Bad ideas, Culture, Everyday Life, Genders, Sex Moral police in OUR autos! 07/07/2008 Nivedita Menon 34 Comments “It is forbidden to sit with your boyfriend and claim he is your brother” My sister sent me this one… TwitterPrintFacebookEmailRedditLinkedInPinterestTumblrLike this:Like Loading...
34 thoughts on “Moral police in OUR autos!”
in the half-full-glass world, maybe he simply means that you should rightfully call him your boyfriend rather than pretend otherwise :)
now the only question is: where is this fabled half-full-glass world?
Although I agree with Gautam’s interpretation, may I ignore that and support Nivedita’s post as an argument to do away with the autos as OUR banner?!
I would actually see it as a lament more than an instruction. Trucks, autos, buses somehow seem to be canvases on which to philosophise on the sorrow,/joy/pleasure of forbidden love. So he probably means it as a comment on “society”; his own take on the “Din ko bhaiya, raat ko saiyya” (by day brother/ by night lover] or the “Din ko sister, raat ko bistaar” [By day sister, by night bed-fellow] hypocrisy of our times :)
I see this as another reason to keep the autos in OUR banner.
OUR autos have at least three modes of addressing the world – one is indeed ‘lament’, but another is ‘warning to fate’ (buri nazar wale…) and yet another is ‘pedagogic’ (tumhe sirf kam karne ka adhikar hai, uske phal ka nahin – Hindi translation of the Bhagavad Geeta’s admonition that you have the right only to work, not to the fruits thereof).
This one is definitely category 3. And in the spirit of The Author is Dead, Long Live the Reader, it can also be interpreted in the following ways:
a) It addresses the woman as Desiring Subject and assumes the male to be shaped into brother or lover by Female Desire
b) It assumes the male as objectified body but the Desiring Subject is in fact gender-unspecific – could be male or female.
c) Nothing in it precludes desire for your brother, only demands that you name him as such.
Given these many subversive undercurrents, any more doubts about keeping our autos…?
Could yet another interpretation be the auto-driver (usually a man, referred to as bhayya) looking at himself as the marginal Desired Subject, asking for legitimation of desire from his female sawari, an upper class woman, who is conditioned to believe that he will inevitably be a sexual deviant????
I liked Atreyee’s in-sight, though it is Nivedita’s comment which opens up the scope of interpretation.
Having had numerous conversations with autowallas, let me attempt my own interpretation of this quasi-statutory warning, thrown in with a supposed (and apparent) sense of humour.
Autowallahs mostly come from the patriarchal, lower middle class section and are mostly from suburban areas. The city throws up a new challenge to their repressed, masculine sensibilities. They ogle most at those very women they find wearing clothes “jo humare wahan larkiyan kabhi nahi pehnegi”. A straightforward case of the stereotypical, male voyeur. But with that comment, the autowallah is trying to legitimize his gaze. That is the whole problem. The humour is strictly used to arouse discomfort. The sentence doesn’t end with something like “…buri baat hai” (“… it is a bad thing”), which would have lightly aimed at morality, but “…mana hai” (“…it is forbidden”), which is quite blatantly arrogant. The woman is being asked to clarify her sexual disposition in public gaze. This is what makes the ‘sign’ most objectionable.
This might be a little far-fetched but let me nevertheless mention it. It is possible that this comment has been inspired by the prevalent racist attitude towards north-eastern women in particular. I once heard a shop owner in Munirka commenting on a group of passing, young north-eastern men and women, “Yeh log apne ko bhai behen kehkar ek saath rehte hai. Magar kisko pata inka asli rishta kya hai. Sab dekhne mein ek jaise lagte hai. Kuch kehna mushkil hai” (“These people call each other siblings. But who can tell their actual relationship. They all look alike. It is difficult to say anything for sure”).
“But with that comment” – I meant “that” to be the statement written in the auto.
My first thought was the same as atreyee’s since most upper middle class people (women in particular) tend to call just about any boy/man who appears to belong to a class(es) lower than theirs, ‘bhaiya’.
It almost seems as if the woman (assuming it is directed towards a woman only) is ‘not allowed’ to call the Autowala ‘bhaiya’ when she sits with her boyfriend, coz that would give the autowala a terrible heartburn! That would explain the rather polite ‘Thank you’ after the ‘mana hai’…
Though I agree with Manash about the possibility of it being directed towards people from the north-east.
Sania, this hadn’t struck me, that the auto driver could have positioned himself inside the admonition – that HE is the bhaiya he refers to.
But you’re also right about the sweeping, casually patronising mode that women like us have of referring to men of the “lower” classes as bhaiya – is bhaisaheb preferable? (Not if you remember Lalitaji of Surf).
It should be a term we would use for all strange men (as in ‘men whom we dont know’, not as in ‘weird’ men, of whom, Goddess knows, there are plenty…).
How about ‘Sir’…?
We can’t quite say who put the “quasi-statutory warning” there (it’s probably the owner of the auto and not the driver- the two are separate entites a lt fo the time) and what his/her intention was.
Among the ways in which we could read it as revealing something about relations between genders cross-cutting relations amongst classes, I felt that we could read it as the autowallah’s lament/resentment/sense of exclusion at being counted out of the sexual zone of a middle/upper class woman automatically by the epithet bhayya. He probably sees it as an indication from the woman saying “please keep off, don’t try any hanky-panky”. Of course, women devise these defence mechanisms in response to their everyday battles with men in the public space, which is where Manash’s illustrations are so vividly fitting.
But notwithstanding, I want to leave here the possibility of an autowallah sighing in that warning – to the tune of “What if”…
This has become immensely interesting. Btw, bhaiyya is also used to describe those from UP, because these very UP walas call everyone bhaiyya. Bhaiyya in UP is almost like saying Hello. And most autowalas in Delhi are from UP (rickshawpullers from Bihar). So apart from class bhaiyya also has a regional connotation.
Indeed interesting. Yes, come to think of it, the language leaves scope for a different interpretation of the kind Sanya pointed out. Let us pay further attention to the sentence (the original
translation of the sentence now becomes problematic!).
If the sentence would have specifically said “…usko bhaiyya kehna” it would have been clear. Or even if the statement would have said “boyfriend ko bhaiyya kehna” it would have saved confusion. By saying “ke saath baithkar” makes it specific in the other direction – that to sit in the auto with your boy friend and call the autowallah “bhaiyya” isn’t allowed. And yes, the “thank you” makes more sense in this reading. Would like to tell Atreyee that the “source” doesn’t matter – the ‘sign’ matters, and the sign has to do with the politico-sexual equation being thrown up between the woman passenger and the male autowallah.
Yes, there is a class bias when it comes to the middle class woman’s attitude towards the autowallah, but that does not disturb the feudal-sexism of the autowallah towards middle class women (or women of his own class). The autowallah surely has a point in the woman trying to be unnecessarily sisterly about a very commercial relationship, but a reverse class-bias is also quite apparent – Women having “boyfriends” are not supposed to call the autowallah bhaiyya.
What about women without a boyfriend / single women? Or those who are married? These must be the categories of women who satisfies the autowallah’s sense of sexual morality and with whom he won’t want to be flirtatious with.
The autowallah’s biases (taking him as the ‘sign’ behind the statutory warning) are much worse in this case, is all that I want to say.
you fool, no one has pointed out what should be written or not written. everyone has critically analyzed what was written and raised problems/issues about it. i am sure everyone here is against both – moralists and policemen. so please re-adjust your smart brains mr/ms hardly-candor.
I am an english educated woman, coming from a family where many male relatives are auto drivers, taxi drivers etc. and somehow I feel disturbed seeing this post and these discussions.
as Manas Bhattarjee has said, everyone is only critically analyzing what was written and he himself knows the auto driver from close quarters.
but I think (as ur posts themselves show), the cultural divide between the elite and the dalit bahujan- minority, lower-class auto driver is immense.
given this divide, how can we make meaning about what he is saying ?
don’t u think it will just reproduce the power relation in which the elite thinker and the subaltern subject is caught?
let me now turn the gaze on ur own critical analyzis to explain further.
see basically this is what you come up with –
you end up understanding the auto driver’s cultural situation as something which stands in a binary relationship to your elite selves – let me explain.
1. you either see it as really ‘bad’ – “feudal sexist” or 2. you see it as ‘better’ – “subversive” –
is it not casteism which makes u see more or less patriarchy in a lower class/caste social group?
in doing this critical analysis are u not reproducing the cultural divide between u and ur subject?
SO is it not better to avoid the subaltern subject as a site of progressive theories and turn the gaze at your own selves?
other wise think of it :
the auto drivers will get displaced from UP and come here and death-ride the dreadful delhi streets, trying to make ends meet, struggling to pay back his loans, drinking to keep themselves afloat and being as sexist as any other indian man – and you people will open a beautiful blue page and start analyzing him and his slogans and end up understanding and naming yourself than really knowing or seeing him.
so I think the Indian elite need to think of these three crucial points in all their analysis.
1. TURN THE GAZE ON URSELVES.
if u want to critically examine indian sexism and indian morality, i would say that it is right there in ur cumbersome indian saree, ur earrings, the way you hold your body, the way you speak to men, fall in love –
will u ever turn the gaze on urself and put up blog posts about urselves? ur own moral slogans, which goes unread, unseen?
2. LEAVE THE SUBALTERN SUBJECT ALONE, S/HE REALLY CAN SPEAK AND CRITICALLY THINK TOO.
3.LOOK AT THE SUBALTERN, WITHOUT THESE DREADFUL BINARIES. When will u wake up to the fact that it just reproduces the original binaries of class and caste?
long live Indian critical thinking !!!
The autowallah has been called as a moral police for which everyone is against him. His act for being named a moral police is the writing. Doesn’t this substantiate my point?
Dear Ms Nameless,
You must be having a good reason to be anonymous. Maybe it is a sign of your being a self-effacing “subaltern subject” in this company of “elite thinkers”. But you have asserted, proudly or not, of being “English educated”. And you seem to quite ably belong to the class of social-critics. Anyway, thanks for joining the debate and opening it up radically.
First of all, we have to acknowledge a basic premise – that it is because of the statement written in the auto, the motives of the autowallah are up for discussion. And also, it is the autowallah (as ‘sign’ if not ‘source’) who jumps into the discourse through that statement aimed at his woman passengers. The woman passenger is subtly drawn into the discourse and I hope you will grant her the space and the right to interpret the statement, despite all her (supposedly) “elite” limitations in the matter.
I find it amazing that you find raising the issue about patriarchal men in the lower social order betrays castiesm. In fact, it is precisely in terms of men and women as gendered subjects that certain important similarities across specific social orders regarding masculine power discourses can be understood. That is why it is possible for example to understand the ‘male gaze’ in general terms, and then go into the man’s specific social and cultural identity for further understanding. Just as an obvious class divide between autowallahs and their women passengers might expose the women’s prejudiced, class notions against the auto driver, it may also expose the autowallah’s masculine propensities vis-vis the women. This is the first lesson we learn from any sensitive understanding of gender issues. I am again amazed at your one-sided accusations on the “elite” woman.
I also don’t think the whole issue is merely about analyzing the particular subject positions and their relationship to each other. The whole issue can also be seen in terms of an “encounter”, where the statement (or statutory warning) creates the notion/image of the woman-with-a-boyfriend as a special/targeted ‘other’ and passes a supposedly humorous but absolutely sexist comment on her. By this, the autowallah himself creates a particular discourse where he acts as the originator of (sexual/sexist) meanings. This is old story, cutting across class/caste/community lines.
However, the autowallah’s entry into the discourse in this manner hasn’t been seen by anyone here as an act which needs to be mere. In fact, people have questioned their biases. So your accusation here is quite off the mark and unjustified.
Sociologically, I don’t think the maximum numbers of autowallahs in Delhi belong to the Dalit/Bahujan caste.
Also, a class/caste divide may induce biases, but doesn’t mean that “meanings” are impossible to draw from the relationship. I accept your warning that as elites, people should be more careful and sensitive about their own biases about those are more underprivileged than them. I think such a sensitivity, at least ideally speaking, draws us (or should draw us) into social criticism. But I don’t think anyone has created “binaries” here. You seem to be inspired by a theory which might have some valuable insight to offer, but has nothing to do with the interpretations made here. Everyone has been disseminating the ‘sign’ of the discourse here.
Lastly, you have raised the question of hypocrisy in elite women and want them to talk about the presumably tricky lives of their desires – well, women (or men) don’t exactly live their lives the way they theorize about the world, and the differences between people’s ideology and their behavior/mindset/psychology can sometimes be glaring. But the problems of the (social/cultural/gendered) self cannot be made into a guilt-ridden, pathological exercise when faced with the feeling of discrimination or violence. And just as the autowallah may feel sexually discriminated upon by women-with-boyfriends because of his class position, the women may also feel violated upon by the autowallah’s sexist gaze. This point of rupture has to be understood both ways.
Dear Manas, the reason I have chosen to be anonymous is because I have spoken before in academic circles and discussions and have always had people digging into my personal motives, etc, etc – so much so that the real reason of my speaking – trying to make a different point, from an altogether different political location – gets lost. The internet gives me a space to speak without all that fuzz. So I am using it, not for self effacing, but for a political purpose, much more urgent for me than my own self or non-self. And I am not ‘proud’ of my English education as you put it. But I am not the usual kind who would get English educated. So I was just mentioning it.
Thanks to you also for opening my eyes to what the elite woman thinker is feeling sitting in the auto reading this kind of a sign.
Let me try to follow this and show you why and how binaries are indeed being created here and how it is worked out and to what effect.
To tell the truth, though I am a woman, I just cannot share what u say the elite women are feeling. I just cannot see the point of putting up this sign at all. It just makes me go all angry and disturbed for an entirely different reason. To me it just reeks of casteism.
Yet if you force me to think of the sign as just a sign, i would say that it is just as sexist as most other signs we see around. What i am pointing to is the choice of picking up ‘this’ sign, among so many others – including things elite women themselves perpetuate – and putting it up for
display and the comments that follow in celebration and condemnation.
I personally/politically would never take it as a The token of sexism and put it up and neither would I celebrate it. And i will not agree that this choice is innocent.
Because i believe that – and this is the theory which explains my anger and my response – IT IS NOT JUST GENDER WHICH IS it INVOLVED IN AN ELITE WOMAN”S RESPONSE TO A SUBALTERN MAN , BUT ALSO CLASS/CASTE.
In this case, it is there in the very putting up of the post, the condemnation, the celebration, and the highly objectionable remarks that followed like the auto driver must be wanting elite woman to view them as boyfriends (aitrayee).
Let me just tell you here, both theoretically and also to vent my anger.
1. There are women in the subaltern community also. They also travel by autos and they make eye contact (sexually) with the auto driver and they are capable of looking at the auto driver as a sexual subject. So maybe the auto driver is busy with such women and has no time for elite women
and he might be addressing her and not the elite woman
2. There is this strong argument which comes from black feminist thought that tells us that all elite women are made to fear black and lower caste men as rapists and predators. If you have seen the film ‘Crash’ this point is shown in it very powerfully right in the beginning. Here they show a white woman un-consciously moving away when she sees a black man. I have also noticed my upper caste women friends, starting to get afraid of men who look so much like the men I have known all my life; and I have never been able to share their fears. And I am tired of seeing the faces of my relatives in movies after movies as villains and rapists. So please don’t tell me that the auto driver is putting himself up to be read like that. I can very easily feel the elite woman’s attitude towards the lower caste man in making the reading that she is doing.
In other words, the elite woman who is reading the Auto driver’s sign is not only a gendered but also a subject who is caught in caste. And as long as you do not realize this even as you fight gender discrimination you end up reproducing another power structure. And to show you how important this is, I will just point to one thing. Most men implicated in sexual harassment cases are from Dalit Bahujan Minority communities. The Dalit Bahujan Minority feminist – I see myself as one – cannot ever forget this, even as she is fighting sexism of all kinds and types from everyone around, including elite women.
Now to come back to the question – if that is the question – how do elite women handle sexism from subaltern men. I think there can not be a one sided gender-answer to this. And surely this (as in this post) is not the way. There need to be an understanding of the issues of the elite woman’s own caste position, to arrive at a fairer resolution.
Actually your response has helped me talk about further issues.
I hope i now made some sense about why we cannot see the “male gaze in general terms.” And I also hope I have made some sense about why you cannot read the auto driver “as creating a particular discourse where he acts as the originator of (sexual/sexist) meanings.” I repeat, this particular discourse is also created by the reading that the elite feminist is coming up with – right from the singling out of the slogan and putting it up in the blog –
Let me say once again that in a casteist patriarchy, there is no gaze or gender or sexism or anything which does not also implicate caste in it.
I hope Indian critical thinking will wake up to this fact.
Thanks for the response
It s quite disturbing to read the argument of manas that the autowallah ““as creating a particular discourse where he acts as the originator of (sexual/sexist) meanings.”
I am reminded of the case of Keeripatti and Pappapati in Tamil Nadu. The Dalits who get elected from these reserved panchayats were either killed or forced to resign. In one instance, the Dalit sarpanch after resigning the post, declared to the press that there should not be reservation and reservaed panchayats for Dalits.
For Manas and other elite wo/men, it s the discourse created by the DAlit sarpanch.
but a careful look into the context and history will make u realise the role of caste hegemonised by brahmical ideology in this discourse.
Similar is the situation here. The autowallah may not be the owner of ths auto. The owner may be a chaudhury, thakoor, shastry, sharma or even yadav, banerjee, chaterjee, a cyrian christian, menon, nayar etcetc… it s also possible that the autowallah may be the real owner. he could be dalit/bahujan or muslim (as is the case by and large) or others as well.
The discourse of moral policing comes from the gender-insensitive/caste-class divided Indian society. Whose ideology rule the roost here?
the discourse comes from that ideology, perhaps…
Dear Ms Nameless,
I take your point, but hypocrisy and caste biases among elite women doesn’t open them up for sexist male gaze from any caste/class. I don’t think caste or class can be prioritized over gender as a critical political/social/sexual category. There can always be a “simultaneous” reading. But I don’t think the problem of gender can be totally appropriated by a caste-discourse. In the same manner, I think your relationship with elite women in terms of gender, need not be seen as completely opposed to your ties with men of your caste/class.
I don’t think elite women get interested in gender issues to confront men of other classes or castes but to raise and understand the problems primarily about the gender relations within their own class/caste, as they mostly face and interact with men of their own class (if not caste). But at a general level, an elite feminist at least ideally shouldn’t have any caste/class biases. But you seem to be quite sure, they do retain those biases. And you hold the bringing up of the autowallah issue against them.
I think you are reading too much into the intentionality behind the arguments and not going into the arguments themselves. I understand your angst and the point you make about the issue having a two-way gaze. There can very well be a two-way power discourse happening. But you see Ms Nameless, the ‘sign’ (of the statement in the auto) comes ‘prior’ to the subject position/bias/prejudice of the woman the statement is aimed at. In fact, the woman enters the discourse only ‘through’ the sign, where she is not only being represented but also forced into a relationship she would much rather avoid (or confront) vis-a-vis the terms laid down by the statement.
I don’t understand why are you being so touchy about the issue being addressed upon and discussed. Why can’t you confront the women here directly in terms of what they are saying. You don’t have to address me anyway. I don’t accept any remote possibility in your claim of my “opening your eyes to what the elite woman thinker is feeling” either. I have spoken about the issue from my perspective and my ideas represent, at best or worst, an “elite” male’s version.
Let me quote this –
“I have also noticed my upper caste women friends, starting to get afraid of men who look so much like the men I have known all my life; and I have never been able to share their fears.”
This is an important issue. There has always been a latent racism behind caste-ridden sensibilities. This is as prevalent among elite women as much as elite men vis-a-vis dalit/bahujan men. It comes in various, uncomfortable garbs. The upper caste in India is just beginning to critically acknowledge and raise these issues about themselves. But it is still a minority among them. Even there, the biases exist as subtly as possible.
But let us limit ourselves to what’s happening here. Maybe the phrase “our autos” sounds a bit feudal. Maybe the autowallah was also counter-represented in all kinds of ways. But I found all the women in this post to be largely sensitive and self-critical. They have even read the ‘sign’ light-heartedly. And yes – I don’t think Ms Nameless, you have the right to dictate to anyone what issues they should (not) take up for discussion. Since you are also a part of the intellectual community, I hope you will grant people the same space you have hopefully yourself received.
And yes, one last thing – I also object to your assumption that everyone here is blatantly and/or un-consciously using their caste/class position to argue out the issue. There will be an obvious understanding/feeling of caste “difference” but that difference isn’t being justified in any manner. In fact, it is through the discomforts of that difference that the issue has been addressed. Though I agree, elements of one’s own elite position may have seeped into certain observations and that is where your point is always well taken.
Interesting discussion. While I tend to agree with what nameless has been saying I was reminded of a humourous TV ad put out a couple of years ago for a cola drink – Pepsi or Coca Cola – featuring Amitabh Bacchan and Rima Sen – in which he, as a vendor on the railway platform, tries to woo the glamorous customer with songs and she purchases the bottle, opens it and then smiles, calling him – after a significant pause – Bhayya. The ad ends with Bacchan singing a snatch of a mournful song.
This too appears to be a play by the soft drink ad makers of the same aspirational aspect that perhaps is also reflected in the autowalla’s cautionary/jocular/rueful (choose one) statement.
But I am reminded of a true story of a tourist taxi driver who was hired by an elderly white woman to drive her around the tourist spots and eventually married the driver. I myself personally know of a lady Brahmin CA employed in an international funding agency marrying the staff driver, who was younger than her, and a dalit Catholic too! So life’s like that, and some such pairings do occur sometimes. So all our theorising can fall by the wayside in such cases.
I dont think the question ends with a married contract (I believe all marriages are some kind of short term contracts only). The negotiations begin at that point. The mistake that many inter-caste/religious married couple ( I am one of them) commit is that they tend to believe that they are above caste. On the contrary they exst within that only. Just as your marriage doesnt allow you to be above gender, the reality of caste remains with you. In the negotiated realm of married space caste/class/gender etc operate and created multiple levels of power.
here, the Ms. Nameless has clearly pointed out the “lacks” and “excesses” in Indian critical thinking vis-a-vis this particular discourse that remained as usual “upper” caste/class (remember upper is always within ” “)..
The invisibility of Dalitbahujan-minority women and their sexuality in the discourse of these “upper” caste wo/men’s discourse which dominate the indian critical/feminist/academic thinking needs tobe problematised, which i think, Ms Nameless has done quite convincingly.
Dear Manas Bhatacharjee,
I have not :
1. prioritized class or caste over gender as a critical political/social/sexual category.
2. appropriated the problem of gender by a caste-discourse.
3. said that my relationship with elite women in terms of gender is completely opposed to my ties with men of my caste/class.
I have only pointed out that you cannot have a discourse which prioritizes gender over class/caste – and my point was to prove how such a discourse tend to become casteist –
This does not automatically mean that i am saying only caste is important. A feminist cannot afford to do that.
And why do you ask me to address the women directly – have i not done that, while responding here?
And let me also say that i am only as touchy and angst ridden as everyone here are about all sort of issues – nothing more or less –
And please i have also not dictated to you to about issues you should (not) take up for discussion.
I have all the right to problematize any issue that you take up from another (here caste-gender) political perspective. And i think one can start with the very choice of a particular issue. I think, and i have tried to show here too, that there is politics in the very choice of issues, what we focus on, what we display, etc etc.
I stop here, now.
Thanks really for the long and fruitful discussions,
it really did help me think further
ps: I also think along with Ms Radha that marriage does not change a thing about caste/gender/class/religion – However Cynthia you are really right, for me the “attitude” in the Amitabh Ad and what was written in this blog sounds very similar. This was what i was writing against.
Our society looks at all love affairs before marriage with suspicion. Even our bollywood stars have to hide their love affairs because in India it’s a bad thing to have a girlfriend/boyfriend. Things are changing though. But in the current scenario couples do have to take some measures sometimes so that they are not looked down upon by the people around them.
In trying to make an analytical point using off-the- cuff empirical claims, I may have overstated the case elsewhere — that autorickshaw drivers in Hyderabad belong to powerful castes. (BTW. The cycle rickshaw is not extinct. It has proliferated in goods conveyance in the city. People dont notice these things for a variety of reasons. But more on that and on caste, masculinity and violence in Hyderabad’s urban transportation …later).
The point I want to make is much much simpler. I hope you will agree that subalternity is both an effect of power and an empirical fact. I think for us to move forward intellectually and politically in avowedly self-reflexive representational spaces such as Kafila -we must be more attentive to the former aspect of subalternity – an effect of power not only as in structures of representation but also as in interactive fields where the elite and the subaltern categories are coproduced.
Let me rephrase that : Subalternity is not a straight forward story where we can point a finger and say “look look there is OUR little subaltern guy sitting over there. Aint he cute?!” Just as we cannot say something like “now there is this subaltern guy beating up his wife. Damn, who knew!”
The elite and the subaltern are born precisely in the moment when such things are said. If that is true then we can not also say something like, “you know, I have grown up among subalterns. And they are just not at all like what you guys think. I can tell you this because I have access to the really real subaltern.” (Please dont read any of the above as caricatures of what has been said by anyone including yourself here. We are all much more sophisticated than that.).
What I wanted to underscore in my response to Ranju – was that the problem is not so much that there is a subaltern out there that we are being ignorant of/misrepresenting because of what we were born into, but that we are rendering that something out there subaltern by what we are DOING/SAYING and how we are doing and saying it. It may seem like quibbling over words but the difference between the two ways of thinking is not just a matter of words.
If we do not constantly highlight this question of ‘practice’ and what makes it possible in certain ways and not in others , then chances of conversations gradually get narrowed down.
Ultimately an exclusive ‘politics of location’ prevails and politics of location can brook only somuch conversation. I dont mean that this is what you are doing nor am I being judgmental about such a stance. I can think of times and places where such a stance is all that is possible.
It was just to ask for some caution such that conversations are not foreclosed.
dear anant, this is a quick response to your basic argument that:
“we are rendering that something out there subaltern by what we are DOING/SAYING and how we are doing and saying it.”
i fully agree with you here..
the point i think is that we need to be constantly aware of all that goes into our creation of the subaltern subject or our various analyzis of ideologies, always knowing that what we are attempting is a temporary, shaky and power-ridden project. (what is not?)
but i don’t think we can stop creating this category altogether or stop critiquing hegemonies all together…..i don’t think we can move out of trying to represent the subaltern subject and hit upon an entirely new way…no i think we should trudge on with our representations and analysis.. there is no other way… as far as i can see…
i think we should go on with our theoretical endeavors and at the same time be constantly prepared to face any kind of questioning of our positions/ keep on questioning our own positions…
i don’t think the point is to move into a situation where we stop doing everything because we are frozen by the realization that we are inextricably caught in the very ideologies that we are trying to dismantle. my point was also not to induce such a position – though often when we talk, we end up sounding like that…
personally/politically i think we should move forward knowing that our theories are constantly creating power positions even as it works to question it. whether we are speaking to define a marginalized subaltern subject position (as i specifically want to do) or we are speaking to dismantle cultural hegemony….i think the point is to be constantly open to all sorts of critiques on our theoretical resolutions, both internal and external……
the only other choice would be to place ourselves above criticism which amounts to essentialism, collapse into needless guilt, which is just self-indulgence or to fall silent awed by the unbearable manifestation of the Maya of identities/ideologies, which is a very brahminical thing to do.
would you agree? is there any other way out?
ps: i asked my friends in hyderabad again and they tell me that the rickshaw is mostly an old city thing and mainly driven by men from the muslim community.
“we are rendering that something out there subaltern by what we are DOING/SAYING and how we are doing and saying it.”
Without asking the question of representation how will u address this DOING/SAYING that created subalternity/elite, lower/upper binaries. In fact the question of representation is hidden in ur how we are doing/saying itself. but u refuse to SEE it. Do u think tht the cultural practices that create these binaries can be addressed without invoking subjective interventions? Then u r trying to deny me my Subjectivity. The “we all are human being” kinda approach may suit those weildng power positions. But the Other has to fight representations in every step in life. S/he can’t peacefully talk abt “come on yaar, I am so kind and sympathetic to u” language.
The very act of Doing/Saying has been determined by a power structure and the narration of how we say/do narrates a straight forward story of subaltern binary,knowngly or unknowngly. This binary is created and re-created in all life situations.
The wo/men of difference cant escape from it (would u allow them to escape?.. Naa !!)
Let us respect the subjectivity of “wo/men of difference”. And this denial of subjectivity is more dangerous. Though we live amidst conflamation of conflicting/floating identities, never forget to address the cultural binaries that defines you and put you in the water-tight compartment of identity. The lived expereinces come up with a different theoretical trope. Let us not close its possibilty right t the begining. though the ones who weild power positions and wanna coopt the politics that counter his/her elite position would prefer to do so. They are busy theorising the “subaltern” now. So by asking them to “turn ur GAZE to urself”, the Other creates a new theory from a different subjective position. This s what i feel for the time being. Let me contemplate.
One has to admit to begin with, that there are different(ly) vulnerable categories of human beings in cities. In the same manner, there are multiple kinds of alienation. We need not create binaries out of them but certainly address the hierarchies within the power equations within them. If we have to co-relate the problems of these various kinds of vulnerable and alienated human beings, we have to stop fixing their class/caste/gender positions under strict ideological frameworks and look for a deeper and more generous analysis of the problems they face as well as sometimes create. I have, for example, known Hindu autowallahs to be anti-Muslim and Muslim autowallahs to be sexist, like any elite or middle-class Hindu or Muslim may be. They are as much victims of nationalistic and religious propaganda/ideology as elites are. In their case however, two things are thankfully lacking unlike in elites. One, the indifference to the idea of a scientific-rational-technocratic-developmental world, and two, somewhat related, the absence of an institutionally manifested pedagogical understanding of the world. The very ‘idea’ of the subject and of subject positions, has an implicit (pedagogical) elitism in it, and Nameless cannot avoid it as much as anyone else here, even though she has been able to highlight crucial aspects of the issue which eluded others (not necessarily, I would insist, because the ‘others’ belong to a particular class/caste group, which would be very essentialist thing to do and which Nameless would surely like to avoid by now I guess!). But Nameless I think has more than hinted on a pre-theorizing attitude towards reading the whole issue and I completely agree there. We need to prevent ourselves from becoming the “third” gaze in our reading of this issue and feign a superior (analytical) subject position vis-à-vis the autowallah and his woman passenger. One of the ways to do it might be a re-reading of the context as an “encounter” where inter-facing takes place between the two subjects involved. The structure of the city, the ‘difference’ in the respective positions of vulnerability, the whole criss-cross between caste and gender, the mode (from temporal to social) of inter-action, etc should be possibly included.
Just as an aside, would like to say that I am a bit uncomfortable about the Desiring-and-Desired-Subject approach here. In fact, we should be also open to a third possibility – that of not forcing the autowallah as well as his woman passenger into a relationship which is playing out constructed binaries in our minds. Maybe the ‘third’ element which can be argued upon here is the idea of “friendliness”, of a relationship of respectful familiarity, which both the autowallah and his woman passenger need to address between them. It might be able to address the feelings of mutual hostility and hierarchical limitations which social prejudices encourage.
Dear Manas Bhattacharjee
I would like to say a few things about your statement (after reading what Ranju Radha has written above)
“Nameless cannot avoid it as much as anyone else here, even though she has been able to highlight crucial aspects of the issue which eluded others (not necessarily, I would insist, because the ‘others’ belong to a particular class/caste group, which would be very essentialist thing to do and which Nameless would surely like to avoid by now I guess!).”
Yes, you are right, “the crucial aspects of some issues need not elude others”. Actually i believe that we can develop a theory to actually see the “other” quite clearly. And it is theories which help us see the “other” also.
However if we look at history – and i think this is what Ranju Radha is trying to say – this kind of understanding has ALWAYS come from the very subjective experiences put forward by people who were subjectively trapped in various hegemonies.
So you just cannot find a White colonizer theorizing the colonial process from the perspective of the colonized and i cannot think of even one man who has contributed theoretically to the development of feminism and i don’t think any of the caste movements in India was led by upper castes.
How do we explain this phenomena?
So though i would never hold on to an essentialist position – mainly because i feel totally suffocated in it and also because i do not have any solid sense of identity – i also cannot think of any kind of speech or politics happening without the availability of a subject position.
So i would constantly assert myself like i belonged to a solid, fixed identity position when i want to make a political point. Not that i am totally engulfed in this subjectivity and has nothing beyond/outside it. But from the very basic right of getting reservations to the larger level of finding a voice, being able to have a livable life, etc etc..I need to assert this subject position.
This is part and parcel of my politics and i don’t think any political movement can go forward without this.
And i don’t think the questioning of the ‘subject’ of political movements calls for an abandonment of this subject.
Are you and Anant somewhere asking for this?
That is why i was asking Anant also, what is the way out of having a subject position?
I am asking you the same.
What is the way out of the subject positions that inspire, circulate and organize political thought and action????
// my answer, i repeat, is that there is no way out, that we have to go on with it, knowing how power ridden it is and thereby being constantly open to changing it and transforming it///
Let me respond first at an intuitive level and then elaborate. What would any of us do if we saw someone with a puzzling slogan on a T shirt ? We would ask him or her what it means right ? Unless it is a complete stranger with whom we do not want any familiarity, or we are completely offended or embarassed by the slogan. Why is it that when it comes to the autorickshaw slogan, it has not occurred to anyone that we can just ask the driver of an autorickshaw carrying the same or similar slogan ? In fact the slogan need not even be there in the autorickshaw, we can mention it to the driver and ask him or someone who would know about autorickshaws. The answer could be an interpretation of the slogan, it could be that the slogan didnt mean anything…. whatever it might be, that exchange would open up a variety of possibilities right ?
Why and how did the slogan become a text and remain a text rather than a pretext for a new interaction ? Your point that the subaltern can speak is actually quite relevant here although in a slightly different register. Of course the driver can speak. Lets ask him.
Ranju – the above is partly an answer to your question. I do not intend to deny anyone’s subjectivity. And I do believe that lived experience is a valuable resource that must be worked with. Not just the subaltern’s lived experience but everyone’s. What I was drawing attention to – from my own lived experience – is that specifying the radical margin in India has proven to be an exceptionally challenging intellectual-political task….and so we should be careful about where we are looking for clues and how we are going about it.
When a kurmi invokes a dalit -bahujan subjectivity to challenge the center, it is not long before a chamar challenges the kurmi. There is not a lot in common between the lived experience of a mala and a madiga woman. This is not to say that one must not draw creatively on one’s location. But that one must also constantly strive to speak across the boundary.
Nameless, now let me step back from that and speculate on why the slogan in the autorickshaw is read the way it is read. This does not deny your suggestion that this is casteism but press on with asking what kind of casteism is it ?
In contradistinction to what you seem to suggest, I think this is a situation where the paralysis, guilt, and the dazzling brahmanical world of maya that you mention, has already reached an advanced stage. So, in answer to your question, “is there another way,” I will just say, we must do better than to say that we need not be paralyzed. We have been paralyzed for about 20 years now. I can explain that last point later if necessary.
Let me explain using a distant example – just to avoid details – how did the white feminists deal with this idea of positionality? Positionality when it was invoked by feminists it was to alerts us to how our structural locations predispose us towards certain readings, towards taken for granted authority to speak for and theorize and represent others and so on, etc. etc. Right ? If this is a challenge for feminists, how did they respond ? First response was something like let us put our identity cards on the table. So, I declare beforehand that “look, I am white, jewish female” and so whatever I am going to say has to be understood with that in mind. Now, this produced two very peculiar problems. First, I may be talking through my hat but I am absolving myself because I have already declared that it is all because of my positionality which I have already declared.
But more importantly nobody was sure what these attributes – white, female, jewish etc. meant. There is really nothing transparent about these terms is there ? In response to Ranju, I can always keep declaring that I am brahmin, middle class male and so I please understand what I say with that in mind. But what the heck, I have no idea what any of that really means. Nor will Ranju know anything about me through those attributes. Simply because my maleness may include among other things my having hung out with autodrivers and sign board painters for hundreds of hours.
The step from this realization was to regress further into saying that well, since this is really a minefield, what we really need to do is to sit at our desks and read the world as a text. So what you get is a sort of – “all the world is a text and all the men and women are but words and sentences upon it. ”
But this does not really save us from anything can it ? Because with that move, we return to square one because all we have to work with now is our own emotions bouncing off the wallks of our own minds, we can only be playing with our own fantasies. We completely forget that we may as well step out for a minute and ask the autorickshaw driver – addressing him as bhaiya or dost or by name or calling him yaar — it is not such a complicated thing.
I think we have all learnt these lessons – but the trouble is that we do not quite know what to do. Because we dont have the methods, tools, strategies for going beyond this point. But I think the one way out, really is to acknowledge that we must move beyond this paralysis and not just stop at saying that we need not be paralysed. This is not about individuals. This is a shared history and geography out of which we have to find our ways.
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