[Before you read this post, you might want to read KR Meera’s brilliant portrait of the average Malayali middle-class Sangh supporter, in her story Sanghiannan, which I translated as ‘My Brother Sanghi’, published by Juggernaut at : https://www.juggernaut.in/books/088d472b19d745d29492560654250e15 . I recommend this also because she sketches beautifully the spirit of deep compassion that inheres in the thought of Sreenarayana Guru, who tried to imagine the faith outside the brahmanical framework of caste. This will help you to get a sense of that section of Malayali middle class I address here.]
A couple of days back, representatives of a group that wanted a petition demanding death penalty for all the accused in the Chennai gang rape case sought an appointment with me. I had clarified that I will not be part of any process demanding death penalty and would be glad to meet them on any other discussion they might want on the case. While, I managed to convince those who met me that death penalty cannot be a deterrent against rape, I suggested that instead of the petition they should spend their efforts to energize a change in the current discourse on rape in whatever small ways possible. The meeting ended with plans of a more substantive plan of action to discuss possibilities of advocating accessible spaces for children vulnerable to physical or sexual abuses at least in the neighborhood. I have summed up some of the points that I made at the discussion and I thought it would be important to share them with a wider audience.
We, the undersigned teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University, are deeply distressed to read about extremely grave allegations of moral turpitude against Prof. Atul Johri, amounting to charges of sexual harassment, academic dishonesty, and financial misappropriation. We now hear that seven women have made police complaints. Coming on the heels of recent media stories that Prof. Johri was involved in the forgery of assent by leading scientists in a signature campaign, we are appalled by the university’s silence about an individual that it has vested with so many offices. Prof. Atul Johri is the Director of the University’s Internal Quality Assurance Cell, the Director of the Human Resource Development Cell, a warden, and the Vice-Chancellor’s favourite nominee on several committees.
We demand that Prof. Johri be immediately removed from all these positions, as the allegations against him bring great disrepute to the university. We expect the university to take all the requisite measures to investigate the charges that may be brought against Prof. Johri and to pursue them to their logical conclusion.
As faculty who have fought for and long supported the GSCASH, which this administration has shut down, we are distraught that complainants have had to take charges that should have been pursued within the institution to the police, because of a lack of faith in the university’s internal complaints committee nominated by the Vice Chancellor. We support the complainants’ exercise of their rights to approach the police, but rue the fact that the illegal and immoral dissolution of GSCASH has resulted in a situation in which no aggrieved person seems to have any faith in the delivery of justice within the institution on matters of sexual harassment. This is the second such case when allegations about sexual harassment have been filed under the IPC, because complainants do not have faith in the autonomy, impartiality, and commitment to complete confidentiality of the JNU ICC. We would like to emphasise the complainants’ rights to approach the police with their complaints must be respected and protected, and that the complainants must be given full protection against victimisation and full cooperation by the university authorities in pursuing their complaints. Continue reading “JNU Faculty Stand With The Women Students Of SLS”→
This post is not a statement from the Kafila collective, but my individual response to the news about the Ambedkar University report having found Lawrence Liang guilty of sexual harassment. This response will also address some of the comments that were posted on the Kafila statement posted yesterday.
We learnt from media reports that a duly constituted committee of AUD has found Lawrence Liang guilty of sexual harassment. We did not know about this earlier, as some characteristically self-righteous and ill informed twitterati assume we did. Those whose social concern and activism is limited to busy fingertips obviously have no idea about the processes that have been carefully put in place in sexual harassment policies in universities, which protect confidentiality primarily to protect the complainant. So the first we heard of the leaked AUD report was from the media. Lawrence’s own statement was then issued that says that he plans to appeal this decision. This statement too we saw in the media.
From enquiry to report to appealing the decision (which can be done by complainant or accused) – these are all established stages of due process that feminists have worked for decades to establish, from the Vishakha judgement of 1997 onwards. That judgement itself was a result of feminist intervention. I do not understand ‘due process’ as a technicality alone, nor do feminists in general who have worked with women and men complainants on this complicated issue, especially in a context of power in academic contexts. Continue reading “In the wake of the AUD report”→
The raging controversy over the cover of a breastfeeding woman looking up with no shame about her exposed breast has, quite expectedly, sent conservative fools in Kerala into a raving frenzy. The case against the model and the conservative breast-beating going on now must be dismissed summarily as useless bullshit.
However, I must say that I had very mixed feelings about the cover and the defense offered for it by many. For many arguing in its defense seem to be saying that all one needs is gratefulness for the effort to open up the issue and the space gained, and all else raised isn’t really worth the trouble. Even this intelligent piece in the Ladies Finger slides into such complacency.
If you ask me, this cover is not of a woman breastfeeding, but of one who is declaring her determination to be comfortable while breastfeeding, thereby reinforcing her commitment to breastfeed her baby. I think this difference is important. Breastfeeding is a very intimate act; it is highly physical. If the mother and child are well, happy, and don’t have issues that may make this feel like a chore or hard to do, then it is very highly pleasurable too. As a woman who has breastfed continuously for 9 years with just a short break of a few months during my second pregnancy, I can say this: breastfeeding is also ‘breastfeeling’, so your attention is on the act, and you really don’t want to focus on anything else, especially irritating stares. It is as pleasurable as lovemaking. Many years later (my daughters are 25 and 20 this year), when I remember the act, my nipples rise, tingling. Breastfeeding was also play time, when the little one played with her mum’s breast with her tiny fingers feeling and squeezing it; and my younger one was especially playful, twisting her tiny body in sheer pleasure, and sometimes, remaining still and then naughtily sinking her little tooth into the nipple, rolling her eyes up to check the reaction from her mum! So when we traveled, I always carried a big, opaque duppatta with which I made a ‘tent’ over our heads that covered us completely. We would be sitting in a corner seat in the train, and having fun, she sitting on my lap (and later the tent would be big enough for the three of us, myself, my six-year-old, and one-year-old, the former listening to a story, and the latter happily suckling). We would sing, tickle, do what not. Demanding the freedom to breastfeed without being too bothered about modesty and in public without anyone staring, for me, then, is demanding the right to such intimate pleasure in public. In that sense, this should have been one of the afterlives of Kerala’s Kiss of Love protests.
However, the sartorial codes of the model make me feel very disconcerted. Sharanya Gopinathan, in the above piece, argues that Grihalakshmi caters to largely savarna women probably. But no, savarna women are not the demographic majority, and they are possibly not the dominant section in the magazine’s readership. But savarna culture is pervasive in Kerala, cutting across caste and faith, and the cover clearly panders to it. The model’s huge sindoor — mark you, wearing the sindoor is a very recent import from the north to Kerala, the demure-looking sari, and the girl-next-door look was probably calculated to make up for the exposure of the breast. So we have a young woman who announces through her sindoor that she is married — legally and customarily penetrated, to adopt a Foucaldian way with words — and modestly dressed, that she belongs to the elite, evident in her professionally-groomed looks, and also tells the world that she is determined to breastfeed no matter how much the lechs stare. Intended or not, it brings to the mind too readily the dream-girl of the Hindutva modernist vanguard: the educated woman, maybe even a corporate professional, with looks that fit that environment, who is determined to mother well and indeed stay close to her biological ‘essence’, and of course whose maternity has not been allowed to affect her slim body and maidenly-looking breasts. The idea, I think, was to say that such a woman can and should be brave enough to fend off irritating stares — but it backfired with the conservatives, apparently, who are not ready to concede any quarter. Breastfeed she must, remember her womanhood, she must, look pretty and stay slim she must — and demand no open breastfeeding.
When will we see the image of a woman you see in the bus stops every day in Kerala, harried, sweaty, with her budget-beauty parlour looks and less-than-chic sartorial choices sitting in a bus shelter perhaps and immersed in feeding her infant, her not-perfect breasts bulging out un-prettily, caring nothing at all for what the world thinks? She can of course be imagined as staring back defiantly, but the glow of pleasure is what should animate her being and fill her with courage. Normination to be a good biological woman and mother. Not the developmentalist commitment to produce healthy babies. What ultimately counts is the space of intimacy between a mother and her child, which is physical, which involves pleasure — and we need to demand that women should be able to create it everywhere.
And why on earth are we waiting for Grihalakshmi to lead? Thankfully, third wave feminism in Kerala is devoid of prudishness and values pleasure — and among our third gen we have a great many artists — poets, painters, photographers, of many genders! We should be able to assert that what is at stake is breastfeeling, not just breastfeeding. Let us reduce ourselves to neither those who sneak in a litany to biological motherhood through their seemingly radical cover, nor with those who want to see nothing but physical nourishment in breastfeeding.
The almost insoluble task is to let neither the power of others, not our own powerlessness, stupefy us.
As frightening spectres of untouchability and unseeability hover around the festering sore of the ‘caste-wall’ at Vadayambady in Kerala, as the so-called mainstream left-led government here continues to pour its energy and resources into aiding and abetting caste devils there, as most mainstream media turns a blind eye, as the Kerala police continues its mad-dog-left-loose act, many friends ask me: why have you not yet written about the struggle there of dalit people fighting of the demon of caste now completely, shamelessly ,in the public once more? Continue reading “Malayali Feminism 2018: In the Light of Vadayambady and Hadiya’s Struggle”→