Rape Culture, Capitalism and India

By Saswat Pattanayak

Looks like, rape still continues to shock virtuous people in India. Or was it just this latest one? The one that took place in Delhi? Was it because the “izzat” of India’s capital city has now become the new concern? The honorable India has to be reclaimed in all “her” full glory where the goddesses are worshipped and women assaulted?

Or is it that the unprecedented outrage in Indian society today owes to the fact that this rape was of the “more brutal” variety? Since most of us don’t do that kind of “iron rod” rapes. We are the gentler varieties?

The very fact that instead of debating about the status of women in Indian class society, we are expressing disgust at an incident of rape says the extent to which we have surrendered ourselves to corporate media agenda-settings. Sure, the rape was gruesome and sure a woman was tortured and probably shall not survive. But the nonplussed manner in which the Indian society at large is responding to this incident underscores the collective denial about the degraded status of women in India, if not a clear refusal on part of the suddenly agitated, to confront the social realities.

The truth is sexual violence against women is inherently a dominant feature of feudalism/capitalism, where women necessarily are objects to be owned, conquered, glorified or abused, and such treatments are by extension, because they are not meant to be equal stakeholders in the society. Whereas the indignation is rightful and the protests against rapists are steps in the right direction, the larger demands for death penalties/castration/hanging etc are only that much more a vicious reaffirmation of the existing law and order framework.

What is too often forgotten in such times of “awakenings” is that the law and order system within a capitalistic setup typically works to benefit the men over the women, since patriarchy and capitalism are inextricably paired together. Within a framework of exploited labor, women must be especially commodified as they remain the very foundational private property. And if the women belong to further oppressed groups such as the Dalits in India or blacks in the United States, they are counted as nothing more than mere flesh, mere statistics. Religions and dominant cultural heritages sanction rape against these “lowly creatures”. And so commonplace becomes the organized violence against them that reports of their abandonment rarely ever generates collective outrage, let alone justice.

Scripturally, all major religions in the world have treated women as second-class citizens, if not downright slaves. Women have defined roles to play, approved cultural norms to adhere to. They are systemically deprived of reproductive rights, or even of rights to enjoy their status as sexual beings. Within a political-economic setup where women are treated as objects to be controlled, they have no say in matters of marital rapes either. In fact, marital rapes – where the largest concentration of rapes are to be found – remain sanctioned by religious codes. Divorce procedures are made complex while domestic violence goes underreported.

Even when divorce processes are facilitated with ease, women continue to remain dependent on men, because of disparity in economic equality, barring isolated cases where they earn more than the men in their lives. Domestic lives and tensions are confined within families owing to fears of undesirable social repercussions, and consequent stigmatizations. In a heteronormative order, an unmarried woman, or a woman without a husband, or an unwed mother must come to terms with legitimized violence. And the expectations from men to protect the women under similar circumstances – which has become a celluloid epic in cultural extractions – goes on to cement this unequal relationship even further. Women necessarily need men because the law and order systems within capitalism are juridically geared to serve male interests. Until the male “savior” surfaces, the woman must continue to suffer.

All the outrage about the Delhi incident are entirely uncalled for simply because treating rape as shocking devalues the reality. It is insulting towards women whose rape cases have been dismissed at the courts if they at all were allowed to reach there. It is absolving religions of their scriptural allowance for rape to take place to begin with. It is also undermining the roles mothers play in raising their children with religious codes of uncritical submissions. It undermines the roles – especially, educated and relatively empowered women play in tolerating their abusive husbands, their violent sons and privileged brothers.

Once domestic violence is normalized even while remaining the largest contributor to rape culture in capitalistic setups, women get equally oppressed by their secondary masters – the national patriots, and their holy cows, the military officers. Atrocities of American military are well known. What is lesser known is the way Indian military emulates it. “Encounter” killing and rape are integral to the culture of militarism in India and aided recently by the draconian law, “Armed Forces Special Powers Act” (AFSPA). Taking recourse of this and patriotic license providing for such systemic flexibilities, military assaults and tortures of Indian women and children continue all over India, not just in North-Eastern regions or Kashmir. The latest trend is brutalizing the indigenous peoples in the name of combating Maoism in the “tribal belts”.

Demanding castrations and death penalties are the easiest ways to appear moralistic while letting the system sustain its sexist character. If righteous people are really serious about hanging the rapists, they will be surprised by the sudden decrease in the military forces of any country, once such a law is duly implemented. Which is not a bad thing at all, but it will still be striking at the consequences, rather than the roots. And eventually, such death penalty rhetoric (which would enable the rapist to not just rape, but also to kill the victim in an effort to not leave behind any evidence of crime), are dangerous distractions from the core issue – the crisis of capitalism.

Focusing on gender wars and demonizing all men as beasts and all men as potential rapists is highly regressive and counterproductive. Asking that men give up their privileges is akin to asking capitalists to give up their wealth. This is utopian at its best, and reactionary, at its worst. Blaming the victim is as bad a strategy as disempowering them. By depending on the men to change their paths is to evince faith in patriarchy, just as expecting the police to end rape culture is to assert faith in capitalistic judiciary. The reality is most rapes do not take place outside of the inner circles of the victims. The very devaluation of women – the necessary condition for capitalism to flourish – is the primary enabler of rape culture. Not only are men assured of the “availability” of women for their gratifications – be they in full-blown capitalism of commodified women, or in feudal setups ensuring arranged marriages, they also end up becoming sexual toys for the men – and conversely, their inaccessibility resulting in forcible submissions – go beyond mere morality.

Boycotting a few corporate brands and killing a few greedy men do not alter the conditions of capitalism, just as hanging a few rapists and calling men beasts do not alter patriarchy. However, challenging patriarchy or racism in all their forms is a very effective method to wage war against capitalistic status quo, precisely because sexism and racism are inherent to capitalism. But what is paramount is the critical consciousness-raising that takes into account the need for women to remain accountable as much as the men, so that the war against capitalism to put an end to patriarchy have equal stakeholders. Empowering revolutions, not sheer anarchy and disorganized/misdirected/media-driven anger can firmly end the violence against women and children – a goal that is not just desirable or ethical, but an absolute necessity for realization of a socialistic world.

When it comes to gender violence, there is nothing as a “current crisis”. Getting surprised at the Delhi Police insensitivities is also foolish, since it is then assumed that by taking on a certain position – be it that of the cop, or the officer, the gentleman or the father – the person suddenly will renounce his privilege. Clearly, it is not the responsibility of the police force to make sure that rapes do not happen. Certainly not within the same society whose basis of economic reality is itself suspect. And contrary to the prevailing outcries, rape culture is not exclusive to India. Indeed, the United States, the citadel of capitalism is deeply entrenched by rape culture. Quite naturally so, because rape culture is not merely a byproduct of cultural factors; it is primarily the culmination of exploitative economic conditions. Incidents of rape in India have witnessed an eight-fold increase over the last four decades, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Widening economic divides among people, and especially among men and women coupled with powerlessness among the most oppressed have ensured that whereas murders have increased by 106%, incidents of rape in India have increased by 792%.

However, if some immediate measures must be taken/preached within the Indian context, they must include women’s participation more than ever. It is perhaps politically correct to say that men should be asked not to rape, but such a placard overlooks the fact that men are conditioned to be disrespectful towards women within a family culture; such attitudes do not suddenly manifest within a rape culture later on. The family units in individualistic societies are spearheaded by male patriarchs and hoodwinking divine blessings, who, in turn, are legitimized by the political-economy that forces women to remain enslaved to the system.

The necessary reforms therefore must begin with women putting a stop to their worshipping of gods – be they the husbands or be they the religious figures – both of whom benefit immensely from capital accumulations. Women must take responsibilities for their own inactions and of their reactionary stances. If children they must raise, they must not indoctrinate them with religions that eventually recycle the same societal values of patriarchy for the next generations of men. They must not demand uncritical obedience from their children towards the regressive elderly. They must not expect competitive selfish gains from the children in their quest to pride themselves as parents of success stories. While demands for harsher punishments for the rapists may be just and proper, they must not become the goals in themselves. In fact, confusing stricter laws as revolutionary victories alone allows for the oppressive ruling classes to grant concessionary justice to uphold and legitimize their status-quo, until the next incident captures media attention.

The onus lies with the working class men and women to understand revolutionary theories and practices so that they can collectively challenge and overthrow existing capitalistic status-quo that inherently sustains sexist, racist laws and benefits from patriarchal conditionings. What’s important is not to ask men for mercy or police for protection, but to form alliance with every revolutionary formations to overthrow the last vestiges of feudalism – the patterns of caste violence, the licenses to rape women in the name of religious sanctions, the sacrosanct marriages – and to organize a communistic future that will no longer depend on legal interventions from the capitalistic judiciary.

(Originally published by Kindle Magazine)

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Jab Tak Hai Jaan :: A tribute to Yash Chopra

By Saswat Pattanayak

Yash Chopra’s last, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is by far his greatest creation. In many ways, it is one of the grandest experiments in the history of Hindi cinema. However, the aspects that are revolutionary about this movie have not really been deliberated upon by the critics so far.

For one, Jab Tak Hai Jaan addresses ageism and sexism that affect a large section of Indian audience. Piyasree Dasgupta for FirstPost writes, “a self proclaimed 25-year-old, who looks 40, gets to kiss a girl who seems to have walked out of Vogue….(the girl) despite all her Mercedes and Gucci glory, can’t keep her hands off a waiter who has an annoying habit of speaking like he is perpetually in an art of living class.”

The patriarchy subsuming the likes of Dasgupta cannot make room for anyone subpar in their look books. Therefore, not only is a 40-year old not acceptable – let alone attractive or not (which again are extremely subjective adages) – enough simply because he “looks” a certain age, he is not allowed to kiss a girl who again “looks” like a fashion model. Not just a good-looking woman, but one who looks like a Vogue cover. Objectification of women (and, men) does not end here. The man is also derided for being a waiter with an unpolished accent. Clearly working class folks must not aspire for wealthy “beauties”, concludes Dasgupta. Classism has become classy in such reviews.

Except, there is a problem here. Yash Chopra has addressed issues of class society in almost all his movies. Too often the highbrow critics have pronounced Chopra movies to be silly tales of romantic love, and our competitive academic standards coupled with parental strictures have made our educated audience to believe in the notion that there is nothing revolutionary about love as a construct. Love therefore gets relegated to the stature of an Indian myth, connected vaguely with the days of yore. Young folks who would otherwise fall in love have started singing the tunes of “friendship” to appear cool, a live-in to refrain from commitments, and aspire for individual career growths while leaving behind their mutual feelings as “impractical”. Yash Chopra did not fail to depict Anushka Sharma embodying this position. But he took this narrative one step further – he suggested that the old recipe still works today. And that, it should.

To bring home that point, Chopra added a Rishi Kapoor-Nitu Singh pair to the plot. He even broke any stereotypes about the “old” marriage-forever love. Nitu Singh is portrayed as a married woman with a child who preferred to run away with her lover leaving behind her husband and daughter. Not because she was abused in her relationship; in fact she was well taken care of. Hence, under ordinary circumstances, Anupam Kher, the deceived husband would have earned all the sympathy for being the sufferer and for being the father who single-handedly raises a daughter. But no, Chopra makes Kher look like a capitalist crap who did not deserve either the wife or the daughter. So much so that Katrina Kaif, the daughter, ends up learning the lessons of love from the very man who had separated her from her mother. Intriguing, yes. But progressive, very much. This point is clearly lost to most critics, including Anupama Chopra (who writes an otherwise favorable review in the Hindustan Times) when she says, “You don’t go to a Yash Chopra movie to delve into realism or the messiness of relationships. You go to partake in a fantasy of swooning, idealised love – and Jab Tak Hai Jaan delivers plenty of that.”

Yash Chopra movies are brilliant realisms and his love stories are necessarily messy. As a matter of fact, love and realism are not contrasts, they are intertwined. As Che Guevara used to say, “the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love.” What Yash Chopra has consistently done through his movies is project love and its variously complicated manifestations (the realisms, so to say). Chopra started his career as a director with the brilliant Dhool Ka Phool, whose Sahir Ludhianvi (who worked with Chopra for all his movies until the poet passed away) number “Tu Hindu Banega Na Mussalman Banega” still holds torch for the only hope in an increasingly divisive India. Dhool Ka Phool was a love story with all the characteristic messiness Yash Chopra went on to embrace in all his movies. A scenario where a woman abandons her own child simply because she had got carried away with her partner, broke several taboos in a society where motherhood is considered a virtue by all means. And yet, Chopra never made this woman a villain, and he even made an example of a Muslim man who brings up this abandoned child with humanist values – a child who subsequently is accepted by the society. One may argue it is all too idealistic, but Chopra made this convincingly real and urged upon the audience not to just reflect on what is prevalent, but also to consider what is required for a world after his vision.

Likewise if in Daag, Chopra explores issues of bigamy, in Aadmi Aur Insaan, he tackles love’s intersection with class. In Kabhie Kabhie, a daughter from a pre-marital relationship is made as acceptable as the old lovers turning friends, within a highly complicated series of love stories spanning two generations. In Trishul once again, Yash Chopra makes an “illegitimate” son the protagonist, who then takes revenge by destroying his rich father’s capitalistic setup. Kaala Patthar, another outstanding cinematic treatment of social justice, engages love stories within a framework of socialist realism bringing the miners to progressive prominence. Equally compelling is Mashaal, where the decent protagonist turns to arms with no other purpose than exposing the misdeeds of the socially venerated. In Faasle – although considered his cinematic worst – Chopra throws positive light on secret relationship over marriage despite the inherent challenges. Chandni treats disability as a social location and how oppressed it is when it comes to juxtaposed love. Lamhe was revolutionary in its examination of age and stereotypes, where it is not considered in Yash Chopra’s vision any unnatural if the younger men love older women or younger women fall for older men. Darr brilliantly humanizes an otherwise villain as an ardent, misunderstood and irreconcilable lover. Dil To Pagal Hai, Veer-Zaara and Silsile are in their own unique ways romantic masterpieces but have at the same time challenged existing conventions of friendships, patriotism and, loyalty respectively.

To dismiss Chopra as someone who does not complicate relationships in his movies is as blatantly fabricated a charge as there can be. And apart from the complicated love story, what Jab Tak Hai Jaan provides for is even more radical, which unfortunately has escaped the critics so far.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan profoundly challenges the divine belief systems that usually dominate Bollywood. Rituparna Chatterjee for IBN Live says the movie could have a different ending. The “ending falls flat” because the audience were waiting for a tragic twist instead of a happy ending. Well, the ending was a deliberate mischief on part of Yash Chopra but its foundation was laid from the very beginning. Throughout the movie, Katrina Kaif makes promises to Lord Jesus and is rewarded for her religiosity. Shah Rukh Khan, her vagabond lover is a self-proclaimed non-believer and even challenges “Sir Jesus” (a sarcasm) that he will win in the end. Unlike all the movies in the past that have taken up such a topic where the god is challenged, in Jab Tak Hai Jaan, the god eventually loses. Jesus would have won, had Shah Rukh died while diffusing the last bomb because Katrina had broken all her divine promises. Chopra deliberately had this unpalatable but a necessary ending where a man openly and unrepentantly challenges the divine plan, and prevails.

Yash Chopra forces us to rethink the concepts of the vagabond, reminiscent of Raj Kapoor’s experiments with Aawara (which in turn was influenced by Charles Chaplin’s). But he takes up this unenviable task in an era of corporate aspirations where programmatic mindsets and technical expertise and systematized greed rule the day. And he again deliberately poses a struggling Pakistani as a friend-in-need, something which has not gone down really well with the critics. Rituparna wonders how a “struggling Pakistani, who could not hold down a job long enough to save some money to send back home, makes it big as the manager of a posh eatery in London in 10 years’ time with the help of a fist full of bank notes”. Well, guess what, there are numerous rags-to-riches stories in the world, and this one did not even begin with rags.

What is worse, Azzan Javaid for the “Parallel Post” goes one step further to describe this character as “a fat and good for nothing Pakistani who lives on the money of his good Indian friend”. So not only is this person now “fat” (which is to say, he/she does not fit into the fascist standards of acceptance), but the fact that he is unemployable or at the moment unemployed, makes him a “good for nothing”, and make no mistake, here comes another slur – Pakistani (who lives on the money of his Indian friend). And our elitist reviewer Piyasree Dasgupta for First Post fails to digest this phenomenon and caricatures working class heroes as “freeloading floozies to Michelin-starred restaurant owners”. To begin with, “floozies” is an utterly sexist remark and “freeloading”? What are we now, Mitt Romney? Not to mention Dasgupta’s disdain for “taller women with hotter legs” as the Firstpost review describes the women in the movie.

That said, I certainly have utmost respect for Javaid’s arguments regarding Kashmir – although in Chopra’s defense, the vagabond was playing his tunes from Ladakh to London and that is what vagabonds are about, leading therefore to a movie that did not certainly critique contemporary Kashmir crisis. And this movie while humanizes military uniform, it does not glorify war or stigmatize another nation as an enemy – which many otherwise acclaimed movies have done in the past even without displaying the uniforms. Coming back to the Pakistani friend, what Dasgupta and Javaid ignore is what Chopra deliberately planted there – that friendships are unconditional relationships; at times overcoming national boundaries or wealth – a constant theme with Yash Chopra movies, a direct takeaway, if one may, from his elder brother B R Chopra’s works.

Some critics also have pointed out their disappointment at the fact that a vagabond street musician ended up becoming an Indian Army officer. This sentiment of disapproval is a variant of the elitist mindsets pervading the youth today who also wonder how a lower caste child of a cobbler can imagine of becoming a doctor. Well, guess what, such highly annoying visions have remained historically core to Yash Chopra movies. Utopian, for sure, but welcome? Very much.

So not only someone who “looks like he is 40” can actually kiss a Vogue magazine cover stunner, he can also help his Lahori friend (by the way, Yash Chopra hailed from Lahore, and that explains that) to become a hotelier, and that fat Pakistani then remains a friend forever, and the mom who had run away from home becomes the idol for the daughter and the reporter who believes in instant love and the god who demands obedience both end up losing in a film that is a Yash Chopra classic, and going to remain his masterpiece because of sheer radicalism and for painting love in revolutionary red.

– Saswat Pattanayak, 2012.

Referenced/critiqued reviews –

The First Post
IBN Live
The Hindustan Times
Rediff
The Parallel Post
Indian Express

Obama is winning his War on Women Candidates

Democrats are desperately seeking more women to come out and vote today, preposition being Obama is the natural choice for women in this country and with more women voting, more is the likelihood of him getting reelected. To draw home that point further, the Democrats under Obama have devised a phrase “War on Women” to discredit their assumed rivals. And liberal women are all lining up to vote their Messiah who has emerged as the White Knight, rescuing distressed damsels of Sandra Fluke variety who subsumed under propaganda of the liberals are uncritically and unconditionally making uninformed choices while reelecting their male boss from the White House.

“War on Women” is a phrase only the Democrats could have come up with, considering they have been waging wars against women for decades. And in recent times, they have been battling women at the electoral polls. And yet a sizable section of liberal feminists continues to identify with their oppressors rather than with their comrades.

Obama/Romney vs Lindsay/Stein:
Comrade Peta Lindsay is the latest victim of Obama Patriarchy. Ms Lindsay, a Marxist-Leninist is challenging the President on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket. She being not only a committed communist, but also a progressive black feminist, is posing a genuine threat to Obama and his Fluke brands of activisms. Her party indeed provides absolute alternatives to the electoral monopolists today chaired by President Obama and his Democrat/Republican colleagues, especially outlining progressive visions for working women and men of this country that destroys the make-believe world of Obama/Romney camp that is presented to the American public.

Comrade Lindsay has a ten-point program that are as follows – 1) Make job a Constitutional right, 2) Make free health care, free education and affordable housing Constitutional rights, 3) Shut down all U.S. military bases around the world—bring all the troops, planes & ships home, 4) Stop racist police brutality and mass incarceration, 5) Defend our unions, 6) Equality for women and free, safe, legal abortion on demand, 7) Full rights for all immigrants, 8) Full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, 9) Save the planet—End capitalism, 10) Seize the banks—Jail Wall Street criminals.

Unlike Obama and his gang of hypocrites, Ms Lindsay actually demands free healthcare and demands employment as a constitutional right. Exposing the hypocrisy of the Romney/Obama group voicing their concerns for working women, Ms Lindsay says, “The two (dominant) candidates will present their wives to speak to for a ‘women’s perspective,’ but their presentation will be based largely on a bourgeois perspective. Ann Romney, who is the daughter of a factory owner and has hundreds of millions of dollars. She recently made the point that she ‘made the choice’ to be a stay-at-home mom, but for most Black women, no such choices are available. Michelle Obama may come from the working class, but the Obamas are millionaires and have been solidly in the upper class for decades. I want to speak to the experiences of poor and working-class Black women.”

Precisely because she wanted to address the poor and working class Black women – just like Cynthia McKinney wanted to do last election before Barack Obama gathered supports from Goldman Sachs and his friends at the Wall Street to shatter Ms McKinney’s political career as a Presidential aspirant – Ms Lindsay has this time faced stark opposition from President Obama to the extent that the Democrats worked with the Republicans to make sure that the rules concerning the much-publicized Presidential Debates that shape and inform the opinions of voters in the United States are manipulated to the extent of censoring and forbidding candidates like Ms Lindsay from addressing the working class of this country.

Who owns the Presidential Debates?
Amy Goodman interview with George Farah reveals how the Obama regime secretly negotiated contracts with Candy Crowley of CNN to specifically omit any question that mentions alternatives to him and Romney. Although the Committee on Presidential Debates is constituted to entertain divergent visions and to present to people the presidential candidates with alternative views, during Obama’s tenure, it was decided to censor the two radical alternatives to Obama/Romney aspirations – both challengers happened be two women Presidential candidates – Peta Lindsay and Jill Stein.

Of course the only people dangerous to patriarchy, and in effect to capitalism, are radical women. Last election, it was a black woman of tremendous strength and courage who was victimized by racist attacks in the Congress – Cynthia McKinney – who decided to quit the Democrats and contested on the Green Party ticket to pose a serious threat to Barack Obama. And this election, it is Peta Lindsay who has been so censored by liberal media that she remains virtually unknown to huge majority of voters in the country. Not a moment goes by without liberal media touting their love for women, and yet soaked in unfathomable hypocrisy, they vociferously silence the alternative voices aired by progressive women candidates.

Instead, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Ann Romney – all three women whose political worth are measured by their undying love for their erring husbands are today symbolizing feminism for most educated women across the country, thanks to the manner in which Obama/Romney president ticket has manipulated media, through outright lies, enormous capital and direct control of the processes of debates and dissent.

Anti-Feminism: How Democrats Killed Equal Rights Amendment
Democrats with help of their dominant media forums comprising such corporate bigwigs as CNN, New York Times and Washington Post, have been miseducating young women voters of this country with atrocious lies about their past involvements with women’s rights movements. The truth is Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which was introduced in the Congress back in 1923 and comprised sections that would have outlawed any unequal treatment of women on account of sex, constantly faced challenges along the path to its realization by the Democrats alone.

ERA, drafted by feminist and suffragist leader Alice Paul, had recognized that right to vote for women meant little if women continued to be discriminated against through other social means. Paul’s National Woman’s Party advocated for ERA to be introduced in the Congress, which materialized with the help of radical feminist Susan B Anthony’s nephew Daniel R Anthony, a republican member. It would take three more decades before President Eisenhower – another Republican – would ask a joint session of Congress in 1958 to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. He would become the first president to openly express support for a law that was to ensure that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Democrats specifically refused to support ERA during Eisenhower’s time. Noticing the growing discontent among progressive feminists, John F Kennedy saw it as opportunity to cash in on women as a vote bank and promised them that he would support ERA and ensure its passage. But soon after gaining power, Kennedy played hide and seek with ERA demands and his core officials started opposing Equal Rights Amendment in public. Embarrassed by the fallouts, Kennedy offered a compromise – a “President’s Commission on the Status of Women”. This was nothing but a mockery of women’s rights movement for it tried to investigate whether or not there actually was any trend of discrimination against women, conveniently ignoring the positions forwarded by feminists that indicated discriminations indeed were the order of the day. PCSW of course was nothing but an organized committee to merely enlist women against communism in Kennedy’s favorite pastime called the Cold War. Like his predecessor Democrat President Truman who allowed McCarthy to list the men who the government wanted to target (a scoundrel who was silenced only by Eisenhower through his executive privileges), Kennedy created a committee to recruit women to do what McCarthy had left midway.

The only saving grace in PCSW was Eleanor Roosevelt, who had earlier opposed ERA under heavy pressure from the Democrats, but later on regretted her mistakes and finally lent support to ERA. But even her support to ERA did not convince Kennedy to work towards passing ERA into law. Instead he initiated another compromise by the name of Equal Pay Act of 1963 which remains to this date immensely lacking, and wage gap between men and women continue to be sustained. When President Obama was asked a question regarding the wage gap during the 2012 presidential debate, he refused to answer it, continuing the regressive tradition of Democrats initiated by Kennedy.

Kennedy’s compromises naturally reveled in their contradictions, leading to angry feminists forming National Organization for Women (NOW) to continue demands for Equal Rights Amendment which the Democrats had been refusing to recognize. Shirley Chisholm, the black woman representative was the only exception who exposed the hypocrisies of fellow Democrats on the floor of the congress. In her famous “Equal Rights for Women” speech Ms Chisholm attacked the Democrats for refusing to allow ERA from becoming a reality since four decades –

“I wish to introduce today a proposal that has been before every Congress for the last 40 years and that sooner or later must become part of the basic law of the land — the Equal Rights Amendment.
Let me note and try to refute two of the commonest arguments that are offered against this amendment. One is that women are already protected under the law and do not need legislation. Existing laws are not adequate to secure equal rights for women. Sufficient proof of this is the concentration of women in lower paying, menial, unrewarding jobs and their incredible scarcity in the upper level jobs. If women are already equal, why is it such an event whenever one happens to be elected to Congress?….
A second argument often heard against the Equal Rights Amendment is that it would eliminate legislation that many States and the Federal Government have enacted giving special protection to women and that it would throw the marriage and divorce laws into chaos. As for the marriage laws, they are due for a sweeping reform, and an excellent beginning would be to wipe the existing ones off the books. Regarding special protection for working women, I cannot understand why it should be needed. Women need no protection that men do not need. What we need are laws to protect working people, to guarantee them fair pay, safe working conditions, protection against sickness and layoffs, and provision for dignified, comfortable retirement. Men and women need these things equally.”

Despite Chisholm’s leadership and staunch feminism, the Democrats refused to still pay heed. Ironically, once again, it was a Republican President Richard Nixon who did what Kennedy was slyly refusing to – he became the first American President to endorse ERA’s approval. ERA – constantly opposed by the Democrats each and every Congress finally died following a deadline set for it to be ratified in 1980.

Not only that, but even Chisholm’s demand for the marriage laws to be reformed in a sweeping manner was met with Bill Clinton’s infamous Defense of Marriage Act. Once again, the Democrats were at the forefront of annihilating feminist progresses and movements by passing a law that defined marriage as a legal union between only a man and a woman. Clinton, the visionary leader of the Democrats today, swiftly declared that under the law, no US state is required to recognize same-sex marriage. This was in the classic tradition of the Democratic Party’s long lasting attack on feminist movements in this country.

Democrats as Dangerous Compromises:
Destroying ERA and introducing DOMA are not the only contributions of the Democrats. The more damaging are their “compromise” laws which they sign from time to time in order to distract the feminists from core issues and to treat women as vote banks for their power plays. Under Obama’s regime, the PCSW equivalent was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is a pure hogwash, to begin with. Although Obama team have been highlighting how women-friendly this Act is, the reality is it does not even address discrimination, let alone provide for a fraction of what ERA stood for in terms of women’s rights progresses.

What the Democrats are not saying the women is that Ledbetter Act does not enforce companies from disclosing the amount of pay they are offering to men and women at workplaces. Without this a reality, it is absurd to even claim that women will receive “fair” pay when they are not even supposed to know what a “fair” pay amount is. Similarly, using LGBTQ as a vote bank, Obama has signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010”. Far from being a civil rights victory for the oppressed minorities, this is indeed akin to legalizing entry of black people into the armed forces of America to fight against oppressed minorities worldwide on behalf of militarist rogue regimes of the United States. Another Democrat and anticommunist Harry Truman in 1948, had ensured that black people – while they were still being treated as slaves in their home country – were going to be fighting on behalf of their masters to kill innocent people – specifically Communists – abroad. Paul Robeson, the great black revolutionary famously opposed such absurd proposition which suggested that black people should fight in Korean War. Its about time, progressive LGBTQ leaders move away from fundraising for Democrats for letting them die in unjust wars abroad while White House politicians continue to fool around with their human rights issues as electoral agendas.

If invoking executive privileges to force black people and sexual minorities into military is not a big deal for Democratic presidents, then legalizing same-sex marriage should not be a hindrance either. Indeed, ending racist police brutality would not be so difficult after years of movements demanding the end to the pig culture. Or shutting down military bases, including Guantanamo Bay would not have been so difficult either. Or providing full rights to all immigrants. Or, to ensure free healthcare. Or, to end capitalism by seizing the banks.

But, then, that would actually be progressive, radical, feminist a vision. A vision that Comrade Peta Lindsay has. And in this election, Barack Obama and his buddy Mitt Romney are out to destroy precisely that – with active collaboration of their quintessentially uncritical voters.

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2012)

Michelle Obama and American Status Quo Action Plan

Michelle Obama’s convention speech has been both applauded and criticized for being too emotional. Those amazed at her love towards her husband have shed a tear or two, while the detractors are disappointed at her personal narrative lacking statistical substance.

A critical inquiry would reveal that her speech was anything but emotive. It was a carefully orchestrated rehash of an old American fixation with individual merits, family values and competitive prosperity. Her speech was a blueprint for humanizing capitalism. It was a justification for the status quo politics that has uniformly strengthened a populist cry for American hegemony; decade after decade, regime after regime. Michelle Obama’s speech has merely colored the template acceptable.

Michelle Obama’s Reaganesque slant has been systematically downplayed precisely because Democrats are still hanging on to the portraits of FDR as their last success story, while Republicans do not wish for their anticommunist legend to be confused with the so-called socialist rival they are pitted against.

Michelle Obama’s narration of her (and the president’s) upbringing was not a condemnation of a racist society during the time freedom fighters in America were being officially brutalized. It was a eulogization of a “good old days” era that only could make the most conservative lots get remorseful with nostalgia. Her autobiographical sketch of getting educated through student loans was not an outright rejection of an economic model that inherently weakens the youth. It was rather a vociferous defense of the authorized loan sharks who prevail upon a commercialized school system heralded by the Republicans and Democrats alike.

Michelle Obama’s reference to her dad not missing a day’s work despite Multiple Sclerosis was not an indictment of a merciless society where people with disabilities continue to fend for themselves. It was an attestation that her dad was a hero, not a victim, the kinds of which she feels elated to greet across the nation, sadly even to this day. Her refusal to believe that indeed nothing has improved systematically – be it last four or forty years – is a privileged faith. Her conclusion that a few handfuls of poor rising to the top in the competitive ladders of American capitalism as a mark of an ideal society, is an individualist myopia she shares with fellow Republicans, Ayn Rand or not.

Michelle Obama’s romanticized portrayal of her parents as the brave Americans who were determined to give their children the kind of education they could only dream of was sadly a result of an elitist education she and the President himself acquired – an education deeply and meticulously devoid of preparing students to analyze the conditions that nurture fissures in a class society. Michelle Obama’s glorious depiction of the education system was precisely the anathema to what the Black Panthers decades ago outlined for the oppressed people of America: “We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.”

Sure, the First Lady sympathized with the “middle-class” and she recalled the poverty afflicting millions in America, and she identified with the people without basic healthcare and secure jobs. But she deliberately refused to expose the true nature of the capitalistic society she and her husband today boss over – a society that must leisurely thrive at the expense of toiling masses, a society that must look upon higher education at Ivy League schools as the solution while regretting over the working class uneducated poor as the problems, while mysteriously solving the factoring gap as one of intent and hard-work. A society that prides itself for designer clothing Michelle Obama endorses, the stay-fit-eat-healthy campaign she feels compelled to launch in a country where most public school students tragically skip mid-day meals, a society that exuberantly spends on conventions the very week that witnesses people being rendered homeless through mismanaged natural calamities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

To be charitable and sympathetic and remorseful are not just about emotions. They are individual approvals for systemic overtures. Gratitude and humility are among other traits Michelle Obama instructed American people to imbibe in her speech. Not because the oppressed Americans are unfamiliar with such virtues. But because as demonstrated by organized nationwide protests year after year, majority of Americans have thoroughly gotten tired of soaking in gratitude and humility. They have been getting increasingly sick of remaining enslaved and grateful at the same time. They have been waiting for grassroots organizers to lead them in a revolution that would radically restructure the status quo. Michelle Obama’s speech sanitizing an extravagantly mainstream political party which has gained immensely from misusing peoples’ trusts over decades, was only geared towards pacifying and disempowering the very spirit of collective agitation through advocating the merits of individual selfishness.

The reality is that gratitude and humility work together with selfishness. What Barack and Michelle Obama’s families did for them were what parents do for their children, what families do for their members. The First Family’s stress on family values has absolutely nothing to do with development of society. Love towards family remains intact whether the members are rich or poor because family is the most self-centric unit human beings have ever devised. Too often, our family values – of the rich and those who aspire to be rich (the so-called middle class) – educate us to remain grateful and humble towards an otherwise exploitative society, lest any rebelliousness disturbs the imagined peace and comforting harmony. In case of Michelle Obama, it unfortunately translated into presiding over an exploitative society while “feeling” for those who are beneath the First Family. She and her husband feel, she declared, for those who are left behind. Heck, she expressed a little more love for her husband precisely because he felt also for those who leave others behind: “I love that for Barack, there is no such thing as “us” and “them” – he doesn’t care whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above…he knows that we all love our country.”

Loving thy enemies is not an emotional appeal; it is a rigorously tested political move to attract the undecided voters. Boasting of “helping women get equal pay” is not an attack on a sexist system, it is a smart ploy to get women voters by the side of those who pass bills, no matter how ineffective. Increasing student aid for higher education is not amounting to make education possible for all, it is a legitimate way to keep a citizenry effectively indebted. Michelle Obama was not about emotions that night. She was about perpetuation of an action plan that is synonymous with capitalism at its most acceptable helm.

Four years ago, she had confessed “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country”. When that sparked controversy, she clarified, “not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

She was right about that one. People were indeed hungry for change. But like all politicians obsessed with their own success stories, Michelle and Barack Obama continue to believe that people just want a change in the most powerful household. That is because, the ruling class too often sees the world from its power lenses and it narrates the world history through its own acquisitions/achievements.

The overlooked reality has always been different. People are hungry for changes, but not in farcical facelifts every four years masquerading as progresses: they are hungry for changes in the inherently biased societal structures of the world, in the poverty-sustaining capitalistic economics, and in the cultural purities of society that need drastic challenges. As a result, no matter which family hosts the dinners at the White House, those elite entities are certainly not going to be agents of the change the working class people deserve.

Majority of the masses therefore continue to remain hungry for change; and it has nothing to do with the White House.

And, intoxicated with power politics, unable to comprehend the world through the prism of the peoples, Michelle Obama – four years later – doesn’t want anymore to change a thing.

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2012)

SlutWalk Must Evolve Into WomanWalk!

SlutWalk has turned out to be a phenomenal movement on a global scale, aimed at challenging rape culture, rampant sexual violence, victim-blaming and slut-shaming in our society.

Historically, in the garb of tradition, culture and mannerisms, men have conveniently imposed upon women certain moral standards that upholds patriarchy, reduces women into objects of either desire, lust, or procreation while at the same time stripping them off their intrinsic and equal human rights as individuals who can object to such strictures as and when necessary.

In so many ways, a movement such as SlutWalk is a vociferous expression of the radical notion that women are human beings at equal footing with men in our vastly sexist world. Women must be able to wear what they want to wear (or, not wear), they must be able to consent to sexual advances when they want to engage in a sexual activity, and similarly, their wishes must be respected whenever they refuse to be touched. No matter if a woman is being “slutty” or being “serious”, when she says maybe, it means maybe, when she says yes, it means yes, and when she says no, it means no. A woman – a girlfriend or a wife, a co-worker or a flight attendant, a model or an adult porn actress, a sex worker or a corporate bank employee – she must be allotted a lifetime of safe space, no matter what role she is expected to play in a society.

A movement such as SlutWalk probably acknowledges this. After all, it is quite liberating to witness women on the street wearing short skirts and bikinis and holding placards that say “my skirt is not worn for you”. As a form of new tactic against rape culture, which began in Toronto, Canada this March, when a police officer told a group of women that the best way to protect themselves would be to “stop dressing like sluts”, SlutWalk is at once emancipatory, and it creates a platform for the women to speak their selves in manners never experienced before in the world.

The Lessons from the Past

Except, that, SlutWalk might have overlooked the lessons from the First and Second Waves of feminist movements. This is clearly a movement which welcomes everyone, except that it has failed to recognize that not everyone might have felt welcomed. Reclaiming of the word “slut” or normalization of the word “rape” – especially as a metaphor – is often a privilege duly limited to the educated white liberals. Majority of women in the world – which obviously includes “Third World” women in Asia and Africa, and the African-American women right here in the United States – may find the word “Slut” not only unacceptable at every level, they also shiver at the thought of the word being reclaimed by their sisters.

There is a great necessity to reexamine not the spirit of the movement as such, but the framing of it. Slut as a word is much similar to the “Ho” word, which in turn is similar to the N-word. There is no telling how women should and must have every right to wear or not wear whatever they want to, irrespective of what their parents, teachers, preachers, or the so-called societal traditions demand of them to. But that is not an equivalent position with that of associating oneself with the very demeaning phrases the majority of women in the world are struggling to dissociate themselves from. In fact, quite the contrary.

Women of color have struggled to position themselves in the larger feminist struggle for several decades now, essentially because their unique/exclusive issues have not been taken up by the mainstream liberal feminists. The significant contributions of the early feminists notwithstanding, it is critical to note that the inherent biases of the theorists of the first and second wave were informed by the dominant consciousness of the respective times. The feminists of those periods (from 1930’s to 1970’s) had drastically failed to understand and apply lenses of social location intersections. Whereas the white women struggled for dignity of labor and hoped that their struggles would equate their worth with that of their husbands, the women of color struggled at a much more oppressed level, usually riled up within more than doubly oppressed states. Women of color not only had to raise their voice up against the racism perpetuated by white men and white women during those times, but they also had to contend with their own husbands and other male family members who, largely due to their own enslaved situations were more vulnerable in terms of displaying masculine tendencies mirrored after the masters.

Its fashionable today not only to forget the lessons of slavery as though it took place in another planet, but also to conveniently ignore the evolution and lessons from feministic growths, the complexities within the feminist movements when it comes to allowance for intersections of gender, race, class and nationalities to be addressed.

For the above reasons alone, the first SlutWalk in New York City was an uneasy experience for me. It had a conspicuous absence of women of color. Not because women of color do not agree with the vision that consent is more important than clothes, but because the existing tensions and appeals were being sidelined or ignored by the core organizers. When women of the world perceive themselves as the oppressed gender, they can merely look towards the most oppressed among them for the most essential issues that pose as the common denominator across classes, if not races. And this is where the SlutWalk failed to empathize with the very women they claimed to represent.

The Challenges Ahead

Relabeling is the foremost key. Slut as a word does not need to reclaimed, it needs to be denounced. Again, it need not be shamed, it needs to be eliminated. Much like the N-word. Especially when Slut or the N-word are used by the privileged class, they take a different dimension. Often people argue if it amounts to hypocrisy to suggest that Black people can utter N-word, whereas they do not approve of its usage by the people of other races. The reality is an objection to this demand for sensitivity is more often than not the case of historical misreading. Most pejorative or slang terms today owe their origins to the creators of the dominant narratives, who have over the time been privileged enough to move farther away from the underground they created; and with time the historically privileged have embraced certain modes of sophistication in an elitist manner.

However, the ones who were victimized by the nasty words have over the time “owned” those very words that were meant to demean them. Unable to gain entry into the elite clubs of mannerisms, for the oppressed, they have probably nothing left except what is their own, by default, for better or worse. There are scores of “Snaps” they repeat to each other in ways that can shock the uninitiated. For example, some snaps include creating jokes about the rival’s mother being blacker than one’s own! It would be ghastly racist if a person from another race creates such a joke for amusement. But this is part of the cultural heritage, howsoever unacceptable, for the oppressed. This duality that exists in terms of pejorative usages of adjectives is bound to disappear over time. Or it will disappear with conscious movement from within the Black people themselves. But any attempts to reclaim the racist and sexist terms on part of the privileged gender or race in order to universalize its usage in a trivial manner is bound to spark debates and consequently, condemnation.

Considering the technological possibilities, this is the most feasible time for greater unity among women all across the world. And while attempts are being made in this direction, it is crucial not to alienate those very women who are the most oppressed. In this sense, SlutWalk should probably have addressed to the emotional (and rational) appeal made by Black Womens Blueprint. Instead, like the flawed feminism of the past century, the issues have got all mixed up this time. In place of serious reflections on the most pressing issues of rape culture, there is sensational attempts for media space while relegating black women to the sidelines.

Without the working class women – and men – of color, no feminist movement will ever resemble more than a repackaged bourgeois coalition of neocolonial mindsets. Let the black women take the stage, propose the agendas and carry out the next WomenWalk. Inclusiveness should be the only priority now, if patriarchy has to be systematically addressed. And a movement that does not include its most oppressed, turns out as history suggests, most opportunistic.

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2011)

Further Reading:

“SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy” by Aura Blogando

“Why I Don’t Care to SlutWalk” by Chai Shenoy

“Ladies, We Have a Problem” by Rebecca Traister

“AF3IRM Responds to SlutWalk: The Women’s Movement Is Not Monochromatic.”

“The Open Letter”

“SlutWalks v. Ho Strolls” by The Crunk Feminist Collective

“Woman is the N of the World…” placard held by Erin Clark and others –

http://on.fb.me/mR1uQ7

http://on.fb.me/p7FukO

“Mother Tongue Monologues”