Commentaries, Essays, Kindling, Opinion

Dear June: A Letter for Pride Month

Image source: http://www.blog.netapp.com

Dear June, 

When I was 22, I remember attending a lunch wearing a black hoodie that had a famous Oscar Wilde quote printed on it. At the restaurant, my uncle told me how he detested the quote and everything associated with Oscar Wilde, because ‘that blighted Wilde was a faggot’. I remember gasping in order to maintain the decorum of my favourite hill-station’s favourite restaurant. I sat quietly while picking at my garlic lemon butter trout with my fork, just the way I did with my pasta when my cousin asked one of our brothers to avoid wearing pink because ‘oh my god, he looks so gay in pink.’ Just the way I sat sipping my empty glass of lemonade when an unassuming elder repeated the f-word (used earlier by my uncle) to describe musical maestros like Freddie Mercury and Elton John.

It wasn’t just on these three incidents that I maintained decorum by focusing on doing something meaningless with my excessively fidgety hands. This habit goes back to my school days, when any two peers with a sense of intimacy were termed as gay as if gay were a cuss word. Atleast for us school kids, it was. And for those of us who refused to become more gender aware, gay and lesbian are still cuss words used as one of the most sure-sought ways of instilling shame in the targeted person. Interestingly, the validity of this claim had little to do with a person’s sexual and/or emotional orientation. It didn’t, actually. In fact, it turns out that being anything that failed to correspond with the present society’s definition of being ‘straight’ or heterosexual1 was something that one had to be deeply ashamed of, if not self- obliterating. Not just heterosexual, but heteronormative, if you will. Could I reason this to be a general reason for you being celebrated as Pride Month? To dispel (in instalments) the cumulative amount of shame that is brought upon the majority of the global populace for not fitting into neat labels, boxes and definitions as per heteronormativity’s assumed taste? 

Every year when I read June newspapers over breakfast as an undergraduate student in Delhi, I would spot pride parades. In other words, the robust and vibrant parades that the more privileged dissenters of heteronormativity2 participated in (mostly) worldwide. The faces, their smiles, the rainbow flags (and not to mention, the dazzling costumes that the bolder segment of the parade donned), all unanimously spelled out ‘freedom’. The rainbow specifically shouted out to its onlooking/ scowling or worse, denying populace that failed to conceive each colour in the spectrum of existence due to their oversaturated monochromes of patriarchal social conditioning. 

As you know June, ‘homophobes’ is the analytical term used to refer to the more radically conditioned populace that arrives at a visceral aversion vis-a-vis non-heteronormativity. Logically then, this term implies their sole characteristic as being ‘homophobic’, which can be defined as a phobia towards all things non-heteronormative. You know why this extended definition is important? Because while my anti-Oscar Wilde uncle was averse to a renowned artist solely on the basis of his homosexuality, my cousin was averse to our brother’s choice of dressing for being non-heteronormative (possibly because for prudes throughout the better part of history, pink is a girl’s colour. Never mind that pink was the preferred shade for boys and blue for girls3, because doesn’t that serve the same binary that you and I denounce? Perhaps I’ll leave this for another part of the letter.)

Now a person who is less fond of June might ask me why I am over-reacting to banal comments on Wilde and pink shirts. 

Because, those are the slightest discriminations against diverse identities that go pardoned,  unapologised for, or even unnoticed. 

Because, those are statements that well-educated and gentrified persons of modern day societies continue to make despite lending a hashtag to #LoveisLove.

Because, these were or are the parents who are sending their kids to homophobic (nevertheless homosocial4) schools to graduate into adulthood and repeat the behaviour of their parents, relatives and friends. 

Because I, and many like me, are tired of the usage of derogatory words to rattle the self worth of any identity that chooses, or even dares to be different. Because we are tired of the constant threatening and even terrorising treatment offered to any ambivalence around heteronormativity.

And most of all, because we are beyond tired of being subsumed for being fluid in our nature and choice of our existential expressions.

As a kid, I remember being labeled as a tomboy for preferring jeans over skirts, Lego over Barbie, sports over makeup and Eminem over Spice Girls. My teenage gait didn’t have the girly hip swing, and my pubescent self began to slouch due to being conscious of my recent developments. Apparently, they didn’t go too well with my ‘sporty jockishness’. And yet, I was fond of applying French manicures, straightening my hair, and got my young heart broken by doofus teenage boys.

Even now, I often perceive myself as tiptoeing deftly on the shores of androgyny. For example, I fasten the longer flicks of my cropped hair with a shimmering pin. On days that I don’t have corporate meetings to attend, I am found in oversized spectacles and plain t-shirts that are flanked by indie pants. My dressing ritual ends with a casual pinning of earrings and a smear of lip colour, in hues that range from subdued nudes to the boldest shades of scarlet. I enjoy musky colognes as I do fruity splashes, and focus on maintaining toned biceps despite failing miserably at performing basic pushups.

What does this hopscotch game amidst so-called binarisms make me? 

They make me who I am, and it is in this fluidity that my essence finds its home.

I was not exempted from the brigade of seemingly benign comments made by close as well as random people such as, ‘beta, it’s so nice to see you become all girly’ ; ‘you’ve cut your hair too short’ ; or ‘you would have been such an eligible boy, if only…’ The lack of validation accorded to my nuanced androgyny did leave me feeling confused about my identity, and at times, frustrated. Overcoming the need to conform to several binaries does originate from a certain amount of privilege, and that is an undeniable fact. But it also arises out of an ongoing internal battle wherein these binaries are vanquished, little by little every day.

My contention against these binaries gained additional zeal when I began to increasingly realise the futility of their artificial imposition.While at LSE, I heard Butler say that gender is nothing but an act of doing, or performativity that is assigned to us from the moment our birth is heralded with- ‘it’s a boy!’, or, ‘it’s a girl’. From that very moment, it is either this way or that. The pursuit of gender justice that unites Butler with humbler selves like me is our mutual wistfulness for a time when birth announcements sound more like, ‘it’s a boy/girl unless (s)he chooses otherwise!’ The finality of birth certificates becomes terrifying to those like us, who’d rather opt for a provisional one that can be revised later by a more evolved and informed version of our adult selves.

Oftentimes, my supposed idealism has been flouted as a bandwagon of western modernity. Those who are more well-versed with the diversity of Indian culture and heritage would agree with me when I say that heterogeneity is unapologetically Indian in its foundations, as is modernity. The temples of Khajuraho, Mahabharata’s Shikandi, the legends of Ayappan, Mohini and Brihanalla only form the tip of a colossal iceberg that swells me with pride for its ancient acceptance, but also pains me for its more recent shunning by the rudimental combinations of imperialism, capitalism as well as patriarchy.

Now keeping in mind your celebratory pretext of LGBTQA pride, I do not mean to undermine the urgency of diverse self-expression making itself more visible through each subsequent June. However, I also wish to bandage an over presumed affliction that rhetorically places a homophobic lot of the society as ‘villains’ against an alienated queer populace as ‘victims’. There are two flaws in this assumption. One, that it is impossible to put an end to binarisms with yet another binary. Two, and more importantly, because this is a redundant mechanism of division.  I’ll tell you why I say that. According to my naïve understanding, gender justice has little to do with vindicating queer identities and avenging homophobic myopias. Rather, the monster that deserves our unanimous fight is the homophobe as well as the queer victim that we carry within us due to the uninterrupted conditioning of heteronormativity wherein we eat, breathe, sleep, and essentially, live. 

Even though my privilege and lived experiences make me more gender-sensitive, I am not a morally upright exception to the conscious or unconscious denouncements that we as a pre-conditioned society make towards fluidity and deviant identities. There are times when the homophobic villain in us takes the subtlest precedences amidst the best of us. And it is this constant internal conflict that I find to be the cause of our alienation. This alienation resides in the very sophisticated boxing of our own fluid selves, as well as everything that we happen to interact with or know. For, how can water be boxed without ice trays?

So June, I end with a thank you for patiently enduring my musings that find more concrete expression with the unfurling of your rainbow flags. But before I sign off, June, I leave you with a crucial endnote that I hope for you and your successors to pioneer. This endnote revolves around an important observation that Amartya Sen shares when it comes to identities. He refutes one’s identity as being a source of accidental discoveries and instead, points at conscious choice as its fountainhead. In other words, we are not passive victims of  stagnant identities that we happen to discover. On the contrary, we are active agents of our constantly evolving identities that we harbinge through choice and mediation in multifarious situations of constraint. But then again, which choice is made in the absence of limitating circumstances?, asks Sen. 

In a nutshell, the presence of never-ending contingencies doesn’t take away the cardinal existence of choices that we are entirely responsible of and accountable towards.

Since you advocate the freedom of diversity more than any other month, I welcome you yet again with the earnest hope of leading each one of us to reclaim the choice of being who we are and how we conduct ourselves. I welcome you yet again with a pledge to continue the uncomfortable, yet undenyingly worthwhile quest of self discovery and self truth. As the world continues to be gripped in the fangs of a dreadful pandemic, I welcome you yet again as the month of freedom and diversity. I hope for you to usher it to a more sincere, accepting, and liberating means of existence. May you end after weakening the impostors within us, and undoubtedly, the biggest impediments to our own freedom.

Sincerely, 

Your fan. 

Footnotes : –

  1. A person sexually or intimately attracted to people of the opposite sex (only sex, not gender). Source : Google dictionary, italics mine.
  2. A term related to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation (and conduct). Source : Google dictionary, italics mine.
  3. 1918: Smithsonian on magazine Earnshaw’s Infants Department (stated in Vintage News by Khadija Bilal)
  4. Relating to social interaction between members of the same sex. Source : Google dictionary.

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Opinion

A Note of Historical Prudence for My Fellow-Audience of Bhansali’s Padmaavat

Drowned amidst the post-Padmaavat cacophony created by several Indian cinema-goers across social media, I’ve been collecting my thoughts over the past couple of days before writing this piece down. I sincerely attempt to express my views without giving away too many spoilers to my beloved friends who reside in states that joined the ban-wagon of Padmaavat. To my consolation though, the online ranters and bashers of both, the film as well as communal identities have already exposed the intricacies of the film without any disclaimers, for, despite belonging to the largest film-seeing audience of the world, they clearly seem to lack some basic discretionary ethics. For the lapse of their ‘usools’, I apologise to all those whose buildup has been wrecked by random flashes of cinematic details in a desperate attempt to prove some points that reside all too comfortably in certain bubbles of ignorance. For the sake of many of my friends who reached out to me discomforted by the ongoing social media outrage against their collective memory and identities, I write.

Nidhika Jija, Sarika Naheta and Abhishek Narendra Singh, this is specially for you.

Veer Bhogya Vasundhara.

Ho hum…. *a crack of knuckles* and *a quick rubbing of palms*

**********

My dear Fellow-Audience of Bhansali’s Padmaavat,

I wish the rubbing of my palms produced a djinn that would magically take you through a recap of yourself unveiling your cinematic experience of Padmaavat. Your reclined, seat-kicking, popcorn-spilling, air-conditioned guts booked movie tickets through an enhanced smartphone application at a meal-combo deal far too easily, to avail 2 hours and 44 minutes of Bhansali’s creative magic through a sensibility so distorted that it makes me cringe.

I’ll wait till you read that line a few more times to aptly grasp. If only Bhansali had run his already slowly-read disclaimer a few more times for the likes of you to muster.

Too bad.

Let me repeat it for you. I promise it’ll just be the basics, considering your limited attention span.

The film Padmaavat is introductorily and outrightly claimed by its filmmakers to be a creative work of fiction based on Padmaavat, the poetic works of a sixteenth-century Sufi poet, Malik Muhammed Jayasi.

When?

To your anti-climatic dismay, 224 years after the historical death of Alauddin Khilji. (Yes, the dude that Ranveer Singh portrays.) Thank you.

In other words, while Jayasi situates his poetic content within Khilji’s invasion of Chittor (circa 1303), in no way does his creative work claim to represent any factual intricacies of battle and conquest between the Delhi Sultanate the the Rajput battalion of fourteenth-century Mewar. It remains, at best, an imaginative story dominated by a specific historical context.

Oh, wait a second, did I just burst your bubble?

Yup, that’s right you tube light, although Rana Ratan Singh’s army was vanquished by Khilji, he didn’t factually die while urging Khilji to keep better ‘usools’ or principles with arrows stabbing his back. Worse still, there’s no way of historically verifying the slightest chance of this scenic precision because back in the day, em’ folks were thoroughly invested in their affairs unlike more contemporary ones such as yourself, who might witness accidents, thefts and even a zoo animal eating a man alive while recording, or worse still, taking a selfie of yourself within the frame of the respective spectacle.

Just spare a moment to self-analyse your over-entitled self as it enables you to make casual convictions of “fake Rajput valour” just moments after standing through the national anthem, an exercise that you had earlier complained to your friends as “fake patriotism”, but readily indulged in anyway, because of course, none of us want to get lynched. But hey, you sure make a handsome spokesperson to demarcate what is fake and what is authentic, in histories that your knowledge has barely strayed close to, let alone be a part of.

As I said earlier, I cringe at your unprecedented levels of hypocrisy and historical ignorance.

Scratching your scalp and straightening your smudged spectacles, you ask, “so did Padmavati actually exist or not?!”

This is hardly the point to be debated here, because what really matters is that Padmavati/ Padmaavat/ Padmini has known to and continues to not just capture but also sweep collective imaginations such as ours through a spectrum of situational discourses. As illustrated in the works of those such as Ramya Sreenivasan’s The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen, mythic heroines such as herself have displayed the constantly-shifting narratives of culture across the eras, just as the notion of Sita has, through the three hundred Ramayans that have been told and retold as long as India can remember. From portraying poetic love to heroic valour and sacrifice, more anti-colonial undertones in the past construed the cultural imageries of those like Padmavati and Sita to act as symbols of a blatant resistance against colonial supersession.

I sense your cinema-struck eyelids drooping at this brief sociocultural lesson, so I’ll come to the more practical aspect of this point without further haste.

Just the way Rana Ratan Singh played the male-custodian of Chittor and his dynasty, so did Rani Padmavati, as his female counterpart. Where one defended his kingdom with a sword, the other did with a blatant and ferocious act of personal resistance. While this stands unacceptable and a crude denunciation of human rights in our times, may I remind you of its historical placement in a situational era wherein one stood outnumbered and overpowered at the mercy of their merciless enemy, with their fate lying in between the devil and the deep sea of burning embers. Surrendering to the enemy meant perpetual enslavement and endless exploitation. In this terrifying confrontation of one’s eventual peril, self-immolation sufficed as a less devastating alternative. To my liberal sensibility, the historic cases of sati and jauhar resonate with the dire need to protect oneself when all other means of defence have given way. And in that narrative moment, the agency that actively exercises self-immolation over surrender is as powerful as it is gets in the artistic vision of a filmmaker such as Bhansali, who is known to romanticise death through his various directional works such as Ram Leela, Bajirao Mastani, Guzaarish, Devdas, Black and Khamoshi. Indeed, it’s a pity that in the very moment that Bhansali dispensed his artistic creativity with a mandatory disclaimer, your responsibility elapsed you.

I must confess that contrary to my flamed curiosity vis-a-vis Bhansali’s Padmaavat, I was slightly disappointed after watching it. In my opinion, Padmaavat fails to find its place amongst Bhansali’s finest works, with his recent makes such as Bajirao Mastani and Ram Leela far outdoing it in terms of script, technique, music and direction. However, for the sake of Padmaavat alone, I must marvel the relative unease with which you conveniently and almost unflinchingly mock it as a historical gospel of sorts to validate Rajput honour, valour and pride. On the contrary, to me, Padmaavat depicted, in good intention, an epic clash of two contrastingly personified moralities, strung together in a thematic portrayal of love, seduction, deceit, courage and undying resistance.

Too bad that your myopic sphere of vision only delved as far as Ranveer Singh’s toxic masculinity (I give him full-points for his path-breaking performance).

Too bad that Shahid’s usools didn’t spring out of the screen and expose its midriff to you.

Too bad that Deepika’s agency was too medieval for your confused modernity.

Coming back to the Ramayan, go ahead and ponder over why Sita holds two blades of grass (as Ram and Lakshman) that are powerful enough to defend her from Ravan’s wrath. Those two blades of grass were metaphorical indicators of the boundless resilience that an unarmed Sita bore against Ravan’s seamlessly draconian powers, which were rendered hollow despite his numerous victories, similar to Khilji’s in this equation.

Without doubt, the personifier of evil in Bhansali’s narrative, namely, Khilji might have attained forceful victory over Chittor, but he could never muster enough power to conquer Chittor’s people, because such power in the face of their courage and morality did not exist.

Before I wrap this up, spare a moment for a small exercise. I promise it’ll barely last a minute and costs just one matchstick.

That’s right.

Ignite a match-stick, bring your pinky finger close to it. Close to it. Now hold it over the flame, let it touch you.

*sigh*

Your reflexes made that pinky retract faster than Ranveer’s lunge in Bajirao’s Malhaari. As a matter of historical privilege, your fortified, first-world-problem-ridden-self is only far too displaced to even remotely fathom an act of self-immolation. No, I am not quoting some fancy historian from Oxford. Take that from someone whose very own family bears historical records of sati.

In my ancestral home, there is a gate or prol (as it is called in our native language) that is dedicated to the numerous occurrences of Sati that took place through our ancestresses during war-stricken times. It is believed that women undertaking the act of self-immolation had to often be intoxicated with the help of opium and frenzied by beating drums and chants to create a compelling façade that aided the ghastly act of self-effacement in the name of pride, honour and strategically speaking, defence.

Let’s go down a few generations to India during partition.

My grandmother, who belonged to present-day Kashmir’s Poonch locality, tragically recounts having spent a part of her childhood with a cyanide pendant around her neck. During their summertime refuge in war-torn Lahore, she and her siblings were strictly instructed by their elders to hastily down the venomous contents of their pendants should their then-communal rival break into their domestic confines. “To choose a death more honourable than at the hands of your enemy was the utmost responsibility that we spent relying on, every breathing second”, she expanded. Why am I citing these examples to you?

Because, living in relatively peaceful times, it becomes increasingly convenient to forget where many of us came from. We came from wombs that bore the good fortune of being spared the enemy’s sword and flames of sacrifice. I am not trying to put a convenient conclusion by saying that I/ my family knows greater suffering than you/ yours. Suffering is suffering at the end of the day, and a superficial attempt to out-victim the other is a tool of the logically-weak. In my view, humanistic contingencies, especially those exuding suffering, foster our utmost historical prudence.

Even though your good judgement might have gone on a democratic joyride short cutting to free speech and expression (and for your sensationalist self, why not), my humble prudence urges me to delve deeper into a liberalism that is as appreciative of artistic freedom as it is skeptical of narrative kitsch. And yet, neither does that make me morally superior to you, nor intellectually. Neither does it make me a proponent of feudalism, nor an opponent of democratic dissent. It just makes me a little less entitled, is all.

So to your opinionated polarity and sad disappointment, I don’t justify the occurrence of present self-immolation by any means. But I do, nevertheless, pay a deep thought to the endless acts of suffering and sacrifice that historical contingencies might have countlessly created, and pay mindfulness in my gratitude for being spared that fate because truth be told, I, too would instantaneously withdraw from that glistening splinter, knowing just too well that my intolerance towards a mildly flickering flame isn’t a matter of preference, nor prudence even, but that of unprecedented privilege.

Good night.

Sincerely,

Urvashi Singh

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Commentaries, Opinion

An Open Letter to Ms. Sara Hussain

On the 3rd of January, 2018, Ms. Sara Hussain, a senior writer of an online media forum known as Homegrown published an article titled, “Why Do Indians Insist on Keeping Royal Titles Alive?” I write this letter to her in genuine response, humble esteem and noble (oops, that might sound as if I am making a royal association), *scratch*, good intention.

Dear Ms. Hussain,

I am slightly unclear on whether you’re annoyed about a news-surplus of frivolous titles; or over the excessive fascination that Indian citizens continue to associate to modern-day royalty; or that Martand owes you some missing fountain pen; or all of the above.
Anyhow, let me treat these reasons in unification and begin.

Before I do, I would like to thank you for providing me the opportunity to wake up and shake up my grey cells on a dull January morning in the smog-smothered capital of India. I will also clarify that due to the inherent ambiguity of written tones, it is easy to misread one-another as cynical and reactionary at so many levels nowadays. However, like most believers of reasonable dialogue, I believe in constructive critiques and not criticisms, so please bear this in mind should you wish to spend your worthy time reading the rest of my piece through.

READER DISCRETION: for the sake of narrative and analytical convenience, I have divided my letter to Ms. Hussain into four sections. I apologise for the length of this piece in advance, which, despite my best efforts to remain concise, has spilt over in a worthwhile compensation to Ms. Hussain’s extensive and slightly perplexing set of convictions.

PART I. Historical Obfuscations

In case you’re not as fond of reading the Indian Express as I am, I’d recommend you to dig through its online archives to find the opinion column of the 24th of October, 2017 by Audrey Truschke. In her piece titled Taj and bigotry, she writes, “the Indian subcontinent has a long, rich history, but the Indian nation state has had a quite brief existence to date. When people conflate the two, they lose the bulk of Indian history and end up making nonsensical statements.”
Pardon me for seemingly implying that your statements are nonsensical, but my humble discretion perceives your article to be compressing a history as extensive as India’s into the stifling confines of 70-odd years of just the Indian nation state, as if it were so easy to absolve it of its thoroughly nuanced, almost shadow-like past. And worse still, your meticulously jotted-down chronological acts and Prime Ministerial legacies form a rather careless conflation of history to validate a media-related annoyance.

Coming to think of it, it’ almost uncanny as to how things come full circle.
Just last year, I had responded to a historically inaccurate and mildly inciting piece written by Mr. Kuldeep Samra on WordPress, titled The Royals of Cuckooland (unfortunately, Mr. Samra’s original piece cannot be accessed anymore since he independently conceded to my rebuttal by taking down his post. However, you can read my response through the link that I have provided at the end of this article). Coming back to the point, while Mr. Samra’s piece was far more naïve and careless than yours if I am to make an analytical comparison, I would like to re-iterate an African proverb from there which says, “until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter”.

The history of the Rajputs, if I may bring to your kind notice, far predates the Nehruvian and Gandhian eras. Belonging to the Kshatriya varna of India’s caste system, it comes as no surprise that Rajputs bore a negligible volume of self-accounted histories. In fact, the most (and probably only) concise account that we possess on ourselves was written by an East India Company officer, Lieutenant-Colonel James Tod. It is 2018 and yet, we continue to rely on the extraordinary contributions made by a well-meaning Scotsman that were published as long ago as 1873 by Higginbotham & Co. in Madras. Our collective reliance on a singular, antiquated piece of historical non-fiction can be attributed to the simple fact that unlike the Bombay, Madras and Bengal presidencies, the erstwhile princely conglomerate of Rajputana lacked their equivalent of an integrated Bhadralok, or anything that even came close to a similar literary stature.

That said, there are a few notable personal memoirs no-doubt, but by no means would these qualify as concise histories to provide an internal account of what went on when the glorious acts banning royal titles and privy purses were passed in pre and post-independent India (you could even span back to the Policy of Annexation, Doctrine of Lapse and their various predecessing acts that our school books enlist in abundance). If you looked past your media-saturated news inlets, in an old dusty archive shelf somewhere close to the Presidential estate, you may come across some personal testimonies of our ancestors and ancestresses being locked up without warrants while their privy purses and familial treasures were being translated into multiple decimals in a statesmens’ Swiss bank account (again, no points for guessing).

Wait, but why am I telling you all this?

Because, my Dear Ms. Hussain, belonging to the same millennial generation as me, I would trust your post-structuralist faculties to be comprehensive of the fact that you and I are destined to read fractured accounts of history that are, partial at best. So by all means, you must have done your history teacher proud, but the very subject is in itself limited by what stands documented, by whom and for whom.

I will not make the slightest hesitation in offering you due credit for at least addressing the systemic debunking of India’s princely paraphernalia as breaches of contract and broken promises that remain uncompensated to this day, because they were precisely that. However, I won’t waste time indulging myself in wishful thinking for history to have played out differently in ways that would earn my community your validation. I have made peace with a useful insight offered by Shashi Tharoor wherein he states, “one cannot take revenge upon history; history is its own revenge”.

Why?

Maybe because bearing resilience without seeking pointless revenge is a virtue that has been historically habituated into us Rajputs, and as a matter of fact, into us Indians in general, whose country has been witness to the subsequent rise and falls of so many dynasties (I hope for this shared acknowledgement of resilience to portray me as more democratic for your liking.)

PART II. The Political Economy of Royalty

It would help your annoyance to a great extent if you applied this very logic to the way that we consume news and media today, the very content of which seems to have motivated your article. In a capitalist world, we live in the most consumerist of times where, as you rightly said, there exists an unprofessed media ‘hype’ over the most unwarranted of topics. Indeed, there is far too much content- produced, re-produced, overproduced to the point of insipidity, at the cost of over-used and exhausted data , accompanying false notions and stereotypes. Since you assumably pass off as an active consumer of tabloid news and media, I urge you to consider a direct and very simple insight from someone who belongs to both, the media industry as well as India’s Rajput community (my apologies for not acquainting myself to you beforehand).

Simply speaking, as a result of commercialisation, consumerism, capitalism (and an entire shebang of terms that I could hurl at you as a social scientist but would choose to save for another time), several identities, histories and hell, even familial customs as sacrosanct as marriages suffer from an external commodification of sorts.

Difficult to grasp?

Let me put it in another way.

A cardinal rule of economics states that in order to be successful, companies make commodities out of and trade what ‘sells’. In similar logic, branding their products as per popularised and fantasised notions of existence fortifies the ability of companies to ‘sell’ their product(s) far more effectively, in the same way that capitalism sold itself to the world when it did. In urban societies such as ours, and it could be said for most postmodern urban societies of the world, the glamorised notion of royalty ‘sells’, just as say, Ayurveda does. This continues to be the case for most industries, with the media and film industries being the most convenient points of reference. Much to your disappointment, I won’t moralise this issue at all, as I am well-aware that we all have bills to pay. So if a harmless, fantasised notion helped someone, who cares? No problem, I would think.

Let’s take this a notch higher.

Who cares even if these fantasised notions make charades out of a diverse and historical community, at the cost of their inherent stereotyping? Who cares that, ironically enough, those playing these charades (your ‘nawabs of nothing’) are entirely different from those selling them (the media)? Who cares about the class-based reverse-discrimination and pre-conceived notions/ stereotypes that the ‘nawabs of nothing’ battle in their day-to-day lives for no fault of their own?
You see, this is precisely where the problem(s) begin(s), Ms. Hussain.

One of my favourite gender scholars, Judith Butler calls this ‘the citation of a norm’, wherein the facades of one’s identity are promulgated by those around them, in their repeated hailing as a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, as manly or feminine. In similar regard, the entire edifice of titles that your sensibility seems plagued by could be credited to a bustling political economy of film, media, as well as societal imaginations and fantasies where royalty ‘sells’.

PART III. OMG! Are You A Princess?: A Metamorphosis of Identities & Stereotypes

As I had written to Mr. Samra last year, “my community is as royal as you make (or unmake) it.”
If I could get a dollar for every time I’ve been asked “omg! you’re a princess??” just because I disclosed where I came from, I’ll leave you to do the math.

Growing up, shy that I was anyways, I learned to be so conscious of my regal roots that I metaphorically became that school kid who hadn’t polished her shoes. Standing in line to be checked, I would brush aside my familial background at the back of my socks in order to blend in with the other kids until recently, when I realised that being privileged and acting entitled could be two entirely different things- it was simply a matter of choice. And that I had the right to be proud of my familial history, just as you are of yours. That I had the right to be unapologetic about living my life, while choosing to live as a responsible, law-abiding and tax-paying citizen of the country, just as you might be.

I can assuredly say that I’ve never felt the entitled need to correct someone calling me  “Urvashi” to call me out as “Princess Urvashi Singh of Khimsar”. Since Mriganka and Martand happen to be your schoolmates, I trust you to check with them on the same and can almost instantaneously predict that theirs would be the same answer. You see, Miss. Hussain, in full agreement with your observation of them in school, we all had a perfectly normal childhood, with a small (and yet, determining) difference.

And the difference was, that we lived a life of dual existences- one in the city, and one in our place of ancestral origin. These were two different worlds- one where the modern Indian nation state resided, and the other, where bards of battle, songs of blood and sword are nostalgically taught upto this living day. The city- where we polished our shoes and blended with a sea of children; and our ancestral thikanas- where it had been blasphemous for our grandparents to even bend to tie a shoe lace during their childhood.

Every year, when Delhi is rife with its Diwali taash parties, my family and I return to our ancestral village to reunite with our fellow residents in what we call ‘Rama Shama’, a bi-annual meet and greet ceremony that comes around Holi and Diwali, where we exchange sweets, saffron water while asking and being asked about one another’s well-being. Relational bygones (if any) are dissolved in good faith to pave the way for fresh beginnings. Year after year, we go back to customs such as these, and then return back to the city, embracing the best of both worlds.

Well-aware of the rapidly changing times that we live in, we were taught by our parents from a nascent age, the importance of gaining a footage in the modern world while balancing our familial heritage with utmost responsibility and humility (read humility and not entitlement). I am not trying to brag, but my community possesses innumerable examples of financially-privileged families who do not require any modes of formal employment to ensure a stable source of income for their entire lifetimes (despite seized privy purses and scattered farmlands due to the various land-ceiling acts). They’d be perfectly comfortable reclining with a silver spoon in their mouths, nestled in their family’s bygone glories of pre-independent, pre-integrated India.

But guess what?

The face of Dia Color that you see is a tiny spec of Mriganka’s larger existence, which would also include an active role within the Delhi Society for the Welfare of Special Children. As for Martand, he bears a professional background in PR and has also immerses himself in the Dogra youth politics of Jammu and Kashmir. They are both passionate travellers, Mriganka is particularly fond of equestrian sports and motorbiking.

If you’d allow me to delve a little bit deeper, Mriganka and Martand’s grand fathers- Dr. Karan Singhji and late Madavraoji Scindia, who need no prior introduction, have carried institutions in themselves, as have their grandmothers, i.e., late Vijayaji Rajye Scindia- a prominent political personality; and late Yasho Rajya Lakshmiji, who was a pioneering philanthropist of her time. Their continuing generations, which include the present-day Kashmirs and Scindias are too immersed in balancing their careers, personal lives and acts of goodwill to derive a leisure-time of asserting titles. The list of the people you mentioned goes on, but I choose to particularly account for these two people as I’ve grown up alongside them and in front of their family, and it pains me to think of the stereotypes that have been accredited to them, again, for no apparent fault of their own.

PART IV. The Perils of Armchair Idleism

You drew a fine line between the good-for-nothing, over-entitled royals on the one hand and the good, philanthropist and dissolving royals on the other, all so easily. If only it were so simple, Miss. Hussain. Just a note of discretion: we do not live our day-to-day lives as they come to be portrayed through Hello! and GQ. With all due respect to such credible and highly-reputed publications, these are deliberately-planned and executed branding strategies that cater to specific media algorithms. A temporary intermission from your armchair idleism to span through the lengths and breadths of our glorious nation would help you grasp certain familial, political and sociological legacies that have far-outlived the trials and tribulations of the Indian nation state, its constitution and the various acts that have come to presently be known. If and when you end up there, please consider telling the present-day rural voter to cast his vote without voting his cast, to which I console your disappointment beforehand.

Welcome to the India that popular media is yet to duly authenticate and glamorise.

Also, isn’t it ironical as to how, no-one seems to have a problem if a Jain’s marriage is arranged with another Jain, an Aggarwal’s to an Aggarwal, a Parsi’s to a Parsi, but that a consensual, intra-community Rajput marriage is blatantly stereotyped as a deliberate echo of exclusionist elitism? So yes, you’re right, feudal titles have been legally-dissolved, and privy-purses seized, but the associated (and equally-feudal and entitled) stereotyping and bigotry seem to have only just begun.

However, we still won’t lament, whether it is about being on the unfortunate side of history or being the rightful recipients of an immense moral debt that the Indian nation state owes to our families. Because we have let bygones be bygones. It is the 21st century and as proud citizens of post-independent India, we’re all contributing towards our nation’s GDP and thriving in our professional sectors, because we recognise something known as self-respect.

Another side note, should you wish to open your esteemed readership of commendable Rajput youths of today, your biased view points might be pleasantly surprised by the content that I bi-annually publish through a magazine known as Rajputana Collective. The lions are learning to write (and be written about) after all 

Lastly, no offence but your statement: “levels of celebrity that we so easily prescribe” made me laugh a little. Are you trying to say that Dhinchak Pooja is deserving of stardom? Trust me, we have more pressing matters at hand that are genuinely detrimental to our democracy, Miss. Hussain.
As I said earlier, it is what ‘sells’. And what ‘sells’ might convey more about the buyer than who is, and what is, selling.

Sincerely,

Who cares?
Just another ‘Princess of Nothingshire’

PS: Only because you mentioned the Padmavati/ Padmavat issue (for what reason, again I am not sure), I offer you a small nuance with my sincere compliments: a reactionary right-wing Rajput group known as Karni Sena has taken up this opportunity to gain political footage on a national platform through the deliberate ignition of communal sentiments. Most of us don’t even know them or associate with them. In fact, we’re rather keen on seeing the film in the true, unbiased spirit of Indian filmography. Should you wish to read my opinion on the issue, its link, too is pasted below.

USEFUL LINKS : –

1) MS. HUSSAIN’S ARTIClE

https://homegrown.co.in/…/why-do-indians-insist-on-keeping-…

2) MY RESPONSE TO KULDEEP SAMRA

https://www.missmalini.com/…/girl-best-response-publicatio…/

3) PADMAVATI ARTICLE

https://urvashisingh.wordpress.com/category/commentaries/

4) RAJPUTANA COLLECTIVE FACEBOOK LINK

https://www.facebook.com/rajputanacollective/

Homegrown #homegrown

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Commentaries, Opinion

Lions & an Insecure Herd of Sheep: My Views on the Padmavati Film Controversy

Earlier last year, when I launched my public response to a generalising and historically uninformed post over the contemporary Rajput community (which also served as the trigger post to have started Rajputana Collective), I was reminded by several commentators that “lions didn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.” I hereby make a gentle re-iteration of the same in times when we need to urgently preserve the wise difference between self-assured lions and an insecure herd of sheep.
To begin with , I have shared the link of a well-documented and historically- sound argument made in #Firstpost about the consequential results of Rajputs being on the unfortunate side of history across the various eras of time. Playing on similar nuances as my Masters’ thesis that was based on mythified anxieties triggered by fundamentalist politics (link pasted at the end of the article), Ashraf pays due acknowledgement to externally-triggered complexes and anxieties that are levied onto present-day communities in order to advance political motives that have little to do with them.
Being what I determine as a reasonably informed and educated person of the Rajput community, it has taken me much time and deliberation to voice my opinion on the Padmavati issue. Not because it wasn’t my responsibility or that I belonged to a distanced lot of spectators, but because it is too much of my responsibility to guard my people against rapid anxieties and sensationalism, neither of which belong to us.
The manner in which the Padmavati film controversy has played out over the past few weeks raises two very simple questions : –
a) Since when did we, as an ethnic community require external warranting for our valiant histories?
and
b) Are our perceptions of Self so fragile that they could be dislodged by the creative imagination and commercial exaggeration of a Bollywood film crew?
As a film-loving 90’s kid in India, I have grown up obsessing over the classic list of Bollywood’s over-the-top dramatisations (historical and otherwise)- be it Bharjatiya’s stifling family dramas that my naive pre-adolescent self once swooned over; or Johar & Chopra’s commercial rom-coms that are responsible for most of my romantic misconceptions; or the man in question- Bhansali’s overtly artful narratives of history and/or drama. What I can commonly say about Bollywood’s versatile genres is that I enjoyed their characters, filmy songs, dance numbers and dramatic quirks (and may I add, kitsches) that fortunately & unfortunately belong to Bollywood as some of its key characteristics.
To put it in simpler words, my blatant appreciation/ acknowledgement of Bollywood’s limitations & excesses are attributed to one overarching paradox- the political economy of commercial film-making, a.k.a. ‘the box-office success’. Which simply means that commercial film-making is focally dependent on the numbers and eventually, what sells at a larger level is all that really matters (aren’t all commercial enterprises about what sells at a larger level?). This fact is neither new nor surprising to a populace that has bred the largest film-making industry of the world.
Recent cinematic trends display the irrespective and often even thematically irrelevant addition of a Badshah or Honey Singh-led number as a deliberate strategy to gain greater ratings from their tremendously populated and monied fan belts. The same principle applies to voyeuristic fantasies of Sheila, Munni, Jalebi Bai & Baby Doll (I’ll let a new age item song in a horror movie do all the talking for you). Several endorsements and counter-litigations, such as Fevicol, Jhandu Balm (and the list goes on), again point to the unparalleled importance dominated by the commercial success of a film. Speaking of Bhansali’s films, the creative maestro has skills that bear far too much sophistication to bank on cruder instruments such as these. That said, even with a director of Bhansali’s stature, his films’ central dependence on commercial success could be moralised at several levels no doubt, as is the case with Padmavati.
Sure, even I pointed out the aesthetic inaccuracy of the film’s Ghoomar song video, which fundamentally contradicts the customary restraint that Rajput queens exercised in their discretion against joining dance ceremonies, especially in the presence of menfolk. Further, several ghoomar experts would argue against the choreographic inferiority that Bhansali and his crew have accredited to the dance act. Even in general, Padmavati’s official movie trailer aroused my curiosity towards the manner in which Bhansali would depict Khilji’s obsession towards Rani Padmavati. In opposition to Khilji’s ruthless deceit and plunder of her kingdom, Rani Padmavati’s legendary act of inspiring and conducting a mass self-immolation/ Jauhaar ceremony made her go down in Rajput history as the epitome of honour, courage and dignity, and rightfully so. Rani Padmavati is, has been and shall remain an immortal legend for all of us. Which, once again reinforces my questions: “since when did we, as an ethnic community require external warranting for our valiant histories?”; and “are our perceptions of Self so fragile that they could be dislodged by the creative imagination and commercial exaggeration of a Bollywood film crew?”
Bhansali’s depiction of the historical drama that is inspired by the legend of Padmavati is most likely to default vis-a-vis the accuracies that we demand. In what measures, remains the question. In owing my cinematic sensibilities some reason and patience, I sincerely believe in the common-sensical practicality of forming a more concrete opinion of the film once I have watched it. After all, how long can we go on arguing over visual and theatrical content that we are yet to fully access? With the legal (and sometimes dubious) existence of a supposedly-accountable apparatus for film censorship (the CBFC), my optimism lends their faculties the due wisdom of balancing freedom of expression & creativity with the protection of heritage & culture.
Moralising creative imaginations and commercial exaggerations of Bollywood, however, isn’t even the issue here. Open but uncompromisingly peaceful dissents (hear hear, our dearest Karni Sena brethren) are paramount features of a democratic society just as much as freedom of expression & creativity are. The issue that disconcerts me is that my community is falling prey to overarching political agendas, whose hegemonies fundamentally depend on reactionist sensationalism and collective anxieties. Over the past few days, as the admin of Rajputana Collective’s Facebook page, I have received several videos made by fundamentalists vowing to hack off Deepika Padukone’s nose, break down halls screening Padmavati and what not, in bids to join their angry voices. The defenders of these violent protestors would justify their actions based on comparisons by fringe elements of fellow religions, hence validating their anxieties by similarly-triggered anxieties. But here’s the myopic catch- in playing out simultaneously, violence does not become right. Rather, it serves as a multitudinous reminder of the same political manipulation being carried out through different religions, sects, factions and communities.
Through what was an erstwhile issue of censorship over creative accountability at best, we as the Rajput community are presently contending with a direct verification of perceptive communal identities. Sure, protestors bear every right to express their disapproval vis-a-vis the graphic representation of their histories. Online and offline media reflects some very interesting and constructive debates over the matter. However, the indirect sanctioning that this issue is providing fringe elements with to outrightly vandalise their surroundings and threaten their fellow-citizens; and the silent leniency of the higher order makes me shudder a little bit. As much as I hope against it, I see my community getting enveloped into the advancing Saffronisation of democratic India. In situating a virtuous Hindu kshatriya kingdom against an ultra-virile and licentious Muslim aggressor, Bhansali’s film has already done the homework for the vulturine instigators to trigger the anxieties of mensfolk who possess little historical or academic familiarity to begin with.
By the virtue of bearing greater educational and informative privilege, we as a readership are levied with a burdensome, yet vital imperative of sanctioning our voices with utmost responsibility and awareness. Whether or not Bhansali’s film diverges from our historical legends is by no means a yardstick of communal virtue. It is, at best, a dramatic re-telling from which we can enjoy taking as much, or as little as we wish. That, in my humble opinion, is the power and beauty of being a cinematic audience. And for the time-being, keeping in mind the highly limited cinematic content of Padmavati that I have had the opportunity of accessing, I take away what Deepika Padukone as Rani Padmavati re-iterates at the end, “Rajpooti kangan mei utni hi taakat hai jitni Rajputi talwar mein.” Bearing strength and resilience in every grain of our existence is a claim that is believed to have been promised by the shero herself. Her posthumous valour deserves more dignity and discretion than we are presently accrediting it with.
(courtesy: Aanchal Singh)
To read my bridged Masters’ thesis https://wordpress.com/post/urvashisingh.wordpress.com
To view the official trailer of Padmavati, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_5_BLt76c0
To view the song video of Ghoomar, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cKErCWrb44
To contribute your opinion on the Padmavati issue for the Opinion section of our upcoming edition, kindly write to mail@rajputanacollective.com, we’d love to hear from you!!
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Opinion

Deepika Padukone’s “My Choice” video: Is popular dissent missing the point? 

Similar reservations notwithstanding, I’m choosing to opt for slightly different approach while unpacking this video. This was a piece of art that has several discontents, which have been lavishly mentioned by most. From what I understood of it, the very grain of this video comprises of choice and agency. The choice to diverge. The choice to disagree. The choice to differ. The choice to skip validation altogether. To morally filter what these choices comprise of is to miss the point, if I may add. What conditions these choices? Let’s take a popular example. A woman choosing to have sex outside her marriage is a statement that moves notably away from explanations indicating helplessness or being compelled to do so, or worst of all, downright denial. Choice, as spoken about in this video, is downright honest and confrontational, with others, but most importantly, with the self. Most often, we avoid self confrontation regarding the choices we make, which even involves a denial to call it a choice! Who are we fooling? At a very subliminal level, this video clip grips reality by its horns and throws our deepest inhibitions face-up at self-confrontation. And my careful choice of the word subliminal is a careful implication of my observation that this piece of art is being read in a manner that seems to have become a habit- of compulsive critique in ways that are way too predictable and often regressive for the sake of constructive debate. The very decision of whether this video serves an empowering purpose or goes two steps in the wrong direction never existed in the first place. For, the very beauty of choice lies in the power to differ, and confrontation is the root where choice emerges. Bon nuit 🙂 

Deepika Padukone in the Empower video

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Opinion

Some thoughts on liberalism

I am often part of dinner-table conversations that span across a wide range of topics- from politics, education, cultural debates to sports, films, censorship and what not. What I mostly find is that the debates form several factions, ardently voicing their opinions with discursive undertones- liberal, more liberal, less liberal, but seldom blatantly ‘conservative’. It seems as if liberalism has been in vogue for a while now, so much so that its brand name generally overshadows our understanding of it. Many, who self-brand themselves as ‘liberal’, probably do so because liberalism offers the most evasive route to the argument. It allows for so much to be taken for granted and passed unexamined.

Are we exempting liberalism from necessary interrogation? Is it doing us more harm than good? Does it really matter? Here are some of my thoughts.

I. Dichotomies

Perhaps, one of the easiest concepts of communicating with one another is through the crude mechanism of dichotomies. At our nascent best, we are taught the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, black and white. To simplify our understanding, we are taught that a dichotomy is based on a mutual exclusivity of one from the other. As we progress ito ngreater academic sophistication, for example, as political scientists, these dichotomies persist, and manifest as polarised ends- one of the most popular ones being liberal versus conservative thought. In this case, liberalism and conservatism are defined in conflicting terms. Imagining liberalism away from its duality with conservatism becomes difficult, or may I say, inconvenient. It’s not very long before liberal and conservative are placed on two opposite ends on a scale. We frequently place ourselves along this scale in varying affinities: left, right or centre; or right of centre or left of centre. Liberalism and conservatism become two normative ends on an infinite scale, which determines where our inclination lies, or at least where we qualify it to lie. Throughout this process, liberal and conservative are those two opposite ends whose paths will only progress to greater infinities, and never cross. By default then, the coupling of liberal and conservative is unimaginable, or so I had believed, until recently.

Before I really begin, I’d like to clarify what I mean by liberal thought. I am not going to discuss liberalisms’ nomenclatural or historical account. Nor am I delving into the liberal functioning of governance or economies. I am pointing to a state of mind, a professed mindset, a state of being, a mode of thought and perception that are often branded as ‘liberal’. For example, when one says they’re quite ‘liberal’, they’re consciously divorcing themselves from orthodox stereotypes of their cultural systems and regional or/and national images (depending on the conversation and context). I would understand it to be an attempt to imply one’s open-mindedness to new and/or different ideas, concepts and expressions. Liberals explain themselves, often in contrast to the conservative way of thinking, which liberals would brand as orthodox, conventional and extremely cautious to (and often unwelcoming) to change. Those who identify more closely with conservative thought, would retort to such profanity and call the liberals too impulsive and mindlessly favourable to change. These common conceptions become parts of our mindsets and perceptions towards liberal and conservative thoughts. In similar context, I will dare to make one generalisation- that the liberal side far outweighs the conservative in terms of the favour it receives in classrooms and pseudo-intellectual debates. The liberal versus conservative debate takes us to another tangent altogether, for which I have little enthusiasm as of now. I am not close to dismissing the tremendous potential and glamour commanded by liberal thought. The triumph of liberalism has been testified monumentally throughout recorded histories, and deservedly so.

II. Progress

For the sake of this article, I am writing around a very specific conceptional dichotomy between liberal and conservative- the one we often use to reason out change, the liberal drive for it, and the conservative caution towards the same. In fact, the entire concept of progress, in order to be distinguished from change, highlights the centrality of liberalism. That is, change could mean that A has turned into B, but does not necessarily imply that B is better than/superior to A, as does progress. How do we define ‘better’? In its crudest form, ‘better’ is defined in terms of liberal superiority. Something that helps promote greater freedom, equality, and a life worth living than what was previously permissible/affordable. It is progress’ fixity to liberalism that makes us exempt liberalism from necessary interrogation. Conservatism, on the other hand, is entitled to no such perks. While conservatism indicates our roots, liberalism indicates our wings that will take flight. While conservatism reminds us of our past, liberalism points to our tomorrow, the future that we envision as closer to our end dream than today. This is one prime example of our attachment of the two concepts to two places that are forbidden to interact- yesterday and tomorrow. Our virtue of being human, of being vulnerable and hopeful at the same time, makes us less likely to interrogate our present with the intensity that it pleads for. That is, what has driven us here? Has it merely been our open-mindedness and progressive outlook? To a large extent, yes. May that be celebrated every now and then. However, for reasons more necessary than we often understand, we have been as conservative as (if not more than) liberal. Which means, progress is not solely necessitated by liberal mindsets. Progress is the incidental outcome of the coupling of what we have frequently understood as ends of two opposite infinities- liberal and conservative thought. Progress is the outcome of a balance that we are successful in striking, between liberal thrusts and conservative restraint. It is the destiny we create while being magically innovative and fix it into our ubiquitous contingencies. If our liberal imagination weaves a utopia, our conservative sensibility literally conserves that utopia and withholds what we deem to be meaningful. Evidently, I am still working around liberalism and conservatism in a subtle dichotomy, but I realised the futility and falsity of placing them at polarities.

III. Balancing excess

Here’s another hypothesis that I am working on, and correct me if I am wrong. Excessive liberalism, when unreflected upon by oneself, leads to its regressive antithesis. For example, if I am an ardent believer in concepts that seem benignly liberal to me, and if I vociferously press for these claims as a dispensation of my right to be liberal, I am likely to be absolving myself of crucial self-checks in the process. The “forced to be free” ethos that frequently accompanies the operating system of Western Liberal democracies seems no different, at a basic level atleast. Similar patronising is rampant in the feminist discourse, and the sharp upsurge in post colonialism and post structuralism to denounce such condescending ethos is well known. In my humble opinion, liberalism is to be saved from feeding its own discontents. One effective way of doing this is by adopting the art of positive skepticism within the liberal discourse. Positive skepticism involves thinking critically, inquiring, and a deep questioning of what has seemed to be ‘obvious’ so far. In other terms, a blatant refusal to absolve the ‘obvious’ of any checks.

Maintaining liberalism in duality with positive skepticism results in the perseverance of liberalism in the same direction, rather than becoming its self-limiting antithesis as is the case with excessive liberalism. In this equation, balance is key: the excesses of liberalism get duly balanced by positive skepticism.

Positive skepticism can be utilised to its maximum potential at a self-reflective level. When one’s liberal reasoning is posed with important self-checks, not only does it help save liberalism from its retrograde excesses, but it also helps one reason out the meaning of occupying a particular set of discourses as opposed to others. What emerges is the identification of several merits and demerits of this discourse versus another, and a critical engagement to reason out what one decides to hold on to. In similar regard, such critical reasoning also denies the prevalence of any sort of absolutism. In some ways, critical thinking helps open one’s mind to the limitations of what they decipher, helps bring the realisation that the world is yet to find an unblemished discourse in its finality and totality. Liberalism then, is of no exception. Hence, positive skepticism helps one identify the excesses of a discourse, in this case liberalism, and ways to advance without feeding these excesses. The adoption of positive skepticism, in my belief, dawns upon us the realisation that to be a liberal requires a lot more conserving than the pun may seem to indicate.

To summarise then, I make three broad points. One, that the liberal- conservative dichotomy needs to be moved past, and can turn regressive if hung on to. Its theoretical potential notwithstanding, much can be gained by seeing their mutual conditioning. Two, the idea of progress can be used to highlight this mutual conditioning. The same can be said in reverse- this mutual conditioning can be used to make sense of how we understand progress. Three, that a liberalism in excess is nothing but its very own antithesis. Genuine liberalism is necessitated through constructive restraints, my suggestion being positive skepticism.

Sure, there are intellectuals who pursue liberalism with great responsibility. I hope for many more to follow suit, and more importantly, to devise more ways of interrogating liberalism. For, the contentment derived out of constructive interrogations far outweighs the futile search for liberalism’s telos, and the wistfulness thereof.

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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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Opinion

This thing called ‘LOVE’

I’m not going to baffle you with statistics here. Nor am I going to brag out some facts and figures that I just dug out of the internet (Google, to be more precise). Because it doesn’t need any. Almost every second (if not every first) bollywood song, numerous legends and bits and pieces of our own lives, and ofcourse, how can one forget, the much beloved 14th February every year reminds us of this four lettered institution called LOVE.
While the world marvels over this feeling called “love”, I’m mostly unsure about what kind of love they really agree upon and talk about. While I’m not skeptical about it and am certain that we all end up being hopeless romantics in our own small and big ways, love often intrigues me, to say the least.
While love is one of the most powerful feelings in the world, which is said to have made many over come their worst fears, made them cross all boundaries and bridges to reach out to the ones they love, it has set them free, made them come alive, it is also the reason for so much injury and destruction. Infact, without us noticing even half of it, a lot in the world is destroyed in the name of love. Hearts are broken in the name of love. Again, I am not being a cynical. I am trying to think about instances where love is as destructive, if not more, than hatred is. An oxymoron? It might just be much more than that.
This world would have been a better place, if love just came without any baggage. The love that takes one’s breath away. If it were as exciting, charming, and all the lovely words that you know. But with love, comes this sense of possession. And often, love begins to thrive on possession. Strangely, I have been thinking of the connection between love and possession a lot. What kind of love is it, when one wishes the other wasn’t happy in their absence? I get it, possession is a human vice, or whatever, but isn’t that being a little selfish? Why are we so scared to love selflessly and unconditionally in a way that we are happy if that love spreads around the world and meets people who need it but don’t have it? (I might sound like a wanna be John Lenin from the Beatles singing Imagine in most parts of this blog, but just go with it :P)
We as human beings live our lives in such oblivion that we forget how hatred exists in abundance while love is still scarce, and by adding possessiveness, in small doses, ends up in stifling the little existing love that there is in this world? Why is it that “true love” has to be proven with material possessions? As I grow older, I am nauseated by the amount of time and energy that is spent on buying things to please a loved one (nothing wrong with that gesture) but I have a problem with the fact that while we all get richer, fatter and more prosperous to be able to buy more and more to please the ones we loved, we turn into bigger animals in our basic thinking and wavelengths. We tend to lose our sense of compassion. This ofcourse is not so simple and is connected to so much more than just possessive love.
For most people that exist today, “free love” (yes, the one that Bob Marley sang all through his reggae career), is just a utopia or something “cute” to smoke cannabis over. When I think about it seriously, it is something revolutionary, to say the least. Because free love, means love without possessiveness. And possessiveness, according to me (and with all humility, I could be completely wrong through this whole funda and might even feel stupid and delete this blog someday).. Where was I? Possessiveness. Possessiveness doesn’t come out of the blue, does it? It’s rooted in this deep sense of insecurity that we all have about ourselves. That we might not be good enough, and we might not give our loved one reason enough to stay with us. We might give them more reasons to quit on us, and walk out on us. So, we clench on, and are so afraid of being left alone. We begin to get possessive because something deep in our sub conscience continuously pinches us and tells us that someone else out there is better than we are, and they would give our loved one more reason to be with them instead of us.
And the funny part is, we pass our entire lives, barely noticing such a big insecurity even exists. Do we even question our possessiveness? Mostly not, because doing so, would be uncomfortable, it would take us to places unknown within our own minds. Our own insecurities are what we are most afraid of, and even though a Coca Cola commercial stated that love has more google hits than fear does, the sad reality really is, that love most often thrives on fear of losing, which, on a milder note, is possessiveness.
We are so often challenged by the society, to keep correcting and conforming ourselves to it, that we forget to challenge it in return. Since I promised not to blind you with statistics, I’ll stick to it by simply putting across a question to you. When you sit through a couple of TV commercials, or drive past several billboards, it is amazing that one doesn’t notice it, but most of them tell us how to look (in terms of what to wear, or how to groom ourselves). This is ofcourse a successful marketing strategy. But what does it structurally debase? One’s self confidence when it comes to defying conventional norms set out by the society. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard about stories where a boy or a girl has lost considerable amounts of weight to please their partner, who was otherwise ashamed to ‘be with them’. Youngsters of my generation are limitlessly running behind ways to look a particular way. If it boosts their self confidence, I am all for it. But sadly, it isn’t so simple. It comes from the same insecurities I wrote about a few lines ago. It is this insecurity that we aren’t ‘good’ enough. And whichever way that equation tilts, in most relationships tagged under LOVE, one is subjugated. Many understand this as compatibility. But the part where I have a problem with it is that while one thrives with over confidence about themselves and are under the illusion that they share a relationship with a person who is perfectly compatible with them, they are doing so at the expense of the other person’s self confidence and the other person’s entire character and personality slowly stifling every minute, and it isn’t necessary that the latter is aware of it. However, this equation plays through their psychology over years, and one can’t even imagine the havoc that is created in the aftermath.
Ever heard of people who are physically and emotionally unattached? They are often people who have, in their past, shared such a relationship with someone, and then their world fell apart. What is it worth, really? Initial possessiveness creates some sort of attention and excitement, this feeling of being wanted or something. I think I get it. But there is this THIN line between that and what turns love around by a total three sixty degrees, robbing it of everything, its essence, its meaning, its significance, everything besides its name itself.
I am again being a socialist utopian but when the problem is so realistically complex, the only solutions that are really viable are so in a utopia. If we all escaped being told how to look, what to wear, how to behave, how to walk, talk and eat, besides other things we would escape the need to match up to a normative measuring rod, and in doing so, we would escape the fear of “not matching up” or simply “not being good enough”. If we could be the way that we are happy being, and were not afraid of who we were because no one judged us on those pretexts, this world would ofcourse be a simpler place, and we would be simpler people, with lesser insecurities if not none.
Now, you might wonder, that what is my point really, or what is the point of all of this? The point is, that, in this long time span called life, we all hope to fall in love. Some of us find it, or think we have found it, and some of us ceaselessly explore to find it. In some way or the other, we have it. Infact, the relationship that is controlled by love controls us in more ways that we can even imagine. But when it comes to us controlling love, we do so in the most insecure ways. So, reflect inwards, ask yourself who you really are, and be grateful to what makes you you, because no one else can be more youer than you (inspired by Dr. Seuss), and when you are assured and re assured about that, or even partially so, help the one you love to be happy with who they are too. They don’t have to be anyone else to be loved. Help them be less insecure and more grateful for themselves, as you are for them, as you are for the both of you. The day you come over the insecurities you hold about yourself, you will overcome the insecurities you hold towards others and towards the relationships that govern you. And that day, from that instance, you will be free (or well, freer at least). So.. spread the love, and spread the joy, there is so much more than the things we think are larger than life and worth dying for.

While love exists in abundance in all of us, it is expressed in ways that conform more to insecurities and fear, hence ending up in such scanty, hard to find……utopias.

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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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