The Ideology of Male Indispensability: Upper Caste Experiments with Patriarchy
by Chittibabu Padavala
We men are the least qualified to speak about an issue like this. It’s time for us to listen. It must be so, even if women are just screaming and not ‘making sense’ TO US.The barbarity, inhumanity, cruelty and maleness at its usual worst has been rightly and powerfully denounced by more than one woman and including some of the distinguished Indian English writers and shown it all for what it is in the context of the violations of women participating in a New Year Party. If a situation is such in which some people from the perpetrator category (men) tell the protagonists of the victim category (activists/advocates/supporters of women’s rights) how best they can protect themselves from our atrocities, we Marxists say, we have reached the point of thinking and acting in terms of “Patriarchy”, “structures”, “systems”, “reproduction” etc. or at least be attending to them. But that is not all.
The attempted orchestration of Nirbhaya II in Bangalore seems to have turned into another “Kiss of Love” disaster or worse. It is only a matter of time that this Bangalore botch-up almost certainly will bring the worst backlash.Well, Nirbhaya movement came in the wake of a genuinely widespread outrage and the simmering new political shift, soon to take power in elections, was part of it. An atrocity of that kind is one of the very few issues that unite all sections of always fragmented Indian society in condemning them. Additionally, the victim was murdered after being tortured. She must have fought to her death rather than succumb to the demands of her torturers/abusers/murderers, an inference that is most appealing to the prevailing sentiments of Hindusphere.
Even governments, while worrying about damage to their reputation with electoral consequences, tend to do as much as they could, even while lacking the means and mentalities required for the task at their disposal, at least until the political and community connections, corruption, bribes etc. come in at the trial phase.Even Kiss of Love, for all its downright fakery and a breathtaking dishonesty, was planned by people with a sense of organisation/mobilisation and successfully managed to mobilise people in impressive numbers in more than one part of the country, even if in relatively free spaces. It had something positive and affirmative to practice and to display, however wrongly their slogans or targets are chosen.
The attempted Nirbhaya II in Bangalore in the wake of mass molestation during the usual New Year parties has none of those strengths. To begin with, it is not even definitive that such a mass atrocity actually took place.This false and farcical Nirbhaya II only has the strength of justice, power of an undeniable point, only in abstract unmoored in the events it invokes, even if it is unappealing to most people in society. It then failed to move masses and probably succeed only in bringing the most disgusting forms of backlash, far faster than if this Media-NGO cultural coup did not botch it all up.It is not difficult to discern the characteristic manipulations of all upper caste Hindu rebellions and because they are oozing out of everything they are doing and saying. Ersatz yet fluent passions is a constant in their campaigns. Things have not changed with the upper caste elite campaigns in their basic contours from the time they invented anti-Reservation mass mobilisation in the late 80s Gujarat. The meritorious each time ‘originally’ re-invent the basic model in each new case.
When Hindu Nazist cadre set out to do the same, or better, to do the real one, on a larger scale, more blatantly, on cameras, in the name of protecting great Hindu culture and morals and punishing the immoral and degenerate Western culture, none of these gender warriors would be so aggressive and radical in their denunciations of patriarchy and hounding of the government.Though not many seem to give sufficient weightage to it, these days whenever Congress (or similar non-ideological party) is in government, the Hindu Left, Liberals and indignant educated/enlightened citizens suddenly become uncompromising revolutionaries and come up with the most pickiest of oppositional stances.If BJP or CPM is in power, they would not even think of doing so. Because Congress can’t unleash its ideologically-hardened and incited crowds, doesn’t go to extreme and obsessive lengths to impose its interpretation of things, like CPM and BJP governments do, typically with the help of their respective cadre. Additionally, governments headed by these two ideological parties counter attack their opponents. Moreover, these two parties employ their own mass media or use their people in the media to undo one-way attacks these coup-hatchers can afford only during Congress (or the similar party’s) rule. So these Left/Liberal/Citizen types don’t plan media coups of Bangalore kind when the government is known to counter-attack or aggressively defend itself.
Then what is wrong with such selective seizing upon of the opportunities? Isn’t it that social movements and campaigns, particularly the un-armed or non-violent ones, can only operate when the government at least has some pretense of respect for the opposition and public opinion, civil society etc? Isn’t it that our criterion cannot be objectively what is the worst injustice to fight rather than what is showing the most promise and potential to move people and mobilise them, involving thus mobilised people to understand and take up the related and larger issues? All of that is true. Only trouble is that the people who pull the coups should show some awareness of it. It seems, in Bangalore botch-up, they don’t.One woman witness, very articulate, North-Indian sounding, was repeating in a TV call in that “they were outsiders”, even without the prompt from the anchor or anything to warrant it. By outsiders, she might have meant not the kind of people who live in posh localities, or maybe they are from Karnataka but outside Bangalore city. The Right to City effortlessly transforms itself into an Exclusive Right to City in moments like this.
Interestingly, the assertions assume the form of unimpeachable principles of individual autonomy, individual rights, choice, inviolability of person, ‘right to Night’ and right to public space for women without the alienating gazes and intrusions, freedom of movement and fun-making and all such un-qualifiable matters of rights. Of course, all of them are true and some of those who dub the whole Bangalore events in these terms are honest or honestly mean them. Such matters of right do not depend on any qualities of those who are entitled to them nor could they be made subject to any qualifications and conditions.But there is an unacknowledged undercurrent Hindu principle, drawn straight from the Code of Manu and other sacred Hindu texts. To put it simply, the idea that freedoms and rights, even the basic and fundamental ones, can be privileges, exceptions, special provisions for some people in some places.Since Nehruvian modernizing and “secular” arrangements, these upper caste elites until yesterday availed these freedoms AS privileges, they constructed narratives of modernity and attributed it to modernity alone and told themselves and even others that they were good enough to be modernizing, thus having them all. Thus invisibilised Manu, at least for themselves, allows them to define their privileges as a defense of freedom, of modernity and individual autonomy.
In this convenient Hindu UC imagination, the people with enough power to off set exaggerated and partial stories through the presence and influence in mass media, NGOs and other opinion-making mechanisms, the assertion of elite power to limit the right to city and send clear message to certain skin-colours, body types, looks, sartorial, class and caste markers to erect a vague class wall, marking a boundary, issue a threat by arm-twisting a eager-to-please government in power appears an appropriate and even workable strategy.To complicate the matter, if the upper caste gender warriors have English Media in their hands, the police and citizens have cc cameras. At least certain claims can be verified. So far, the surfaced definitive evidence points to only one instance of an atrocity of a lone woman in a bylane and not to a mass molestation in the places where it was claimed to have taken place.Understandably, there are more advocates than the witnesses.Anyone living in the real world and not in the hyper-privileged protected places all their lives, even in their vacations, knows that mass molestations are a regular and constant in all places where crowds form and on the move from festivals to recreational events to patriotic gatherings to partying events.Such systematic and long-standing problem can be addressed with a little bit of patient ground work with a small team and a camera for a couple of days, if these warriors are patient and responsible enough to do some leg work, rather than in excessively believing in their own verbal power to bring fundamental changes, though limited only for themselves.
This is also a city with the highest concentration of NGOs in the country, probably in the world, if one is not completely caught up in their own Brahmanical confidence in effecting changes without getting out of their desks, they could have partnered with some of these to do the necessary homework. It is clear that these Hindu elite gender warriors thought of giving it a try in what they perceive as the methods of Hindu Nazists: rumour-mongering, spreading panics to move crowds to frenzied action, after all, our goals are incomparably honourable than theirs, they might have told themselves.Hindu Nazists, alas, before spreading lies and rumours to move people to extraordinary actions, do patient organization building, grooming contacts and all such stuff. They are less of idealists than the Hindu Left/Liberal/Moderns. They are into the business of really changing the world, not just trying to construct a cultural SEZ(Special Economic Zone) for a section of society. If imitating the Hindu Nazist methods is bad enough, failing even to do so is worse. The worst is when Hindu Nazist crowds indulge in much bigger atrocities, openly announced and openly perpetrated, with full impunity.
Bangalore has some of those very few pockets in the country where modernizing, educated, professional women can take refuse from their suffocating patriarchal families and hassling neighbourhoods, with relatively low or infrequent levels of interference.Like elsewhere in such spaces, they provide some absolutely common-sounding but rare freedoms for Indian women, where they can just walk into a bar and have some fun or be on her own without accompanying males to protect them or preying or annoying men hovering over them. Such spaces everywhere allow for mostly upper caste/rich/middle/upwardly mobile women students or professionals the uncertain breathing spaces without having to go through the almost impossible fight to win their minimal freedoms within the family – thus either losing more freedoms or losing the securities of family structures.This model of having only benefits of patriarchy while escaping its daily cruelties and absurdities is coming to an end. Sadly for Hindu UC elite educated professional women, this end is coming when patriarchy is no more a matter within and of the family, kin and neighbourhood but aggressively promoted and worsened by the Hindu Nazist state and its trained paramilitary cadres and their incited mobs.These women will en mass be forced back into the most rigid of the family-kinship traps or no less oppressive friendships, live-ins, co-residential arrangements to stay away from the families. Now the forced choice or no choice is threateningly simple: you either reject patriarchy fully or succumb to it fully.
Though it escapes the campaigners of “notallmen” or not-all-Bangalore types who understood that the campaign got screwed by the campaigners themselves but can’t bear to face or tell the truth honestly, by 70s itself it was feminist and women rights common sense that male power is a ‘system’ and those bad men who oppress women force them into the embrace or the protection of ‘good’ men. In this mutually reinforcing relationship or division of labor among men, very often the same men play protectors to ‘their’ women while persecuting other women to push them back to ‘their’ good men. The bottom line is male indispensability.The time-tested method of upper-castes, of foregrounding “their” women (subjectively experienced among the upper caste elites themselves, of course, as women taking charge of thing even in matters public) whenever they want to assert themselves but their men lack the appeal or acceptance is also gone. Hindu Nazist specialty is precisely to attack the privileged upper caste women first to subdue and limit them back to their families and one of the successful things they invented is to tap and provide a channel for the anti-elite, anti-modern feelings and prejudices of their foot soldiers.
Chittibabu is a Dalit Marxist scholar based in Goettingen, Germany. For more on Dalit Marxism and updates please see this Facebook Page.