Calico: The Cat that may Never come out of the Bag

(Written for Kindle Magazine, December 2013)

 

By Saswat Pattanayak

As privatized healthcare gets to be seen more as a consensus than a contested issue, Google is investing in the sector that promises to fetch maximum return in coming decades. And unlike the inevitable controversies associated with privacy searches, there are least amount of resistance to its foray into such a noble domain. Just around the time when capitalisms reputation has reached the lowest ebb, Calico Project aims to put the kindest human face yet on this vicious system.

 

Perhaps no other futuristic idea has generated as much enthusiasm as Calico. And why not? A promise at least to cure illnesses, if not to enhance longevity while at that, is just as good as it gets. Being part of the Google X Lab, this project is deliberately mysterious, and very little, if not nothing is really known about it. But it is abuzz with excitements. And Time Magazines speculation regarding its death-defying capabilities has lent the kind of credibilities to Calico that were once reserved for pathbreaking inventions such as telephone, airplane or computer.

 

This growing fascination with Calico probably should leave us with far profounder questions – of both idealist and materialist nature. Should Google solve death? Does longer life equal to greater joy? Need we strive for quantity over quality? Are we not to set healthcare priorities in a world steeped in inaccessibilities for the disabled, malnourished and the poor? How much more can we trust private pharmaceuticals to take care of public health? Can making healthcare free and accessible for everyone in the planet, a goal the Calico Project can dare to set?

 

At the same time, unfortunately what makes these especially redundant questions is the ways capitalism functions, so as to enable the monopolists to dictate the ruling questions of the times, howsoever utopian they appear to be. In fact, only by pretending to solve attractive questions, does capitalism become acceptable, at the first place. As one of its foremost champions today, Google has proposed to save humanity from death and illness, at the very time when its own health was dwindling to a trickle.

 

Mired with numerous scandals involving illegal activities pertaining to violations of privacy rights, to profiting from installing unauthorized cookies in users browsers, to using information of its users for commercial gains without consent, Google is an empire founded on deceit and manipulations. Indeed, Google has always preferred to settle cases related to its ad spying behaviors (this year by paying $17 million fine and last year $22 million for the same crime). This is precisely because by paying such meagre penalties, it stands to gain more – profit wise – than it would if it stopped illegal spying. So whereas Google will make $47 billion dollars this year from advertising through spying (which is now an integrated feature of Google Plus), it will pay a tiny fine that equals to only three-hour worth of its revenues.

 

It should appear as highly suspect that a parasitical corporation that feeds off innocent data sharing of its users can be entrusted with, literally, the well-being of humanity. And yet, instead of getting shocked at such a scenario, the world media is full of adulations for Google, because while corporations act as individuals when it comes to paying taxes, they get mystified while committing crimes. When in 2011, FTC (Federal Trade Commission) had fined Google over Google Buzz privacy concerns, as the outcome, it conveniently shut down the project. In real life, an individual may have to face lifetime imprisonment for a fraction of the crimes committed by Google.  

 

Instead of jail terms, the innovators were found dining with the American president – who to his credit has been using NSA for the very purposes anyway. Instead of penalizing the companies that acquire bright initiatives only to shut them down once it makes little commercial sense, capitalism rewards big monopolists by entrusting with them the credibility to continue with similar onslaughts.

 

Google has often thrived on hypes – be it the invitation codes to open email accounts or the mystery labs that not even its own employees have seen, there is a pattern to its attracting initial investments with scant regard to their long-term viabilities. Whether Calico survives to serve long-term or temporarily profit the bosses at Google depends on the wisdom of its head, Arthur Levinson who chairs Genentech and is a director of its owner Roche, which has numerous dubious distinctions of breaking antitrust laws and engaging in price fixing to eventually emerge as one of the largest entities worldwide, in the privatized healthcare industry.

 

It remains to be seen if Google, Apple, Genentech and Roche shall use this hype as an opportunity to invest in researches that address roots of healthcare issues, or use it as a humanizing veil to cover-up the crimes of capitalism while collaborating with nefarious motives that inform the pervasiveness of greedy pharmaceutical corporations and privacy encroachment giants.

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i-Solation

By Saswat Pattanayak

The association of loneliness with personal is based on a
lingering myth. Far from being an individual symptom, loneliness is an
inevitable outcome of an individualistic society. It is a state of being that
prevents a person from exercising class prerogative and realizing revolutionary
potential. And to that extent, loneliness is in fact a politically disempowered
experience.

Normalization of loneliness therefore typifies capitalism without
reference to its deliberate construction. Instead of recognizing it as a
contradiction within the irrational class society, it is glamorized, iconized
and in many instances mourned as an aberration, as individual failing. From the
suicides of celebrities to abstract artistries, select group of achievers are
exalted for leading the lonely lives. The abandoned in love is sympathized, the
Devdas is romanticized, the raw emotions of the jilted are exemplified. Reactionary arrangements of conservative ethos thrive through the cries of lamenting souls, the deep
nostalgia of the good old days making the lonely present ever more miserable.
The future appears cynical, pessimistic; its tone contemptuous and promises
wry.

A sense of helplessness supported by individual failures reifies
the collective – in identification and uncritical celebration of the lonely,
they may appear to be exceptions, but in reality, within a regressive system
founded upon irrationalities, the lonely can never be unique. Loneliness is the
rule of capitalism. Some of us merely live in denial of how lonely we are. Not
because we are intelligent enough to discern, but because we lack the courage
to embrace the facets of loneliness, to own our petals of dejection, to simply
give in and immerse in our wretchedness. Failing to completely appreciate our
loneliness, the inalienable alienation, the deep despondency that truly
characterizes us, we indulge in falsehoods, in make-believe worlds of romancing
the abstract and falling for our fellow commodities. As extreme examples, the
iPod, the iPhone, the iPad are not symbols of i-liberation, they are i-llusions
we must chase after, lest we end up like our heroes, the paragons of loneliness
– the suiciding artists – those who refused to live in denials of their
loneliness.

And we must sail through this ocean of denial as we emerge as the
alienated. The workers at the car factory who can never own one, the voters of
the democracy that can never rule, the consumers of the market who will never
get to monopolize, the crestfallen audience falling in love with stars of the silver
screen, the huge majority of paupers who will never don the clothes of the
prince, the rags who will never become riches, the slumdogs never to become
millionaires, the daily wage laborer spending the savings to hope for a
jackpot. The alienated must carry on because to even commit suicide, one needs
to feel sufficiently attached to loneliness.

As Ernest Mandel noted of alienation, it was “seized upon to
explain the miseries of modern life, and the ‘lonely crowd’, those aggregations
of atomized city dwellers who feel crushed and benumbed by the weight of a
social system in which they have neither significant purpose nor
decision-making power”.

To convey a purpose and to build a power, the rebels among us
have recently manufactured an outlet, we conveniently call social media,
formerly known as virtual media. Traversing of this path from virtual to the
social has made compulsive liars of us; faintly suppressing our wishes to
emerge as legends in our own minds, we compete for our moments of online fames,
to aspire for a higher Klout score and to collect who we call our followers.
They follow us to our graves, for we as such are politically dead; merely
social, virtually. In the veil of status updates and tweets, we relinquish the
requirements of what comprises a political act. In the name of new media, we
comfortably ignore the need to organize a historical force that can effectively
challenge the status quo. In a refusal to surrender the comforts, we exaggerate
the role technology plays so that we can render judgments on armed resistance.
We equivocally denounce the violence perpetuated by ruling class as well as the
organized masses. Failing to physically stand with the resisters, we become the
virtual peaceniks, or depending on how co-opted we are, the virtual (paper)
tigers. We attack the military and the Maoists, the patriots and the Snowdens,
the police and the occupiers. Apparently we understand the repressive
governments and yet we are taken aback when oppressions occur closer home. We
recognize the illogic of the free speech, but we seem never to get enough of
that freedom as a birthright.

In isolation and without a political will, as relentless workers
and ceaseless consumers, we remain as alienated today as we were when Herbert
Marcuse wrote how the individuals are isolated from and set against each other
– “They are linked in the commodities they exchange rather than in their
persons. A person’s alienation from himself/herself is simultaneously an
estrangement from his/her fellow beings.” In so far as we keep producing
wealth, knowledge, or status updates for the growth of the entities that own
them, none of that matters as revolutionary tools. As Marx wrote, “The worker
becomes all the poorer the more wealth he/she produces, the more his/her production
increases in power and size. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the
more commodities he/she creates. The devaluation of the world of men/women is
in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things. Labor
produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity
– and this at the same rate at which it produces commodities in general.”

This reification (Verdinglichung) through which “capitalist society makes all personal relations between beings take the form of objective relations between things” (Marcus), has rendered our
most personal engagements essentially a matter of material exchanges, much as
we human participants are rarely treated more than commodities. In fact, with
the models of advertising that various media platforms adopt, we are no longer
the customers, but have emerged as products ourselves – as a result, our
personal information are sold to various corporations for commercial gains,
with or without our consent. In the world of mass produced yet scantly
organized dissent, devaluation of revolutionaries becomes a repercussion. When
being lonely in a crowd remains no longer an epithet but an accompanying
feature of our atomized society, powerlessness becomes a payoff.

Loneliness therefore stands opposed not to fun, frolic, requited
love; rather it clashes with the collective. One remains lonely no matter the
partying, but when it comes to effectively ruin it, the courage appears lacking
because zombies surround the scene as a matter of rule. And instead of
utilizing the history as a tool of mass liberation, we get seduced to the idea
of nirvana; self-actualization triumphs over all others as a goal, bank savings
a tactic, and retirement plans a reverie. From alcoholics to drug abusers, from
wealth addicts to fame chasers, our sources of inspirations remain
self-proclaimed nonconformists who otherwise conform to an individualistic
value system. Because within our impossibly competitive society, most of us
generally wait for our turns to die anyway, we find ourselves succored through
the war stories of our tragic figures. TED events and chicken soups sustain our
parasitical souls, while self-love fetishism goes parallel with our favorite
makeover actors.

As Marx observed of a society that has not yet altered radically,
“On the one hand, there have started into life industrial and scientific
forces, which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the
other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors of the
Roman Empire. In our days everything seems pregnant with its contrary.
Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human
labour, we behold starving and overworking it. The new-fangled sources of
wealth, by some strange weird spell, are turned into sources of want. The
victories of art seem bought by loss of character.”

Fortunately, the options are still available while we have the
necessary means to critically explore loneliness. Even as an idealistic
pursuance would result in a state of resignation and make us fall in love with
solitude once more, a materialistic interpretation of our loneliness can indeed
convert the living history in our favor in an empowering, meaningful way,
considering the need to recognize the huge majority among us as the lonely –
rendered thus politically. Contrary to claims, people at the top are not
lonely, they are escapists. The lonely are at the bottom rung. And we shall
remain no longer so, once we see ourselves forsaken not in some inescapable
selfish love, but find ourselves unwilling to escape the political struggles to
break free from the chains that bind us to solitary confinements.

(Originally published in Kindle Magazine)

The Market

By Saswat Pattanayak

Real man Farhan Akhtar prevents violence against women on behalf
of the Delhi Police, Al Gore makes millions to save the planet from temperature
gain, Amnesty International recruits Peter Gabriel to be their conscience,
Aishwarya Rai counters Polio and HIV/AIDS, Unicef heralds Aamir Khan as the
expert on child rights, and Narendra Modi hires Amitabh Bachchan to spread
‘Khushbu Gujarat Ki’.

And we lesser mortals, legends in our own minds, emulate our
stars and wait for our moment to go viral on Facebook and Youtube, while these
corporations churn out billions in our name via offering us a supposedly free
platform. Even Michael Moore, the multimillionaire activist, sells a few more
copies at the Left Forum. Rape won’t happen again, wail our criminal leaders on
our television screens; while change.org gives us a marketable online page to
cry justice.

From activisms against capitalism to advocacies by corporations,
from revolutions on the streets to enactments on the television sets, from
underground coalitions of committed comrades to publicized hobnobbing of social
media elites – the nature of agitations has probably undergone radical
transformations in recent years. From tactical opposition against brand
positioning, to using marketing as a tactic in the struggle – the organizing
principles of movements have perhaps witnessed drastic shifts. From teach-ins
of topical significance, mass sloganeering across college campuses and
independent publications from the basements, to the dying library culture,
thriving business of institutionalized coaching and emergence of the big media
– the character of education has, of late, seen systemic revisions.

Individualistic values were traditionally attached to marketing
strategies that lured the consumers into choosing between options. Now even the
collective values are being marketed rather profitably. This near complete
synthesis under the auspices of marketing is the mark of capitalism – well
received, embraced, and adapted to, in our times.

One could argue that capitalism transcending all barriers and
uniting us in our greed is supposed to be a good thing. After all, until this
stage is reached, there would be no way to successfully combat its ills so that
a higher stage of human development can be aspired for. What one merely wishes
for is a sufficient critique of this synthesis during our times that can
translate into, and bring alive the spirit of organized dissent. For when Bob
Dylan went electric, there had erupted endless controversies; today, he
endorses Oris luxury watch without even a glitch.

Maybe then we have to stop looking at the chosen few individuals
for answers, subsumed as they have been under, and also benefiting from, the
marketing diaspora. Maybe the climate of a universal superstore that sets the capitalistic
standards of success and fame should be allowing us to think beyond it. The
world of marketing has already done its job. Maybe its time we started doing
ours – by imagining a new world, a hype-less society whose tireless activists
need no corporate endorsements, no mass approvals, no mention in the weekly
lists of bestsellers, no official state recognitions, no standing ovations at
mega award events.

Better still, perhaps such folks, the flag-bearers of an
alternative world, the proletarian heroes, the working class agitators, the
unsung poets are already in our midst. And, we fail to notice them time and
again, enamored as we are by the layers of seductive marketing – deluded by the
promises from the visible, hypnotized by the cheerleaders of the exploiters,
and beguiled by the antidepressants prescribed in the form of reassuring words
of our false gods. We oftentimes fail to notice that the agents of oppressions
can creatively manipulate their subjects to relish a higher degree of degradation,
given that it happens with greater tacit participations of those that they
oppress, and in the process, manufacture a coterie of luminaries that
convincingly speak to the grateful lot of us on behalf of our benevolent
masters.

 

What we need to do then, is to unmask the majority hype,
recognize the minority dissent, and replace the entire system. Lock, stock, and
barrel.

(For Kindle Magazine)

Rape Culture and Capitalism: What is living and what is dead

By Saswat Pattanayak

I understand many of us, Indians, are ashamed these days. And it is true that protests and placards do not educate the rapists. And that the students came out on the streets only because it is New Delhi. But we should not miss an important aspect of it all – most protesters clearly defying governmental bans are demonstrating an important tactic in the struggle for women’s rights anywhere in the world. This is a strategy that should not be discouraged, rather used everywhere – be it in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Orissa or Manipur.

Or for that matter, in London, New York and Stockholm. Because last checked, India is as unsafe a country for women as are the United States, United Kingdom and Sweden. Statistically speaking, there are more rapes taking place per hour in the US than in India. Whereas in India the number of rape cases amount to over 20,000 a year, the number well exceeds 90,000 in America with third of the population. The unreported cases of rape and ridiculously low conviction rates are also common and comparable across the modern capitalist nations.

It is necessary to fight for women’s rights, but why should the drive stop at the borders? Those of us who refuse to adequately acknowledge the protest movement in Delhi by citing the relative silence in Gujarat and North-East also commit similar fallacies when we fail to protest against abuse of women elsewhere in the world. Why should a “safe Delhi” narrative be replaced only with an equally jingoistic, “safe India”? The fact is protesting against social injustice anywhere should be encouraged, not spurned. No matter the intensity, no matter the limited purpose, no matter the viability. True, that the goals go astray when people demand for death penalty instead of conviction, and true, that some reactionary elements at times also end up hijacking the movements, but it is also true that inaction, silence and skepticism are not going to help the principled oppositions to the status quo, that takes place in any shape, way or form.

Violences on women are rising everywhere, in every corner of the globe. But that is only because more cases are being reported today than it used to be the case earlier. The journey from feudalism to capitalism in the case of India is a journey of advancement, of progression. More women today than ever before are aware of what comprises sexual harassment. More women understand their reproductive rights today than in the “good old days”, which some Indians are craving for by citing the “vulgarization of Indian culture” as the prime factor behind the rape statistics.

Rape culture is a necessary culmination of capitalism, only because it is acknowledged     as thus. In the days of slavery and feudalism, women were not even counted as human beings with needs and demands. Certainly there was no hue and cry about “rape” and in the days of the past, the ruling classes comprised kings and landlords – for whom total ownership of women was not something to be ashamed of, but something to take pride in. “Conquest” of women used to be the prevalent culture and rape was never treated as an exception or aberration. Young girls used to be “gifted” to the royals before they could be married off during their childhood days. In many a cultural settings of the past, the “virgins” were first offered to the rulers. It is no wonder that the sanctity around virginity is a result of feudal structure and its remnants today aid the common men in craving for virgin women.

The Good Old Days Fallacies
Any romanticization of the brutal days of the past must end immediately. Neither India nor any other country in the world can claim to have provided for a safe society for women during their feudal stages of developments (barring probably the tribal and other matriarchal phases, which anyway suffered from other malaises). The reality today may not be any better when other factors are taken into consideration, and I shall dwell on that shortly, but uncritical assessment of the days of yore are grossly regressive and we cannot afford to model a future society after such heinous past.

When serfdom gives in to the rise of modernity and capitalism, there are bound to be struggles, but recognition and knowledge of such struggles empower women and other oppressed sections in unprecedented manners. A growing challenge to narrow nationalism helps borrow and reproduce cultural imports, including some progressive ones – and this becomes a step in the right direction for the traditionally oppressed. Thanks to the growing cosmopolitanism, more Dalits and more women are finding for themselves avenues for education and empowerment today. These are by no means small achievements. Indeed, these are the only justifiable achievements a country like India can boast of in its long “glorious” history.

With advent of capitalism and industrialization, more women find themselves at the workplace, and such a shift is bound to challenge the male hegemony. Through empowered outlooks, more women begin to challenge patriarchy, and that too disturbs the traditional males. Through more involvement in decision-making process, more women begin to exercise their rights to have a child – or to abort one, to marry – or not to marry, and finally they begin to articulate as sexual beings, and not just as sexual objects. Of late, India has witnessed a LGBTQ “pride” movement that could not have surfaced without the present consciousness. Through “Slutwalk”, another movement of solidarity among feminists is shaping up globally and Indian women have joined the cause, despite some obvious flaws in conceptualization and appropriation of the word “slut”. Defying the moral police that run ruckus all over the country during “Valentine’s Day”, women in India are now openly flaunting their love interests in the public. Suffice it to say that such liberated outlooks have started to cause a crisis that is about to shatter the status quo and challenge the norms of capitalism.

Capitalism replaces feudal society, but the wealth still remains concentrated along the lines of traditional privileges. Although education and empowerment is ushered in through capitalism, they are properly utilized only by the families of the former landowners. Slaves get emancipated, but they have no way to compete as equals. Capitalism establishes the “old boys networks”, thrives on favoritism and establishes a meritocracy whose rules are defined by the traditionally privileged which go a long way in sustaining the class society. Capitalism firmly enforces the class divide and this in turn plays right into the hands of the traditionally oppressive gender, the male.

Be they Indian men or North American men or European men or Australian men or Arab men or Hindu men or Muslim men or Christian men or Buddhist men – the men typically and automatically advance faster than the women under capitalism. Male advancement invariably accompanies brutal competitiveness that characterizes such individualistic societies. At the same time, they are constantly challenged by more women and children – a development for which men, owing to their historical and superconscious makeups, remain clearly unprepared for. Gender violence is akin to class war and racial struggles in the sense that the historically privileged social location retaliates against those it had oppressed whenever it faces a challenge to its dominance.

It will be a wishful thinking to suggest that we go back to the “golden era” of Indian culture. Wishful only because that is clearly not going to happen. Even the societies where feudalism still remains intact will have to advance to capitalism sooner than later. And with contradictions of capitalism – which are of a very different nature than the struggles within feudalism – are going to pave way to even more advanced forms of struggles – the class war. But we have not reached a stage where majority of people are class-conscious and we must go through this essential period of struggle to duly recognize variety of social locations such as caste, race, gender, ability among others, and allegiances such as nationality and religion – the factors that hinder critical social justice education from empowering everyone.

The cultural contradictions
It is necessary to understand that the protests against rape in Delhi have two basic components – one that cries out for death penalty or stricter punishment, and another that demands equality of women. While the former is an endorsement of feudalism and a reinforced belief in the status quo, the latter is an unqualified call for socialism. Delhi Police long infamous for being sexist has hired a renowned Bollywood actor-director Farhan Akhtar to entice men into becoming more “man enough” to join them in protecting Indian women. This is not just a crude display of macho tendencies that make the world an unsafe place to begin with, what is even worse is such artistic collaboration lends credence to a law and order system that is inherently oppressive – Indian police and military system systematically brutalizes countless poor through rape, murder and torture as tools to suppress any dissenting voices. No wonder then, despite the advertisements claiming that Delhi Police is interested in protecting women, once the people gather to register their protest on the streets, the state power unleashes its menace through violent suppressions.

But it would be wrong to especially focus on Delhi Police. Same calls for feudalistic past are being made by leading women leaders of India as well. Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal has commented on the increasing number of rape cases thus, “The way media is cooking up rape stories, it would be difficult to believe a genuine rape case.” Sushma Swaraj, the leader of opposition in India has dehumanized rape survivors as “living corpses”. Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi has advised women “not to be adventurous”. In each of such assertion lies the firm refusal on part of ruling class women, along with their men, to break away from India’s feudal past.

Just as the struggle continues in modern India to destroy the last remnants of feudalism, so also the struggle must continue to recognize the early symptoms of Indian capitalism. As the traditionally privileged males – the landowning, slaveowning and women-owning –  fail to understand the historical advancements made by women today in almost all spheres of society, their resistance against this upheaval is going to emerge all the more. Traditional men are puzzled over the emerging idea that women no longer need to be bound by traditional family roles, and that such a shift also extends to women’s prerogatives to choose sexual partners whether or not they are married. A major resentment against the sexual freedom for women represents itself through variety of censorships, sexist laws and moral dictates on clothing patterns. Even as rapes continue to be condemned by the society which is ready to shun feudalism, various factors and societal excuses leading to rapes are being deliberated upon by the same society that is struggling with capitalistic values.

A substantial section of the men who oppose rape also are quick to offer the dress codes and time limits for women as well as raising objections against “clubbing”, “smoking”, “extra-marital affairs”, and a general sense of “cultural degeneration” that apparently make women “easy prey”. At the same time, they refuse to acknowledge that men have continued to indulge in every such “vices” without hindrances for centuries. Patriarchy is just not open to letting women join the scene at equal footing, because that would end the system as we know it. And since capitalism provides for the “opportunities” for women to either reject – or, conversely, accept – the terms of objectification, disgruntled men then hold “cultural corruption” accountable as the convenient culprit.

Not only have upper caste Hindus started quoting Manusmriti to reduce women into symbols of “worships”, even the Bahujan Samaj Party which represents Dalit mainstream interests has found itself embarrassed over calls for feudalism as a method to “protect” women. Rajpal Saini, a BSP member of Parliament recently was quoted saying, “There is no need to give phones to women and children. It distracts them and is useless. My mother, wife and sister never had mobile phones. They survived without one.” BSP supremo Mayawati likewise has joined the right-wing ideologues in calling for “stricter laws” as a deterrent to rape. “It is not enough to just arrest them (the rapists), but action should be so strict that no one should dare to act in such a manner.”

What is to be done?
The reality is conviction rates in cases of rape are abysmally low. Not just in India, but around the world as well. In the United States, there are an estimated 400,000 “rape kits” (just in case, that’s the situation for 400,000 women) currently backlogged. And by the time the kits are tested the statute of limitations expires and the rapists no longer get charged. Only 24 percent of rapists are arrested in America. The statistic is not any more encouraging in the United Kingdom either. The British government acknowledges that as many as 95% of rapes are never reported to the police, and the country has roughly 6.5% conviction rate.

Precisely because of the nature of patriarchy and the way it engulfs feudal/religious societies as well as capitalistic/liberal societies, the need of the hour is to recognize the war against women as a systemic feature of the world, and to collaborate with every progressive force looking to replace such a status quo. Harking back to the past is not the solution. Looking forward to dismantle the forces of feudalism/capitalism is the approach we must adopt. Let there be no surprise or disappointment in the increasing number of rape cases being registered. More the number of women report assaults, more certain are we to become that the political economic system within which we seek solution is an inherently evil – and fragile – one. Arundhati Roy recently spoke about the fact that the rich people used to oppress women exercising a certain amount of discretion in the past, while thanks to the cultural shifts and movie culture today, their disdain towards women is becoming more apparent. While that is true, we also need to acknowledge this as an evolution for the better. The more racist and sexist people expose their real colors, the greater will the need be felt to overthrow the existing system. Just as in the similar vein, the greatest challenge to racism are not the avowedly racists, but those that deny their race privileges.

What is happening in India is truly remarkable. The collective disdain towards the system may not last forever, since right-wing moralists are going to take it over with sheer power of wealth and media distractions, just as the Occupy movement in America got co-opted by the liberal Democrats for their political aspirations. And as such, the dissenters do not always represent the best interests of the most oppressed in such outbursts, where Dalits, blacks, and the poor often do not find themselves represented. But these outbursts, howsoever temporary, do provide for a recipe of non-cooperation and of civil disobedience. As Howard Zinn reminds us, gradual reforms take place not because of good laws suddenly finding their way in, but because of dissenting people compelling the bad laws out of the system through mass movements. The truth is dissenting voices against the ruling classes world over are increasing phenomenally with more people ably aided by critical education and alternative media. Majority of the world is still too poor, and underprivileged to exchange a wage-earning day in favor of a placard-holding session. And that is precisely why oftentimes in history, progressive sections of the society across classes form larger alliances and go against the grains. And towards that extent there is a need for all of us to collaborate with resistance movements that aim to challenge the ruling order no matter if the causes immediately impact us or not, or if the causes are too narrowly framed by taking on specific agendas. Warmongering against Iran must be opposed just as we should protest massacre of Shia Muslims in Pakistan, and demand for rescue of Palestine from the reactionary Zionists. Role of the revolutionary is to recognize that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

In Indian context, some of us are protesting against communalism in Gujarat, some of us are raising voices against militarism in Manipur, some engaged in defending lands in Orissa, some protesting against the rape in Delhi. Each of these movements has the potential to be hijacked, infiltrated, and demolished. And yet, each also has the potential to collaborate with fellow resisters all across the globe, and to encompass the ethos of revolutions that will annihilate feudalism, smash down patriarchy, and shatter every iota of capitalism that is inherently exploitative. Eventually, what capitalism produces are its own “grave-diggers”. And its fall and the victory of the revolutionaries are equally inevitable. And there is never a better time than now, to emerge united with the working women and men, the world over – regardless of the prevailing challenges and, because of them.

(Originally published by Radical Notes)

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)