Category Archives: Feminism

A Guide to Life [Guest post]

Cathartist, who has written on Cerebral salad before, mailed me with her response to the criticism that Meena Kandasamy was facing for her article about domestic violence. I am turning the mail into a post. As usual, she is brilliant. Follow her on twitter.

A guide to life – General edition

Can doctors be unhealthy? Yes
Do comedians cry? Yes
Can dentists have bad teeth? Yes
Do priests sin? Yes
Can shrinks get depressed? Yes
Do teachers smoke? Yes
Can athletes dope? Yes
Do clowns feel sad? Yes
Can geniuses fail school? Yes
Do deaf people compose music? Yes
Can scientists be atheists? Yes
Do scientists believe in god? Yes

A guide to life- Animal edition

Can elephants have sex? Yes
Do whales have body hair? Yes

A guide to life – Family edition

Can little boys love dolls? Yes
Do little girls love guns? Yes
Can mothers hurt their children? Yes
Do fathers protect their children? Yes

A guide to life – Gender edition

Can men cry? Yes
Do women laugh? Yes
Can men love women? Yes
Do men love men? Yes
Can men hate men? Yes
Do women hate men? Yes
Can women hate women? Yes
Do women love men? Yes
Can men rape? Yes
Do men get raped? Yes

A guide to life – Feminist edition

Can feminists be men? Yes
Do feminists love men? Yes
Can feminists hate men? Yes
Do feminists hate women? Yes
Can feminists be strong? Yes
Do feminists go wrong? Yes
Can feminists abuse? Yes
Do feminists get abused? Yes

A guide to life – Work In Progress

Is Meena a writer? Yes
Is Meena a good writer? Yes
Is Meena a bad writer? Yes
Does Meena write fiction? Yes
Does Meena write non-fiction? Yes
Is Meena an activist? Maybe
Is Meena a dalit? No
Does that matter? No
Is Meena a feminist? Maybe
Was Meena married? Maybe
Was Meena abused? Maybe
Do I believe her? Yes
Can I be wrong? Yes
Is that okay? Yes

 

 

Some Questions that need to be answered on Domestic Violence

Background: Poet and Dalit activist Meena kandasamy recently wrote about her story of domestic violence. She is an evocative writer and her article has resulted in a lot of conversation on various web-platforms.  Among the usual “hear, hear” and “she must be lying”  comments were a few a few questions that are earnest and need to be answered. This is a post addressing those questions.

Note: I am not trying to explain Meena Kandasamy’s story, I have no business doing that. I am strictly answering general questions on the topic of Domestic violence.

How can feminists be victims of violence?

One of the earliest reactions to this story was “how can someone so “strong”, a fierce feminist, put up with domestic violence?”. I hope this leads to people searching for truths about domestic violence, and not concluding that her story is fabricated based on a presupposition that strong women do not get beaten up. On my timeline on twitter, stories were pouring in about VP’s of companies, Doctors, and NGO owners who were victims of violence who suffered in silence for a long time. This is, no doubt, puzzling and I hope to explain why it happens.

Continue reading

Too crowded. A book review

Title: A Calendar Too crowded

Author: Sagarika Chakraborty

A calendar too crowded by sagarika charobarty book review

I’ve been putting off writing this review,  because  I don’t like what I want to say about the book. I don’t like being harsh and the book should be read widely, but I am harsh in my review and now, getting ahead of myself.

Sagarika Chakraborty is a lawyer and student at ISB. Her début book is “a collection of stories and poems woven around the theme of womanhood”. Throughout the year there are a few dozen days set apart for women and issues surrounding gender. As is usual, we hear a lot about these issues on the special days and then go back to routine stories for the rest of the year. She outlines her purpose in the introduction:

The attempt is to delve deeper and analyse whether it is merely enough to rely on statistics and be complacent in the knowledge that the numbers indicate a better society in the making, or whether there is an urgent need to look beneath the covers and realize that despite all such dedicated days, there are 300 days when there is nothing special that life has to offer.

The first story is narrated by a girl who has been blamed for everything that went wrong in the lives of people around her, right from when she was in her mother’s womb. At the end of the story, there is just no way not to feel immensely sad about how women are blamed all around us for anything that goes wrong around them.

I kept reading on and half way through the 3rd story it stuck me; I’ve read these stories before. Every single one of them. In fact, most of what I’ve heard about women in India are these stories.

The aim is to bring forth the bruises hidden beneath each lavishly draped body that needs to be highlighted even on days that are not dedicated to campaigns against domestic violence.

I’ve seen symptoms of these problems in my clinic, and the books and blogs I read constantly highlight them. I kept reading on, hoping for a “look beneath the covers” but all I could see was the nudity that I am already all too familiar with.

This made me sad. Not the sadness of facing the harsh truth about womanhood, but the fact that Sagarika falls short on her promise to talk about hidden realities.  News and media outlets constantly highlight stories of dowry deaths, female infanticide and rape.  While Sagarika’s stories don’t read as news does, they do sound overtly familiar, and sometimes follow stereotypical paths. There is the wife who is blamed for everything, the girl pushed into prostitution, the successful woman who is a prey to her own success and even a retiree who finally finds love in an old age home.  Let me be very clear here, these stories are not caricatures. Every one of these characters can be found in our neighborhood or families.

In spite of their familiarity, in many of these stories there are hidden, beautiful nuances of culture and social norms that are often ignored but are significant contributors to the oppression of women. Hidden, I say,  because while the author has great insight into the human condition, the nuances can barely be heard over the righteous indignation that her characters throw at me.

By the end of the book, I felt preached at and even a little manipulated.

There is a reason we refer to extreme imagery associated with development work as “poverty porn”. In their quest to draw the attention of the world to the horrors poor people suffer, they end up robbing the poor of dignity. As far as fund-raising goes, photographs of hungry naked kids do work, but at what cost?

I don’t want to label the whole book as womanhood-porn, not all her protagonists are helpless and undignified, but many are and most seem helpless victims of circumstances, societal injustice and of the supreme bad luck of being born as women.

The reason I am being so harsh is that a quick look around confirmed my great fear: that the those most receptive to what these stories stand for dont really need these stories. They know this already. And those who don’t,are going to be overwhelmed by the loud voices of Sagarika’s characters, and will miss hearing the soft voices and subtle realities that she tries to make accessible.

I hope her next book, for I sure do hope there are others, finds the right audience and the right voice . It would be a shame to see someone with Sagarika’s depth of insight and skill to get caught in the trap of  self-congratulatory writing aimed at the “un-emancipated” and read by the “emancipated” that  is unfortunately too plentiful in my world.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

India & the sex selection conundrum

Let us agree to go beyond billboard exhortations to ‘love the girl child.

 

What is the remedy to female foeticide in India

There is nothing to disagree about the thesis of the article. The girl child is precious and vital for the well-being of our nation. The girl child is not doing very well in spite of all that we are doing for her.

It is not just the poor girl child who faces trouble, but the rich ones too.

The authors, Farah Naqvia and K.Shiva Kumar, suggest that we need a

, a national communication strategy is key to a national policy response, and this must rest on acknowledging two things — one, behaviour change communication is a specialised field whose expertise must be harnessed, and two, the nature of reproductive decision-making in India is changing along with immense changes in the Indian family structure. A communication strategy needs to identify primary targets (decision-makers) and secondary targets (decision supporters), and reach them through strategic media platforms — traditional, conventional and new media. As for the core content of messages, a lot can be said, but for now let us agree to go beyond billboard exhortations to ‘love the girl child.’ And recognise that the girl will grow up to be a woman one day.

We feel, instinctively, that billboards are not very useful. But then, what is? How does one bring about change in culture, values and deep-rooted systemic ills?

 

Jhansi Ki Rani by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan

खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

I grew up in Gwalior and every morning on the way to school we passed by the statue of Rani Lakshmibai, popularly known as Jhansi Ki Rani. Rani Lakshmibai is one of the most remembered leaders of the rebellion of 1957.

On May 10, 1857 the Indian Rebellion started in Meerut forcing the British to focus their attentions to the hotspots of rebellion, leaving Lakshmi Bai, a widow, was left to rule Jhansi alone. During this time, she was able to lead her troops swiftly and efficiently to quell skirmishes breaking out in Jhansi. Through this leadership Lakshmi Bai was able to keep Jhansi relatively calm and peaceful in the midst of the Empire’s unrest.

Up to this point, she had been hesitant to rebel against the British, but her hesitation finally ended when British troops arrived under Sir Hugh Rose and laid siege to Jhansi. She rallied her troops around her and fought fiercely. An army of 20,000, headed by the rebel leader Tatya Tope, was sent to relieve Jhansi and to take Lakshmi Bai to freedom. However, the British, though numbering only 1,540 were better trained and disciplined than the raw recruits, and these inexperienced soldiers turned and fled shortly after the British began to attack.Three days later the British were able to breach the city walls and capture the city. Lakshmi Bai escaped by jumping from the wall at night with her son and fled from her city, surrounded by her guards, many of them women.

The Rani decamped to Kalpi along with her forces where she joined other rebel forces, including those of Tatya Tope. The Rani and Tatya Tope moved on to Gwalior, where the combined rebel forces defeated the army of the Maharaja of Gwalior after his armies deserted the rebel forces. They then occupied a strategic fort at Gwalior. However, on the 17th of June 1858, while battling in full warrior regalia against the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars in Kotah-ki Serai near the Phool Bagh area of Gwalior, she died. The British captured Gwalior three days later. In the British report of the battle, General Hugh Rose commented that the Rani, “remarkable for her beauty, cleverness and perseverance”, had been “the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders”

Today, a majestic bronze statue showing her charging atop her horse graces Gwalior in a prominent spot.

Her story, if you were to look at the bare facts, is not very encouraging. She lost a battle that was heavily in her favour, ran away from her city as it was being taken and then was killed right after her only victory. But for some reason, her short but powerful attack on the British crown did not die out with her. She has inspired folk tales, songs, poems and continues till date an archetype of the fierce Indian  women who played a crucial role in the independence wars.

She was immortalised for modern India by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s poem, reciting which still gives me goose bumps. It is like the indefatigable spirit of Rani Lakshmibai has possessed the words.

You can find the whole poem here. quoted below are some of my favourite parts.

सिंहासन हिल उठे राजवंशों ने भृकुटी तानी थी,
बूढ़े भारत में आई फिर से नयी जवानी थी,
गुमी हुई आज़ादी की कीमत सबने पहचानी थी,
दूर फिरंगी को करने की सबने मन में ठानी थी।
चमक उठी सन सत्तावन में, वह तलवार पुरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

….

लक्ष्मी थी या दुर्गा थी वह स्वयं वीरता की अवतार,
देख मराठे पुलकित होते उसकी तलवारों के वार,
नकली युद्ध-व्यूह की रचना और खेलना खूब शिकार,
सैन्य घेरना, दुर्ग तोड़ना ये थे उसके प्रिय खिलवार।
महाराष्टर-कुल-देवी उसकी भी आराध्य भवानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

हुई वीरता की वैभव के साथ सगाई झाँसी में,
ब्याह हुआ रानी बन आई लक्ष्मीबाई झाँसी में,
राजमहल में बजी बधाई खुशियाँ छाई झाँसी में,
सुभट बुंदेलों की विरुदावलि सी वह आयी झांसी में,
चित्रा ने अर्जुन को पाया, शिव से मिली भवानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

….

रानी गई सिधार चिता अब उसकी दिव्य सवारी थी,
मिला तेज से तेज, तेज की वह सच्ची अधिकारी थी,
अभी उम्र कुल तेइस की थी, मनुज नहीं अवतारी थी,
हमको जीवित करने आयी बन स्वतंत्रता-नारी थी,
दिखा गई पथ, सिखा गई हमको जो सीख सिखानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

जाओ रानी याद रखेंगे ये कृतज्ञ भारतवासी,
यह तेरा बलिदान जगावेगा स्वतंत्रता अविनासी,
होवे चुप इतिहास, लगे सच्चाई को चाहे फाँसी,
हो मदमाती विजय, मिटा दे गोलों से चाहे झाँसी।
तेरा स्मारक तू ही होगी, तू खुद अमिट निशानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

Here is a translation of the first verse,

The thrones shook and royalties scowled
Old India was re-invigorated with new youth
People realised the value of lost freedom
Everybody was determined to throw the foreigners out
The old sword glistened again in 1857
This story we heard from the mouths of Bundel bards
Like a man she fought, she was the Queen of Jhansi

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the poem by attempting a translation, sorry non-Hindi speaking readers.

Information in this article is adapted from Wikipedia, the awesome Free encyclopaedia

Accidental Eveteasing

Accidental Eveteasing and Other Mythical Beasts

This post is in reply to the letter “Locutus83″ Sent to Blank Noise [Click here to Read it] asking some very honest and fundamental questions. I loved his honesty, openness and willingness to be wrong. This is also, partially, in response to the general riff raff and chit chat I have come across on various sites related to eve-teasing and street sexual harassment. And as Locust asks, have included a “guide to being a gentleman” as I cant think of anyone better suited than I to write such a guide.

Defining Eveteasing: Eveteasing is not a set of pre-defined actions. It is whatever makes women feel unsafe, powerless, predated upon and unwelcome. How you look, where you look, how long you look, what you do etc can serve as guidelines, but are not what marks eveteaing. However, terms are useful and necessary for awareness and education etc because discreet actions can be measured and evaluated.So also sexual thoughts are not eveteasing, nor are they wrong. Sexual thoughts are not disrespectful, they are natural, normal and in my opinion respectful. However, any sexual gratification that happens at the expense of another persons dignity, space and well being is inherently wrong, be it a thought or action.

How do women know? Women know because from childhood they have been preyed upon, its not sixth sense, its conditioning. From very young, girls are instructed by their parents, relatives and teachers to behave modestly, dress sensibly and mind their own business, and in the process hammering into their minds that being eveteased is their fault and it’s their responsibility to evade eveteasing. Men, on the other hand, have a free run, on the rare chance some girl stares back, snaps, or threatens to hit you with a chappal, it is laughed off and considered a small thing. So also, from childhood they are used to stares, looks, comments, whistles and so conditioned to detect and evade such behaviour.

Do they enjoy it? No woman, ever, under any circumstance whatsoever, enjoys being eveteased. This is not a matter of semantics, but a serious and fundamental issue. Eveteasing makes a woman feel helpless, powerless and dehumanized, NO ONE enjoys this. No sane person would expect women to enjoy rape (many insane people think they do), same way, no action, behavior or words that prey upon women can make them feel good.

Do women want us to stop looking? Blank noise and women in general do not want to stop men from looking, or staring, or making compliments, they want to stop harassment. This is not moral policing, not “neutering” of men, but of making them aware that preying on women is disgusting, illegal and will get their bottoms kicked.

Is it person dependant? Refer para. 3 What makes a statement/action eveteasing is essentially the attitude. So it doesn’t matter if a compliment comes from a poor man or rich, if respectful, appropriate, will be taken well. Guys who stand around the corner in groups and say “tamatar kya bhaav hai?” to passing women are not complimenting their breasts, they are being assholes.

Accidental Eveteasing. This seems to be the underlying question Locust and many others seem to have. In case the title of the article was not clear enough, and the first few points didn’t clear this misunderstanding, let me be very clear. You can no more eve tease someone by accident than you can mistakenly end up with your penis inside a cadaver. Comments do-not tumble out of your mouth and eyes dont automatically get glued to breasts.

But, occasionally, very rarely your look might be mistaken for lechery, this is not the norm but the exception. In such a situation, be honest, apologize, and look elsewhere. Women dont consider all men to be sexually deviant predators, they dont walk around looking for an excuse to use their pepper sprays. Mistakes happen, owe up and move on.

Guide for men.

There is no Guidebook
There is no “do this, dont do this” list that you can mug up and follow. Actions matter, but attitude is what causes action. The basic quality is respect for women, not the fake, filmy, “but you are my sister” kind, but respect as will be demonstrated by you not talking to womens breasts, or whistling at them.

Respect is not conditional. Expecting women to fit into the stereotypes that history has handed down before respecting them is fake, futile and will result in your acting like a dick.

Be socially appropriate.
As I said, there is nothing wrong in appreciating beauty, male, female, tree or car. However, it is important to be wise in the way one appreciates. I dont believe in lists, but there are some things that you can outright cross off you list. What works in the movies, like stalking, songs, and displays of macho-ness do not work. Also the street is not really the best way to find someone to start a relationship with. In most circumstances, a smile, nod, quick look-over will have you safe. But you have to learn what is appropriate.
Learn from the best
Just because you respect women does not mean you can do no wrong. You can still do something stupid, tacky and clumsy. This has more to do with social skills than attitude. The cure for that is to have female friends, no one knows what women want better than women. (Not only will women friends help you learn how to behave around women, they will also help you inyour pursuit of becoming a better boyfriend with ample advice and first hand experience in shopping and suchlike.)

Dont be scared, women are not looking for an excuse to call you a pervert.

Above all;

No means No

She is not asking for it. In fact, she never asks for it

To you, Locust, clearly you have no lack of respect for women, so i’d say you need to stop worrying about “accidentally” eveteasing someone, and go have fun.

On Banning Of burqas

A guest post by the wife – One of her assignments was to write a critique of an Op-ed and she chose to Critique Linda chavez’s piece on banning burqas.

arpitha jacob, editorial on burqa liberalsim, conservativism, islamophobia

Image by Ranoush

Linda Chavez in “banning the veil” supports the French/European trend to ban burqas and supports banning them in the united states also. She makes three of the commonest objections against burquas, but fails to present any real evidence apart from personal experience and broad generalizations to back her statements. Her main argument seems to be that burqas are a sign of oppression, and so must be banned, by which she confuses something that has a potential for abuse with absolute evil, not to say takes a patronizing stance towards all Muslim women.

She begins by stating that the question of Religious freedom vs. Security of “others” is a complicated issue, however, her arguments and conclusion show none of the dilemmas she alludes to and are simply one sided. By her opening statement, she also creates an “us vs them” divide, as if burqa wearers are in no need for security and are separate from those whose security they compromise. This is the first indication that her batting for oppressed women is more politically motivated than genuine concern.

Her first argument is that since burqas conceal the whole body, they are a security risk. To support this she refers to a couple of instances of burqas being used to conceal weapons and evade detection. There is no doubt that this does happen, but then, a long trench coat, a loose sweater or practically any loose clothing can be used to hide weapons. Also, criminals use all sorts of methods from face paint to stockings to hide their faces. A majority of crimes committed, terror included are done by people wearing jeans, t shirts and other forms of clothing, so an argument from statistics makes burqas the least of the threats. Clearly, banning clothing all together is the only solution, if one were to ban all clothing that has ever been worn to hide weapons. (remember the underwear bomber?) Interestingly enough, the perpetrators of both the crimes she alludes to were later caught.
It is also good to note that Muslim women are not the only ones who wear body-covering clothes. Khasi women in India, Buddhist monks, a large number of African traditions and more have clothes that can be considered “security risks”.

She then goes on to say that burqa is worn by a minority, and the Koran does not stipulate its use. To begin with that is a misrepresentation. Burqas have always been more common in certain geographic regions and among certain religious sub groups among Muslims, and among these, majority are burqa wearers. Furthermore, I am not sure what she is saying here, because clearly a religious stipulation is no defence against something that is a serious threat to security. She also forgets to mention that the Koran is clear that women should dress modestly, a point that she takes an exception to in her next and most elaborate objection against burqas. People of all faiths choose what they wish to follow from their religious teachings, and being allowed to choose what one wishes to follow is the absolute basis of religious freedom, or freedom it self. So an argument from theology does not serve an purpose here at all.

Her final and most elaborate argument is that Burqas are a sign of male oppression. Sure burqas can be sign of oppression, but then, any clothing can be. In a patriarchal society, anything, from clothing to posture can be used as a tool for oppressing women, and this can happen in any part of the world. But then, it can be argued that women who wear high heels- shown to be bad for their backs- are being oppressed by a society with narrow views on beauty and are being oppressed. Should shoes made in sweat shops or clothing made by underpaid workers in china also be banned? The greatest tragedy of this argument is the generalization, and the authors ignoring of the fact that women are increasingly choosing, by their own free will to don the burqa. She mentions that the burqa is increasingly available in the west, indicating that more women in the west are wearing burqas, but implicit in this argument is the belief that western women are increasingly being oppressed by men. An argument that is unsubstantiated and frankly absurd. Universities in the US are full of burqa/hijab wearing young women pursuing careers in everything from medicine to philosophy, if the authors generalization were to be accepted, it would mean that all these women were in fact oppressed and helpless.
She goes on to imply that since burqas are hot and uncomfortable, women would not wear it by their own choice, by this argument, all clothing worn by women in the east would be oppressive, Indian women wear saris in higher temperatures, yet no one questions their volition or freedom.

Just because something has a potential for abuse does not make it evil and more, does not warrant banning or disapproval. It is clearly more important to reduce the potential for abuse by ways that have been tested and proven over these last decades of womens emancipation- helping women with education, dignity and freedom.

In conclusion the author tries to build a case for women, against burqas, and her lack of paying any attention to the facts of the matter betray her underlying political bias, not her passion for womens emancipation.

—–

In conclusion, I, the husband agree with my wife, clearly demonstrating the patriarchal need to be in control.

Has Feminism failed Women?

Feminism is failing in the war against women says Virginia Haussegger in a thought provoking article.

She writes

There is a totalizing ideology on the march across the world, and it’s anti-women. This is not about religion, piety or virtue. Rather it’s about misogyny and a global war against women. It’s about the rights and freedoms of women. The ownership and control over women’s bodies has become the chief battleground.

Examples abound that all the increase in salaries of women in the corporate world has not addressed what happens under the untouchable umbrella of social customs and cultural practices.

In India, we have more than enough of this happening. From governments being mum on ridiculous judgments of khap panchayats and dishonor killings to daily stories of abandoned and battered girl children, we have ample reason to sit up in alarm.

It is not not that the fight against brutality to women is a purely feminist responsibility, far from it. In her book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” Sheryl WuDunn proposes that the

Central moral challenge of this century is gender inequity

You should watch the whole video.

The important thing to learn from the video and from any work that highlights the issue of inequity is that gender inequity is not a womens problem only. Gender discrimination is the single greatest reason we are unable to face some of the greatest challenges of this decade like religious extremesm and HIV/AIDS pandemic.

While some of you might be skeptical that just educating and empowering women might be a panacea for all of worlds problems, for those who care to look and listen, (not just the video) the transforming power empowered women have on societies is fairly obvious.

I know that there are organizations like Bell bajao and CEHAT that work in the area of Domestic violence, but I am unaware of many others and whether these would call themselves feminist.

In the coming days I hope to gain some insight into the role of feminism in gender equity movement in India and hopefully a better understanding of how the feminist movement in India can take up this challenge with the urgency that it requires.