Fighting Patriarchy: Interrogating ‘commonsense’, Social Structures, Politics

What does gender justice look like? Does it look like a man ‘protecting’ his sister? A man ‘avenging the honour’ of his mother, sister or wife? Or is it struggles for equity and dignity – struggles of women, of Dalit women, of adivasi women, of LGBT people to dismantle the structures of oppression?

Can we ‘empower’ women by ‘changing mindsets’ alone? Or do we have to identify the structures of class, caste, and patriarchy that reproduce oppression and inequality across generations?

Are Moral Policing and ‘Make in India’ really opposed to each other? : From the new Haryana CM, BJP MPs, to the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS student outfit ABVP, there has been an exponential rise in organised moral policing, attacks on the right of women to dress in jeans or have mobile phones, brand inter-religious marriages as ‘love jehad’, or telling them how many children to produce.

Sections of the media have often exposed and ridiculed the khaps and moral policing-Hindutva outfits as purveyors of ‘backwardness’ and a ‘medieval mindset’. Editors, commentators and TV anchors often ‘advise’ the Modi to ‘rein in’ these ‘fringe’ elements, who are ‘holding back’ his ‘positive, progressive agenda of development’. The Sangh/Khap ‘love jehad’ and moral policing agenda, they say, is a shame for India, and India should instead walk forward on the ‘Make in India’ path.

What, however, is carefully ignored in this media discourse is how the same ‘moral policing’ and ‘discipline’ is used to control women workers in modern, globalised industry. When PM Modi is assuring big corporates of ‘ease of doing business’ in India and exhorting them to ‘Make in India’, we must ask, under what conditions do women currently ‘make’ for MNCs in India?

For instance, ‘Flawed Fabrics’, a report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the India Committee of the Netherlands on women workers in Tamil Nadu’s textile industry that produces for a variety of top American and European brands, reveals the extremely exploitative conditions there. Women workers are admonished and penalised for going to the toilet, for speaking to male co-workers, and are denied the right to form unions. They live in hostels they describe as ‘semi-prisons’, where they are denied mobile phones and allowed phone calls to parents only in the presence of wardens. These conditions, predictably, are defended by managements in terms of “safety and security” concerns of the workers’ parents, and “our Tamil Nadu culture!”

Indeed, training in docility and patriarchal discipline is what the globalized workplace too sees as an asset. The politics of ‘moral policing’ and ‘Make in India’ are indeed symbiotic and not really opposed to each other! Why are our ruling parties, governments and mainstream media silent on such work conditions for women? If these conditions prevail, ‘Make in India’ can only mean that India is offering cheap labour, cheap health and lives, and unfreedom of women and oppressed castes, as the USP to attract global capital.

In the Name of ‘Protection’ for Women : Politics in India is full of rhetoric about ‘protecting women’, ‘respecting women’ and so on. You find politicians competing to swear by ‘Bharat Mata’ – imagining the country itself as a woman that loyal sons must protect and avenge. The politicians also vie with each other to demand death penalty, public hanging and various horrific punishments for rapists. But when it comes to actual instances of gendered violence, these politicians – across parties – tend to dismiss rape cases as ‘false cases motivated by the Opposition’. they tend to blame women for rape and suggest that ‘boys will be boys’ and women can be safe as long as they keep within the ‘Laxman Rekhas’ drawn by protective men.

‘Protection of women’ and ‘defending/avenging Bharat Mata’ are the pretexts on which communal and caste violence as well as custodial killings of inter-caste or inter-faith couples are organized and justified. ‘Protecting women’ is also the pretext for crushing the freedoms of women students in hostels and women workers in factories. In these same spaces where their rights are curbed in the name of ‘protection’, women are silenced and humiliated when they complain against sexual harassment!   And women students of Jadavpur and JNU are branded as ‘loose women’ who do ‘naked dance’ and therefore have no right to complain about sexual harassment !

‘Justice’ for women is represented in the popular imagination by visuals of the noose for rapists. But in actual point of fact, women who survive and complain against rape or sexual violence are routinely disbelieved. The ruling politicians never break their silence on domestic violence or family custodial violence (which are misnamed as ‘honour’ killings). The everyday rights of women workers are crushed with the connivance of rulers who are eager to exploit patriarchy to swell corporate profits.

When a horrific rape like the one at Bulandshahr happens, media channels and prominent voices profile the accused based on their identity – suggesting that members of denotified tribes are somehow specially prone to rape or crime. Note that in the case of horrific crimes against Dalit women (as in Khairlanji, as in the dozens of systematic rapes of Dalit women that happen every day); or against Thangjam Manorama or the women of Kunan Poshpora, the accused are not profiled – their institutional power (of caste hegemony, of the ‘national’ uniform) makes their crimes invisible.

What kinds of common sense makes oppression seem ‘normal’ and ‘natural’? How can we make structures of oppression visible and recognizable? What kinds of politics can we forge – that challenges patriarchal common sense?  We invite you to the Public Meeting Tonight at Lohit Mess from 9.30pm

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