The power hierarchy based on the structures of sexual identity and masculinity forms the basis of contemporary authoritarian politics. Authoritarianism is not only important in understanding the people’s politics but also affects the most personal life- romantic relationships, lifestyles, basic attitudes about heterosexual relationships and so on. In the time of growing authoritarianism, totalitarian rule based on the centralisation of power and curbing personal freedom globally has set an alarm especially for women and gender minorities who continue to find themselves to be among the first victims of any oppressive or repressive state.
Authoritarian state is mainly based on the nexus between the traditional patriarchal family and state where gendered roles are clearly defined. They not only instruct what to do or what not to do but also promotes the mass propaganda of fear of interbreeding, race mixing and corrupting the pure nation. They generally do it by sexualizing the fear of the other and by distorting history.
Dibyesh Anand in his book ‘Hindu Nationalism in India and the Politics of Fear’ describe Hindutva as a schizophrenic nationalism and also argue that the politics of Hindutva not only project Islam as a threat to Hindus through tools of propagating fear, but also through the attraction. The imagination of the average Muslim man as hypersexualised and overpopulating gives legitimacy to the politics of defensive reaction.
Far rightist elements in India have been baselessly claiming that Muslims men are predatory. These claims gained prominence in recent years with the objectionable statements made by the leaders of the ruling far right party. Throughout Delhi State Assembly elections campaign in 2020, many leaders of BJP has made the inflammatory speeches against the women protestors sitting in Shaheen Bagh and also labelled the Muslim male protestors as potential rapists and murderers.
Repeated use of such provocative and objectionable statements is not simply spontaneous but a well-designed attempt at the otherisation of the Muslim minorities. In an article published in 1970 “The Black Horror on the Rhine: Race is a Factor in Post-World War I Diplomacy” the historian Keith Nelson documents the mass hysteria that gripped Germany about the African soldiers serving among the French troops that occupied the Rhineland starting in 1919. German propaganda about the supposed mass rape of German women by French soldiers from African colonies was spread as wide as possible. The German government promulgated racial fantasies of mass rapes of white women by black men as a means of fighting the French occupation. This propaganda is also successful in racial sensitive United States.
Authoritarian politics is built on and propagates a sense of anxiety, mostly among men (because they are traditionally seen as the protectors of their culture and clan), creating the fear that one’s family is under existential threat from those who reject its structure and traditions. Again, the weapon used is of sexual politics.
In India, Hindu nationalists have always conjured the spectre of “love jihad”, which purported that Muslim men target Hindu women for conversion to Islam by means such as seduction, feigning love, kidnapping or by marriage. It is an established fact that inter-religious love and marriages have not just challenged the various norms and customs of religious fundamentalism but also discredited the politics of identity around communities and boundaries which is the genesis of any authoritarian rule. In order to maintain the politics of authority and deep-entrenched patriarchy, the followers of Hindutva has created the communal narrative of love jihad which, according to them, is the biggest threat to cohesive Hindu-identities. Recently this myth and violent campaigning against romantic relationships has taken the shape of law which criminalises interfaith marriages. This new law deeply undermines the choices of women in love and marriage and also harshly criminalises Muslim men. Currently four BJP-ruled states- Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka have implemented the love jihad law.
This conspiracy theory has similarities with Nazi themes of Jewish world domination and resembling Euro-American Islamophobia. And in addition, it also emphasises on how women are the possessions of men and the former’s purity is defined as an equivalent to territorial conquest and hence need to be protected and controlled.
One of the major areas of disgruntlement is of perceived appeasement of Muslims by privileging them with the option of bigamy or polygamy and the resulting disentitlement cause to Hindus through the imposition of monogamy. This gets projected in public discourse as a concern for the pitiable plight of Muslim women who need to be liberated from their barbaric laws through the enforcement of the Uniform Civil Code. Flavia Agnes, an outstanding scholar of Women Studies in India, has busted this myth and narrative in her work on personal laws in which she stated that outlawing polygamy or enacting UCC does not appear to be an effective solution as evidenced by the prevalence of bigamy among Hindus. In comparison, a Muslim woman in a bigamous marriage fares better than her Hindu counterpart, says Agnes, since she is entitled to the right to maintenance, shelter, dignity and equal status. The Hindu second wife is not only disentitled of her rights, but is also divested from her status as “wife” and humiliated as mistress.
The politics of sexual anxiety deeply undermines gender equality. Between the politics of masculinity and fear it is the women who face major suppression. The expression of gender identity and sexual preference must be emphasised as an exertion of freedom and not as a political tool to weaponise the distinct segment of society. A sturdy presence of sexual anxiety is a strong sign of erosion of liberal democracy and in rise of authoritarian politics.
Chanda Rani completed MA in Political Science (2018-20) from Jamia Millia Islamia. Currently, she works as an Independent Researcher and her area of interests are gender studies & minority rights.
Featured image source: Shreya Tingal/Feminism In India