Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Indifference of the Privileged

A woman in the USA had once been asked why she was not voting for Republicans. Yes, sure, they were not very nice on the 'women's rights' front, but as a citizen how could she not care about their other policies (financial, medical, etc) that were (in the asker's opinion) much better than that of the Democrats? Implying that the woman was narrowing her person to her biological sex by not caring about these other things while voting.

What she said in reply was roughly this, "As a woman, even if they bring about development on other fronts, it will not benefit me. I will continue to be oppressed." Basically, without equal pay, financial developments will not benefit her. Without abortion rights and open access to contraceptions, other health benefits will not largely improve the quality of her life, and will only be detrimental overall.

I recently had an argument with my mom regarding BJP and Modi. I was saying how he looks so peaceful and friendly and how he gives very correct answers at interviews (mom was nodding appreciatively) that it becomes hard to imagine how messed up he is on the inside. Which apparently offended mom and made her say with a touch of anger, "Why?! Because of his history with Muslims?!"

Yes. That is why. (Duh.) Is that insignificant?

This led to a long argumentative rant between us, and dad pitched in at odds to (predictably and annoyingly) take mom's side. Mom finally said something that stayed with me, "Okay so maybe the Muslims suffered, but he largely improved Gujarat."

So, this is my question. If a government improves things for some people and worsens things for some others, is that government still good?

Let me include a paragraph from Wikipedia:
According to the official figures, the (2002 Gujarat) riots resulted in the deaths of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus; 2,500 people were injured non-fatally, and 223 more were reported missing, however others estimate that up to 2000 Musims died in the violence. There were instances of rape, children being burned alive, and widespread looting and destruction of property. Chief Minister Narendra Modi has also been accused of initiating and condoning the violence as have the police and government officials who took part, as they had directed the rioters and gave lists of Muslim owned properties to the extremists. 
So...does the development of Gujarat -that I have not personally looked into- still hold good?

And yes, "In 2012 Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by a Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court" but we are all entitled to our doubts and suspicions:
The Muslim community are reported to have reacted with 'anger and disbelief' and Teesta Setalvad of the NGO, Citizen for Peace and Justice has said the legal fight was not yet over as they had the right to appeal.
Nice photo op. I'm guessing those aren't Muslim kids.
If I was to elect someone as the Prime Minister -that is if my parents ever get my voter card sorted out- I would hope that he would not be a "Hindu Nationalist" but a Secular Nationalist. I would hope that even if this was not a secular democracy. Which it is.

When Hindus on various social networking sites say, "So what if he is not secular? He makes real development happen," I'm like, yes, of course, being a Hindu in a Hindu-majority country with a pro-Hindu political party very close to power gives you enough privilege to be dismissive of the ordeal of minorities.

In the light of BJP's not-so-secular history, I don't think that "real development" will make a lot of difference to the electors of religious minorities and I hardly think that it will improve the quality of their life by much. And when a privileged elector trivialises the ordeal of minorities, it makes me think about the intrinsic selfishness of human beings, and it truly is horrific.

The non-secular nature of pro-Hindu BJP bothers me, not because I'm an Islamophile (as my mom thinks), but because I'm a person, not merely a Hindu (by birth). I don't want privilege if my advantage becomes someone else's disadvantage. Because being non-secular does matter and is politically significant. Because as a bisexual brown woman I have too often been on the other end of the table. So in the instances that I have privilege, I'm going to use it to speak up against it.

If Modi does become the Prime Minister in 2014, it will act as my litmus test for the BJP. If there is no significant report of communal violence against religious minorities throughout his term in power, maybe even I will vote for him. Because only then will his schemes for "real development" be REAL development.

Feel free to comment.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Culture of Whitewashing

Back in India, I used to think that English movies were better than Indian ones, English songs were cooler than Indian ones, and English soap operas were more entertaining than  Indian ones. And I used to consider that being better at the English language and being more into English media than many others in my country, made me better than them.

Yes. I’m being brutally honest.

In the 12th grade, my then boyfriend took me to watch this Bengali movie, Baishe Srabon. I was blown away. It was a work of sheer brilliance. And I don’t say that a lot about movies.

I wondered why I did not watch Bengali movies more. I remembered the only other Bengali movie I had watched in the theatre: Chokher Bali. That too was very much worth the watch. And I thought about Rituparno Ghosh. His movies had always been well above the mark. So why did I never follow the Tollywood movies that released?

Thankfully, I did not ever think as lowly of watchers and makers of Bengali movies as before. Of course, I still hated the atrocities committed by Dev and Jeet in the name of moviemaking, but the good is always a few among many bad. That is what makes them special, and that is why they are ‘distinguished.’ The worst of humankind can never represent all of humankind.

In September last year, I moved to Cardiff. Instantly I realized that the West is not as ‘open-minded’ as all of India believes it to be. Like in India, there were few people whose minds were truly open. That is the same everywhere. Of course. It would be foolish to expect otherwise. 

The ones with their minds open, are the ones who delve into cultures other than their own, and who have the intelligence to accept and appreciate the good in those cultures. Because they have vested themselves with the power of breaking the shackles of cultural conditioning. And they have the insight to recognize the good in things, however foreign.

Also, I realized that I was not as westernized as I had assumed myself to be. I was still very western in an Indian context, but in a British context I was pretty much Indian.

I had recognized an urge among Indians and many others from different nations to be ‘western.’ English was the language through which they asserted their ‘superiority.’ I wondered if I too belonged to such a category of people who would do anything and everything to ‘whitewash’ themselves -- literally, using fairness creams. Because apparently, the more you are like white people, the classier you are. I realized that I was very much like that.

Not one culture is ever better than another. No language can intrinsically be superior to another. Every land has its share of good and bad. Of course, everywhere, the good will probably be outnumbered by the bad. That is how it always is.

We, the Westernized Eastern kids, are able to relate to a white person onscreen who speaks with an accent foreign to ours. But we do not relate that well to a differently complexioned person who speaks with an accent we are unfamiliar with. We find them strange to listen to, not coherent enough, not civilized enough. 

The US is economically and technologically advanced enough to spread their culture globally via the media. They can afford to do this to such an extent that a culture completely different from ours has become a normalized part of our world. This characteristic of being relatable, leads to ‘white privilege’. Maybe that is why we take such pride in being whitewashed, to partake in a bit of that privilege.

One culture might generally be better than another for you. But that depends solely on your individual taste and the environment you grew up in. In the same way that you always end up favoring the cuisine of your land over others. You were fed that food with such regularity, that now no matter what, you can always eat it. You know for sure that you won’t hate it. 

When we watch a bad Hollywood movie, we say that the movie was bad. When we watch a bad Bollywood/Tollywood movie, we say that Bollywood/Tollywood is distasteful. I have studied enough of media by now to know that Hollywood is nowhere near perfect itself.

The greatest works of art are created by the greatest artists. And a great artist can be born in any nation. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Women's sexual power

Anita Sarkeesian runs this amazing vlog on youtube called Feminist Frequency. In a line in her video, The Evil Demon Seductress, she says, “The harmful misogynist myth that this trope reinforces is that women primarily use their so-called sexual power as a way to manipulate, trick and control men.”

The fact that she used the word “so-called” before “sexual power” meant that she does not really believe that women have a sexual power. Women’s “sexual power” is so obviously non-existent to her that she does not even think of explaining it. 
It was not so obvious to me yet. Maybe, it had something to do with my cultural conditioning. I had to rethink it.

Consider a normal human woman, ‘A’, and a normal human man ‘B.’ Now, A can hold power over B only if B finds her sexually attractive. Maybe, A does not even think that she is sexy. Maybe, A is just going around her day, minding her own business, and B is thinking that A is so sexually attractive, he is unfulfilled as long as he does not sleep with her. Therefore, he becomes powerless and she, the holder of the key to sex, becomes powerful. She can make him do anything she wants now in exchange for sex. 

Imagine a different scenario, where a man did not want sex and a woman would do anything for him in return for sex. Would that make the man powerful? No. Because, he would not need the woman to do anything for him. A woman needs a man to get things done for her. A man is self-fulfilling.

Except for when he wants to have sex. Woman can do one thing for man and have man do everything else for her. Hence, woman becomes more powerful. Note, that women are powerful not by their own right, not by getting things done by themselves, but by having the one thing that MAN wants. She is powerful because a transfer of power takes place from man to her. 

Woman, usually powerless, becomes powerful in the face of sex; man, usually powerful, becomes powerless in the face of sex. A man who does not need sex would not need anything else, he already has everything else. A woman needing sex would not have anything to offer to such a man. She has nothing else to offer. A transfer of power cannot occur. 

"Sexually powerful woman" discourse assumes that power lies with a heterosexual man. 
When you say that a woman is more powerful than a man because of her sexuality, you mean that a straight man has all the power, and a beautiful, sexy woman can take that away from him. 

In a real life scenario, men can get some things done, and women can get some things done. That is how normal human beings work. Men, sexually attracted to women, keep doing things for them hoping to get sex in return. They do not.

Man does not understand that a real life woman does not need him to do things for her; unlike fictional women, she can do them herself. A normal human woman, not being desperately in need for man to do things for her, gets outraged by the idea that she is expected to date a man in return for some favors. Favors done by the man are a small deal to her as she can do several of them herself. In movies, the femme fatale does not mind taking part in sexual activities in exchange for getting the favors because she cannot do them by herself. 

How do you know when a certain scenario is sexist? When a woman ultimately needs a man, to be successful in her endeavors.

Author's Note: There are 11 paragraphs. All the assumptions stated from the 4th to the 7th paragraph are assumptions made by the "sexually powerful woman" discourse. They are not my personal thoughts and they are not true. In the 9th and 10th paragraphs, I am not talking about every man, and not even most men, but men who truly believe in the "sexually powerful woman" discourse.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Yo Yo, I changed my mind

Maybe I am too late with this piece. That is because when I first came across the Honey Singh scandal, I looked up his songs, looked at what he had to say, looked at what the opposition had to say, and I concluded that his songs, though misogynistic, do not condone rape. There is a fine line between misogyny and rape, and Yo Yo had managed to stick on the former’s side for me. 

That was until today. Hence, this article. 

I don’t know if Honey Singh sang Main Hoon Balatkari. I cannot find that song anywhere on youtube now. But he definitely sang Choot, a song I rediscovered today. I know this as he keeps shouting “Yo yo Honey Singh” throughout the song. 

“Tere sir se chudney ka bhoot utaroon. Choodney key baad tujhe jutey maroon. Tere mooh main apna lora dey key mooth maroon. Yeah...Kar doon teri fuddi kharab.”

And this is what really scared me: “Gora badaan teri patli kamar. Solaan, satraan saal ke umar.” The girl that he and his buddy, Badshaah, are talking about raping is underage. Randomly through the song you hear someone mimicking a girl’s screams. 

I agree that objectification in Bollywood needs to be monitored as well. But when it comes to item songs like Munni and Fevicol, the people saying that they condone rape as well, are a little off the mark. The problem with these songs is that they are aimed more at a heterosexual male audience. But that is the only problem. 

The women in these songs consent to sex. They are sexual beings and prostitutes who acknowledge their sexual attraction to the men in question. We need songs and movies where women are shown as being equally capable of enjoying sex. And yes, we need more item songs with men as the item of entertainment.

Because, the problem is not with sex but with sex against one’s consent. India needs to be more accepting of sex and less of rape. There’s a difference. Sunny Leone is not telling you that it’s okay to rape women. She is telling you it’s okay to have sex. 

I think that a lot of people are confused with Singh’s arrest because they only remember his songs like Brown Rang but not the ones like Choot. 

Having lived in India, I know very few girls who have never been sexually harassed. When you consider the number of women who have been sexually abused, it is not very difficult to imagine the number of men who might be abusers. 

I know men, who turned out to be sexual offenders, whom my father had completely trusted. I know people who have been abused by cousins and uncles. I had once been molested by a guy I had considered a dear friend, and who continues to be a dear friend of many of my friends. 

These are the men among us, whom we completely trust, who listen to these songs with us, who are reaffirmed in their belief that rape, or sexual abuse, is a natural male trait. Nobody has to say it out loud, but when Mega-rap-stars sing these lyrics and when you sing along, it makes rape okay. It desensitizes people to rape, and normalizes it. 

Rape also becomes an identifier of masculinity: “Fudi teri aj ley kay jaoon. Jey nai liti tey main jatt na kwahoon.”

I think Honey Singh has become even more popular after these allegations, as they have pushed him further into the limelight. I definitely don’t think that his arrest will curb rapes. But from a legal standpoint, under The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, the call for his and some other rappers’ arrest is justified. Also, it reminds others among us that celebration of rape culture is not okay. When you are singing about it, you are celebrating it.

As a person who loves writing and has very unconventional opinions, I understand the importance of protecting the freedom of expression very well. But like a lot of things, freedom of expression can be both a beautiful and an awful thing depending on how it is used. We must know for ourselves where to draw the line. Singing about brutally raping an underage girl is where I draw the line.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Male genital mutilation

It seems extraordinary that South Asian men never complain about penile circumcision. Instead they strongly advocate it. I have personally known men who have undergone the procedure as toddlers, and they say that they will subject their future sons to the same ordeal. They do not mention any specific reason and it seems suspiciously as a simple adherence to the “norm” or “that which is supposed to happen.”

I understand that circumcision, in a cultural context, is about a sense of belonging. It is about kinship, family and familiarity. But, what about consent? What about the freedom of choice? Why not wait till the boy is, say, around twelve, and let him make a conscious decision about it for himself? 

Let him research its medical utility, religious necessity, sexual and psychological aftereffects. Let him seek the opinions of friends and relatives who have experienced it. He should not do it because his parents think it is an important religious ritual. He should do it because he thinks it is an important religious ritual. 

Because, choice is crucial. Telling someone that he can’t have a circumcision is as wrong as telling him that he must have it. 

We, Indians, live in an ageist society where elders are the ultimate authority, where children are the properties of their families. Infantile circumcision is designed to refuse a child his right to object. It is not about circumcision hurting more when you grow up. Because, it does not. Use your brain, who will hurt more from the same cut: a twelve-year-old or a baby? 

The only significant argument is, the baby will not have a profound memory of the pain. But memory makes no difference to the pain experienced. And how is it ethical to inflict pain on a child without his consent? He should decide if he wants a part of sensitive skin cut off, because it is his body.

People don’t question “norms” since it is easier that way. It eliminates the burdens of thought and intellect. People can keep functioning mechanically like mules, trusting others to do the thinking for them.

But Indian men (and South Asian men by extension) why do you never fight for your true rights? The only rights you fight for are over women’s bodies. You only mention your rights when you think that they are somehow being thwarted by that of women’s.

Why do you never protest when you are shamed for crying, or trying your sister’s nail-polish? Why do you not protest when all of you are expected to be tall, strong, and muscular? And, most importantly, why do you not protest when the brutality of your character (as opposed to its gentleness) becomes the measure of your manhood?

No. Instead, you perpetrate it and mock other boys who do not fit such stereotypes. 

Don’t pass ignorant comments about how feminism affects your rights, because it does not; and instead let feminism inspire you to think what’s wrong with what you are expected to be. Because we are all so much more than what our society prescribes. We have our own stories. We have our own voice. So, let’s start screaming.

Note: Penile circumcision is a requirement of all Abrahamic religions. It is not limited to Islamic traditions alone.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Anything you want for"

Suddenly, I felt demeaned. “Anything you want for.. food or cinema?” Nitesh Something was dangling options in my facebook inbox. “So when are we catching up?” He had desperately asked prior to that. 

It was very simple. He wanted to meet me. In exchange, he will offer me anything I “want for.” “Food or cinema” being the 'respectable' Trojan Horse for the money he was willing to expend to beget my charming company.

No, I’m not alluding to the popular 'prostitute' metaphor. As far as I am concerned, prostitutes are businesspeople who expect and accept money for benefits that their talents afford, like therapists; and accountants.

If I would have declared prostitution as my choice of profession, I would have made Nitesh Something pay me in a lot more than movies and food. But the thing is, I have not. 

What offends me, is the simple notion that Nitesh Something-Too-Irrelevant-To-Be-Remembered thinks that I “want for” food or cinema as desperately as he “wants for” my company. That can be the only reason why he assumes that it would be a fair exchange.

If I do in fact meet Mr. Something-Irrelevant, it would be because I would desperately want to alleviate my post-assignments-pre-exams-vacation-induced-boredom and nothing would amuse me more than picking at the hopes and dreams of an ignorant patriarchal fool who tends to hugely underestimate my worth by assuming that the things I “want for” are so minuscule that he could provide them.