oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

--- This post is dedicated to a dear friend in angrezland. You know who you are --


This December, along with re-gain some modicum amount of control over my hands, I’ve embarked on another impossible task -- reading Indian fiction that makes the “best selling” list, it’s less condescending than it sounds. Classmates and friends have (rightly) complained about my preference of Subaltern literature, or any literary fiction that isn’t mainstream -- in distribution and in its ideology, such a hopeless hipster, as always -- which leave me with shelves of essays by Nivedita Menon and Richa Nagar, with most works of Spivak, Susie Tharu, Mahashveta Devi and Shauna Singh Baldwin but have never read any Chitra Banerjee or worse (gasp!) Shobha Dé -- the Queens of Feminist Writing in Fiction, I’m told. Shobha Dé and I will never see eye-to-eye, not since she came to my college in Mumbai proclaiming the fight for women’s rights has long been over for young women in Mumbai colleges and it’s only those rural women who have to yet be empowered. That said, whatever little I know of her work, she has sassy urban protagonists, who have sexual agency and at times even exhibit physical and bodily autonomy -- on some days that counts as feminism, no? In any case, I decided to read Chitra Banerjee’s A Palace of Illusions last week, most classmates and friends recommended this book because of the book’s reputation to “render the (otherwise) mute Draupadi in the patriarchal Mahabharat with a powerful voice”. I want to talk about this “giving a voice” business before we can get to the text itself. A decade ago, feminist academia was awash with “voicing” fringe groups -- for Indian feminist academia it was Dalit and tribal women -- for Eur-Am academia it was Third World Women. This is where the voice of a group becomes an intellectual and economic project for some, “global feminist networks” crop up for research and “solidarity building”. Interestingly, these networks are directly responsible for many Eur-Am feminists’ award winning theses; today, most of those networks have perished*. Interest in ‘fringe’ groups now has to be translated to issues around ‘identities’. Voicing, articulating a voice, becoming a voice that needs articulation -- none are innocent projects.


If the murky spaces of consent, negotiation of agency are not your preoccupation, Palace of Illusions sets open an ambitious project, it works within the framework of the Mahabharat, Draupadi still does and says all that she is supposed to, but this time she has a “back story” as the reviews promise. She’s a rebellious, moody, quirky and a dark heroine, ruled by her impulses -- decisions that eventually launches the Great War of Hastinapur. Her infamous derobing scene (where she is dragged in the court to be undressed in front of all the members of the Royal Court, including her five husbands who gambled her along with all their other belongings) is transformed to a tragedy, where her faith in Krishna saves her on the outside, but we get to see her strong willed thoughts even if Krishna had never enchanted her robe to never end. All of this is all and well, if “voicing” is all that you want to read and engage with. Banerjee’s work occupies an extremely strange position in society -- literary and otherwise -- for (most) Hindu nationalists love her (as they get to say, “See how great Indian women were in Ancient India? It’s only after the Muslim colonisation that we have become such degenerates”), for many feminists her book opens up a space for Draupadi to speak her mind, to ask a few feminist-y questions and for international publishers like Harper-Collins, Banerjee works as Orientalist (but not really because it’s written by an Indian herself!) project, where the book constantly interrupts itself to explain Hindu customs and traditions and for others, it’s a “fresh” perspective to an old tale -- the text is extremely aware of this balance and manages to hold attention too. But, if we were to question *who* can re-claim Draupadi’s voice (if at all), silences draw blanks.


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oncejadedtwicesnarked: An exploding dog comic. The text reads "look it's ok you are dead inside, we don't expect too much from you". (Dead Inside)

A little background -- this week Renee, Numa and I ranted a bit on tumblr, a P.S. to #mencallmethings if you can call it as #otherpeoplecallusthingstoo and by the time we finished, we realised we had so much more to say. The following post is a collaborative post by Renee and I. Post contains mentions of rape, rape threats, trans*misogyny and many other --isms. Tread carefully.
 

---

Renee: I was talking to a friend tonight about #otherpeoplecallmethingstoo. Now this friend…well, I’m unsure how much or how little to say about other peoples’ intersections, but I think it’s safe to say he has a real depth of experience with race, gender identity, sexuality, and so on. He’s also a bit my senior, which means he was old enough to actively identify as a feminist when second wave feminism was a happening thing, and still has many friends and acquaintances for whom THAT feminism is still THE feminism. And he’s a creative person who has sometimes channeled his energy into critiquing the sins of the feminist past…and felt the sting for doing so. Point being, he’s savvy to this sort of stuff, and it’s something we commiserate around often.
 

And he was with me while I bemoaned my frustration with the mainstream feminist community. He gets my anger about how abortion and reproductive health are framed as “women’s issues”. He recognizes my pain when the Amanda Marcotte’s of the world reduce misogyny and sexism to the existence of “gonads hang[ing] on the outside” of certain people. But, of course, it’s easy to empathize with my position on that stuff…it’s not shocking, because it happened and we know who these people are and it wasn’t personal, even if I take it personally.
 

But when I told him about some of the other stuff - the personal attacks ,especially the ones Jaded wrote about, which I quoted some of verbatim - he drew back a bit. I’m not really sure why, because he’s certainly seen a lot of vitriol and hate, much of it from within the feminist community. But for whatever reason, he offered an explanation.
 

“Well keep in mind, it’s the internet. Those are the worst of the worst,” he said.
 

When Sady Doyle creates #mencallmethings, feminists (which I often consider myself) don’t question it. It means something! It’s representative of what women have to deal with. It reveals the depths to which misogyny is ingrained in our culture. But when we do #otherpeoplecallmethings, at best we’ve revealed an anomaly…a few outlying pieces of data. “Oh, they’re not real feminists” or “that’s just the radical fringe” or “ignore the trolls” or whatever. You know, handwaving.
 

And I’m not bashing my friend - not at all - because I’ve done the same thing. For me, it was the radfems…”angry out-of-touch asshats who no one pays any attention to anymore,” I’d say. Except then there’s Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford, bending the ears of the United Nations. And the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival attendees who thought it was a good idea to post pictures of and out trans women on the internet (and received the tacit support of Wordpress in doing so). And those are just two from this year alone.
 

Look at the posts we’ve done about this already. These are people who self-identify as feminists, with enough pride in their convictions to attach their names to their comments (which they wrote knowing full well they could be made public). These are people who know enough to drop the Hudood Ordinance into conversation (even if they somehow don’t know the difference between India and Pakistan). Perhaps not these individuals in particular (although maybe!), but these are the people enrolled in Women’s Studies courses in big universities, organizing Slutwalks, and traveling abroad for “humanitarian efforts”. Who is going to be the next academician presenting their findings to the UN? Or the founder of the next big women’s solidarity event? Meeghan? Janice? Jenny? Point being, #otherpeoplecallmethings is not an anomaly or an outlier at all. And from the merely flawed to the truly foul, from the personal to the impersonal, the only real question is when do #otherpeople start giving a shit?
 

 

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

I haven't written here for more than a month, because honestly I didn't trust myself to write without exploding into particles of dust, or if I did manage to write somehow it would only be selective expletives repeated over and over -- I've been more than just a little angry. Warning to readers, I'm not writing this to cater to your sensibilities, nor is this the moment to profess how you belong to [x] group but don't do any [abc] I talk about. I am exhausted with keeping my anger inside, and it's coming out in all insidious ways today.

---

When I repeat out of frustration to western feminists -- yes western feminists get clubbed in the same indistinguishable a bubble as "South Asian feminist" feels to me -- that abortion wars here are different, we face different demons, we use different strategies, all they seem to hear is "India doesn't consider abortion is illegal! They don't have anything to complain about!". Yes, factually, the Indian nation-state hasn't outlawed abortion, that can hardly be cited as evidence to prove that there aren't any problems. Or on the flip-side, almost every feminist (or not) publication from the Global North talks about the problem of female feticide India -- additionally India and China are used interchangeably for some reason, as if any place that is Not the Global North must be a homogeneous mass of cultures  -- to the extent that "feminism in India" means "sex-selective abortion". There is a problem with using and perpetuating such a model, where you start equating a region's "gender problems" to its feminism is probably the preliminary layer of fail; I've talked about  it long enough. What you leave out when you stick to the primitive equation of "Indian feminism = sex-selective abortion" are the many methods that the State designs to keep contraception from people who want to access it, to forcibly sterilise groups which the State thinks need to be curbed and even erased. It infuriates me that whenever one speaks of "sex-selective abortions" and its evils -- yes fetuses are being aborted because they're perceived to be 'useless' as they're female, and it is evil, it needs to end, no disputing this fact. But there's more to just a "culture thinking females are unworthy" that people don't want to engage with -- what western feminists don't even consider is the way discourse around contraception figures here; mainly because they're too busy presuming that it's the same as it is in their native countries, but I digress.

Contraception, as introduced by the State was started in the light of the UN deciding "India's problem" was "over-population", and it's not surprising that a neo-liberal capitalist socialist state that India supposedly was then didn't contest this accusation, or didn't argue that the real problem was unequal resource-allocation. Contraception, for a long time didn't mean sexual autonomy of bodies, instead it was (and is), "we must control the numbers", as if these "numbers" cannot ever be wanted bodies. Forced sterilsations of men and (mostly) women during Emergency years are no secret, nor are the sterilisations of some "backward" castes and tribes that are carried out regularly. More recently, the State has changed its face when it comes to contraception, now it's under the Right To Information, the citizen -- or at least people who are read as citizens -- that we get "a choice" in what form of contraception we can avail of; there are enough ads everywhere that address this nice married Hindi and English speaking Hindu lady who has two (or three) children and is thinking of contraception. Even within this incredibly narrow range of people nice Hindu ladies addressed, they don't get access to contraception -- there are abortion practitioners who will look at your financial and social status and decide that you can raise a baby and refuse to give you an abortion, or not give you information about UID's even if you can afford it, the concern to protect your Right To Conceive one day is apparently more important than your informed choice -- and people who are not women, who are not Hindu, not English (or Hindi) speaking, according to the State don't need to avail of contraception, going by the demographic they address in their ads and propaganda.

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

[Trigger Warning for mention of sexual abuse]. 

As a person who works with survivors/victims sexual and domestic abuse, I’m quite used to getting calls from people all over the city, most times it’s when I’m at the center -- I talk to them and we assess the situation, whether the caller is in immediate danger or not – generally they want someone to listen to them. Very rarely do I get requests to meet up with people -- which can be dangerous for both of us -- but every time I’ve met someone, it’s only to have them rushing back in a maximum of twenty minutes, for the time-window their abusers leave them, where they have some amount of unaccounted time-slot is often very less. Last week I got a call from a woman living in South Bombay, in one of the most reputed neighbourhoods and she wanted to meet me to discuss long-term solutions (which the group I work with occasionally handles as well). She called me after midnight and I was set to meet her the next day, and she wanted to change the location for she wanted to remove all possible run-ins with anyone who may report back to her family -- and every place I came up with her was unacceptable for her. "Barista?" "It's too public", "[x] book store?” “that’s hardly the place for polite conversation”, "[x] place?" "We aren’t supposed to talk about these things there" and both of us eventually burst out laughing at how absurd this conversation was -- both knew what we were going to discuss and there wasn't even a single space we could discuss those things -- and then we both fell silent. We need silence now. Right? To keep peace? To keep the surface calm?

I want to talk about this silence, this polite hospitable silence -- often used as a conscious or otherwise decision to mask, hide, distract or forget altogether about the rough friction, of intersecting differences, that de-stabilise us, that move together to move any 'safe' or 'home' space. This silence shows up everywhere we construct spaces to be "homelike" -- in  classrooms, in actual homes, in well-loved literature texts -- and we learn to nurture them. Last month a student came out to me as queer and she waited till our last “official” class was over and then did she decide to tell me -- and when I asked her why did she have to wait till it got over considering we’ve talked about just about everything, she explained that she didn’t want to “upset” the rhythm of the class. Alternatively, I should have asked her why was “keeping” the rhythm so important to her, but that time I was quiet, parsing what she’d just told me. In home spaces¹, it seems the general reaction is to secure and perpetuate a sense of a border or a territory, a line we must learn to never cross. Many times, between friends, in classes, whenever the talk goes to any "taboo" topic, immediately and inadvertently my voice softens itself and then I have to remember to revert back to my general tone and loudness -- and these are spaces I generally feel comfortable in, a performed home of sorts, and yet this silence is always around.

 

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