Posted by Ekabali Ghosh
The trend of “Faka Flat” references’ reappearance on social media this year demonstrated important issues in left-wing students’ politics: overwhelming machismo, feminist anger and the construction of the left by the Hindutva and non-Hindutva right. This article examines the same.
What Is “Faka Flat”?
A “faka flat” reference presupposes two archetypal characters: a horny older leftist dada and in contrast to him, the disinterested younger woman. In the so-called situation, the dada is said to invite the younger woman into his “faka” or “empty” flat under the guise of explaining to her the Marxist philosophy, when his actual intention is to manufacture her consent to have sex with him. The situation may escalate to sexual violence or it may just remain an attempted mansplaining of philosophy. Unsurprisingly enough, the punchline caught on within feminist circles. Quite deservedly, the Marxist dada has been made synonymous to the “faka flat”.
But something about the “faka flat” trend gets factually wrong about the Marxist university culture. Most Marxist dada activists do not come from the upper middle-class background that the “faka flat” punchline assumes. The vast majority of them have no access to empty flats of their own. Marxist activists in Kolkata’s elite universities are overwhelmingly savarna yet overwhelmingly lower middle class.
Worth noting is how “faka flat” is spelt in English. Speakers of Bengali know that the Bengali word for “empty” is not “ফাকা” (“faka”) but “ফাঁকা” (“fnaka”). In social media terminology, this little difference is often forgotten. When a joke is written in English, it is barely ever written as “fnaka”, but mostly “faka”. The difference is attributable to social media language but also points to the class privilege of those who have popularised the “faka flat” trend, individuals who have not grown up in close proximity to the Bengali language. So, if the “faka flat” is a trend popularized by class privileged individuals and directed at lower middle class men, who in reality have no access to empty flats in the first place, what is the so-called joke about, in the first place?
The “Faka Flat” Is In Fact, A Code Amongst Women Who Know
The “Faka flat” references are about the overwhelming access to young female bodies that is structurally legitimised and provided to older men in leftist organisational politics. The “faka flat” is a codex of invisible and forgotten experiences that are remembered by women activists. The “faka flat” is an ode to the betrayal of feminist and anti-caste dreams by the obstinate, macho left. It is code for that time when someone tried to tell you that dada no. 420 is actually a great Marxist philosopher and he used that reputation to creep into your pants. And it is a code that you and I, women and queers, can read and understand as signifying the rigged sexual politics of recruitment to left organizations.
The Messy Sexual Politics Of Recruitment And Anger Against The Lipstick Lobbyists
I have already mentioned that the overwhelming number of left activists in universities come from a lower middle-class demographic. Many of them struggle to express themselves in English. The men in particular hold a sort of disdain for the English-educated women who enter Presidency and Jadavpur University’s more anglicised departments. This demographic of urban, lipsticked women is already informed on the feminist praxis, if not theory. So high is the visibility of this English-speaking feminist demographic that Bengali speaking and/or Dalit Bahujan women are simply invisibilised in feminist movements.
The leftist dadas are often said to find themselves out of their depth while talking to these elite women. This is also why conventionally good looking, English speaking and high-caste male recruits are so valued by other men in Marxist circles. These young men are trained to charm younger women by left organizations, including the SFI.
The culture of recruitment of younger female activists is thoroughly heterosexed. The older men do not necessarily sexually assault women. Instead many attempt to manufacture a kind of desirability around themselves through their male disciples who put them on a pedestal, constructing them as intellectuals who demand a female fan following. A male veteran activist is said to have once observed that when a young woman crushes on a dada, the dada must not start a relationship with her but keep the prospect of a relationship alive so that she joins his leftist organization over others.
This is why the “faka flat” trend is important. While heterosexed hegemony dictates that women find this dada desirable, “faka flat” references reduce him to just a little more than a horny teenager. At its core, “faka flat” is about power imbalances in heterosexed politics.
Or At Least, That’s How We Feminists Used It
Not surprisingly though, the “faka flat” reference has now been co-opted by ABVP operatives in Jadavpur University. In a recent controversy, a female ABVP cadre posted (in a departmental WhatsApp group) a picture of a female SFI activist who carried an anti-Modi poster and captioned it, “Faka Flat a giye Lenin bujhe ashar por Lal mamoni” (“Red Mamoni after she goes to an empty flat and is explained Lenin”). The indication here is that any dissent by a Leftist woman is not the product of her own intellectual acumen and is a result of cismen-orchestrated brainwashing. The suggestive “faka flat”, used to make fun of the unequal heterosexual dimension within the leftist politics, is reduced here to a space for debauchery, with the onus resting squarely on the woman. Right wingers imagine women as both the victims as well as the site of this heterosexed culture but not through a feminist lens but a moralistic lens deeming the women as corrupted.
Along with ABVP, the MRAs and incels (the digital non-Hindutva right) have latched on to this reference. The common argument seems to be that progressive values in women are instilled through sex and drugs, thus reducing women’s politics to their lifestyles.
The suggestion of sex already existed within the “empty” flat itself. But feminists meant to laugh at men, not harass women. A friend once asked me whether this kind of co-option is a pitfall of identity politics itself and whether we should steer clear of sexually charged jokes in the future.
The Pornotropia Of Leftist University Culture
The sexual shaming of university women is part of a larger populist imagination of students (especially female students) from elite universities as hypersexed bodies. 3000 used condoms can delegitimise JNU’s credibility; JU women are regularly shamed for wearing shorts. Universities with leftist student bodies are othered in popular imagination as something of a “freak”: a place of sin where free sex is the norm, and where queerness galore. Populist Brahminical consciousness imagines universities as pornotropic, a space where all kinds of debauchery is possible. In this imagination, sexual exploitation and sex are not seen as two different entities. Questions of women’s agency take a back seat as they become sites over which moralistic popular culture fights its war against the imagined debauchery of leftist culture.
This is also why left feminists cannot stop talking about sexual politics. To not use the language of sex would perhaps make the left temporarily palatable to the middle classes. But then, we would only be pandering to the rightward, conservative shift in politics we constantly complain about. The CPI(M)-led Brahminical-left has previously made the mistake of sanitising sexuality out of left politics. For instance, the Socialist Unity Centre Of India (Communist) party had condemned the legalisation of homosexuality by the Delhi High Court in 2009.
Further, I have heard from feminist-activists formerly associated with SFI, that the dadas used to ask them to wear long-sleeved kurtis from Dakshinapan, a clothes market near Jadavpur University, and even describe how deep the necklines should go.
The infamous anecdotes describing policing over female bodies that dot left histories is the result of desexualizing female bodies in order to make them acceptable to the popular masses, for female bodies are the sites of discourse.
Policing Sexuality Out Of Left Discourse Is Not Intrinsic To Reaching The Masses. Seek Alternatives.
Every time someone comments on the sexual debauchery of an elite university, the response need not be “hey you couldn’t crack the entrance exam”. Elitism can only increase tensions between the universities and the outside world; claiming an intellectual high ground is not going to help the anti-fascist cause. University-level activists need to claim the streets, not in marches performed for the media gaze but in small interactive groups. During the anti-CAA protests, Jadavpur University students mobilized in massive rallies but eventually the mass pull of these rallies dwindled. Universities like Jadavpur have a high concentration of activists and left groups but those left groups could not unite to create an organized door to door campaign against the NPR-NRC-CAA in their own locality (Jadavpur and South Kolkata), something activists working beyond the university spectrum managed to do. For instance, how Kasturi Basu, an activist of Humans of Patuli project, ran a door-to-door campaign attempting to create awareness around CAA-NRC-NPR.
In the absence of a personal connect between these activists and the masses, it has become easy to feed people populist myths about university students. And since activists largely are barely seen outside their safe haunts, these myths are not dispelled.
It is necessary to revive mass connect but do NOT put the onus of creating the perfect, un-co-optable feminist discourse on us. Co-option by the right is not just the problem of identity politics. Working classes have been militarised by Hindutva parties and yet this does not appeal to our left imaginations when we talk about co-option by Hindutva.
Left groups also need to self-police the men who engage in exploitative behaviour unless they want their credibility to be completely destroyed by popular pornotropia. Cismen comrades can easily discourage sexualised recruitment processes, given how their voices are more amplified than ours anyway.
The language of sex is important in a post-queer politics world where sexuality is important to the leftist agenda. How else will you address homonationalism? As objects and products become central to the expression of queer and kinky identity, how else will the left address questions of the body? And who else, if not feminist activists, will emphatically tell the world that the orgasmic fountain of female and queer sexual desire is different from the slimy advances made by the local Dada 420?
Ekabali Ghosh is an M. Phil. student in the Department of English, Jadavpur University. She is a feminist activist with about four years experience of organizing on the ground. She is the founder of Women Against Sexual Harassment, a platform that supports survivors of sexual violence and Queer Studies Research Cluster, an interdisciplinary network of researchers in the field of queer studies. She is passionate about issues of social justice, feminist theory and eating junk food. She can be found on Facebook.
Featured Image Source: ProKerala.com