In 1981, Audre Lorde delivered her phenomenal keynote address at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in the United States. Her aim was to convince a feminist crowd composed largely of white women of their undeniable complicity in America’s deep-seated racism. Lorde begins by saying:
My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also.
Almost 40 years after they were uttered, these words have acquired a renewed vigor, as we stand shocked over the horrific murder of Bengaluru’s fearless journalist Gauri Lankesh.
As a black lesbian feminist poet and immigrant to the United States, Audre Lorde was working within a system that thrived on the oppression of those like her—people of color, sexual minorities, women, and refugees. She was rightfully angry and hurt not just by systemic racism but by white feminist ‘allies’ that were blind to that very racist system that gave them umpteen privileges over their women of colour counterparts. Even before ‘intersectionality’ became a buzzword, Lorde continued fighting for the kind of feminism that should and has to include in its struggle, a vision of a world free of all kinds of oppression, including race, class, and sexuality.
Gauri Lankesh was one such journalist whose writings spanned the whole gamut of injustices in our society, from casteism to violence against women, revealing the toxicity of hypermasculine, Brahmanical patriarchy that underlies them. Much like Lorde, Lankesh was angry with systemic forces of violence, such as the Hindutva ideology, and also like Lorde, used her gift of writing to express that anger and to turn it into a force that could potentially bring progressive change through the followers of her weekly tabloid.
whose anger needs controlling and why?
Anger in our Indian and especially Hindu society represents one of the six passions that need to be controlled, including greed and lust. Since childhood our families and teachers tell us to learn to control our anger. But whose anger needs controlling and why? When a man decides to rape a woman in a short dress to “teach her a lesson”, society’s moral police justifies his anger. Anger is the primary weapon and OK to use to keep our children, especially daughters “in control”.
Anger becomes a problem when children in Kashmir start pelting stones to exhibit dissent against the Indian government or when a woman journalist decides to question the system. Anger then becomes an ‘incorrect’ means of expression for certain populations that are not meant to be angry and their anger threatens the very foundations of social order. In asking Who’s afraid of Gauri Lankesh?, a question that urges us to go beyond media frenzy about the actual ‘killers’, to understanding the increasingly Brahmanical masculinist ideology that Lankesh stood against, P. Chidambaram perhaps inadvertently also points to how her anger and dissent threatened the establishment in every possible way; especially the power of her words.
But how can one conceive of social change without anger? For those of us ahimsa supporters as well, wasn’t it Gandhi’s anger of being thrown out of a train in South Africa that launched the biggest non-violence movement in recent history? In her keynote, Lorde goes on to say:
Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change…anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in the painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have grave differences, and who are our genuine enemies…Anger is loaded with information and energy.
Some key points to note here: anger is a normal, healthy and necessary response to injustice. One that moves us to work for change. If that anger, that key natural emotional response and source of “information and energy” is harnessed towards action, it can liberate us, as many movements have and continue to do.
One crucial point to remember here, as Lorde says, is:
…hatred and our anger are very different. Hatred is the fury of those who do not share our goals, and its object is death and destruction. Anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change.
What Gauri Lankesh was standing up against was hatred—a hatred that seeks to divide us and destroy difference—to which her response was anger. This anger reflected her grief as a citizen of a country who saw the direction her fellow citizens were headed towards, and her anger, through her pen, was aimed at changing that. Her life, as the life of many revolutionary women before and after, was also full of personal struggles against patriarchy, which emanated from the larger issues she was fighting and resisting:
Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.
anger is a normal, healthy and necessary response to injustice
So let our children be angry at injustices; when they see someone being bullied, when they hear their own mothers justifying the policing of other women, when they see their teachers treating Dalit students like less than humans. Let’s counter hatred—the hatred that drives a man to hit his wife and the hatred that we see currently intensifying against some of our people, with anger that is translated into action and directed towards radical change, like Lorde’s poetry, like Lankesh’s journalism. Instead of scaring us, let Lankesh’s death remind us that now is the time, more than ever, to be angry at those who hate diversity, hate to love, hate to have sex, and hate to live and let live free. Remember:
It is not my anger that launches rockets, spends over sixty thousand dollars a second on missiles and other agents of war and death, slaughters children in cities, stockpiles nerve gas and chemical bombs, sodomizes our daughters and our earth.
Also Read: Who Is Afraid Of Gauri Lankesh?