As a pure defense of the well-being of my lobes, I tend to interact with fellow feminists more than I do with UnFeminist people under the (misguided) assumption that at least, Ze feminists won’t make me want to puncture my own eyeballs on an alarmingly regular basis. I can be such a half-turnip sometimes! This doesn’t mean any feminists haven’t been accused of endorsing harmful tropes like classicism, trans-phobia, racism, ableism etc — from Margaret Sanger to Mary Daly. Even today we will find someone who will insist theirs is the “right” kind of feminism and anyone who deigns to disagree with zie needs brain transplant right away. All said and done, when I actually meet one of these Self-Proclaimed-Dispatchers-Of-Feminist-Privilege, I’m always shocked, then outraged and ultimately undergo too much chafing of my BrainCells.
This week at a conference on the Renaissance Women of Maharashtra, I came across these revolting lines — There has never been a ‘real‘ feminist movement in India. They further explained this conclusion because there have never been any “Waves”, just tiny “ripples” in the stream of women’s rights. While their facts seem to be correct, the conclusion they drew was hasty and contrived. If I were to put it delicately, they were WRONG. When I contradicted their statements, they managed to drown more in quicksand of their own doing. Apparently the reason it’s not a real movement because it’s “nothing like the Radical Wave of the 60′s in the U.S” – the doctrine of gag reflexes? It fits in right here. Then the speakers said something else too along the lines of “the wave in Europe and U.S. can only be called a movement; as there is a collective desire and agenda of change”. I confess, I didn’t bother to listen to anything after that but it can’t have been anything good judging from my fellow speaker’s disgusted looks. Once again, in a conference — the most academic of its kind– we forget the contribution of the so-called “lower caste” women as they don’t represent “the normal demographic“. I invoke the omnipresent gag reflex again.
It’s not unusual to see such conscious erasure of Dalit women’s involvement in academic discourse. Unless, of course one of them comes to represent their own clan, we pretty much ignore them. We proclaim loudly on LegalPaper that “untouchability” is a crime and is now completely absent from our culture while we continue to practice it, blatantly and ostentatiously (albeit craftily). People think Dalit feminists are being melodramatic when they claim triple oppression on grounds of Class, Caste and Gender. Many people rob them of speech because whenever they speak out, they highlight the suppression they face at the hands of the upper castes (read: who wants to read just how big arseholes they are being?). Many can’t stand “Dalit writing” because of how unaesthetic it is — considering how Dalit writing often closely mirrors their lived reality — or some just think they should just shut the hell up now that they have “reservations” or “protective discrimination”. Some have a problem with the way masculinity is constructed in Dalit writing, an almost hyper-masculine ideal, which again is a little too close to home. But the problem most people have with is the organic, cohesive bond Dalit women depict. There were many critics at this conference that suggested that these Dalit feminists shouldn’t give so much importance to women, as “after a point, this whole pro-woman diatribe seems forced“. Never mind that Dalit women were the pioneers of the Ambedkarite movement, bore the brunt of educating their children and themselves by themselves, took unmitigated violence from their spouses and the society for simply being women. Never mind that their bodies bear the harshest wounds of oppression, as till date, they are seen as bodies literally to be possessed — by their own men and men of the upper castes. Let’s completely disregard their entry and sacrifice into the Nationalist movement; they have reserved seats in public transport now. IF they are ever mentioned with academic discourse, then their husband’s contribution gets special mention for being benevolent and kind while women are silenced again. People don’t even want to consider that Dalit women led and sustained a “movement” that would satisfy even Western standards (though questions why should our movement match up to other cultures are met with heavy silences) of the “feminist wave”.
Such is the precarious nature of Dalit feminism, their struggle becomes more immediate than most, as living life from the lowest and meanest position of the Subaltern makes them “outsiders”; chromatically so. Most people don’t regard their movement as feminist at all because they aren’t concerned with mainstream ‘feminist’ problems. Their struggle is “basic” as a large demographic of Dalits live below the poverty scale (to the sadist pleasure of the Landed Gentry). I don’t see how can these women ever worry over reproductive rights or sexual freedom if they don’t even have food to eat, aren’t educated, fighting sexism in the most personal way possible. But of course, because they don’t mimic Simone de Beauvoir’s tongue or her qualms, they can’t possibly be feminist, can they? Instead of judging the world with a Western lens, I’d prefer it if we saw how these RemarkableWomen — collectively, as they are, many hearts and bodies pulsating as one — negotiate their manufactured invisibility.
To think we celebrate each passing year of independence with pomp and pride but are dedicated to never divorcing this collective colonised persona is hilarious. Tragically hilarious, rather.
P.S. Another brilliant post on ‘Whiteness’ by Wallamazoo that I’m just too damn tired to cross-post. Read it here.