Posted by Shradha T K Lama
The Indian Bhadralok circle is in ripples. We are witnessing momentarily a fundamental psychological shake among the flag bearers of academia, both men and women. Raya Sarkar’s post listing the names of professors in academics who have been accused of sexual harassment has received such wide acclaim in just hours. The situation at par can be looked at through various perspectives.
Of course, since this debate has been flagged off in the very heart of academia, what better than to use one’s critical thinking, knowing full well that most of the professors, activists, lawyers opposing Raya’s list have been torch bearers of feminism in India? We have attended their lectures, been fed basics of feminism by them and devoured their books.
Raya’s list contains names of 60 people, most of them not surprisingly happen to be from the upper caste bhadralok circles. The anecdote necessitating the circumvented analogy comes from the fact that academia is very much in control of the Upper Caste and this is why whether one likes it or not, “Identity” becomes important.
Of course all the left radical signatories on the Name and Shame post in Kafila might have seen this only from class perspective and added a few “jai bheem” here and there, but the fact of the matter is that to see it in psychological terms what Raya’s post has pricked is the 1000 years’ incumbent ego of the Upper Caste inherent pedagogy.
Since 2014 there, has been resurrection of Bharat Mata with such grandness in the mainstream discourse of Indian politics, the topic “Nationalism and Women” has been written in great depth. The homogenization and formation of the nation-state as structured in the same metamorphosis as the patriarchal family structure has been much talked about in seminars, workshops, classrooms and all spaces occupied by academia. The uniformity of the features and attributes of the body-polity of Bharat Mata has been dissed by feminists all over and the disenfranchisement of only a particular caste and race of women in the embodiment of this lascivious woman has been rejected.
The discourse surrounding Bharat Mata and the perpetual dismissal of its attributes and attempts at homogenization is very similar to much talked about singular uniform “feminist movement”. The talk of the town is that this listing of sexual harassers and putting it forth on social media will cause rifts to the feminist movement – its struggles and achievements. Keep in mind that it is a “singular uniform” feminist movement, within the body-polity of India and includes all those who, with or without consent, happen to live within its borders. Hence, there is homogenization of Bharat Mata and there is homogenization of a utopian feminist movement.
The talk of the town is that this listing of sexual harassers on social media will cause rifts to the feminist movement – its struggles and achievements.
Homogeneity takes many forms, and in this case it takes the form of a singular feminist movement and its achievements. Hence the current feminist movement is circumvented into a structure and as goes with all structures, there comes inherent a hierarchy. This hierarchy is not that of the old and the new generation. Not the misgivings of the tech savvy generations but it is a hierarchy of caste and race. Here we see Savarna women, the flag bearers of a uniform feminist movement, clamor for discipline to keep the feminist movement in a singular line. Don’t stray from it, for then shall come the wrath of such social and cultural capital none from marginalized can ever have access to. When questioned on the peculiarity of this feminism that is being preached to us from the top, all we get back for necessitating praxis is how they have given advice to one or two survivors on ways to deal with the situation.
If the feminist movement in India is singular and uniform then just like the body-polity of India, the egalitarianism rests only in words for the hierarchy creates various dynamics of power. First, let’s talk about the camaraderie we are witnessing between the accused men and the signatorial women. Study academia from the perspective of an upper caste family structure.
When cases of sexual harassments have been filed against upper caste men in society, we have seen how their wives and women in their family come in their support, be the case true or not, demand evidence and call the situation a way to defame their social standing. But currently, all the women who are opposing Raya’s list aren’t just any other women. These are women who have written and spoken in lengths and breaths on women’s issues.
Hence, they claim that they have the experiences and claim that they are not dissuading sexual harassment as being a hideous act. However, the merrymaking between the surnames of those accused and the surnames of the defendants cannot be seen in an isolated vacuum. Both are bred in close paradigm of the caste system and Race in the Body polity of India.
As far as “due process” and faith in the structure is concerned, it really is amazing as to how procedures and processes are spelt out as per the convenience of those in higher proximity to the superstructure. Where does all the radicalness of feminism go when it comes to questioning the hegemony of their kith and clan? This is not to imply the necessity of radical steps and the legitimization of lawlessness that is being entrusted in the listing of names but to imply how the structure is defined as long as the power structure is kept intact.
The verdicts in case of gender violence in the north-east or in Kashmir or the various communal riots have taken the path of “due process” and many of the survivors have been helped by many women whose names we see among the defendants, but we also notice how the solidarity also come as per the maintenance of their status quo. Upper caste feminists stand in long lines with raised fists when it comes to talking about gender violence in the north east but again when faced with the election defeat of Irom Sharmila, therein comes the wrath from the masters above and statements where the people of north east are seen as illiterate/uneducated/uncivilized population.
Of course, when have women from the north-east ever been focused in feminist debates except when one starves herself or another resorts to protesting naked? What follows is the photos of such women being used as disclaimers for solidarity to feminist movement all over the body-polity of India. Hence, “chinky” women have a say but only when our bodies gain the kind of attention that fit within the jigsaw puzzle of grandness.
The power of those who seem to be controlling the unravelling of feminist discourse in the nation state of India operate with the same masculine power discourse as their male counterparts. The master has full control over the body of the serfs. The master being both men and women who occupy the higher forums of power.
This whole argument about “due process” tries to prevent certain facts from being disclosed and discussed in public domain. Pallavi Rao in one of her Facebook posts argues, “When they say ‘due process’, they want to reduce it to individual persons and isolated incidents”. If these cases were studied separately, we would never be able to see the almost uniform caste composition in them. When most of the men named in the list come from a particular caste group, we will have to consider the role of caste seriously. Are the cheerleaders of “due process” not trying hide this caste composition and thereby rescuing caste from being questioned?
It is also interesting to note that in none of the statements issued by the mainstream Indian feminist includes Raya Sarkar’s name. It is always addressed as “the list” or “the post”. Why? When everyone knows who wrote “the post” and who initiated “the list”, why is there such invisibilization of an assertive Dalit woman? She has undertaken a bold, risky task and her efforts at least need to be recognized. Instead of this, her act is termed as “vigilantism”. Her “cautionary” list is renamed as “name and shame” list.
When Kavita Krishnan creates a false equivalence between Dalit or Muslim men who get wrongly accused and lynched with those upper caste men named in the list, she is missing a bunch of things. She is refusing to acknowledge the caste-class privileges. She is also ignoring the truth that all these upper caste men named in the list will never be lynched in this country unlike the Dalit or Muslim men whom she is using as a rhetoric to protect her “kith and kin”. And she is not the only one!
Social history plays an important role in the way the current scenario can be deciphered. As would the Annales School of Historians, lets see this uniform feminist movement that is being talked about as a long process rather than an event.
It was only recently that Savarna feminists have started to acknowledge caste violence in gender exploitation. Previously their red vision was sparred with class division of society. When a uniform feminist movement is talked about and plans and processes are undertaken to embark a forward liberation process, the representation is witnessed in the form of estates of the medieval emperors.
When have women from the north-east ever been focused in feminist debates except when one starves herself or another resorts to protesting naked?
We have representatives who are as equivalent to masters living in the big cities and the serfs have a relationship based on a treaty to ensure a peace process in the working of the system (in this case a uniform savarna feminist movement). The uniformity of feminist movement is a myth. It is a utopia of upper caste women who are in greater proximity to the glass ceiling and who want to keep intact their caste-race privileges.
Coming back to “the list” and “the post”. Aditya Nigam has called the list, “A new vigilante model of justice” and has, as expected, stated “I would find it demeaning to even try to prove my innocence – that too against mere innuendo”. Catchphrase the word “Demeaning” in the position occupied by an upper-caste man. “Demeaning” for upper caste men takes the same form as the loss of honor for upper caste women.
Where shall men/women from those who already lie at the demeaning segment of the society place themselves? One can note the various words being used by those opposing “the list” and collide it with their statutorial standing. Kavita Krishnan in her article states “It’s like blackening faces”. Now see blackening face as seen as a way of deamination among the upper caste.
The current scenario as it is being played out with Raya’s and Swar Thounaoja’s (who in her faebook post wrote about three people she identified personally as harassers in the list) account getting blocked on Facebook, preventing them from speaking up is yet another system of disenfranchisement where those from below have to resist in such proximity to let their voice be heard and then face such clampdown.
The current debate is not just about sexual harassment, it is the discourse that surrounds who can speak up and who cannot. What kind of support will be given to those who speak up in accordance with the background of the accused? There again comes the inherent definition of who falls within the social definition of a rapists/harasser and who doesn’t – hence accomplished academicians cannot commit sexual harassments or rather there is a “due process” to be followed when the perspective is that from bottom up.
It is quite amazing that those opposing are the ones who have taught us philosophies, power relations, gender in classrooms and lectures. But this is what privilege does to a person, you speak only from the outside, not when it threatens your status quo, hence nothing should happen in “Your Name”.
Written with inputs from Tejaswini Tabhane.
Shradha is a third year History student at Lady Sri Ram College.
Featured Image Credit: TTbook