Kindling, Memoirs, Scribble

Know Thyself

For the tougher ones amongst us- let’s put our shells aside for a few minutes, and momentarily accept that we could do with some love. That we are all vulnerable in our little and big ways, and that there are times when we don’t have our act together, and that deep down inside, the child within our adult bodies screams to come out. Basically, let’s drop the swords of defence. Slightly difficult in the beginning, but it does get better in a while.


So there are days when we simply don’t want to ‘adult’. We don’t want to wake up to the daily morning rouser, do the same job, eat the same afternoon meal and conform to stifling norms. We don’t want to paste a smile, put on lipstick or make polite small talk. We don’t want to battle the raging traffic or the raging boss. We don’t want to compare stats or run a rat race. On these days, we just want to BE. Be for a change, and not chase some goal for the sake of it. More cautious people would call these instances ‘weak moments’, or ‘deviations’, which are temporarily permitted on days that we call ‘weekends’, or ‘vacations’, or for many, maybe not even then. Anyways. What exactly does it mean to have a ‘weak moment’ or a ‘breakdown’? It’s not simply ‘that time of the month’.

Sexist jokes are so 1900. Blah.

When observed closely, a ‘weak moment’ such as the ones cited above is an honest manifestation of our fatigue towards the multiplying stress that we constantly ignore. In other words, there are tiny and large molecules of stress that accumulate in our minds on a day-to-day basis— most of which we might not even acknowledge.We are the brewing pots for this stress until a day when we can no longer contain the whirlwind that this collective stress has brewed up. And BOOM! There goes a volcanic release- in the form of words, actions, self-harm, or further bottling up, which leads to more catastrophic releases. After having resisted (consciously or unconsciously), we have crashed under an enormous amount of stress- generated pressure, and experience fatigue.

When approached reasonably- why would we let these stresses build up and then conquer over the best of us? Why is it that we do not acknowledge our stress until it takes a toll on us? Why do we practice or allow this refined form of self-harm? The problem isn’t that we hate ourselves. Quite the contrary for most of us. Most of us actually love ourselves, but the problem is that we do so very selectively. Meaning, we tend to love parts of ourselves that we aspire to be- our stronger selves, the titanium in us, our beautiful selves, our fit selves, our capable selves, our desirable selves. The other aspects of ourselves- that do not fit into these optimal boxes are neglected, ignored, or resented. Our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, scars, uncertainties, errors are disowned by us as if they don’t exist- simply because we wish they didn’t. And to make it not exist in our realities, we do what we think works best- pretend it isn’t there, or resent it if the former isn’t possible. What we end up doing in the bargain is that we start holding fragmented senses of selves and seek fulfilment in those fragments. The truth of the matter is that we are powerful wholes of all that constitutes us- the parts that we love, as well as the parts that we wish we didn’t have. The more we resent the unwanted parts, the more it wears us out. It is like trying to rid ourselves of our own shadows. The shadow, on the other hand, is a sure-sought assurance that light is falling on us! So in being whole, I am as powerful as I am vulnerable, I am as sufficient as I am doubtful, I am as independent as I am rooted. It is just what is dominant at a particular time and what isn’t. Not only is understanding of the Self more humane and real, but it also reflects the infinite power within each one of us- that our traits- perfect and imperfect are limitless, and that while excesses in either ways are dangerous, balance is key. Hence, to accept the balance of being- the better side and the worse, is the basic way of coming into closer connection with oneself. ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself’ is an elementary way of communicating this entire paragraph. If only I were more Yankee in my writing 😉

Moving on.

It is only when we accept ourselves for the best and worst in us that we are at a greater comfort to listen to the voices within us that we would otherwise ignore. To understand that I am vulnerable and that it is okay to be vulnerable at times- is a crucial starting point to what my vulnerability is saying right now. If I don’t, it doesn’t quieten my vulnerabilities, but only piles these voices up inside me until I can no longer contain them. When one remarks that they slept like a baby, they say so because the baby sleeps with no worries in their mind- a baby’s primal instincts: sleep, hunger and poop are all that concern him/her at that age. If only life were as simple! However,  I am perfectly aware that it would be rather naïve and unrealistic to wish for stressless sleep- everyone has stresses in life, and no one’s life is perfect. There’s so much going on in our lives on a day-to-day basis, and that’s the truth. But, if life complicates itself, why do we further complicate our relationship with ourselves? It is not as if we’d do a better job at ‘being adults’ by further disconnecting ourselves. Quite the contrary. Our bodies are constantly speaking to us, as are our minds. We just need to listen.

In a world where putting up a brave façade is trending only more every day, a greater number of people fear confrontations. Confronting the other is virtually impossible if we cannot confront ourselves. Pretty basic, isn’t it? If only we listened to and addressed internal conflicts, externalising the practice wouldn’t be as cumbersome as it seems. The idea of confronting internal conflicts and voices might be fresh for many, but that shouldn’t intimidate oneself. It is as simple or complicated as you make it for yourself. With most things in life being complicated and complicated beyond our control, simplifying your own relationship with yourself is a basic gesture that we owe to ourselves. The simplification is, well, simple. It just requires us to take out some time to reflect. Reflection is far simpler when frequented daily. It basically entails reflecting upon how your day went, your actions, your deeds, your energy, your sense of Self on that day, or even in that moment- what is it saying to you? The more you practice this, the more receptive or meditational your mind shall become. This is not the same as overthinking, as it might lead many to fear. Reflection and overthinking are systematically different such that the former is an initiative that consists of acceptance and observance of oneself; not a deliberate, conclusive drive that one forcefully thrusts themselves through. Reflection of this sort is the simplest way of getting to know oneself, and staying connected to one’s being. In reflecting, you begin to understand and accept- not so importantly what you think and want, but how you feel. Being connected to how you feel is mediated by the sheer sense of honesty and acceptance. This connectedness generates a sense of self-actualisation- of inner peace and fulfilment- of being one with yourself.


In gaining more closure vis-à-vis yourself, your perception towards the world becomes clearer too. Some great minds have argued that our viewpoint of the world is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. So if we simplify and persevere our connection with our inner being, our perception of the world moves towards being less complicated too. It’s all inter connected. And finally, as we accept our being without being too judgemental, imposing and harsh, we do the same of the world. This immense self-sufficiency leads us to conceive a very powerful act- that is, while we might not be able to ‘save the world’ and change everything that the 9-year old in us hoped to, we can remain tranquil despite a lot of its evils, and not let it get the better of us. We can preserve the magical capacity to BE despite, and not according to what we hoped to control. In short, we can continue to remain hopeful and grateful for whatever good there is, and whatever better we are seeking to make of it.

Simple, isn’t it? Or maybe just less complicated.

Either ways, thank you for letting your guard down. You can put it back on, but beware- for it’s going to seem a lot heavier this time- Gosh! How much baggage were we carrying!?

Beats me.



“The Power Is Yours!!”: Eco-friendliness As a Lifestyle

Contending among the leading economies of the world, India’s developmental and industrialisation plans, coupled with climatic changes are resulting in environmental damage that is going to be unsurmountable. A ticking time bomb, environmental damage and the ghastly future that looms with it are not unheard or unknown in today’s day and age. While numerous privileged citizens might perceive environmental threats more generically, many of us are contending with gross pollution on an increasingly frequent basis. The average urbanite of India is familiar with the blanket of smog that welcomes them while their flight descends into their destination city. Unexpected patterns of rainfall, the rising heat, extreme winter temperatures, crop failures and appalling rates of deforestation, among other factors as we know, are deeply correlated and collectively manifesting into disastrous outcomes.

Everybody is aware of recent reports that rate our national capital as being the most polluted city in the world. Studies appearing on many news channels and tabloids link Delhi’s air pollution to decreased life expectancy levels among its inhabitants. Simultaneously, the country is facing a rapid depletion in its groundwater levels, even in its most rain-dense patches. One can only imagine the adversity of these impacts on the country’s flora and fauna. And while many of us live under the perception that “survival of the fittest” is a conception that is limited to the animal world, we might need to think again.

An article that I recently came across in Rajasthan’s Hindustan Times newspaper titled “Don’t Water This Down” highlights the issue of water wars- trending conflicts over the resource and ways to conserve it. It notes that the irresponsibility and unaccountability of several development plans is causing diversions of drinking water in states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, and hence, sparking water-based conflicts among the rural populace. While discussing the political economy of developmental plans in these areas, it highlights the lack of parity between the Centre and States over water projects, and the importance of evaluating the environmental effects of water projects.

The article also mentions an uprise in inter-state water conflicts and a horrifying statistic, whereby over 100 million people dwell in areas with poor water quality. According to studies, predictions have been made that by 2030, national supply is predicted to fall fifty percent below demand rates, and that is a scarier situation than we currently face.

While crucial policy decisions are to be made to mitigate the conflict between developmental plans and environmental health, one of the biggest factors that contribute to environmental pollution is domestic negligence and a general lack of initiative among citizens on individual and collective levels. Environmental pollution is a reality that grips each one of us, and while the human civilisation has grown increasingly habituated to reaping its benefits, it missed out the crucial importance of paying back the respect that we owe our environment. A famous quote across the internet explains the irony of our environmental negligence very aptly, it says: “Imagine if trees gave off Wi-fi signals. We would be planting so many trees and we’d probably save the planet too. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe.” While getting more deeply immersed in indulgent lifestyles, are we forgetting the imperative of upholding our environmental responsibilities at a basic level?

Call me an optimist, but I do believe that by spreading environmental awareness at a micro level, we can successfully overcome its domestic negligence and collectively devise ways that enable us to live more eco-smartly and efficiently. I was in junior school when the ICSE board made environmental science a compulsory subject in the teaching curriculum, and I would call that one of the few wise decisions taken by the percentage-obsessed education system of the country. Through lessons that we belittled while we ourselves were little, I now admit the tremendous impact that these teachings bear on our consciousness today. Which is to say, that while I might not remember the details of the curriculum that repeated itself in a more complex version every year, its basic values have been deeply engrained in me. The few hours spend per week studying environmental science have resulted me to think twice before acting against responsibly eco-living. That is, that while I might not be able to flawlessly explain the working of a solar panel, I understand the importance of conserving non-renewable energy. Environmental Science or EVS, as we all called it as students might have just been another academic hurdle for us as students, but it manifested into an important and non-negotiable life lesson for all of us. For all you know, it might be the prime driving factor behind this article!

So, without further due, here are a few initiatives that I would recommend for you to integrate into your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint and mitigate environmental damage. These recommendations are based upon the ethic of sustainable living, which acknowledges the inevitability of several environmental damages but at the same time, believes in the possibility prolonging them. More importantly, it stresses upon the ethical responsibility of one generation to preserve the environment that is soon to be passed on to the generations that succeed it. Please consider the following initiatives and encourage those around you to adopt them as well. Every small bit counts!

  1. Make environmental education a part of your life
    Take a few minutes per day to immerse yourself in some environmental-related education. It could be anything- articles, TV shows, programmes, YouTube videos, or anything. There is a plethora of content out there that teaches you environmental lessons in ways big and small. Learning more about the many facets of our environment will always cause you to gain knowledge and awareness to act responsibly. The more, the better. If you have children, ensure that their learning curriculum involves environmental education as a crucial segment (trust me, you’ll thank yourself later).
  2. Go on cleanliness drives more often
    Whether it means replacing all your bulbs with LED’s, recycling paper or glass, every bit counts. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan isn’t just meant to be on paper. It’s message can be adopted in the most basic activities. Make this a permanent habit.
  3. Create a sustainable garbage system in your house
    Categorise waste into separate disposable bins, namely:
    i) Compost waste: this includes most organic waste, especially from the kitchen: vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells, etc that can be put into a compost to create manure. All the gardening enthusiasts, you’re going to love this!
    ii) Recyclable waste: all paper-based and plastic-based waste can be disposed here, which can be sent recycled by the closest facility near you. Find the closest recycling service near you using good old Google!
    iii) Donate-worthy waste: sort out the stuff that you don’t need anymore, and instead of tossing it in the trash, pass it on to someone who might need it. Earn your karma points 🙂
    iv) Electronic waste: waste such as old electronics, batteries, chargers, mobiles, etc cause radioactive pollutants, and hence need to be disposed by companies that specifically deal with electronic waste. Please dispose these responsibly.
    v) General waste: Once you’ve sorted your waste out into the above four categories, you’ll be surprised as to how much your general waste will reduce. As a result, you’ll be producing significantly lesser amounts of domestic waste. Adopt these measures in your office environment too!
  4. Teach your children the value of giving & keep them close to nature
    Get your children to personally hand out the clothes and toys that they have outgrown to those who come from humbler backgrounds. Infact, tie up with NGO’s that support children and get your kids to interact with them on a more frequent basis. Not only will they be more grateful as individuals, but witnessing lives that are less privileged than theirs will make them think twice before fussing over something that they don’t need, or wasting food on their plates.
    Apart from that, encourage them to pursue some gardening and take them for tree-planting sessions when you can. Planting and nurturing a little sapling that will one day turn out to be a tall tree is a significant development lesson that we can all impart to our children. Good parenting goes a long way!
  5. Invest in a rainwater harvesting system
    If your house has a terrace, creating a rainwater harvesting system is very reasonable. Moreover, find ways to divert cleaner water waste to water the garden or clean the driveway. It’s just a matter of connecting a few pipe ways right!
  6. Be bathroom efficient
    You’ll be surprised as to how much water you can save by changing a few bathroom habits. An average 10-minute shower with a low-flow shower head uses 25 gallons of water, whereas a bathtub uses 35-50 gallons. Try switching to bucket-bathing, which is way more water-efficient. If you adore your shower too much, try timing your bath down to a single song.
    While brushing and shaving, turn off the tap when you don’t need it.
    In addition, get a low-flow toilet- you’ll be surprised at how much water we flush down on a daily basis, whereas the flush can operate with less than half of the water volume.
  7. Small changes in your transport go a long way in reducing your carbon footprint
    Many modes of public transport such as autos and buses run on CNG, significantly reducing emission rates in Indian metropolitans. On the other hand, many of us have the liberty of driving/ being driven around in our own cars. If you belong to the latter category, ensure that your car’s pollution assessment is done frequently. When going in to purchase a new car, go for the more energy efficient ones. Moreover, try carpooling as much as you can. Use your mobile phone to make travel co-ordination easier: hitchhike with fellow family members to go to destinations that are close by or along the same route. During milder weather, consider cycling/ walking to destinations that are close by: you’ll burn down a good amount of calories as well!
  8. Support biodegradable packaging
    Many companies have now started packing domestic groceries and goods in biodegradable material, and even recycled/ recyclable packaging. Look out for these when you shop. Appliances too have started using lesser packaging for their products, the Amazon Kindle e-book serves as a classic example. While picking up stationery, go for acid-free paper, it’s a whole lot better in terms of quality too.
  9. Make smarter electrical choices
    Our markets today offer a series of energy efficient appliances that go beyond the phenomenal CFL and LED bulbs. The new Macbook, for example has a significantly lower carbon footprint than its contemporaries. Not only is it more energy efficient but it is the first ever Apple product that does not feature Beryllium, a carcinogenic metal. This means a significant reduction in radiation emissions as well.
    In addition, go for energy-efficient motors, and use soft starters for AC induction, which will save your electrical supply charges by drawing a minimal amount of current (instead of most inductors that exceed 600% above the required current levels!) You’ll find energy efficient solutions for transformers, energy switches, air conditioning systems, and the list goes on. This is a valuable investment not just for the environment, but also for your electricity bills.
  10. Stay up-to-date with eco-lifestyle
    Read and inquire more frequently on more eco-friendly choices that are being made available in so many spheres of our lifestyles. The process of being eco-efficient is a constant one, and increasingly satisfying as you go about it. Read more, spread more on eco-friendliness and foster change!!

I hope these pointers have made you realise how basic eco-initiatives are if you give them a little time and thought. Making eco-friendliness a habit will contribute significantly to mitigating environmental damage. In addition, it will make you feel a whole lot more fulfilled for making more responsible and sustainable lifestyle choices.

Go Green and Save the planet. Remember what Captain Planet told us every single day on Cartoon Network: “The Power is Yours”!

Commentaries, Feminism

The Pink Pill gains US FDA Approval

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

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

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

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

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

Power to Pink! 🙂

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



The World’s largest democracy celebrates its 68th Independence Day in many ways. Many Indians wake up to watch the iconic Red Fort parade screening, followed by a plethora of patriotic movie broadcasts and soap opera marathons across our TV channels. Proud Indians commemorate and pay homage to the brave freedom fighters and martyrs of the nation. Arm chair critics slightly milden their approach for this one day, appearing to do so unknowingly, while many patriots make pledges to be better citizens and take responsibility for the advancement of their country. Small children are found selling mini flags around traffic signals. Many fellow-citizens sport tricolour-themed attires, accompanied by endless selfie sessions. Those working in demanding, corporate jobs heave a sigh of relief for getting a day off, which they can spend being at home and taking their families for a promised outing that their work backlog had caused them to postpone through several weekends. Cybershoppers relentlessly raid through the Independence-Day special online sales. It’s that time of the year again. Clearly, Independence Day holds many meanings for citizens across the length and breadth of the country. Most meanings might not find a consensus save one- Independence Day celebrates the nation’s long- fought freedom, which it attained from its colonisers on this very day, 68 years ago.

Freedom is what 15th August is characterised by and celebrated year after year for. This day deserves every bit of the nostalgia, pride, tributes and celebrations that it generates at so many levels. I intend to briefly trigger a reflection of freedom at a particular level. Not the freedom that our nation won and constantly strives to defend- that gets much reflection on this day as it is, which is fantastic. What I indicate here is a psychic freedom of sorts. We are all temporary repositories of certain kinds and degrees of freedom- some of us inherit more freedom by the virtue of our socio-economic standing, at the cost of those who are less privileged than us. The disparity through which freedom is inherited is unfortunate, and the reality that shapes our existence. Through the course of our lives, this freedom is affected by the choices we make, the work we do, the lives we lead, and often, strange chances of luck, as many would agree. The freedom that I conceptualise as inherited and further pursued is what I term as external freedom. It is one of the two kinds of freedoms that I will cause my readers to reflect upon today- how aware are you of the kinds of freedom that govern your being? How responsible are you about the freedom that you hold? Are you exercising your freedom to liberate yourself and others? I hope my article gives you some direction towards addressing these questions about yourself.

External Freedom 

During a dinner table conversation, some pseudo-liberal raved about how modern their thinking was, and how much freedom they endowed to their family- how their spouse and children were free to do anything, and this, by the way, valorised them in their perception since “they” gave their family so much freedom. While I am sure that this person was well-meaning to a certain limit, they were hugely mistaken with the way that freedom worked. Freedom cannot be “given” from one person to another. The moment you say you “give” somebody freedom, you are attaching to yourself an authority which is at best, elusive, as I now go on to explain.

At the time of your birth, you inherit your family’s socio-economic standings that jointly and by default render you a certain quotient of freedom. Thereafter, while going about your job, duties and climbing or descending the socio-economic ladder, this freedom is further accumulated or depleted. Cyclically, your children inherit the freedom that your socio-economic standing can afford. You cannot entirely control or command the amount of freedom that you inherit at birth or achieve throughout your life- the former is a matter of chance and the latter- a matter of several forces, most of which are out of your control. This freedom stands for external freedom- social, economic, political, cultural, ethnic, religious, etc. That is to say, in its various forms, it depends on external sources- the society, the economy, your job, your political clout, cultural and religious forces, all of which you are a part of but do not entirely govern. The benefit that you derive out of these institutions is not guaranteed, for the institutions themselves are uncertain and constantly evolving. You do not own or control any of these institution, and hence, nor do you own or control the freedom that is derived out of them. These institutions outdate and outlive your existence, and that is the humble pie that we all have to swallow.

Coming back to my previous example of the pseudo-liberal patriarch. You thought patriarchy gave men freedom that they, as patriarchs (fathers, husbands, sons, kinsmen or men in general) “give” to women. Think again. At a more superficial level, patriarchy appears to be giving freedom to the men that live upto its ideals of manhood and masculinity. But what they are essentially doing is regulating patriarchy at the cost of their own freedom to live life as per their terms. They adopt a particular ideal of manhood and go about a lifestyle that is tightly governed by patriarchal norms- looking and conducting oneself as a ‘true’ man, constituting heteronormative family, working in a job that has been approved as ‘respectable’ by the society to earn a ‘respectable’ salary, and conceiving (and seldom rearing up) children who will do the same. Is there any space for ideals of the self, their sexualities, ambitions that deviate from these ideal norms established by patriarchy? Would the system confer equal freedom to a man whose conduct and choices threaten these ideals? Obviously not. All that he could hope to be conferred with is a life of social stigma and character assassination, to begin with. The same could be said about women- those who follow patriarchal ideals of womanhood are more revered than other women. In similar context, think about Manu’s ‘immoral, loosely charactered and eternally licentious women’. Rings a bell?  There are brownie points that are handed out by patriarchy to its most promising players, as long as they regulate and reproduce patriarchy. It sustains itself as an institution through its agents, awards them external freedom, but far outlives and overpowers them throughout.

So who is the real winner here? Patriarchy.

The same could be said about any institution in the society- it pays its conformists a significantly powerful dividend. By conforming to and thereby regulating its potency in the world, you are simply an agent of that institution, a subject of it. The dividend that it award to you- external freedom, will temporarily give you immensely liberating powers, only so long as you conform to the institutional norms. The moment you deviate from its norms, you stop being its subject. That is, the moment you stop regulating and multiplying the institution through you, it withdraws the external freedom that it had earlier conferred upon you. For example, as a woman born in an orthodox Brahmin family in rural India, you multiply Brahminical patriarchy by following its ideals of what it means to be a Brahmin as well as a woman. Your interdisciplinary identity as a being of caste and gender is being pursued by you to multiply systems of patriarchy and caste. When you disavow caste-based discrimination, when you stop conforming to gender-based discrimination and divorce ideals of chastity and womanly duties, you forsake your freedom to exercise your powers as an upper-caste woman and are penalised or at best punished by the institution (through its other subjects) as an outcast. You only retained that external freedom as long as you served the institution as a subject.

Bottom line: you are a subject of these institutions and of the subsequent external freedom, never a possessor of it. Moreover, you will be entitled to external freedom as long as you conform (even if that means negating yourself). Harsh, I know.

Due to its elusive, unpredictable, but most importantly, enslaving nature, external freedom might be temporarily empowering but is far from liberating us (read my title- deliberating freedom: pun intended!). What then, is liberating freedom really? Is there a truer sense of freedom than this? Most definitely, there is. It is what I term as the second kind of freedom- internal freedom. The freedom that isn’t conditioned by external institutions and factors. Neither does it hold ulterior motives, nor does it operate in hidden agendas. Internal freedom is unconditional, and resides in all of us, but few really get to identify it and be truly liberated.

Internal Freedom 

I once again come back to my example of the pseudo-liberal at the dinner table. What if s/he had a different concept of freedom- what if s/he believed in freedom being a non-negotiable right of every human being? What if s/he didn’t think of it to be a big deal if his family acted about freely, and lived life as per their terms? That their freedom was free of external permissions and conditions? Answer: s/he would cease to be a pseudo-liberal. In simpler words, this is the conceptualisation of internal freedom-  freedom that cannot be granted, conferred, awarded, taken away. While the institutions that I mentioned previously might only acquaint themselves with internal freedom in what we collectively conceive to be a utopian world, internal freedom sprouts from our internal being and can govern and condition our relationships with others. That is, internal freedom is a state of being, as a mode of existence on both, individual as well as collective scales. 

Our beings are only partially constituted by contingencies that land us in institutions that aid our survival in the existing world. That is, in a liberal capitalist world, we wouldn’t sustain ourselves if we didn’t work through the institutions that prescribe external freedom. So to attain internal freedom one doesn’t have to adopt a nomadic way of life and become a complete recluse. By all means, being subjected to external freedom is unavoidable in present situations, don’t resist it. Accept it that present circumstances and state of affairs subject us to certain factors that we might not endorse as liberating (they might be least liberating), but instead of resisting it, it’s more important to be aware of the external freedom monopoly, while identifying its limitations. Remember, if that hadn’t happened, our arrival to understand internal freedom might not have been possible. Yes? Okay.

Internal freedom comes from internalising the realisation that while there are parts of us that are bound by these institutions, there are also parts of us that are above them, that understand, accept and are aware of these institutions, whereby they become meaningless, because we are sensitised to a higher state of being. That higher state of being exists above these institutions, which enables and is enabled by our tremendous capacity to rationalise and imagine, to love, to respect and the strength overcome all known adversities. That despite surviving in the institutional world, a more significant part of us exists in a state of being that seeks a greater purpose in life- not just to sustain and exist but to truly live, to truly feel alive. That is, a higher sense of ourselves exists, which calls for us to embark on a pursuit to find true contentment in our existence. We mainly arrive at this by being true to ourselves- asking ourselves whether we are deriving meaning out of our lives. Are we growing? What is it that we believe in? Are we living our lives in sync with those beliefs? Since internal freedom is found through internalisation, we can never lie to ourselves. In being honest with ourselves, and understanding that we exist in a higher state and are constantly evolving, we are able to free ourselves from the shallower pursuits of common conceptions of beauty, wealth, fame and the ‘good life’ which are constantly subjecting us to the very institutions that yield external freedom. When we realise that the higher state of being comprises of an evolution of the human spirit and not complex institutions, we also begin to understand that this being has no space for negativity and judgement but only acceptance and unconditional humanitarianism.

It is very empowering to internalise the realisation that we all possess parts of ourselves that are strangely infinite, which only indicate possibilities that are yet to be discovered and which will further us in our evolution of self. In these realms of ourselves there resides internal freedom, which comes from an acceptance of ourselves, of what we perceive as the good and the bad, as two sides of the same coin, and with that acceptance, we liberate ourselves . How? With continuous acceptance of self, and the belief in being able to overcome a diminished sense of inadequacy, the process repeats itself until we attain a sense of tranquility and make peace with who we are. Only after accepting and overcoming our fallen sense of selves do we permit ourselves to be liberated by inner freedom because it is a liberation that is not externally imposed but generated from within. Along with this higher realm of ourselves where this self-actualisation process takes place, the inner freedom that it is sensitised by is one that exists irrespective of who we might be or where we might come from. As a fact of being human, it exists in every one, and only when we sense the inadequacy of external freedom can we arrive at it.

Once we have internalised this conception of ourselves, our entire gamut of being slowly begins to free itself from external freedom and internal freedom. We stop holding conditions, judgements, presumptions because these factors are barring us from self actualisation. We slowly detach ourselves from meaningless conceptions that flout the world and seek the mystical pleasures of life. What follows this process of internalisation is a change in our basic conduct towards others- what was earlier conducted by external freedom now begins to be conducted by internal freedom- we approach those around us with minimal or no judgement, conditions or ulterior motives. We begin to sense a greater togetherness with humanity and with the world- compassion and love begins to dwell in our souls for those around us while we become more aware of their suffering, vulnerabilities, unhappiness and insecurities. Since we now know the process of internalisation and the bliss that it brings, we are liberated by inner freedom and hence practice the same while interacting with others as well. We become less affected by what would have otherwise bothered us a lot. Inner freedom’s mystique begins to govern not just our actions but also our reactions. And yet, we are aware that we cannot be responsible for enabling someone to realise internal freedom- only internal generation by oneself can do that.

Lastly, retract yourself to the past a little bit. At times when you have difficulty in explaining yourself to some people, and discover that that one person might be understanding what you mean without you saying it? You’re sensitised to something similar in your realms of consciousness that others aren’t YET. Among that entire lot, it’s the two of you in particular who are experiencing your 15th August together. And today, I hope this piece delivered you a similar spark in its own twisted way.
Happy Independence Day!


Himalayan Living

Having spent much of the summer nestled in the Himalayas to look after my debuting property in Shanag, this summer has unfolded an essence and distinctiveness of its own. I have always believed that the Himalayas have a magical power about them, and that if you returned from a visit to the Himalayas as your usual self, you probably weren’t paying enough attention to the Himalayan vibe that deserves all the hype.

The idea of my Retreat was born a little over a year ago and after embarking on this journey, there’s been no looking back! And now, here I am, calling Manali my home and actually hosting all those who come to marvel its breathtaking views, scenic drives, rejuvenating treks and its laid-back vibe. This is home now, a cocoon, a haven.

Working here during the peak season to host guests from all over the country has been a profound learning experience for me. I find it very satisfying to deliver hospitality that gratifies guests at my Retreat. Being quite a victim of wanderlust, it feels great to meet people who are on journeys of their own, to hear about their experiences and share my own. Moreover, the Retreat is my baby who never goes off to sleep and hence, working here is an ongoing, everlasting journey, where each day adds to one’s experience and learning. Around the daily running of the Retreat, I have weaved a lifestyle of my own, which I term ‘Himalayan living’.

Himalayan living is so starkly different to any urban style of living. Different to any style of living outside the Himalayas, actually. Life here moves at a pace that one sets, in an unpretentious manner. People have time to visit each other and casually drop in for tea. Strangers are friends that one is yet to make. The trekking trails that one takes over pretty streams and dried pine needles echo with sounds of the Himalayan Whistling Thrush. The Himalayan Devbhumi is deservedly the Valley of the Gods!

Every morning that I wake up to makes me want to marvel what I had so far taken for granted. The clear blue skies that turn into a blanket of stars at night, the wandering clouds that form patterns that I can stare at for hours, forming shapes under an apple tree. The sound of gushing water, its intriguing flow that can have me staring at it for hours, just like the flames at the evening bonfires. The mellow buzz of Malana Cream and the smell of toasted marshmallows. Slow mornings, where I have the liberty of cooking my own breakfast- flipping omelettes, blending smoothies, making waffles and devouring them while listening to Jack Johnson and feeding my fellow- foodies. The alpine air has healing properties that the human civilisation is yet to fully value and preserve. Waking up one morning to trek to the neighbouring waterfalls and just absorbing the velocity of gravitational water. The adrenaline rush that it triggers is just something else. A casual stroll through the streets of Old Manali and its bohemian layout. Playing a game of soccer int he neighbouring ground on a lazy Sunday afternoon and sippSpeeding up a Royal Enfield up the breathtakingly scenic Rohtang Pass route to sprawl on the meadows in Gulaba and chase the Himalayan panorama. And coming back at dusk to savour a home-cooked meal and sip some toddy besides the fire.

The simple pleasures! Life’s good.


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


Spectatorship, Suffering & Haneke’s Caché

This was my essay submission for the film studies course ‘Screening the Present’ as a part of my Masters programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the academic year 2013-14. This is an original piece of work and has been re-published for all those who might be interested in the topic. 

In her essay titled Ethics, Spectatorship and the spectacle of suffering, Libby Saxton (2010) provides some meaningful insights into the ethical dilemma around watching suffering from a mediated distance. Lillie Chouliaraki (2006:2) states that “no spectacle can raise the ethical question of what to do so compellingly as suffering”. Through the content of her essay, Saxton invokes the arguments of several scholars and critics, who argue for and against the contention that the spatiotemporal distance that separates a spectator from the suffering that s/he is witnessing is damaging and obstructs the former from undertaking ethical responsibility towards the latter.

According to Chouliaraki, Sontag and several others, the spectacles of mediated suffering that we witness from a spatial and often temporal distance “…surround us with scenes of misery in which we cannot immediately or directly intervene, disrupting the chain reaction linking contemplation, compassion and action” (Saxton, 2010:65). Critics belonging to this theoretical position are increasingly skeptical of such spectatorship and Sontag’s conception of ‘tele- intimacy’ or the “illusion of closeness” that the televisual media fosters in order to “conceal political hierarchies” (ibid:66). While some are inclined towards such an argument, others provide an opposition by placing the ethical responsibility of the spectator over immoral effects that such images of suffering might potentially generate. They argue that “we are removed far away from danger but not necessarily from responsibility” and stress on the “capacity of cinematic images to attract, distract or hold us to account.” (ibid: 63; 64). Further, interventions of those like Bolantsky (1993) place the “ethico-political agency and responsibility of the spectator over the purportedly ‘immoral effects’ of such images” (Saxton, 2010:65). Critics such as Bolantski, Sontag and Chouliaraki concede that “the act of contemplating others’ suffering is not innately problematic, but rather those modes of representing and responding which instrumentalize this spectacle to shore up or naturalise the socio-political status quo” (ibid:66). Over time,the analysis of such “modes of representing and responding” has extended beyond the news discourse as scholars have noted- “the relationship between cinema and distant suffering has become a discernible concern” (ibid:64). Moreover, Saxton openly considers whether “certain filmmaking practices can open up different perspectives on atrocity images generated by competing technologies by repositioning them in new contexts where they put camera’s fictions into question” (ibid). It is at this point that I seek to analyse the representation of the ethical dilemma around spectatorship and mediated suffering in Michael Haneke’s highly acclaimed film- Caché. 

On the surface, Caché is a story of a bourgeois Parisian man (Georges Laurent) and his family, whose peace is utterly destroyed when they start receiving anonymous visual content, potentially excavating hidden secrets from the his past and “buried in his psyche” (Solomons, 2006). Released in 2005, the film has been critically acclaimed and received by many as “a trauma film” (Radstone, 2007: 19) and “a film about anxiety in relation to a history of colonial violence and the technology associated with it” (Khanna, 2007: 241). Since much analysis of the film by distinguished scholars has been done through psychoanalytical and/or postcolonial frameworks, I take this as an opportunity to assess the ways in which the ethical dilemma around spectatorship and mediated suffering has been represented and negotiated in Caché. I begin by discussing the several connotations attached to Caché following which, I analyse the ways in which Haneke’s unique filming technique and visual aesthetic implicates spectators for being ethically responsible. While doing so, I seek to demonstrate how Caché goes beyond simply representing the ethical concerns of Saxton and others in its unique interaction with its spectator at diegetic, as well as extra-diegetic levels. I conclude my essay with several ambiguities that evolve out of such an analysis and their crucial value in negotiating around the ethical dilemma of spectatorship and mediated suffering.

To begin with, it would be wise to pose the “key question that confronts Haneke’s film” according to Ranjana Khanna : “what, exactly, is Caché?” (Khanna, 2007:237). Before attempting to answer this question, one already has the sense that the answer is not going to be easy or clear-cut by any means. Yet, for whatever it is worth, the word Caché, in its literal sense means ‘hidden’. The film “makes great play of what is, and remains hidden– to its characters, to the camera and to its spectators” (Cousins, 2007:233, emphasis added). The film relentlessly denies any clear-cut reading of it at any level- any logical derivation of or conclusion to the whodunnit plot is inevitably flawed or ambiguous and its hidden ethical and moral implications are open to endless deliberation and debate. While these are just a few ways at looking at the hidden connotations behind Caché, my analysis is chiefly concerned with the film’s ethical implication of its spectators at a diegetic as well as extra-diegetic level, at how it converses with them and places them in  ways that effectively facilitate ethical reflexivity and moral deliberation. Bearing this in mind, I proceed to carry out my analysis.

Many critics conspicuously place the look of the “mediated witness” under ethical scrutiny, as devoid of “moral justification” for being remotely situated from what is transmitted to them via ‘visual technology’. Moreover, “moral qualms about such distanced spectatorship are exacerbated by the propensity of certain kinds of atrocity images to abstract or sanitise their subject-manner or turn it into an object of voyeuristic fascination (Saxton, 2010: 65). Does the film technique and visual aesthetic in Caché allow for such ‘voyeuristic fascination’, or does it ethically implicate its spectators to exercise reflexivity?

Right from the opening scene of the movie, we see a constant rupture in the film’s linearity and a confusion of spectator’s expectations. The unforgivingly long establishing shot of the movie, which is fixed on an almost static mise en scène denies the wistful spectator any depth of field. After briefly looking for anything in particular to be discovered in these long minutes, the spectator scans the edges of the frame and then constantly returns to investigate what is or is about to take place, as conventionally expected. This long shot of the video footage of Rue de Iris impose you to look but don’t suggest what you should be looking at. As Khanna argues, “There is no lesson or anything in particular to be discovered in the disturbingly long establishing shots. They seem to suggest that we should look for something, or investigate in the manner that we have been taught to read. And yet in Caché, there is only emptiness and spectacle” (2007: 24).The smoothness of this long shot is finally interrupted by the ripples caused by the fast-forward button pressed by Anne, the female-protagonist of the film. At this moment, the spectator realises that s/he had been seeing an intra-diegetic video footage, which, according to many like Beugent (2007: 230), is deliberately shot by Haneke in high-definition in order to thoroughly confuse the spectator as to whether s/he is watching- the diegesis or the intra-diegesis or an overlap. This constant shuffle between diegesis and intra-diegesis creates a situation in which, the spectator, embedded within the film’s masterful whodunit thrust has to be constantly alert and use their discretion to distinguish between the two and determine what exactly they are viewing at that moment- the film or the video footage. Wheatley correctly observes that it is not until one goes through this experience a few more times along the narrative progression that they grasp the distinguished form of the video footage, which is characterised by the static position of the camera (2009:162).Not only is the narrative plot unpredictable but so is the source of the images on the screen, and being left with little more than their own discretion to judge which is diegetic and which is not. Hence, the spectator is compelled to be constantly alert to avoid misidentification of surveillance shots for the diegesis and thereby denied leisure, which is one of the preconditions for ‘voyeuristic fascination’.

The video footages that spectator witnesses are mostly longer than s/he desires them to be, too static to excite him/her, devoid of any cinematographic innovation and often disruptive of the film’s linearity. The playing-time of these footages, along with their fast forwarding and stopping is directed by a remote control, which is not in the hands of the spectator but of the protagonist, who refuses the spectator’s impatient scopophilic drive to be gratified in the pace that s/he craves. Beugnet (2007: 229) observes that for those watching the film on DVD “will unwittingly mimic the actions of the characters, viewers of the film within the film”, who are likely to fast forward the long establishing shot only to realise its intra-diegetic nature when it is being fast forwarded by Anne. This diegetic act can be read as an implicit condemnation of what the voyeuristic pleasure-driven spectator is most likely to do in such a situation to gratify their visual pleasures at a desired pace that Cachè often purposefully fails to deliver. Moreover, the Paris massacre of 1961- the reason behind the death of Majid’s parents and a central feature of most postcolonial analyses of the film only has one verbal mention in the film. One could read this as a Levinasian way of paying homage to those who lost lives as a “thought freed of all representation” (Saxton, 2010: 99) or as the film’s refusal of the voyeuristic eye to be allowed any speculation of violence that transcends representation. The film’s gradual frustration and denial of voyeuristic desires are punctuated by Majid’s instantaneous suicide, which is of equal shock to the spectator as it is to the Georges- the diegetic spectator himself. The unrelentingly unfixed camera, which refuses to blink for almost six minutes after Majid’s suicide forces the spectator to witness what s/he might not desire. The spectator’s inability to escape this post-suicidal impasse forces the spectator to reflect upon atrocity that they have been so complicit in witnessing, as Aaron argues “not only as consumers but as consensual parties in generation of character’s suffering for our entertainment” (Saxton, 2010:67). Despite the spectator not being directly responsible for the violence that s/he witnesses on the screen, Wheatley reads Caché as imposing guilt on someone not just for “doing something wrong but by merely desiring it” (Wheatley, 2008:184, emphasis added), making the spectator reflect upon their desire of wanting to witness violence that their drive to entertainment awaits.  This gradual frustration gives rise to disorientation on the part of the spectator, who, according to Wheatley, “seeks the source of this discomfort in order to best diffuse it, and become aware of the reason for this discomfort” (2009:153). Constantly denied the opportunity of engaging with the movie in a manner that is visually gratifying, the disorientated spectator is driven by his/her own frustrated desire to act reflexively, only to discover that those desires involved someone else’s suffering, and that, despite being staged, hence being ethically implicated in their own relationship to what they witness on the screen.

In Saxton’s account, the ethical dilemma around spectatorship and suffering is premised upon an asymmetrical relationship between the spectator and the sufferer on many levels. At a basic level, there exist subject-object relations, which, according to Aaron underpin Mulvey’s ‘gaze theory’ and “are reconfigured in terms of an encounter between the self and other, and exposure to alterity is understood to be political through and through” (Saxton, 2010:67). The spectator is the westerner, the subject of the gaze while the sufferer is the non-western object of his gaze the the privilege of the former is directly or indirectly linked to the pain of the latter in ways that many scholars ethically interrogate. How might the power of the gaze as exclusively western be negotiated in Caché?

At a diegetic level, easily qualified as the affluent westerner, Georges counts as a spectator of the tapes that he receives but this is partially complicated if one considers that many of the tapes consist of video footages of an anonymous gaze, constantly surveilling over his domestic haven. Many a times Georges and Anne are watching themselves being watched by a source that they will never know of. This is not to imply that the suffering that Majid undergone in his life so far can be compared to that of Georges as he is ethically implicated but that Caché, through the power of the image strongly asserts that the gaze can “penetrate the privacy of the home” (Silverman, 2007: 247) and that while Georges and Anne might have the luxury of watching mediated images of suffering on the flatscreen in their living room, they are constantly being watched by a surveilling eye at moments that they are not aware of. A postcolonial reading of the gaze by Silverman accounts for the ways in which “techniques of surveillance were formally instruments of power used to control and oppress others, especially in the hands of the French army at the time of the Algerian war…as an essential element in defending the gated community against the other, but they can also be used to put under surveillance the very people who formerly controlled the cameras” (ibid). The surveillance tapes that the Laurent family receives can be seen as a return of the gaze, suggesting that the gaze is no more an ‘instrument of power’ of the west but dispersed into anonymity. The surveilling gaze is ubiquitous in the contemporary world, and whether it belongs to a fixed source of authority is increasingly called into question by the anonymous surveillance content shot from an unidentifiable spot.

One’s inescapability from the anonymous gaze is reinforced by the constant challenging of the impenetrability of spaces where Georges seeks recluse. For example, in one of the last scenes where he goes into his room to get some sleep, he takes a voyeuristic peep at the outside world through closed curtains that are suggestive of his position as being able to see while not being seen. However, the presence of a camera is confirmed by the spectator’s ability to see Georges throughout his voyeuristic peep and even while he attempts to fall asleep. One could have concluded otherwise had the shot simply ended on Georges entering the room and closing the door behind him, but in this case, the camera deliberately denies him any sort of privacy of space. Similar is the case when Georges has an emotional breakdown in his kitchen after failed attempts to locate his missing son Pierrot. He doesn’t escape the spectator’s gaze.  Hence, the conception that Georges might be the sole voyeur and/or unseen by anyone else is challenged in instances such as these. But Georges is not the only one whose conception is being challenged.

Silverman states that “Today we are all objects of someone else’s gaze and, because of the endless circulation of images, often incapable of fixing its source” (ibid). At an extra diegetic level, as cinema-goers, spectators are under the constant impression that they are the sole voyeurs in the cinema hall. In this scophophilic illusion of being the sole bearer of the gaze, the spectator often forgets that s/he is being surveilled at almost all times, whether in the subway, or driving into the parking lot, in the elevator, outside the ticket booths, and at times that s/he is unaware of while entering and leaving the cinema. While his/her gaze might not be returned to him/her actively on the screen, s/he is subject to authorised and anonymous gazes that are beyond his/her control. Wheatley observes that “Caché serves as a contemplation as well as an example of the power of images to prompt the viewer into a position of ethical awareness” (2009:155). Hence, in George realising that at many times, he is being watched, caught unaware, the spectator is made aware of the same, and that ultimately, there is no one perpetual holder of the gaze. In the absence of any exchanges between the subject and object of the gaze in a trending surveillance in Caché seems to re-iterate the power of the gaze but displaces it from being exclusively western to one that is constantly contested, superior to our discretion, omnipotent as well as omnipresent.
One might wonder how a spectator might be ethically implicated in realising that s/he is not only watching but is being watched. At a diegetic level, Wheatley argues that “Georges is able to ignore, or suppress his awareness of his childhood act as long as nobody knows about it, submerging himself in the trappings of his bourgeois lifestyle… but once the mysterious images introduce the idea of someone who has ‘seen’ Georges, who is aware of his misfeeds, he can no longer deny that it happened” (2009: 158). At an extra-diegetic level, apart from suspending his/her self-awareness in the “moral vacuum” of “cinematic interpellation” (ibid), the spectator, like Georges, is submerged in a space where s/he believes s/he is the sole voyeur. However, on being suggested otherwise, s/he is made conscious of constantly being watched by an omnipotent and omnipresent gaze and thus, is made to feel accountable for his/her conduct for there is a gaze holds him/her as its object, which might not look the other way when s/he wants it to, hence, implicating reflexivity in what s/he does and how s/he does it.

The power of the gaze, in penetrating through closed rooms in order to capture scenes where the protagonists suffer setbacks, emotional breakdowns and even conduct the act of “visceral suicide” (Wheatley), is capable of what Sontag calls “the manufacturing and experiencing of sympathy” and which “can thus be strategies of disavowal, ways of denying our agency and responsibility” and jointly advocates with Chouliaraki for “reflective rather than sentimental responses” (Saxton, 2010:66). In being overwhelmed by sympathetic feelings, the spectator is likely to diverge from engaging in the reflexivity that the negotiation of such an ethical dilemma demands. However, while watching Caché, a spectator is driven by the movie’s whodunit plot to the extent that s/he hopes for every subsequent scene of the movie to bring him/her closer to finding out who is the sender of the tapes and images and in the process, is mobilised in his/her pleasure drive “in the form of the ‘desire to see what will happen’”(Wheatley, 2009:159). At a diegetic level, on realising that Pierrot has gone missing, Georges and Anne shift their attention away from the ongoing news on their television set, the images of which, Wheatley observes, “go unnoticed by Georges and Anne, who remain oblivious to the outside world” (ibid: 160). On encountering what appears to be a personal problem, they become oblivious to the latest news of the atrocities taking place in places at a remote distance from them. At the same time, at an extra-diegetic level, the spectator himself/herself remains unfazed by the atrocity images that continue to dominate the scene by being placed at the centre of the frame. The spectator is more invested in knowing whether or not Majid is behind Pierrot’s disappearance even when s/he sees Georges undergo an emotional breakdown in the kitchen. Thus, the diegesis as well as cinematic technique creates situations for the spectator where s/he is compelled by his/her pleasure drive to place suspense over sympathy, which is gradually frustrated as previously discussed. The spectator is skilfully manoeuvred by the whodunit  while avoiding a plunge into sympathy, immediately after which, as Ezra and Schillers argue, the film “dramatizes its insistence upon pushing central events and expectations to the periphery, while situating the surface- and the ostensibly superficial as its core” (2007: 212). By the end of the film, the spectator realises that to have solely focused on the suspense/thriller aspect of the movie is to have missed the point, and goes back to reflect what s/he missed, ethically calling into question the pleasure drive responsible for making him/her miss what the movie was really about.

Haneke himself remarks: “…if you come out wanting to know who sent the tapes, you didn’t understand the film. To ask this question is to avoid asking the real question the film raises, which is more: how do we treat our conscience and our guilt and reconcile ourselves to living with our actions?” (Solomons, 2006). This is suggestive of Haneke meaning to drive the spectator to confront his/her own conscience and guilt that s/he might constantly disavow. Gilroy is highly critical of the film for its “horrible accommodation” of colonialism “by means of an equation of colonial atrocities with the childish acts of a 6 year old” (2007: 233; 235). However, seen in another light, Wheatley remarks that “the issue is not the child’s crime but the adult’s refusal to acknowledge responsibility” (2009: 164-165). Seeing Caché’s implications solely in a colonial light might prove to be slightly regressive, for through its colonial undertone, what the film seems to be pointing out to is individual reflexivity of what s/he stands morally culpable for. This is one of the reasons why I make a conscious referral to the spectator in individual terms (his/her, s/he as opposed to their, them). The film encourages “personal engagement” of the spectator with the screen in a way that his/her response to the film is “personal and subjective” (ibid: 9-10). Through its shifting camera positions and use of both: static and unfixed camera technique, an overlap in film and HD video footage and highly ambiguous points of view, not only does the film deny any clear meaning but also tells us that there is no one point of view, no “one truth”, but only “personal truth” (Solomons, 2006), which remains subject-specific to the spectator concerned. Comparing this to the ‘Cavellian model of spectatorship’, Wheatley (2009:10) argues that this grants the viewer “an unprecedented autonomy” and the opportunity to interact with the film not just at a personal level but in a dialogue that is open-ended and continuous. Hence, besides being ethically implicated, the spectator is given the opportunity to enter into a unique interaction with the film at a diegetic, as well as extra-diegetic level.

To conclude, while contributing to a negotiation in the ethical dilemma of spectatorship and mediated suffering by implicating its spectator in their responsibility of what they watch on the screen in many ways, Caché, in its unique discursive interaction with the spectator denies any certainty but one. That is, the certainty of ambiguity itself – that no is absolute or ultimate gaze, point of view or truth, but meanings that we constantly produce and contest. Carrying these ambiguities in this negotiation is of crucial value as it helps one to avoid essentialism. To hold on to ambiguities is to hold on to the possibility of the existence of something, the awareness of which, we are yet to be made aware of and the acknowledgement of a dilemma as well of not having arrived at a solution, but having entered the phase of negotiating that dilemma. Of not having arrived there yet but in the process of arriving, unsure of whether these ambiguities can ever be solved and whether a final point can be arrived at after all, but of  striving towards nevertheless. More important that trying to solve the ambiguities, it is what implicates us through these negotiations that makes focusing on such a dilemma worthwhile. In ethically implicating its spectators and problematising notions of voyeuristic desire, the power of the gaze and of sympathy being a ‘strategy of disavowal’, Caché makes significant contributions in the negotiation of the ethical dilemma of spectatorship and mediated suffering. However, there are significant steps that need to be taken, several questions to be asked to proceed with the negotiations- is mediated suffering, in being “denuded of its raw power” (Saxton, 2010: 65) neutralised suffering? Is the authenticity of concern for pain and suffering solely determined by the spectator’s distance from it and hence “unlicensed” (ibid)? In asking whether spectators are only implicated by the suffering of only “those like us” (ibid:66), are we not re-iterating coloniality? Is the pain of another human being not simply enough to generate ethical responsibility and solidarity? These are questions are more unasked than unanswered in light of the ethical implication of spectators in a world that is “more connected but lonelier than ever” (Riddering, 2013).
References : –

Beugnet, M. (2007). Blind spot. Screen, [online] 48(2), pp.227-231. Available at: [Accessed 26 Apr. 2014].

Bolantski, L. (1993). Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics (Translated). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chouliaraki, L. (2006). The spectatorship of suffering. London: SAGE Publications.

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A Critique of Connell’s Existing Theory on Masculinity

This was my essay submission as a part of my Masters’s degree for the course ‘Gender Theories’ at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the academic year 2013-14. This is an original piece of work, bearing my copyright and has been re-published in the interest of… whoever might be interested 😛

Connell suggests that masculinity is not a coherent object of study, especially if understood in isolation. Critically discuss.

The sociology of gender, more particularly of masculinity, has gained immensely from the academic contributions made by the highly accredited scholar R.W. Connell in his pioneering conceptualisation of masculinities, the critiques it sparked and the progressive revisions thereof. Premising his conceptualisation of masculinity firmly on discursive practices of individuals located in a gendered order, Connell (1995) suggests that masculinity is not a coherent object of study, especially if understood in isolation. He asserts that “if we broaden the angle of vision, we can see masculinity, not as an isolated object, but as an aspect of a larger structure” and goes on to account for this structure and masculinity’s location in it as ‘inherently relational’ (1995: 67-68).

In my essay, I intend to investigate the concept of masculinity as an ‘inherently relational’ one and argue that it is not just in isolation that masculinity ceases to be a coherent object of study but that a particular hegemonic pattern in the slanted interplay between masculinity and what it contradicts is crucial to the longevity of masculinity as a stabilising factor of multiple patriarchies in what Butler (2004: 196-197) calls  a ‘phallocentric worldview’.

In order to do so, I begin my essay with an attempt to unpack Connell’s definition of masculinity and explore its relational dynamics within a larger framework. Following this, I explore Connell’s conception of masculinity and its logical coherence against ‘isolation’ and test masculinity’s relational dynamics with feminity as slanted and crucial to the its longevity as a stabilising factor of multiple patriarchies. In the next section, I extend these relational dynamics to the interplay between Connell’s conception of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ (1987, 1995) and the multiplicity of masculinities that evolve in response it and in the “mutual conditioning (intersectionality) of gender” (particularly masculinities) “with such other social dynamics” (Messerschmidt, 2012: 59). While several scholars have acknowledged that “the interplay of gender with other structures such as class and race creates further relationships between masculinities” (Connell, 1995: 80), I treat this as an occasion to pay particular attention on the dynamics of caste in its intersection with gender, particularly masculinity at various points and what effects this has on Connell’s theoretical viability.  I conclude by suggesting possible implications that a relational concept might have, not just for the logical coherence of Connell’s formulation of masculinity, but from a progressivist outlook to foster gender equity.

To begin with, it would be analytically useful to unpack what Connell theorises as ‘masculinity’. According to him, “’masculinity’, to the extent that the term can be briefly defined at all, is simultaneously a place in gender relations, the practices through which men and women engage that place in gender, and the effects of these practices in bodily experiences, personality and culture.” (italics mine) (1995: 71). The three words that I have put in italics are the ones that I consider to be the cardinal points of correlation.

To elaborate, the place is the social location that a person occupies in the gender structure. Keeping in mind an earnest Halberstam’s claim that “masculinity must not and cannot and should not reduce down to the male body and its effects” (1998: 2), not only does an individual inhabit this location in relation to other individuals but in a larger relation to masculinities and feminities. As a result, individuals travel through masculinities while simultaneously producing them.

Masculinities are produced by individual engagements in “masculine” practices and characteristics (Schippers: 2006, 86). Speaking of practices- the second cardinal point of correlation, Connell theorises masculinity as “a configuration of practice, (which) is simultaneously positioned in a number of structures of relationship, which may be following different historical trajectories.” (1995: 73). Hence, masculinity constitutes what we understand as ‘masculine practices’ while ‘doing gender’ (West & Zimmerman, 1987). What these definitions make clear is that these practices consist of social interactions take place within particular social structures at local, regional and global levels and bear spatiotemporal contingency (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005: 849).

The embodiment of these practices produces particular effects- the third and final cardinal point of correlation. These effects vary widely, from an individual to a collective level and have significant socio-cultural impact.

Hence, the three cardinal points- places, practices and effects are placed in a simultaneous relationship. As a result, individuals constantly occupy shifting locations in the gender structure, endlessly constituting and contesting masculinities through their practices and producing effects through and being affected by these practices on an individual and collective level.

However, this entire process does not exist in itself or in a socio-cultural void. In other words, while an inter-relation between places, practices and effects is explicitly mentioned in Connell’s definition of masculinity, what is equally important to factor in is that “masculinity is accomplished in social actions and is therefore contingent upon the gender relations in a particular social setting” (ibid: 836). Hence, masculinity needs to be understood in relation to the particular gender relations, as well as various dynamics of the social structure that it exists within and in constant interaction to, such as race, class, religion, and case. Such an approach, which is thoroughly intersectional, is not only likely to provide us with a holistic insight of masculinity but also the construction of multiple masculinities that emerge in this interplay between gender relations and the various social dynamics that they bear contingency upon. In Connell’s words, “To understand gender, then, we must constantly go beyond gender. The same applies in reverse. We cannot understand class, race or global inequality without constantly moving towards gender. Gender relations are a major component of social structure as a whole, and gender politics are among the main determinants of our collective fate” (1995:76).

To sum up, relational dynamics exist at three levels. First– at the basic level of the definition, which has already been discussed at length. Second, between the constitution, re-constitution and contestation of masculinities and the larger structure of ‘gender relations’ and ‘social dynamics’ within which they exist and are ‘mutually conditioned’ (Messerschmidt, 2012: 59) . And lastly and what we often fail to consider- the interconnectedness of each relationship with other relationships, for example, the relationship between gender and caste impacts and is impacted by the relationships between gender-class and caste-class, something that I will elaborate later on in the essay. To assume each relationship in isolation and as unilinear is to miss the most crucial component of intersectionality, which calls for the understanding of relationships as constantly interacting and intersecting.

I now proceed to test masculinity’s relational dynamics as slanted and crucial to the its longevity as a stabilising factor of multiple patriarchies. Several scholars have addressed the internally complex nature of masculinity as a category . Messerschmidt seems convinced about there being no fixed masculinity and that gender hierarchies were “historical” and therefore  “subject to change” (Connell & Messerschmidt: 832). Connell argues that “The problem of shifting definitions is exacerbated by our inability to define either masculinity or femininity except in relation to each other and to men and women” (1995:71). In his critique of Connell’s conception of hegemonic masculinities, Demetriou argues that “men do not constitute a homogenous or internally coherent bloc” (2001:340).

However, masculinity exists, not simply in equitable relations with feminity but in what Paechter (2006) calls a “dualistic relation”, “whether claimed by males or females, positions both extreme and normative feminity as without power, and indeed, as pathological” (p.257). Feminity thus constitutes everything that masculinity is not and something that all ‘incompetent’ masculinities dread slipping into. Roy comprehensively paraphrases this in his article- “This fear of failure (of attaining masculinity) is also a fear of the feminine because failure represents the danger of slipping into a category that you have never respected and held as inferior to your kind. From fear to hatred is a very short journey and violence a logical corollary” (2013: 25). In other words, failure amounts to feminity, a synonym of powerlessness. What is clear here is that the binarism of masculinity and feminity isn’t just relational or mutually exclusive, but it one where masculinity is everything that feminity can never be, and feminity is everything that masculinity is so threatened of becoming, so much so that the very act of successful emulation of masculinity by the female body is suppressed to “…allow for male masculinity to stand unchallenged as the bearer of gender stability and gender deviance” (Halberstam, 2001: 372).

Further, as Halberstam points out, “…unlike male feminity which fulfils a ritual function in male homosocial cultures, female masculinity is generally  received by hetero- and homo-normative cultures as a pathological sign of misidentification or maladjustment, as a longing to be and to have a power that is always just out of reach” (ibid: 360). Despite being binary opposites, “feminities are not constructed in the ways masculinities are; they do not confer cultural power, nor are they able to guarantee patriarchy. They are, instead, constructed as a variety of negations of the masculine” (Paechter, 2006:256). Whether seen at the normative level, or at the level of performativity or embodiment, masculinity and feminity don’t just exist in relational terms but they do so in a dualistic relation, which lacks an equal balance and the “subordinate term is negated”, and “feminity is thus, defined as a lack, an absence of masculinity (Kessler and McKenna, 1978)” (ibid). Hence, masculinity doesn’t simply attain its logical coherence in a simple relation to feminity, instead, it does so by placing itself on the ascendent end of what I term a ‘slanted relationship’ with feminity, legitimising itself through unequal gender relations where the feminine is constantly debased, thereby amounting to a stabilising factor of multiple patriarchies in a ‘phallocentric worldview’. It is for the same reason that masculinity is so firmly situated in the male, and any instance of female masculinity is subdued, for that allows male masculinity to “stand unchallenged as the bearer of gender stability and gender deviance.” (Halberstam, 2001: 372)

My use of the term ‘multiple patriarchies’ implies an intentional move beyond the opposite binarism of male-female and masculinity-feminity to address a similarly dualistic relationship elsewhere.

Apart from patterns of masculinity being “socially defined in contradistinction from some model (whether real or imaginary) of femininity”, they are also formed as a result of “social ascendency of one group of men over others (Connel & Messerschmidt, 2005: 848; 844). Hegemonic masculinity isn’t just “ a configuration of gender practice which…guarantees the dominant position of men and the subordination of women” (Demetriou, 2001: 340) but as Anandhi et al point out, treats “those men who do not or cannot conform to hegemonic masculinity as effeminate and inferior” (2002: 4397). Further, it ensures the durability and survivability of patriarchy more through ‘incorporation than active oppression’. Demetriou borrows the Gramscian concept of ‘dialectical pragmatism’ and Bhabha’s ‘hybridity’, to account for hegemonic masculinity as an ‘internally diversified bloc’ that counters the ‘crisis of patriarchy’ and adapts to historical changes by constantly incorporating non- hegemonic masculinities “in order to construct the best possible strategy for the reproduction of patriarchy” (2001: 348). He asserts that the interplay between hegemonic and non- hegemonic masculinities in his ‘masculine bloc’ is “non-dualistic” (ibid). However convincing Demetriou’s account may seem, “in practice, both incorporation and oppression can occur together” (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005: 848).  This indicates a similarly dualistic relationship between hegemonic and non-hegemonic masculinities which, despite being slightly masqueraded by the ‘incorporation’ factor which makes it seem like there is room for mutual exchange, is eventually one-sided and in the favour of hegemonic masculinity, which exercises ‘effeminacy’, ’oppression’ and ‘incorporation’ simultaneously. For example, despite hegemonic masculinity being enacted by only by a minority of men, it is constructed as an idealised type of masculinity, which, despite not corresponding closely to the actual lives of any men, is structured within the widespread ideals, fantasies and desires of men that they constantly strive for but can never completely achieve (ibid:832; 838). Hegemonic masculinity is thus imparted normative value to the extent of placing it at an unattainable height, in a ‘slanted relationship’ with non hegemonic masculinities, constituting everything that non-hegemonic masculinities constantly lack while it can freely ‘effeminate’, ‘incorporate’ and ‘oppress’.

However, to neatly place hegemonic masculinities as the ‘incorporators’ and ‘oppressors’ versus non-hegemonic masculinities as the ‘incorporated’ and ‘oppressed’  in two homogenous, mutually exclusive binaries, is, according to Gopal (2006: 810) not only “incongruous but also makes us aware of the not so salient axioms of positivist, colonial logic.” The numbers variants of hegemonic and non-hegemonic masculinities are categorised not only according to their relational proximity to “a particular hegemonic masculinity” as Paechter (2006: 255) argues but in an intersectional relationship to the ‘social dynamics’ within which they are constituted. Undertaking an intersectional approach towards masculinities helps us understand the complex contestation of masculinities not only in relation to one another but within an entire social structure, as elaborated in the example below.

In their accounts, Anandhi et al, who conducted a research in the Thirnur village in Tamil Nadu, observed that the dominant response to the constant emasculation and humiliation of the dalit (lower caste) men by the mudaliar (upper caste) men emerged in “symbolic wish fulfilment in safer locations… even if dalits could not beat up the mudaliars in person, they dismembered the bodies of mudaliars after their death- when the bodies were left in the burning ghat for cremation… inscribed by the dalit men’s desire to be masculine enough and an acknowledgement of their inability to do so” (2002: 4399). In contrast to this, several decades later, the younger generation of dalits resisted upper-caste dominance in more direct ways, by “contesting upper caste dominance, primarily by refusing to work for mudaliars and by getting direct access to land either as sharecroppers or as owners of land” (p.4400). Not only do these examples point to the changing relations between hegemonic and non-hegemonic masculinities in terms of resistance but place these resistances in a “complex interplay of territorial control, display of violence and masculinity” (p.4401) within a larger structural  “socio-economic transformation” (p.4405).

Furthermore, what these accounts problematise is the notion that only the ‘disempowered’ are forced to assert their masculinity through “embodied acts of display” (p.4401-4402). Anandhi et al have accounted similar acts of “embodied acts of display” through the use of “violence against women” by upper-caste mudaliar men of the same village. Why would men, who are monetarily well-off, hold high a high social status in terms of their caste and possess normative power over hegemonic masculinity as the village patriarchs feel the need to re assert their masculinity? Interestingly, hegemonic masculinity, while being resisted and increasingly contested by the dalit men of the village, in increasingly characterised by resistance. Not only did the dalit notion of “being a man” get equated with “being able to demonstrate one’s distance from a regional (mudaliar) hegemonic masculinity (Wetherell & Edley:1995)” (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005:840), but also with resisting and constantly challenging it. In response to that, the threatened mudaliar masculinity gets characterised as a threatened, non-hegemonic masculinity itself, but this shift does not amount to hegemonic masculinity getting attached to dalit masculinity. Neither the hyper masculine dalit man lacking insufficient resources, nor the publicly emasculated village patriarch qualify as a repository of or complicit to hegemonic masculinity. As Anandhi et al sum up, “Though the masculine practices of the dalit youths look as if they are hegemonic, it is incomplete and at best a processual interregnum at the time of study” (2002: 4405). Hegemonic masculinity, in the process gets attached to the very act of resistance, which constitutes the violent subjugation of  women (of their caste and the other’s) by two equally problematised caste-based masculinities. To sum up, hegemonic masculinity in the Thirnur village is produced through the very act of resistance to the brahmanical patriarchy of the upper caste (mudaliars) with a hyper masculine assertion of masculinity by men of the lower caste (dalits) and a counter resistance by the ‘publicly emasculated’ mudaliars. Evidently, the social dynamics of caste placed individuals at locations that will constantly be contested by them or others in resistance to them, locations that they can never fully achieve. It is in this constant contestation that the heart of patriarchy lies and hegemonic masculinity is produced.

To conclude, I would like to contend that whether looking for masculinity’s regressive elements or its progressive potential, neither can be duly achieved by treating it in isolation. In terms of what masculinity contradicts, be it feminity or non-hegemonic masculinities (in the more specific case of hegemonic masculinity), it does so by placing itself in a slanted interplay in an inherently hegemonic pattern that is crucial to its longevity as a stabilising factor of multiple patriarchies in a ‘phallocentric worldview’. This regressive element exists in its relational interplay. Moreover, in approaching masculinity through its slanted interplay with what it contradicts brings up the question of which one we fix normative value to. Which masculinity becomes fixed and which ones play as its satellites? Such normative value has clearly been imparted to hegemonic masculinity by Connell and to female masculinity by Halberstam. Can one hope for the slanted interplay to become more equitable without questioning the top-down placement of these normative values?

Speaking of its progressive potential, one can argue that since masculinity exits in “constant contestation” and is “historically open”, is a concept in social science that “has the capacity to travel and acquire new meanings” (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005:853). However, placing it outside isolation and in relational terms in itself and to the larger structure of social dynamics does not necessitate gender equity. Yet, situating masculinity within an intersectional framework is definitely a step in the right direction, an ongoing process that has to travel long before both, femininity and masculinity can escape ‘phallocentric world views’ to situate themselves in more ethical relations of gender justice and equity.


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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.

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