Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Not All Savarnas

If you are an Indian living in India you cannot escape the reality of caste divisions in our society and the way it impacts the lives of almost all those born outside the caste divide, namely the Dalits. This is not to undermine the huge struggle that the other people of "lower" caste or those of other marginalised communities like Muslims or Adivasis, have to face. However, for purposes of this piece I will stay with the Dalits, or "untouchables". The Dalits are considered untouchable as they fall outside the pale of the four-fold caste system.

I am trying to address Savarna Hindus like myself. Of late, the discourse has turned to the injustices meted out to Dalits by us, our society as whole, because our system is rigged against them. However, each time I come up against a wall of opposition. Time and again I hear a common refrain from my Savarna friends, most of them well meaning, fair-minded individuals, usually people who care about freedom and justice for all.
Their defence goes along these lines:

1. "I am not perpetrating any injustice and I am a fair minded individual. In my personal capacity I do all I can to help the underprivileged yet I am being targeted. Unfair!"

Let me break it to you, honey, it's not about YOU.

You may be fair minded and just in your day to day dealings. That's like saying, yes I sit on piles of money and I give away a few dimes every once in a while, see? Im fair! Well you have the whole mountainfuls of surplus capital built by your ancestors over the backbreaking labour and loss of dignity of these people who were exploited for generations. It has left them broken, and you advantaged. At least as a first step, acknowledge your privilege.

2. "I don't discriminate based on caste, I hardly even notice what caste a person belongs to, until all this discourse came up on my social media TL!"

If you think that the dispossessed are calling out their caste too often and playing identity politics, it is because we have, as a culture, made them invisible. You don't see caste around you, because it privileges you. When you are privileged by the system, you don't see it. You accept it as a fact of life. But imagine a person, their history, their ancestry, all being erased, only based on caste. Isn't it natural, they will want to dig it up at every opportunity? Identity politics has to be raised by those whom the system invisibilises. The assertion is necessary so we can see them and their struggles become visible to us.

3. "I am not rich, my father walked 4 miles to school and the SC guy in my neighbourhood zips around in a Honda."

Caste privilege is structural. Your ancestors gained from it over generations. Maybe your family saw a dip in fortunes but you still have a reservoir of social capital, as well as economic. You will be part of old boys' clubs and recommend people of your own caste or upper caste over a Dalit Bahujan anyday.

4. "What can I do?"
As a first step, acknowledge your privilege. Say it out loud. Talk to friends and family and bring it up in conversations. Maybe discard your surname. Understand your privilege and listen and read when a Dalit Bahujan speaks or writes. In you enthusiasm, don't speak over them, assuming you know better.  Whenever, wherever possible, take a backseat yourself. This is certainly not enough and is in no way going to even begin to undo the centuries of injustices heaped on them, but it's a start.
 No, you don't get a cookie.

Monday, 16 May 2016

On Being Alone

So I'm back from watching a movie, by myself. Alone.

I hate to use that word, alone-it sounds so forlorn and that's certainly not how I feel when I'm by myself. Yes, all by myself. I know it's not something very unique and a lot of women must be doing this out of choice. But I can't imagine it being easy, not in India.

All of my life I've been surrounded by people, family. I never had the luck, nor, I must admit, the ambition or perseverance to go off by myself, not even to a hostel, for my education. And so it's been for me-always, always people around me. As I've hit my 40s, I've finally started pulling away from family and carving out time for myself.

In one conversation after another I've had women deny or downgrade the stresses of everyday life and I've been no different. Only in the recent past have I admitted to myself, how stressed my normal workday makes me. The epiphany struck me during a vacation to a remote corner of Himachal.  Without access to the internet or even a telephone, as layer upon layer of care melted away, my everyday levels of stress hit me. I realised their existence only in their absence!

Ever since that vacation, I've actively worked to create the space and time to be by myself. Watching a movie is one of those little ways. When I first set out to do it, I was diffident and anxious but I got the hang of it and now it's a cakewalk. Yes I still get the odd stare and people keep looking around me, wondering where my partner/s are, but I couldn't care less.

 I recently did something else which was revolutionary to me- I took a holiday alone. I realise I'm not adventurous enough to pack a backpack and go off unplanned so this was meticulously planned trip -but it was a reading holiday. I read books and took walks by myself and thought through a lot of stuff- but mostly I read. It was the best holiday of my life!


Friday, 6 May 2016

Wrinkles and Grey

The wrinkles on my face,
the lines on my forehead,
the crow's feet under my eyes
all expanding further,
like tentacles gnawing away at my life.  

My fast greying hair, 
from which conversations sprouted-
I feigned modesty at compliments-
that too, just unprettied itself out.

Now my discoloured hair, limp,
like a beggar woman's curses 
shouted from across the street.

The skin on my hands has begun to shrivel 
slathering gallons of lotions it defies.
It cannot be held at abeyance any longer,
the quick-paced, relentless beating of time

Head reeling from the horror,
I recoil
I retreat from the mirror -
that image isn't mine.

Beyond my control, 
slave of time
my skin and my body-
but not my mind.

When I close my eyes 
from behind the weary brow still shines 
the toothy smile of the little girl. 
Bright, self-conscious, awkward 
and hope lingers, unfounded,
in the dark bright pools of her eyes.

You live on,  
little girl, 
in hopes and in smiles-
I've weathered many a storm
I'm still alive.