Trigger Warning: Rape, Abuse
Even amidst a global pandemic, men (in this case boys) never cease to make social media an unsafe space for women. Recently, a group called, “Bois Locker Room” created by a bunch of 15-16-year-old individuals surfaced on social media. The group chat is exactly what it sounds like – a space where the members objectified women and shared their nudes without their consent. The group was exposed on social media by women who were discussed in the chat. This led to much needed legal action against the members of the group and a much-needed conversation on rape culture in India.
However, what slipped out in these discussions surrounding the Bois Locker Room was the predominantly upper-caste make up of the chat and its impact on the discourse surrounding the chat. The Bois Locker Room incident does not only beg conversation surrounding rape culture in India and holding men accountable. It also begs for conversation around caste and its intersections with patriarchy. We need to explore the different facets of the Bois Locker Room through this intersectional lens.
Upper Caste Bois of the Locker Room
Upper caste men enjoy double the privileges in a society where caste-based oppression and gender oppression go hand in hand. Caste by its very nature is patriarchal, as Uma Chakravarty, a feminist historian, who coined the term “Brahminical Patriarchy” explains. In her work “Conceptualising Brahminical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class, and State,” Chakravarty highlights the relationship between controlling female sexuality to maintaining caste order. She says that the purity of caste can not be ensured without closely monitoring female sexuality.
Due to their reproducing ability, women are seen as gateways to the caste system and thus, they need to be controlled. Women have the ability to “pollute the ritual order” by contaminating pure blood through miscegeny. Restricting movement and controlling female sexuality became a way of ensuring the stability of the caste structure. As a result, upper caste Hindu men’s control over female bodies became necessary in order to preserve the caste system.
Tracing the intersections of caste and patriarchy allows us to see the case of the Bois Locker Room in a different light. It allows us to place the boy’s individual actions as a part of a larger Brahminical society; a society designed to allow upper-caste men authority over female bodies. One way this is done is by making most, if not all, public spaces male-dominated. These spaces include temples, offices, homes, and even social media. In fact, according to Boston Consulting Group and Retailers Association of India women makeup 29% of internet users while 71% are men. Further, caste based or gender based trolling on social media by the hand of upper-caste men is often not seen as a “violation of community guidelines.”
The boys’ actions take on a different meaning if placed in this larger context. They navigate the world with an assurance that all the systems work in their favor. Their ability to share naked pictures of women on platforms like Instagram with no fear of consequences is a mere extension of this. Their entitlement towards women’s bodies stem from this deep-rooted Brahminical patriarchy, not merely patriarchy.
In fact, our society works tirelessly to ensure that upper-caste Hindu men never have to deal with the consequences of their actions. Recently, a police investigation found that Snapchat screenshots which contained threats of rape were not a part of the Bois Locker Room chat. Instead, the screenshots belonged to a whole separate conversation where a girl, disguised as a boy, was responsible for making the threats. While this clarification was definitely necessary, the fact still remains that locker room talk is unacceptable and members of the Bois Locker Room did share pictures of women without their consent.
Yet, people continue to make a correlation between the two events, using it as a scapegoat to absolve the members of the chat. This “fact check” has been overwhelmingly welcomed by Savarna society and media who scrambled for any excuse under the roof to grant the bois innocence. Caste allegiance and bias is the bedrock of this ardent need to prove the boys as innocent. Marginalized boys (or men) hardly ever receive this impunity or even benefit of the doubt. Muslim, Dalit, Adivasi men are criminalized as threats to the purity of upper-caste women and hence caste as a whole. Instances of crime committed by marginalized men, especially with regards to upper-caste women, fit neatly into the framework of caste.
While legal, political and social institutions work tirelessly to exonerate the upper caste Hindu man, the marginalized man’s perversion is an easy pill to swallow in a Brahminical society. This criminalization of these men is reflected in the disproportionate number of marginalized men belonging in our prison system. The 2015 NCRB report noted that Dalits, Adivasis, and Muslims constitute 55% of the under-trial prisoners in India. This figure is considerably disproportionate to their total share of the population (33%). This number has only grown since.
In fact, if it wasn’t for this social media outrage would the actions of the bois of the locker room ever be reported and taken action against?
A glance into the past would say no. Violence committed by upper caste men is often socially legitimized due to their positionality as protectors of caste. In turn, women who speak out against them are shamed for disrupting community and or family “honor.” Due to this social stigma reporting rates and conviction rates in terms of sexual violence against women is generally low. Further, in 2018 the number of crimes against Dalits, almost always by the hands of upper-caste men, was a staggering 193,000. The conviction rate, however, was merely 26%.
This is without taking into account specific data on crimes against Dalit women by upper-caste Hindu men and unreported anti-Dalit crime. A lense which takes into the intersecting nature of caste and gender illuminates the fact that the only thing that is an anomaly in the Bois Locker Room is the fact that upper caste men are being held accountable.
But what about Savarna women?
Savarna women as Defenders of the Brahminical Patriarchy
Girls, who were friends of the individuals involved, defended them on the basis that, “Their reputation is being shat upon which is completely wrong.” The girls who defended the Bois Locker Room chat need to be viewed as girls belonging to a certain class, caste, and religious backgrounds. They are not anomalies but a part of a larger trend of upper-caste Hindu women continuously protecting upper-caste men and the caste hierarchy. This is because upper caste Hindu women play a dual role within Brahminical patriarchy. Although Savarna women are subordinated in a patriarchal society, within Brahminical patriarchy the extent of this subordination is determined by their position in the gender and caste hierarchy.
Uma Chakravarti explains this duality. She writes, “Although the subordination of women is a common feature of almost all stages of history, and is prevalent in large parts of the world, the extent and form of that subordination has been conditioned by the social and cultural environment in which women have been placed.” Chakravarty takes us beyond binaries of oppressed vs. oppressor to show that the level of subordination (and or privilege) depends on numerous intersecting factors like class, caste, and so on.
Change in any of the three results in a different degree of privilege/subordination. This is exemplified by the fact that the girls who called out the boys are able to utilize their caste and class privilege to take a stand against the Bois Locker Room. While this disruption is valid and necessary, caste still plays an integral role in the ability to disrupt. So upper-caste, upper-class Hindu women while subordinated under the Hindu patriarch, are still able to operate with caste and class privilege.
In fact, upper caste Hindu women enter into a kind of bargain through which they, still subordinated, get a few shares in the status and wealth of upper-caste Hindu men. As Chakravarty puts it, “Women’s perpetuation of the caste system was achieved partly through their investment in a structure that rewarded them even as it subordinated them at the same time.” Upper caste Hindu women themselves propagate and uphold the caste system to hold on to whatever privileges they can incur.
Savarna women uphold the caste system by either displaying selective outrage on issues that only pertain to their identity or choosing their caste over their gender. Take the example of ‘The List‘, in which Raya Sarkar collated a list of professors who had sexually harassed students. The list once again consisted of mainly upper-caste Hindu professors. After the list started gaining traction, numerous upper-caste feminists like Nivedita Menon and Kavita Krishnan put out a statement saying they were upset with the way Sarkar went about creating the list. Upper caste women came for the defense of upper-caste Hindu men at the cost of the larger feminist movement and specifically Dalit women. This was a clear display of the fallacies of Savarna feminism.
Brahminical Patriarchy as Praxis
Vasudha Katju, a professor of Gender Studies at Ambedkar University teaches us about this notion of Brahminical patriarchy as praxis. She says that we need to shift our focus away from ourselves as individuals and view ourselves as parts of larger caste, class, and religious communities.
She says that, “[Brahminical Patriarchy] requires us to think of how our actions reproduce those communities. It requires the recognition that our most personal decisions — what to study, what kind of a job to do, how to dress, what to eat, whom to marry, if and with whom to have children — have implications that go far beyond us…” So, our actions and knowledge are shaped not merely as men and/or women but men and/or women belonging to certain castes.
Such a framework is integral in any discussion that poses the possibility of feminist liberation. Viewing the actions of the girls and boys involved in the Bois Locker Room incidence through the intersections of caste and patriarchy can help us learn or un-learn more. It can illuminate this event as a mere link in a large chain of caste and patriarchal violence.
In fact, it can include a certain amount of self-reflexivity in debates surrounding this incident. While validating the need for this conversation, we can also regard the fact that the upper caste makeup of everyone involved in The Bois Locker Room incident has influenced the conversation surrounding it and even our reactions to it. As an upper-caste Hindu woman myself, I implicate myself in this discussion and argue that without recognizing that each and every action of mine, even writing this article, has implications that go far beyond me. I hold myself accountable for being complicit in the propagation of Brahminical patriarchy. I can not truly practice authentic intersectional feminism without recognizing myself as an oppressor.
Featured Image Source: The Hindu