shameful gang rape was committed on a young woman in the national capital. Without being dismissive of the factual reality around the frequency of rape-cases committed in India every day or shall I say, every hour, 16th December galvanized the sentiments and energies that were building within every victim or potential-victim in India since a long time. One could say in all certainty, that 16th of December, 2012 marked, what we can probably call the most recent instance of strategic sisterhood witnessed by India. Strategic sisterhood refers to the tendency of women to converge at times of corresponding interests and causes, while diverging at times of inconsistency in the same, because history has proved the impossibility for women to automatically or permanently be sisters due to their specificities.
Strategic sisterhood manifested itself all over India, primarily in New Delhi, and in exception to it, the national capital, among other venues across India witnessed men joining the cause with similar, if not equal passion and responsiveness (although I am not particularly convinced about the moral inclinations of many men in the private realm. That, though, is another matter altogether, which I would love to mull over some other time). Besides a series of protests, and other forms of public reactions that set in motion after what happened on December the 16th, the nation slowly mobilized into becoming a part of a larger gathering- that of the One Billion Rising in South Asia initiated by Eve Ensler. With its popular slogan- to ‘Strike, Dance & Rise’, the One Billion Rising campaign was celebrated by New Delhi on the 14th of February, 2013- marking 15 years of the V-Day Campaign. On this determined date, women as a part of the One Billion Rising would dance together in order to show collective strength. The world ‘billion’ refers to the popular statistic that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, or about one billion. On 14th of February, an estimate of 190 countries participated in the One Billion Rising campaign in their various regional venues.
My short film essentially focuses on the reaction to the unfortunate event that took place on 16th December, 2012, that was indicative of the fact that it had shaken the nation and caused a national uprising, an uprising that was not exclusive to women alone. I have created a short film of about 20 minutes, which, after providing a brief glimpse of 16th December and the immediate response thereafter with the help of news clips, covers the One Billion Rising campaign that took place on Parliament Street on the 14th of February, 2013 with the help of video footage, subtitles, audio and video effects put together by me.

The link to the short film is :-

While the One Billion Rising portrayed heart-warming solidarity and the celebration of womanhood not by just women alone, but their male counterparts too (in a much lesser volume of course), the real concern lies in what follows thereafter. Is One Billion Rising just another ‘social fad’, or is it much more than that?
Shortly after having edited the final bits of my documentary, I happened to read a book by Naomi Wolf called ‘Vagina’- A New Biography. Apart from other pieces that I have read on female sexuality, Wolf’s work was novel in more ways than one. She had a whole new take on how we understand the vagina, and women and sexuality thereafter. Her work is supported by groundbreaking scientific discoveries, revisions of older conceptions of the biological aspects of female sexuality, as well as cultural history to establish an intimate link between sexuality and creativity, which is among other reasons that sharply distinguish women’s sexuality from that of men. Unlike the common rhetoric, she does not attribute these differences to socio-cultural norms per se, but to the basic making of a woman in biological terms, which makes them so different to men. Wolf explains (in much greater scientific depth of course), that while the ‘wiring’ (neurological, biological wiring) as seen in male anatomy is more or less similar, that as seen in female anatomy variant to such a high extent that each woman is distinctively ‘wired’, which makes her sexuality, and as a consequence, her being, unique. One of her chapters is exclusively dedicated to a revisionist understanding of female sexuality where Wolf claims that whatever understanding we have of female sexuality is out of date, and she claims so with much certainty.
What makes this book all the more compelling is its core argument- Naomi Wolf doesn’t simply give a detailed conception about the vagina in a novel way and stop. While the book unfolds, it steps deeper into the understanding that while sexual empowerment leads to high levels of happiness, hopefulness and confidence, a traumatized vagina leads to suppression and subdual of the woman, where she loses self-direction and a motive to truly live. She is internally shredded. Hence, raping a woman and traumatizing her vagina is a faster and more thorough method of breaking a woman internally as compared to most other methods of violence, and Wolf states the reason for this to be the vulnerability of the vagina as a mediator of consciousness.
In my view, Wolf’s conceptualization of sexuality gives my work appropriate theoretical backing. The larger part of my short-film covers Delhi’s response to 16th December through the One Billion Rising campaign. While there were many who felt passionately about the cause, and rightfully so, it is nevertheless imperative for them, and above all, for societies like ours to revise the perceptions and understandings we hold of women’s sexuality in the first place. Without that, an understanding of the dynamics of rape are inevitably incomplete. Rape is often denied its subjectivity and is often understood in dangerously broad connotations. Speaking of which, violence itself is understood as merely physical. The more ‘subtle’ and indirect forms of violence that exist even in the most advanced societies where there have been problems with no names, serve as the causative roots to physical violence such as rape and sexual harassment. Unfortunately, such variations of violence are harder to pin down and grasp in statistics, owing to their covertness. Despite these serious challenges, the most elementary solutions often serve to be the most effective. In this case, it is a revised understanding of women’s sexuality and thereby of violence. It is by no means easy, especially since it commands constant negation of beliefs that are so firmly entrenched in our levels of consciousness, perceptions and ideologies. It commands constant interaction, reflection and revision of our understandings of sexuality and violence, and accepting and further understanding their connection with the overall being of women in their physiological, psychological, cultural, ideological, political, social, economic, racial, religious, ethnic, and most important and causative of all the rest- their biological specificities. It is only after understanding these specifies that we can accept and acknowledge the differences, variations, and details that go into making every woman in this highly populated world truly unique and if I may add with all certainty, SPECIAL.
The One Billion Rising Campaign, while acknowledging the uniqueness of every woman, also celebrated her liberation through the act of dancing, which in itself isa liberating, sexual, and in Ensler’s words- a ‘dangerous’ act, that does away with inhibitions, boundaries, and largely- does away with hierarchy. To see so many people dancing in such an uninhibited manner made me smile at every instance that I held up my camcorder to record them.
While many people present at the venue were cynical about the effectiveness of the OBR, a large number of optimists, including myself believe that women-only spaces, or spaces that are utilized to liberate women in any kind- directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, momentarily or lastingly, are essential in order to keep the feminist energy flowing and growing. Spaces like the OBR re energize feminists and enable them to step out and fight in a society that is so deeply entrenched in patriarchy, even if they have to carry out their agendas as individuals. It charges them with hope and reminds them that they are by no means alone, and every milestone along their journey is worth rejoicing, especially because their victories serve as a collective tribute to the cause of feminism.
It is spaces such as these, which, despite beginning in their establishment as gender-specific, become gender-neutral sooner or later and explain how being a feminist is not limited to women, because to be a feminist is to realize the essential worth and value in the equality of men and women. It is feminist to de-stabilize, so long as patriarchy is stable. It is feminist to de- legitimize, if legitimacy is attained at the cost of freedom. It is feminist to break- free, if holding on means bondage to an institution that dismisses women as any less worthy than men. If men are intimidated by feminism, I am almost entirely certain that they are unaware of what feminism really stands for. What they have grasped so far, have been ugly distortions that have been created in careless chinese & japanese whisper. Having said that, it was still delightful to see a small, but significant number of men joining in with the flash mob and with the campaign by and large. (I am still doubtful in what their reaction would be though, if they were complimented on being part of the strategic sisterhood? Would there be any exceptions to men feeling emasculated? Food for thought).
The extension of the OBR campaign of 14th February was on 8th March- what was recognized as the International Women’s Day. NGO’s and organizations called for a ‘take back the night campaign’ at India Gate starting at 9 p.m. This segment of the OBR was no match to the main event that my documentary covers for several reasons. One- many women must have been constrained due to the ‘late hours’ (with all due cultural specificity) of the protest. Two- it possibly signified the fizzling of the OBR effect. Three- like the OBR, this movement was poor in notifying people. There could be and are various other reasons for the poor turn out on 8th of March. The next landmark is said to be on May 1- the International Labour Day. It would be unfair to be cynical of the nature of its turnout so much in advance. However, it is my optimism that keeps me from being cynical. Needless to say, stark realities stare all of us in the eye. What matters the most is, how we respond to them in order to alter them through our collective actions and strength.
Covering the One Billion Rising Campaign on the 14th of February provided me with unique insights into the nature of the movement and the re birth of feminism itself as many call it in India. I, personally do not believe that feminism ever suffered a demise to be re born. Instead, I perceive the genesis of feminism in continuum, which extends right up till the present second. In my understanding, feminism was not extinguished by mighty currents by any means. At best, it is appropriate to say that it lay dormant in the backdrop of a turbulent, changing and emerging India. While there have been many more changes than the rudimentary ones that we often find in accounts of blatant apologists of the Indian state, what no political scientist can possibly miss is the endless flux that took place and continues to do so in all political societies, that very much include those like India.

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Commentaries, Feminism, Opinion

Tinted Windows and Exhaust Fumes

Let’s spare the political rhetoric of liberalism and women empowerment and blah blah blah. Let’s get down to the point without beating around the bush. The National Capital. 9:00 p.m. The so called ‘posh’ south Delhi paved in the Lutyens way. Malls propping out here and there. Christmas lies a few days away, festivity is in the air. A few men take a “joyride” in a tinted bus. (How “sweet”!)

A girl, like any other of my age, is on her way home from a movie, accompanied by a friend. How does it matter as to where she’s coming from, which locality she stays in, what her background is? She’s a girl. And that’s enough to make her vulnerable? What followed is something that needn’t be discussed. The fact that the brutality of the rape reached a new level altogether and its after math is tangible enough. It has shaken up the entire nation. News channels, blogs, e-mails, petitions, messages, Twitter, Facebook.

Take a moment off to think to yourself. How many “unrecorded” rape cases exist, which might have been carried out in similar brutality and ruthlessness? While that’s another story altogether, let’s get back to what NDTV and similar channels are featuring right now. “Enough Is Enough. End This Violence”. Parliamentarians’ interviews, candle light marches. Infuriated people. The nation is brewing in yet another social issue that has constantly stares us in the eye. Violence against women. Change.org and similar petition drives celebrate rape cases being fast tracked. But is that the end of the road?

Violence against women exists at all levels, and needs to be dealt with in more ways than one. I know it’s easier said than done. But it’s the truth. Besides it’s extreme manifestation of rape, violence exists otherwise too and is not so hard to decipher. Eve-teasing, ogling, harassment at work, are just a few other manifestations of violence against women. These are things a girl is familiar with, regardless of being educated in feminism. I bet every girl who lives in Delhi NCR and many other parts of India has experienced walking past men- in groups as well as in solitude, who don’t miss the slightest chance to ogle at your rear profile. This is not violence carried out in a conscious state-of-mind. It has become a MENTALITY.

A mentality of trivialising women, and more specifically, when they seem vulnerable. A mentality which is all about the chalta hai attitude. A mentality which revolves around exerting your masculinity at the expense of someone’s dignity or even their life. A mentality which by-passes the heinousness of the crime, because- ‘how does it matter? It’s no serious crime. Its “bailable”.’ A mentality which is not too far away from driving a person into cold-bloodedness. And ofcourse, irrespective of whether you are a fruit seller or a bus driver, there is some one you know, whose someone’s someone ‘ki pahunch bahut upar tak hai’. The jugaad mentality. Above all, its a mentality which holds no fear towards the police, the legal system or the society. And mind you- its not just the “Delhi mentality” as many people call it. Those very people also state what I have so often heard- that a girl in Mumbai can be out at 3 a.m. and be assured of her safety. What is “Delhi mentality”? Not that I’m defensive of it or I hold any personal sentiments due to which I am offended by the statement or anything (Like many other inhabitants of the capital, I myself come from a “non-Delhi NCR area”). Getting back to my point- Delhi itself, like other metropolitans of India, is composed of people coming from all parts of India- north, south, east west. So what makes Delhi “Delhi”, is its cosmopolitan character! If it’s a “Delhi Mentality”, as painful as it may sound, doesn’t it bear any odds of being  reflective of a “National Mentality” or “National Mentality in-the-making”? This mentality has received scattered reactions here and there, but with this landmark event (that no Indian would be too proud of), the nation has awoken to produce a very powerful political response, which doesn’t seem to, and (I hope it doesn’t) extinguish very soon.

Like many others, I am an optimist. I believe in this political response of the people of India- men and women, the young and the old alike, is marking a start. But I don’t stop here. Its optimism bound by practicality. Being realistic as much as I enjoy the hope “to bring about a change”. It’s a question, that time will answer. In a nation rampant with gruesome rape cases and monkey-parliamentarians, with headless chickens pointing fingers at one another and running in deformed circles, the political activism of the people seems to be a silver lining. But then what? If Sheila Dikshit expects “calm” representatives to engage with her, the question is- what is there to be so “calm” about? Definitely not in confiscating bus-licenses. This is not a time when protestors can be cowed down with water cannons. They want a response. They want action. And rightfully so. It is undoubtedly a challenging extremity that the government has to encounter. But what is even more challenging is the forthcoming legal action and its implementation.

When will our run come to an end? When there is FINALLY a solution because there doesn’t seem to be one which engages with the aforementioned “mentalities”. I couldn’t agree more with the popular statement “Don’t tell your daughters not to go alone; tell your sons how to behave.” This is one of the only ways to tamper with and change mentalities. Its high time we began, and the best beginning, alongside the appropriate legal reforms, is to begin at the roots. While ofcourse this sounds utopian, it highlights our political, socio-cultural realities. Because legal structures, as unfortunate as it is, are still lack substantiality. They might deter such crimes but I’m afraid they can’t put an end to that mentality that looms as large as the smog over the capital on a winter morning. Deterrence is ofcourse a start, but by no means an end. Its just so hard to decipher what the ‘apt’ deterrent would be for such a heinous crime, which murders the victim- irrespective of whether she makes it after being assaulted or she doesn’t. While a strong deterrent like chemical castration impinges on India’s liberalism, we all know the baggage that accompanies life-long imprisonment- “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Fast-tracking rape cases is a start but by no means the end. It doesn’t and most definitively shouldn’t stop here. It is mentalities we are talking about, which cannot be put down in statistics.

In the end, we still remain who we are and what we want. I am a 20 year-old, a third-year at the Delhi University who lives in “south” Delhi and am honestly afraid to drive around in my own car (which is equipped with an automatic central-locking system) even during the earliest hours after sundown. I want a city, a nation, where no one has to be afraid to step out unescorted (or escorted in this case) at a particular hour and place. Who is it we fear? What’s worst is- it’s not tangible. Its not a person- a particular auto- rikshaw driver, a man sitting on the road, a gang of thugs, or the even most courteous salesman or boss. Its the mentality we are afraid of. And its beyond “high-time” to do away with it.

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