Last week, my friend and I drunkenly tried to count the number of billboards, shops, advertisements used the term “modern” and we stopped at 36 as something shinier came by. For a country that wants to proclaim ‘modernity’ on every turn that it possibly can -- read “enter the ranks of the first world” regardless of who pays the price -- ‘modern’ is our buzzword. There are ‘modern’ supermarkets, ‘modern’ shopping malls, ‘modern’ hairdressers, ‘modern’ tailors and this list goes on ad nauseam. It’s really funny that we don’t mind seeming this “modern” nation out on its way to progress -- without pausing to ask whose notion of progress anyway -- but the moment gender becomes a part of the equation, suddenly the rules change. Anyone who’s been a feminist or an advocate of women’s rights in India, has heard at least once, that they are “spoiling the cultural fabric of the nation” because of feminism. Even the Left considers feminism an “imperial curse”¹ and the "western/modern demon"; often feminists have to explain why we're not being seditious by believing and advocating for gender justice.
Selectively labeling something as "western" is to make it taboo in one of the quickest ways possible here -- and anything can be labeled "western" if it leads to policing feminine sexual autonomy and agency. Speaking English is western, wearing jeans is western, dressing in anything but "traditional" clothes denotes one's corruption by western forces and this contempt is reserved mostly for anyone who is read as 'female' -- outright sexism that most of us encounter daily. Marxism isn't "western", using avant garde technology isn't "western", when gender enters any equation it immediately becomes "western". My grandmum complained about similar layperson sexism and I frankly don't see much change in our reception and understanding of feminism -- we usually hear the dismissal of the movement as "western" once we've pointed out some yet another misogynist attitude, a rebuttal that comes when there is nothing else to say. I'm quite used to right-wing-leaning acquaintances denounce how I single-handedly will shame everyone I know (and their ancestors) by talking and writing about gender all the time. Less frequent are the rants from the people who call themselves "comrade" and (unalarmingly) they come to the same conclusion. Imagine my surprise when I read the following quote:
Like any woman of color, I can’t simply give in to feminism completely. It is a Western ideology that does not mesh well with mine [...]
I imagine Mehreen's position comes from facing racism within the feminist movement, being the token nonwhite feminist in and outside academic feminism. I cannot imagine what an added layer of islamophobia feels to such routine tokenism. At many feminist meetings here too, there are the same few Muslim voices, the same women who are pigeonholed into being the Non Threatening Muslim voices who talk (yet again) of the Hudood ordinances, veils and polygamy, who do not question too hard the discrepance between what feminists say and do. I can completely sympathise about wanting to disengage with such a movement and will probably be the last person to ever disagree with any such claim given my relationship with the movement
(and to her credit, she doesn't dismiss feminism but instead calls for white feminists to look at flaws in their methods of working and engaging with women of colour). However, seeing feminism attributed to solely western ideologies raises all kinds of red flags, if we are to take India’s history of women’s movements as an example. Unlike the popular belief that India doesn't have feminism because there were no "waves" here² the Indian women's movement has a long-sustained conversation vis-a-vis feminism being "western”.
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