I’m spread across the floor of my room, having barely finished the last few crunches. The light darting from the blades of the ceiling fan makes an animation, like an artist’s flipbook. My life has just taken another unexpected turn, nothing that I saw coming. I’m in awe. Objects in my field of vision share the stillness with me. We’re not trying.
I sometimes ask myself if I really control what happens to me. Does anyone, really?
Every dark place is an opportunity to let yourself descend into the moment. Personally, it is easy for me to fully engage with happiness. It is the feeling of grief, however, that I find difficult to engage with, in that I will begin to ‘shut down’. These words are a reminder to be present, to let myself feel – the entirety of what exists.
A friend once told me, “Begging is the easiest job in the world.” It took me a couple of seconds to recover from the insensitivity of that statement. I was really appalled. I retorted, “If that is so, do you mind mind working as a beggar even for a day?”
People have such stinking sense of entitlement. They believe that a person can be who they want to be. It is not the system which decides our fate but we ourself. तूच तुझ्या जीवनाचा शिल्पकार! (You are the sculptor of your own life!)
People are taught to celebrate their achievements. They are told, these achievements are a result of your immense hardwork and talent. The opposite is also true: if a person fails at something, the whole onus is put on their own shoulders. As if people operate in isolation. As if external factors don’t matter at all. As if…
(Note: This post was first published by Feminism In India on January 20, 2016)
Opponents of gender equality often label women with strong opinions as ‘aggressive’ and ‘crazy’. Feminists often find themselves pushed on the back foot by the tone-police that is quick to label us ‘feminazis’ for simply demanding an equal voice. The analogy is absurd and outdated. As John Marcotte pointed out,
“Don’t allow men who hate women to define feminism as women who hate men.”
Here’s what people keep forgetting: Feminism is a social justice movement; social justice movements spark out of prevailing inequalities; social justice movements exist to correct imbalances. They do not exist to comfort bruised egos; they do not exist for your viewing pleasure. Anger is the most natural and healthy response that should colour these movements.
Proponents of gender equality need to redefine that anger and own it. Take pride in the ‘flag’ that our families and friends claim we carry. Revel in the fact that our struggle makes power holders nervous and grapple for names to call us. Remember that the terms ‘feminism’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘sexism’, ‘gender equality’ and ‘affirmative action’ are explained and studied in the social sciences, and not “femi-nazism.”
For every ‘Yo-Yo’ policing a girl’s ‘dope-shope’, ‘short dress’ and ’47 weight’, there will be a spoken word poet tearing his bullshit to shreds. Your double-standards of sexual purity will be swallowed whole by every ‘slut’ who ‘scored’ with dozens of men. And every time you sexualise two women in love, there will be a lesbian couple laughing at the thought of your genitals.
The struggle will be ugly, and the struggle will be pretty.
But it will always be magnificent – all without your permission.
Do not expect us to feed ourselves with the crumbs of complacency from your table. Every sorry attempt to derail with ‘#NotAllMen’ will be shot down by every man who stands up for feminism.
When you spill your patriarchal ideas of ‘decency’, ‘beauty’, ‘purity’ and ‘dignity’, your gender will cease to be relevant. You will be a mere element of a patriarchal system, to be corrected through education, or to perish – survival of the fittest.
You will either stand up against injustice, or you will be a part of it. We will be respected as individuals and we will accept no compromise.
For every patriarchal son that dared to brutalise Jyoti Singh, there will be an army of women and men ready to fight and die for thousands like her.
(Source: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
(Note: This post was originally published on India Resists on November 5, 2015. An edited version was published on HuffPost India on November 16, 2015)
“Just because you can (write) doesn’t mean you should.” ― Pearls of wisdom for Chetan Bhagat
In the cacophony of political debate in India, the right-wing holds an untainted record of presenting disinformation in the loudest voices. Besides a swarm of flag-waving swayamsevaks and jingoistic andh-bhakts, Modi is also backed by a fat chunk of upper-middle class, what some might call, “English-educated” Indians and class-A industrialists & capitalists.
The band of Modi supporters also has its share of public figures. And Chetan Bhagat, in his latest column “Anatomy of a Liberal,” has proven yet again, why he is by far the worst thing to have happened to the world of writing.
Let’s begin by acknowledging Bhagat’s talent of spinning fairytale into “fact” with a huge courage of conviction. Bhagat presents his myopic view with a deluded sense of self-righteousness that immunises the right-wing against any criticism. Essentially, he says: the middle-lower middle classes make the ‘nationalists,’ and therefore, represent “real India,” while the liberals are a bunch of tea-in-china-cup elites, their lives devoid of struggle, and are therefore clueless as to what India needs.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ironically, Bhagat has probably alienated the ultra-rich capitalist class from his own camp; the Tatas, Ambanis and Adanis who accompany Modi on all his globe-trotting adventures, with all and sundry who pumped crores of rupees into BJP’s election campaign. As Praful Bidwai, professor at the Council for Social Development in Delhi, writes in DNA, “Big Business loves the “Gujarat Model” because it gives huge tax write-offs (eg, over 60% on the Tatas’ Nano project). Business adores Modi for his ruthless decisiveness in granting super-fast industrial approvals.”
Or as The Economist pointed out in 2013, “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that almost everyone in a suit and with a pulse in the private sector wants Narendra Modi to become prime minister.”
The dichotomy of a Bhakt is this imaginary idea of representing “real India,” while consciously ignoring and often suppressing class, caste and gender struggles. In true BJP-fashion, Bhagat gives zero mentions to ‘caste’ in his heaven-knows-how-many words of rubbish. In his spare time, he likes to keep the patriarchy alive by promoting sexism, misogyny and rape culture…
On other days, he is seen shouting “Izlahm also!!11” when liberals point out the patriarchal vices of Hindu tradition. A classic logical fallacy: “two wrongs make a right.”
The gender-bias in Islamic societies, which, by the way, has its fair share of critics – Mona Altahawy, Sherry Rahman and Tabassum Adnan, to name a few.
Bhagat’s “real India” is such a poorly imagined fairytale, you could swear it’s a chapter from one of his infantile novels. His theory defines us as a middle-lower middle class Hindu nation that will magically rise to glory under the Modi Raj. And it is precisely this kind of homogenisation that jeopardises the plural culture of India – one of mutual respect and healthy debate.
And while the right-wing has consistently shown poor faculty to understand something called ‘democratic dissent,’ Bhagat’s logic-soup comparing legal documents to awards, was particularly cringeworthy…
It must require truckloads of self-admiration to be so uninformed, so publically.
Bhagat goes on to vomit the word “privilege” with such ease, you would hope he realises at least some of his own. Unsurprisingly, he ignores the upper-caste male camaraderie that has largely defined India – from politics to popular culture.
Sections of liberals have begun to realise the different levels of privilege embedded in Indian society – that of gender, caste, race, class and language. The right-wing, however, has remained largely the same – suspicious of and paranoid about upward mobility of lower castes and women. And understandably so; their status quo at the top is finally beginning to shake with Dalit and women’s struggles, and support for sexual and gender minorities. No wonder the Hindutva movement is also gaining ground. So much so that poor Mr. Bhagat is unable to distinguish between religiosity and terrorism.
The butts of the privileged are plump with the fruits of blissful ignorance.
Bhagat obviously isn’t keeping up with liberal opinions when he laments the apparent lack of “real liberals and intellectuals in our country.”
Or perhaps he’s too busy berating historians and other intellectuals just for laughs…
“Modi is more of an “economic growth reduces poverty on its own” kind of guy; which is not true in a country like India, where there are millions of poor people,” says Udaiveer A., a financial management expert and MSc in Economics. “Until we are able to create many more millions of manufacturing jobs to absorb people in rural areas who have very little means to survive, the problem of urban and rural poverty won’t go away.”
Liberals are a largely heterogeneous group that has its share of atheists, leftists, believers, anarchists and others, and covers the spectrum of classes and religions, right from the peon who believes that Hindus and Muslims must live in harmony, to the director of a financial management firm, who believes that Modi’s economic policies have bypassed poverty reduction altogether.
Zubin Madon, an engineer and atheist, has a simple suggestion, “Govt should be secular in a very literal sense of the word. Religion shouldn’t be “tolerated” in the public sphere. Ban loudspeakers outside mosques as well as ganpati mandals. Plough down shrines on the footpaths. That sort of secularism.”
And finally, as a moderate feminist and devout Hindu, I often find myself debating and discussing ideas with people from diverse social, religious and political backgrounds.
That’s one benefit of belonging to the liberal camp. You can choose to be an anti-national, liberal, leftist, commie, sickular, congressi, aaptard, etc.
Here, Mr. Bhagat, have some scalding hot tea – in a china cup, or kulhad, if you prefer. We promise to not let your class affect your right to debate.
(This article was first published on the Feminism in India blog under “Examining India’s Porn Ban with Insights into the Industry”)
The “against Indian culture” farce is often used by agencies in India to further arbitrary action that lacks in reason and research.
The latest in the slew of bans by the Modi government is the ban on pornography – a hotly contested topic among feminist circles.
Some feel that banning pornography will have the counter-intuitive effect of increase in sex offences:
This is by far the most self-deprecating argument that scores of men are buying into. A literal translation: “all men are born rapists who will jump on a woman the first excuse they get, in this case – lack of porn”. This is rape culture 101.
Let a feminist remind you that you are rational, capable human beings who understand that the lack of “relief material” is no reason to force yourselves upon someone. Cleavage, chowmein or pornography does not cause rape. Rapists cause rape – let that be clear.
Moving on, let’s get another thing out of the way: what an individual does in their bedroom is no one’s business. Certainly not the government’s. But in a country where LGBTQ individuals do not have the right to a dignified life, the ban is hardly a surprise.
The debate that never happened:
Anyone who has had the pleasure (pun intended) of visiting a porn website will agree that most of it is highly degrading to women. Everything from the language to the actual ‘act’ uses a dynamic that objectifies women right to the bone. Some of it is outright non-consensual.
Yet, it is consumed globally just as much as any other commodity. India is, in fact, one of the top 5 porn viewing countries in the world (according to statistics from a now-banned website). Here’s a question worth examining: Why do we promote an objectifying industry by actively producing and consuming its product? The answer lies partly in its origin.
Inside the Industry:
Sexually explicit material in terms of art and writing has existed for centuries (cue: Khajuraho Temples), but the commercialisation of the ‘adult movie’ is an American phenomenon that began in the 1920s. It continued right through the post-war era, in tandem with the growing culture of global consumerism. The adult movie ‘industry’ – as it is commonly referred to in the US – is now placed somewhere between $8 billion – $13 billion annually.
For it to be called an industry, it must adhere to some standards. In spite of health guidelines for workers in the adult movie sector in California, the state has reported numerous HIV-AIDS related deaths of porn actors from the 1980s till as recently as 2013. Other STDs are regularly reported. This is unsurprising as most productions are brazen in their depiction of unprotected sex.
According to testimonies of various actors and ex-pornstars – coercion, threat, use of force, deception and abuse of power are not uncommon in the porn industry. Many films feature underage actors who claim to be consenting adults.
Our Brain on Porn:
Ample research on the psychology of pornography reveals that its effects mimic those of stimulant drugs. Continued exposure leads to an increase in tolerance, causing long-term or even permanent neuroplastic changes. It leads to a loss of control, causing compulsion – making users seek it out in spite of negative consequences. Increased visual tolerance means that users find reality boring and less stimulating. Frequent users report finding their mate less attractive.
Pornography also has profound consequences on a user’s sexual tastes and desires. The content viewed on film influences the user’s expectations from their partner. Teenaged viewers often use pornography as the first real introduction to sex, without the knowledge that those participating are ‘performers’ or ‘actors’. The porn industry’s aggressive objectification of the female anatomy impacts the mind of young viewers, further cementing the degradation of women perpetuated in popular culture.
Proponents argue that most actresses are not coerced into entering the industry. This is easily countered by the fact that consent is not always actively granted, and often manufactured. The media plays a massive role in persuading people into accepting, without active coercion, their own degradation. The fixation with gender-roles, obsession of people with “ideal” bodies, and the objectification of women’s bodies and men’s financial credentials are all oppression systems that we consent into.
In spite of this knowledge (or the lack thereof) we actively consume pornography. When seen as a commodity meant for mass consumption, pornography fits the bill perfectly. It is addictive, harmful, affects relationships, does not adhere to safety guidelines, seems a “necessity”, distorts natural sexual behaviour, perpetuates patriarchal structures, and fetches billions to its creators.
Pornography is, in simple words, a textbook mass-produced commodity that has its users hooked and craving for more.
Is the Indian govt. then right in banning porn?
The Art of Banning:
If it were a women’s safety concern, it would have been brought before the Parliament, discussed among citizen groups and debated in the media. Its effects would’ve been discussed after citing suitable scientific evidence. Public opinion would’ve been gauged and the matter given due attention.
Instead, it was sneakily banned overnight in spite of the Chief Justice of India’s reservations on the matter. Given this approach, the ban seems to stem more from a desire to repress public sexuality and the age-old exasperation with “western influence”, rather than a concern for anyone’s well-being.
As long as the govt. of India slaps one ban upon the other, it will stay true to its role as the self-appointed chaperone of the people.
A govt. that feels entitled to encroach upon every conceivable right of its citizens – right from what they eat (beef and instant noodles) to social commentary (the Nirbhaya documentary) and what they do in their bedrooms (viewing pornography) – is an institution that needs to be monitored closely.
This patronizing attitude discredits the abilities of the citizens to think and decide rationally for themselves. It is only amplified by the brazen disregard for the opinions of stakeholders – which, in the case of the documentary and the porn ban – are women’s groups and rape survivors.
If we are really serious about women’s safety, let’s talk about how we raise our boys and girls, right from our honourable MPs to the people in villages. Let’s talk about the absolute imperative – that is gender sensitization and sex education starting at the primary level. These are measures that the HRD Ministry needs to implement on priority basis, after due consideration with experts and stakeholders.
Finally, let’s not be so careless as to use the burning issue of women’s freedom & safety as a mere excuse to dictate public morality.
And let’s promise ourselves one thing: whenever the govt. bans something new, to dump our political affiliations in the bin, and take a step back and examine – what is really happening?