Category Archives: Genders

Break the Chain, Break the (Unconventional) Family?

My earlier posts on the Kerala Left’s inability to forge an adequate and democratizing response to the ‘societal emergencies’ that have challenged Malayali society in the 21st century, and on the completely-unjustified attack on the body artist Rehana Fathima seem to have irritated, even angered, many supporters of the CPM on Facebook.

These people are not youngsters, a detail that is really important. Indeed, they largely belong to the upper-middle-class professional elite, indeed, perhaps among the best-off sections of Malayali society, which include medical professionals, male and female. Their responses reveal very interesting details about how the pandemic shapes our understanding of ‘useful expertise’:  at this moment, we are told, just listen to medical professionals, and not just their views on issues pertaining to health, but also to ‘social health’.  Many of these professionals believe that the brazen violence unleashed against Rehana Fathima’s family — her mother-in-law has been denied free dialysis simply because she is Rehana Fathima’s mother-in-law, and BSNL has ordered the eviction of the family on completely ridiculous grounds – is a minor diversion, an irritating, trivial one, compared to the task of controlling the pandemic on the ground, which of course, brings the medical professional (even when he/she works in Kerala’s private hospitals, which are surely not the epitome of altruism) to the centre of public discourse as the ‘hero’ that everyone should be eternally grateful to. And if such heroes tell you that Rehana Fathima is just a child-abusing publicity-seeker, then you have to just say yes. And, as as the artist Radha Gomathy put it, participate in the Break-the-Chain-and-Break-the-Family campaign — or punish Rehana’s supportive family for not being freakishly conservative, like good Malayali families.

Bolstering their claim to be the only ‘real experts’ to talk about Malayali society at the moment is their implicit understanding that medical professionals are somehow more ‘scientific’ than others. Yet I was amazed — indeed, alarmed — by the carelessness with which they dealt with empirical information and their easy abandonment of logic.  The tendency to equate technical training with scientific is very strong in these Facebook debates, as also the idea that social science and history are some airy-fairy romance that lacks scientific basis.

I am mentioning these features not to put these people down — and I am also aware of, and grateful to, many other medical professionals who expressed unease at these acts of hubris. I wish only to flag what seems to me an emerging axis of power in post-pandemic Kerala. A form in which the state’s apparatus of biopower is projected insistently as the sole benevolent source of human sustenance that must engage us constantly; it is not that critical discourse should be abolished, but it must focus, and gently, on this pre-given object. In it, the biological body is the object on which the state builds its new protectionism; the only kind of body it is bound to protect. The ‘new expert’ wields power on it, and their technical interventions will henceforth be recognized as ‘scientific’  — and the significance of the gap between the two will be ignored. The suspension of neoliberal logic during the pandemic has indeed allowed the Left to behave, even think, like the left — this emerging protectionism seems to be actually riding on it.

It is not surprising at all then that for some of these experts, those of us who contested the purportedly ‘scientific claim’ that Rehana’s children will be necessarily harmed psychologically by the sight of their mother’s exposed torso, or the equally-shaky idea that they necessarily lack the psychological strength the resist the taunts of society, seem dangerous to society.  Rehana’s use of the body is aimed at the long-term; it signals the possibility of seeing the body as the site of aesthetic play and creativity; its androgynous appearance and breaking of stereotypes about the maternal body make it defy gendered classification (so necessary for the state). Her husband deserves punishment because he had abandoned the role of Reformer-Husband so central to the twentieth-century reformist discourse. Our experts’ ‘scientific temperaments’ do not allow them to perceive the fact that the Reformer-Husband carried the burden of ushering his wife into (a gendered) modernity, while in twenty-first century Kerala, women no longer need such ushering — there is data that shows that more women than men complete their education and enter higher education; that they outperform men in most examinations and have entered most modern professions; that in marriages, the bride is now likely to be more educated than the groom. The family needs to be punished as a whole for allowing such explorations of the body.

I still repose faith in the democratizing possibilities that this window of time gives us, but that does not make me blind to this wilful shutting out of the long-term and the agency of citizens. It is as if future society may be imagined by citizens only with or after the state. The state sees a vague and uncertain future, and therefore all citizens should, therefore, limit themselves to the immediate and present. Nothing should be allowed to disrupt the Left’s hegemony-building through pandemic-control exercises. Even if that requires that we turn a blind eye to the fact that the refurbishing of this hegemony may not be antithetical to the further entrenchment of biopower and the reign of these new experts.

 

An Appeal for an Artist: Buy Brushes for Rehana Fathima’s Son

I am making appeal here to all people who really care for children’s rights beyond the hypocrisies of the global child rights discourse.

A controversy is raging in Kerala over a video of body art posted by the body-activist Rehana Fathima in which her two children paint an image of a phoenix on the exposed torso of their mother. The children are not nude, they don’t look outside the frame. Rehana herself does not look out, nor is her body being displayed in any explicit sense. There is nothing pornographic; the video was not made for commercial purposes. However, the video has unleashed a storm of outrage and the bitter conservatism of both Right and Left-wing politics in Kerala now engulfs the family like a toxic fog.

Rehana has been subject to unimaginable violence online. She is no stranger to it; her insistent efforts to keep radical body politics alive in a society in which bodies are strictly subject to caste and religions communities and bound firmly within heternormative sexuality, patrilineal family-forms and marriages that insist of huge dowry payment to the groom have stirred all sort of insecurities, unconscious and otherwise, of the Malayali masculinist elite. During the conservative backlash against the Supreme Court’s verdict approving the entry of female devotees to the Sabarimala temple in 2018, Rehana Fathima (who claims that she had converted long back and is also known by the name Surya Gayatri) made an attempt to make the pilgrimage, resulting in her arrest and jailing. She was accused of obscenity for uploading a picture of herself in the pilgrim’s costume, but showing a little skin off her thigh.

In the present case, she is accused of corrupting her children by exposing them to her naked body and then making the video public. The first complaint was filed by a BJP functionary and then the Kerala State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights directed the police to file cases against her charging the provisions of the POCSO Act. Other cases against her have used the provisions of the IT Act and the Juvenile Justice Act.

The police raided her home — and seized the laptop and, appalling, her son’s cherished set of brushes and paints. This violence remains unnoticed. There has been much hand-wringing by hypocrites who claim that they are not offended by the art but because children have been involved. These people do not seem to notice the violence against this young boy.

Rehana’s 13 year old is serious about his art. He is not like the kids who parents force into art classes so that they can brag about it in their circle. He is not traumatised by the sight of his mother’s body, but by the loss of his brushes, taken away by the Kerala Police as ‘evidence’ of the ‘crime’! The investigation of alleged violation of child rights gets an auspicious start, I suppose, with the police committing precisely such violation.

I appeal to all of you who think this is injustice — irrespective of whether it is technically proper or not — to speak up. If you can, please contribute brushes. Or pay Rs 10.  The child’s father, Manoj K Sreedhar, is on Facebook.  The address is : Rujul manav (appu) c/o Rehana fathima Ernakulam 682036 Mob: manoj 9446767666.

 

J Devika.

The gendered myth of the front-line care giver as ‘warrior’: Panchali Ray

Guest post by PANCHALI RAY

Image credit Prashant Nadkar Indian Express. 

The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare some of the most significant and deep-rooted fault lines of society, whether it is attacks on Indians from the North-east part of the country including racial slurs, holding returning migrants responsible for the spread of the virus or even downright Islamophobia leading to a hashtag #CoronaJihad going viral on social media. Sections of the hyper-vocal, privileged Indian middle-class, along with frenzied nationalist media houses let no opportunity pass to demonize its minorities.

However, what came as a surprise was that along with the stigmatization of migrant workers, ethnic minorities and Muslims, health care workers too faced intense hostility worldwide. Already facing a severe lack of resources including no or few Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) making them even more vulnerable to infection, they are now facing the additional hazard of being labelled as agents of the pandemic.

While on the one hand, medical workers are being labelled as ‘warriors’ and ‘super heroes’ with orchestrated events to show gratitude, on the other hand, they are being hunted down, mobbed, and evicted from their homes. India went a step further, and did a grandiose display of felicitating health care workers by having the armed forces fly past fighter jets, shower flower petals aerially and have their military bands perform outside state hospitals.

This article focuses specifically on the gendering of the organization of the health care sector, which reflects wider binaries of masculine/feminine, cure/care, science/affect.

Continue reading The gendered myth of the front-line care giver as ‘warrior’: Panchali Ray

Colours of Trolls and Harassment :Vatya Raina

Guest Post by Vatya Raina

The fight for half the Earth and half the sky is never at rest around the globe. Women of the world are constantly fighting their oppressors in different colours. The debate around #BoisLockerRoom stories on Instagram and the trolls concerned about the marital status of a pregnant woman in jail, for practising her right to protest are of similar nature.

In 2017, The Jawaharlal Nehru University’s administration under the command of Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar arbitarily dismantled the GSCASH (Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment). At the same time, women of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) were leading the movement against sexual harassment.

Today, when a pregnant student activist is fighting for her rights inside the jail, some women are continuing to resist and expose a group of young boys, by revealing the screenshots of an Instagram chat screen, where the participants of the group named ‘Bois Locker Room’ shared some non-consensual pictures of women as well as underage girls. After the screenshots went viral, these boys expressed their anger by suggesting gang-rape of all the women who shared it. On the other hand, Safoora Zargar, a research scholar of Jamia Millia Islamia, who was associated with the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), and was part of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests organised by university students in December and January has been charged under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and is send behind the bars. She has been arrested for allegedly leading the anti-CAA protest at Jaffrabad metro station in February.  Turning a blind eye to the medical condition of the student, the trolls are busy assassinating her character. Continue reading Colours of Trolls and Harassment :Vatya Raina

NLU Jodhpur alumni and students protest homophobic teaching materials

Current VI semester undergraduate students of the University pursuing the ‘Sociology – III Law and Society’ course, at the National Law University Jodhpur were sent outright homophobic content purportedly as essential reading (details of the readings are in the letter below). The material presented outdated notions of homosexuality. When the faculty member was challenged via email by a student, she said she had shared it to encourage debate and present one side of the prevailing views on homosexuality. However, the material was sent without providing any such context. The faculty committed that she would be sending updated material presenting sociological developments on the subject in the coming few days. However, instead of doing so, she delegated her responsibility to the student who had written to her, a move that can only be interpreted as reprisal.

The interim student body wrote to the Vice Chancellor on the issue. 150 alumni members also wrote to the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and General Council of NLU-J asking for disciplinary action against the faculty member, an external resource person to teach the subject, and review of the course curriculum.

This is the letter

Dear Dr. Saxena and Members of the General Council,

We, the undersigned alumni of National Law University, Jodhpur, much to our consternation, have learnt that current VI semester undergraduate students of the University pursuing the ‘Sociology – III Law and Society’ course were sent outright homophobic content purportedly as essential reading by Dr. Asha Bhandari, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Member, Academic Council, on April 11, 2020. On a perusal of the content, it is evident that the material sent by Dr. Bhandari is unscientific, uncritical, based on outdated notions of homosexuality, perpetuates dangerous stereotypes, and legitimizes prejudice against the LGBTIQ community. As you would all agree, this is unacceptable in any institute of learning, much less in one that prides itself on being a premier national law school.

Continue reading NLU Jodhpur alumni and students protest homophobic teaching materials

Against Aachaaram: Moorkothu Kumaran’s Dream of the Future

This is the fifth in a series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. The note below is by J Devika. The excerpt from the essay by Moorkothu Kumaran has been translated by K R GOPIKRISHNA.

Moorkothu Kumaran (1874- 1941) was one of Malayalam’s earliest short story writers, literary critics, and public intellectuals. Born in the avarna Thiyya community in north Malabar, he was educated at Thalassery and Madras and was closely associated with Sreenarayana Guru. He was active in the SNDP Yogam in its early years and highly influential through his pioneering journalism and contributions to modern Malayalam, as it was shaped in and through the new voices that were now heard in the emergent public sphere.

Below is an excerpt from an essay of his titled ‘Oru Pusrushasamajam’ (A Men’s Association), in which he indulges in a fantasy of a social event set in 2029. Written in the late nineteenth century, it imagines a world which women have taken over, and where the Manusmrithi is a long-lost and obscure text, while the writings of late-nineteenth century women authors, like Tottaikkattu Ikkavamma, are widely in circulation. In other words, a world in which the aachaaram of Manu has somewhat declined, though there are indications that it has not disappeared fully.

Reading this, one cannot help noticing the fallacy often shared, sadly enough, by reformers and conservatives, then and now: that empowered women will merely seize patriarchal-caste-heteronormative power and exercise it unchanged. And so their imagined utopias of gender equality inevitably look like the inverted version of patriarchal society. But perhaps Moorkoth Kumaran leaves us a clue about why this was so: as is evident from the extract below, caste seems alive and well despite the disappearance of Manusmrithi– the privileged sudra identity of Menon, Nair seem untouched, alongside upwardly mobile individuals born in lower castes aspiring to the new savarna status. It is not, however, clear that Moorkoth makes this gesture deliberately.

Sadly enough, this aspect of the emergent order of gender, in which the new empowered woman (irrespective of where she originates in the spectrum of castes sharing the renewed Brahmin-sudra social contract or among the avarna individuals who seek upward mobility into the savarna, partakes in the refurbished savarna power) was hardly ever discussed. In this fantasy, it is stretched to its maximum, and so the ‘oppressed’ men now complain of women inverting the order, in effect, behaving like upper caste men of the late19th century. Women have removed all portions of aachaaram that limit them and imposed those on men, but they have not delegitimised caste, one may suppose. In short,  women have managed to replace words like paativratyam with others like patnivratyam.

To avoid this  we have,  precisely, the insistence- still audible in left cultural circles as well  — that women are not interested in sameness,  only equality.  Sameness within  the new savarna order would mean that women may take caste power and that may even make them conspire to impose a cultural agenda in their favour, proscribing scriptural authority that sanctions make authority.  It is not merely the love of ‘Indian culture’, but also this fear that makes the Indian right wing  and the still-savarna reformers on the left embrace the infamous despoilation of women’s public voice – in two different ways-during last year’s  savarna mutiny against the Supreme Court’s verdict about  the entry of women of menstruating ages into Sabarimala.

Of course visions of feminist utopia  have been strikingly different in that they envisage the wholesale elimination of all forms of patriarchy, but then when both the really-existing left and the right both are interested only in demonising the feminists,  their protestations will be surely ignored.

_____________

A Men’s Association

A meeting that may be held a hundred years into the future
AD 2029 October 1, Tuesday, Kanni 15, 1205, the Kollam Era:  An important convention of Kerala Men’s Association is being held on the westside garden of Smt. VCR Amma M.A. M.L.C.’s house at Kozhikode (Calicut). Sri Narayanan Nambiar (husband of High Court judge L D Amma M.A. B.L.) was chosen to preside to over the meeting based on the suggestion of Smt. TKG Amma B.A. M.R.A.S.’s husband Sri Kannaran, which was seconded by Barrister Smt. B K Amma’s husband Sri. Gopala Menon. In his inaugural speech, the President spoke engagingly about men’s lack of freedom He essentially pondered how in the older times, men were free and were educated, and how they worked and earned when women engaged in domestic duties, serving their husbands, bearing and nurturing their children, and how peace prevailed in households and the society in those days. He spoke in detail, and with considerable poignancy, how, in contemporary times, women have attained education, entered into all government jobs, and become members of the governing bodies and legislatures t and how this has destroyed the freedom of men. Finally, he said, “Dear brothers, there are umpteen illustrations to prove that the brave men who were our ancestors enjoyed freedom in households and the country. I have found reasons to believe there existed a great scripture named Manu-Samhita. In it, it is stipulated that even education must be denied to women. Somewhere I have read that Manu-Samhita is the rule-book for the Hindus. I have been able to find documents proving that women were men’s slaves and women’s worlds were confined to the kitchen and bedroom only – cooking food and taking care of children. Women have destroyed Manu-Samhita completely, without sparing a single copy.
“Freedom is not for women
The Father will save her at adolescence
The Husband will save her at adulthood
The Son will save her at old-age.”

Thus states this scripture of antiquity. It appears that that this section has been redacted out from the edition of this scripture currently in publication. A drama written by a poetess who died 125 years ago is being circulated by the women of our times. Though it was an attempt to prove women were scholarly at those times, however, a sloka confirming that women didn’t have freedom at those times, was included in the print. Also, it can be understood that women wrote poetry rarely and men considered them incapable of it. This was that sloka:

“Didn’t Krishna’s beloved Bhama fight?
Didn’t Subhadra ride a chariot?
Isn’t all this world ruled by Victoria?
If the beauties can accomplish all these,
How will they be incapable to writing a poem?”

What can you decipher from this shloka? Does it not hint that women wrote poetry rarely? That they were considered inadequate to it? If these justifications were given for a woman writing a poem, doesn’t it mean that these were early attempts of women writing poetry? Now, we don’t blame women for being newspaper editors, poets or dramatists. We hinder do not them from being one. We don’t disapprove of them occupying any office, as much as they can. Our sole grievance is against reducing men to slaves capable of only doing domestic work. Is it fair that the burden of care and protection of children they bear is turned into a liability of ours?

They haven’t done enough to meet our educational needs. Despite our raising our need for exclusive schools and colleges many times, they have ignored us. Despite their decision that we are capable of only domestic work and after having forced us into it, they have not provided us with the necessary instruction in domestic work at school. We are being offered the same subjects and textbooks as them. Young women ill-treat youngsters who are forced to study in the same schools as them. Meanwhile, the infamous tale of how a young woman threw a letter at a high school-going youth and how he complained to the principal, and how she did not inquire into the matter at all against the offending woman has been in the news. Headmistresses also do not listen to the complaint that young women are spilling ink on the shirts of young men and bothering them thus! Though exclusive elementary schools have been established for us in a few places, it is a concern that it was all women who were appointed as teachers. Though a few amongst us has risen to become elementary level headmasters, they are harmed by transferring them off to faraway lands.

Apart from all this, women insult us claiming that our vows to our wives – our patnivratyam  – are insufficient and slander us in their newspapers. That few youngsters amongst us are living as ganikanmaar– prostitutes – in certain city houses that they have leased is indeed a great weakness on our side. But the responsibility to abolish it is on the women who rule and they have failed to act on it. A woman member has introduced a bill in the legislature to abolish the system of polyandry and it is deeply concerning that few other women members are opposing the bill. You all must be aware from the invitation that this today’s meeting is being heldwas convened to discuss this matter and send a joint-representation to the Lady Governor. As my time is limited, I conclude my address and request the subsequent proceedings to be held.

(Applause)
 (K R Gopikrishna is a Master’s student of Political Science at University of Hyderabad.)

Against Aachaaram: Lalitambika Antharjanam

This is the second in a series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. The note on Lalithambika Antharjanam is by J Devika. The excerpt from her story Vidhibalam (The Power of Fate) is translated by GEORVIN JOSEPH.

Lalitambika Antharjanam (1909-1987) was the first Malayali woman to achieve prominence in the field of modern Malayalam literature, and also among the first thinkers to reflect critically on modern gender as a framework for social existence in Malayali society. Born in the notoriously-aachaaram-bound Malayala brahmin community, she grew up to become one of its strongest and most vocal opponents. Her powerful short stories exposed the horrors that women suffered in conservative Malayala brahmin households. They indicted aachaaram again and again of dehumanising women, through heartbreaking accounts of their emotional and physical suffering, all sanctioned by the cold and ruthless workings of aachaaram.

Continue reading Against Aachaaram: Lalitambika Antharjanam

Queerness as disease – a continuing narrative in 21st century India: Kaushal Bodwal

Guest post by KAUSHAL BODWAL

In August 2018, it came to my knowledge that a few of my pictures wearing sarees were circulating in my extended family’s WhatsApp group. Phone calls from home regarding my “obscene” behaviour were followed by a shift in the entire conversation towards my having some illness that needed to be cured. At some point my mother called me to tell that one of my aunts knew a doctor who can heal me. My first thought was that she was joking; unfortunately, she was only too serious. Once I registered the gravity of the situation, I panicked. Even though I was staying in a closed campus, I was not sure of my family’s potential to do what they claimed they wanted to.

The issue was with both my gender expression and my sexuality. I was a male assigned at birth walking in a saree and they thought that it was because of my interest in men. One of my aunts assured my mother that my love for sarees will end once my homosexuality is cured. The next time I went home, I was anxious and terrified. I knew I had to speak to them and explain what was going on. There were going to be a lot of questions. It’s not as I had ready-made answers for them, especially since the understanding of gender and sexuality that I had was not easy to articulate in my native language of Haryanvi. Through whatever words I could, I came out to my parents. My mom cried and my father stood numb. But mostly, confused. Despite their anger and other emotional expressions, the overall emphasis was on going to a doctor to get me fixed. After all, I was sick. Continue reading Queerness as disease – a continuing narrative in 21st century India: Kaushal Bodwal

The Triumph of Streevaashi! Women break the wall of caste at Sabarimala

Out of the dark, seemingly never-ending night, a streak of light! Two women of menstruating ages, Bindu and Kanakdurga, finally entered Sabarimala, breaking the concerted walls built against them by brahmanical-Hindutva male authorities on the right and left. Continue reading The Triumph of Streevaashi! Women break the wall of caste at Sabarimala

Now What? After the Betrayal of Women at Sabarimala

At the end of the five-day worship in the month of Tulam, it is clear that women have been betrayed. The right wing which promised not to violently stop women devotees did precisely that; their leader also hurled vicious insults are trans people. The dominant left which foamed Ayyankali and Sree Narayana Guru at the mouth ended up reinforcing the ‘good woman’/bad woman’ division, saying first that only the former would be allowed to proceed, made the term ‘activist’ into a code word for ‘bad woman’, and then finally threw up its hands saying that it was impossible to implement the court order. The government and the CPM had obviously not done enough to make sure that women would indeed enter the shrine. Clearly, they are reluctant to touch the savarna moral majority.  Continue reading Now What? After the Betrayal of Women at Sabarimala

Rehana Fatima and the Goons: A comment on the good-cop-bad-cop game that’s on in Kerala

Yesterday’s high drama at Sabarimala told us quite a lot about the games that politicians play in Kerala. Rehana Fatima, a young woman activist who decided to take the challenge (it is now a challenge, since the trekking path to the shrine is in effect controlled by Hindutva goons heaping verbal abuse, threatening open violence, and using children as shields) had to face not only the naked threats of the so-called bhakths and the vandalisation of her home at Kochi by the same elements, she had also to swallow the Kerala Minister Kadakampally Surendran’s jibe that Sabarimala was not a playground for ‘activists’! By saying so, he hinted that only ‘pure’, ‘untainted’ women believers who are apparently by definition not activists, can be helped by the Kerala Police to reach the shrine. So much for Pinarayi Vijayan’s evocation of Kerala’s legacy of enlightened Hinduism!

This is a piece I wrote in the TOI today on the issue.

 

 

 

 

Keep Calm and Carry On: Dealing with Patriarchal Carpet Bombing in Kerala

For all women in India, what is happening in Kerala should be an eye-opener.  This is how Indian society rewards you for reaching the top, aspiring seriously to be on top, and actually asking questions to authorities about why they keep drawing on women’s energies and resources while simultaneously undermining the very ground on which they survive. In Kerala, two things are going on: there is on the one hand, a vicious gang led by Rahul Easwar which is openly threatening women who would dare to enter Sabarimala with the worst kinds of violence, on the other, the horrid misogyny of the press was revealed at the press conference held by the Women in Cinema Collective who expressed their deep disquiet at the way in which the organization of cinema actors, AMMA, and its president Mohanlal, were eager to protect oppressors and ignore survivors. Also, even male intellectuals who have been very supportive of feminist and gender justices causes have been named in the MeToo campaign among journalists in Kerala.

Kerala is a society where, in the past twenty years, we have seen women come up everywhere — in journalism, literature, academics, cinema, architecture, engineering, art, management, sports, trade unionism, activism. Women in Kerala have been the force of social democratizing as evident from the struggles ranging from the Munnar tea garden workers’ struggle to the brave nuns protesting against sexual violence. For sure, a very large number of women in Kerala are ultra-conservative, and that is apparent both in their presence in the muck that Easwar and his gang are raking up in Kerala, as well as in the shameless way in which some of them were emboldened to hurl caste insults at the Chief Minister of Kerala. This is therefore reminiscent not so much of the Battle of Britain in World War II, but for the Battle of Stalingrad — which was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, even as there was hand-to-hand combat on the ground for control of the tiniest slices of the city, and where the city residents were often subject to the terrors of both the Nazi and the Soviet sides alike.

If you want to see male hubris overflowing, please take a look at this video, of https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FWomeninCinemaCollectiveOfficial%2Fvideos%2F249328929064857%2F&show_text=0&width=267“>the press conference held by the Women in Cinema collective. All I can tell us all is, Keep Calm and Carry on. After all, unlike in the World War II, the ammunition of these creeps need not hurt us at all; it can make it only more powerful.

 

 

 

സ്ത്രീവാശിയുടെ ആവശ്യകത :ശബരിമലപ്രശ്നം, സ്ത്രീകൾ, സാമൂഹ്യജനാധിപത്യം

അഭിനവ അച്ചിയാകാൻ എനിക്കു സമ്മതമില്ല. അതുകൊണ്ട് രാഹുൽ ഈശ്വറെ എന്തുവില കൊടുത്തും ഞാൻ എതിർത്തു തോൽപ്പിക്കും.

കുറേ സ്ത്രീകളെ തെരുവിൽ കൊണ്ടുവന്ന് ആചാരസംരക്ഷണത്തിൻറെ പേരിൽ സ്വന്തം താത്പര്യങ്ങൾക്കെതിരെ സംസാരിപ്പിക്കുക, അവരുടെ പൊതുജീവിതപരിചയമില്ലായ്മയുടെ ഫലങ്ങൾ കൊയ്തെടുക്കുക (പിണറായിയെ ജാതിത്തെറി വിളിച്ച ആ വിഡ്ഢിസ്ത്രീ തന്നെ ഉദാഹരണം), ബ്രാഹ്മണമൂല്യങ്ങൾ തങ്ങൾക്കു സമ്മാനിക്കുന്ന അപമാനഭാരത്തെ ആത്മീയസായൂജ്യമായി എണ്ണുന്ന അഭിനവ അച്ചി-സ്ഥാനത്തെ ഉത്തമസ്ത്രീത്വമായി ചിത്രീകരിക്കുക –ഇതൊക്കെയാണ് ശബരിമലപ്രശ്നത്തിൽ കേരളത്തിലെ ഹിന്ദുത്വശക്തികൾ ചെയ്തുകൊണ്ടിരിക്കുന്നത്. Continue reading സ്ത്രീവാശിയുടെ ആവശ്യകത :ശബരിമലപ്രശ്നം, സ്ത്രീകൾ, സാമൂഹ്യജനാധിപത്യം

The Impossible Gandhian Project and its Limits – Remembering the Mahatma Today

Gandhi, Nehru and Azad, Wardha 1935, image courtesy Governance Now

Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi (Roughly: Compulsion thy name is Mahatma Gandhi)

I have grown up hearing this expression and have often wondered about its meaning and at the almost proverbial status acquired by it. Whose majboori or compulsion was Gandhi really? Well, at one level, everybody’s, for practically every current within the anti-colonial struggle was uncomfortable with his presence and his leadership. Jawaharlal Nehru had even remarked once that after independence, his fads would have to be kept in check. All nationalists who fought for independence from colonial rule (as opposed to the pseudo-nationalists who tried to convert it into a cow-protection movement) had their gaze fixed on the state. They wanted control of that coveted instrument – that was the crux of their anticolonial struggle. There were others like BR Ambedkar, who too invested a lot in the state but realized that the state in the hands of the nationalists would be a disaster for his people. But no one among them (poet-thinkers like Tagore apart) was prepared to look beyond the state. And Gandhi’s disavowal of the state – and of politics as such – was something that no one could digest. More than anything else, that was what made him a majboori for this set of people who could only lay their hands on their object of desire as long as Gandhi was in the leadership – for he alone could move millions like no one among his contemporaries could.

But my hunch is that these were not the people who coined this expression. Gandhi was a bigger majboori for another set of people who were, ironically, equally disinterested in the state and its ‘capture’ – at least till recently. Yes, these were the different currents of the Hindutva Brigade (VD Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha and his followers and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). They had to tolerate Gandhi – that is exactly what their majboori meant – till they could finally eliminate him. And it was one Nathuram Godse, with connections to both Savarkar and the RSS, who eventually killed him. There were earlier attempts too on Gandhi’s life – all from upper caste Hindus (one lot being Chitpavan Brahmins). Continue reading The Impossible Gandhian Project and its Limits – Remembering the Mahatma Today

Beneath the glitter – Looking at The Asian Games : Praveen Verma

Guest post by PRAVEEN VERMA

Hima Das

Does it amaze you when you hear the stories of poverty and success in same sentence? Does it amaze us when we hear the stories of some of the best sports-persons and the hardship they have dealt with before and throughout their careers? Does it amaze us when we hear about the sorry state of affairs of sports facilities and some athletes still coming up with great performances? Does it amaze that most of these athletes come from rural India and mostly where they have much economic and social constraints, where work and employment is still precarious? Does it alarm when one get to know that some of these phenomenal sports-persons come from the areas which are still dealing with the issues of hunger, high rate of unemployment, major gender gap? Areas where women coming out and trying to make cut into sports are still taboo? How often does one hear about women from marginal sections (Dalit/Backward caste/tribal) becoming a sportsperson?

Some stories of these kinds make usual snippets in many Hindi newspapers around big sports events. Though, these stories, which are posed as individual heroic one and less of a critical approach to see the working of sports administration, are meant to be sensational and don’t do justice to the entire sports affairs in India. Continue reading Beneath the glitter – Looking at The Asian Games : Praveen Verma

Performing the goddess: Chapal Bhaduri and Naveen Kishore

Film on Chapal Bhaduri by Naveen Kishore.
Conversation with Chapal Bhaduri transcribed and translated by Naveen Kishore.

Chapal Rani.

I can no longer hear. The whispering autumn leaves.

Everything touches me. Nothing. Touches. 

I am no longer as beautiful as I used to be, he says with a twinkle that went back to the sixties and sparked memories in my head of this once and ever beautiful woman-man. Chapal Rani. The reigning queen in those days of our youngnesseses. A woman we-of-the-theatre grew up adoring. The Adoration of the Chapal Rani. In the days of a purer Jatra the travelling theatre of Bengal when men played women. Wounding the hearts of an enthralled audience in performances that lasted an entire night. Sheer stamina. Coupled with a monumental style of acting with every gesture exaggerated to live music and declamatory dialogue. Voices that boomed and thundered and whispered and cried tears that would overflow and flood the hearts of a riveted audience of men women children. 

Continue reading Performing the goddess: Chapal Bhaduri and Naveen Kishore

Some Reflections on Rape in India: Bobby Kunhu

Guest post by BOBBY KUNHU

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.

Continue reading Some Reflections on Rape in India: Bobby Kunhu

Bollywood’s re-imagination of growing old: Tannistha Samanta

This is a GUEST POST by TANNISTHA SAMANTA

Although the Indian Hindi film industry has been known to be considerably less gerontophobic than the western popular culture (Hollywood, in particular), our aging Naanas and Naanis have been often represented as either able keepers of family “sanskars” or hyper-ritualized subjects (with added effect if in some diasporic setting)or as self-sacrificing elderly parents to prodigal children (or ruthless grandchildren). Continue reading Bollywood’s re-imagination of growing old: Tannistha Samanta

Breastfeeling, not Breastfeeding

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.

IMG_20180119_215040472_HDR.jpg
I don’t have the image of me breastfeeling happily, but here is the picture of my little one after one of our sessions. Does anyone doubt anymore, that it is indeed breastfeeling, not just breatfeeding. Here is she, looking ecstatic, the milk still in her little mouth!
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.

PadMan, Patriarchy and the Poor Man’s Innovation: Tannistha Samantha and Mukta Gundi

This is a guest post by TANNISTHA SAMAMTHA and MUKTA GUNDI

 

With the success of “PadMan”, Akshay Kumar has established himself to be a bleeding-heart ‘feminist’. News channels are pouring praises for a film that introduces a ‘bold’ topic while regurgitating the crucial link between safe menstrual practices and women’s health. While the message is old (and important), the euphoria around it is new. Continue reading PadMan, Patriarchy and the Poor Man’s Innovation: Tannistha Samantha and Mukta Gundi

Malayali Feminism 2018: In the Light of Vadayambady and Hadiya’s Struggle

The almost insoluble task is to let neither the power of others, not our own powerlessness, stupefy us.

Adorno.

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