Posted by Shivani Channan
The Elle magazine carried out a piece written by Dalit American activist Thenmozhi Soundarajan. The essay was titled with headline (‘What It Means To Be An ‘Untouchable’ In 2017′), which seemed very problematic in 2017. It could clearly be concluded that the writer was Dalit and the editor was a Savarna for sure, to publish that article. It reminded me of a manu-splaining journalist who had titled the article on Rohith Vemula’s death: Was It Depression Or Oppression? Like it’s a choice for DBA students coping with horrors of brahmanical academic spaces.
Some Savarnas may claim that the headline was clever or catchy. But it’s a clear-cut case of manu-splaining (lord Manu author of Manusmriti, I coined it – when the Savarna denies and justifies – that’s not what they mean).
Savarna editors are very meritorious in cluelessly propagating caste stereotypes. They have messed up a powerful article with that headline. Why can’t they choose a headline that’s reflective of the core theme of the essay, which is reclamation of human dignity?
It could simply be the laziness of the meritorious Savarna editors who circle-twerk inside the media industry because their caste and class identity plays in their favour all the time. Or it could be the clever clickbaiting of Dalit misery.
Many clueless woke people asked me what about the use of inverted comma and the quote which the author is holding saying: we are all untouchable until no one is.
The difference is the context.
The POV of the editor was typical Savarna patronising. Had it been an editor with anti-caste thought rather than a “casteless” woke millennial, the last line would have been the headline where Thenmozhi Soundarajan asserts that pro-caste people may see us as untouchables but we chose to be Dalit. This says a lot about the narrative chosen by Savarna controlled media of victim Dalit rather than ex-untouchable thought popularised by the Dalit movements.
Negro or ‘negro’ published by a magazine with an all-white editorial board would call for serious critique. Especially when they have given so many feature covers to a Savarna film star, “the desi girl” as opposed to her appropriation of a Mary Kom, a Kom tribal woman.
The magazines such as Elle have been so blinded by L’Oreal’s mascara that they can’t see how socio-politically charged that word they used is. Their Savarna sensibility of Dalits is still stuck up in 19th century while Dalit women have progressed, like yours truly, making damn good anti-caste DBA memes and rapping poems on Instagram.
Recently an Ambedkarite law student Raya Sarkar, assertive of their politics in the space of social media, was accused of being an “Internet Ambedkarite” by a very woke Savarna woman who I shall not name and spare till her next goof-up. Should Dalit women also retort back in equally nasty manner and meme the eff outta her as saree-bindi Savarna feminist? Will it serve the purpose of feminism?
The fact was that it ran on the magazine of Elle, which has propagated an urban poor kind of feminism, which is too Savarna and never gives space to LGBTQ/DBA voices. If it does, the price paid in exchange for a platform is appropriation.
Is the feminist discourse of this country inclusive of it’s DBA voices? Are there any Dalit editors to make sure that caste stereotyping is not propagated as cluelessly as it was. Its 2017 and Indian media has a very serious diversity issue. Even in the alt-media woke websites I have called out, several social media trend editors joked on Vemula’s death and Kambli’s skin tone. Did any woke feminist support me? Will they spare some tweeting for Anita and NEET issue if they are done with the Blue Whale challenge?
Or even this case of problematic headlines by Elle magazine?
Where have they have learnt to milk the poor Dalit sterotype? Is it from Savarna saviours of DBA people? Yes, I am talking about Goddess (Arundhati) Roy, whom they recently featured on their cover. Will she call out Elle for not featuring Thenmozhi Soundarajan on their cover or the Kom tribal girl who won this country an Olympic bronze medal? Or will she continue to act like snooty Savarna students who shame DBA women for clothes, English, facial features, skin tone and entrance exam score in academic spaces.
The paradox between the last line of the essay where Thenmozhi Soundarajan asserts herself and the caste clickbaiting shows how Savarna feminist discourse fails to pass the mic to DBA women . Because it’s still under the spell of manu who has internalized caste-superiority in Savarna females so deeply that they love Dalit victims. “Untouchables”, not assertive “internet ambedkarites” like me. Elle will not apologize or redo it, I know woke millennials far too well.
It has happened before when Neha Dixit profiled a Naroda Patiya riot-survivor. Kuffir (Roundtable India co-founder) questioned her on the wording of the tweet (I think I am too cynical to read this), and the problematic POV of ‘Dalits becoming Hindu’ that the article seems to endorse. Savarna POV is so high on gaumutra, it won’t let the journos address the DBA diversity issue, hire DBA staff editors or just say three simple words: we are sorry!
Shivani Channan is a Dalit meme maker who tweets @DardEdiscourse and raps good insta poetry @shivani_channan. If you are also a pro-caste and anti-LGBTQ germ, you might be featuring in her next meme. Her Tumblr blog is full of meme and GIFs.
Featured image and memes credits: DardEDiscourse