Post-Miley Feminism



(Written for Kindle Magazine, December 2013)


By Saswat Pattanayak

A wealthy white woman used specific “ghetto” elements from the black culture to materially profit from those insincere projections. And much of the world media ignored this aspect entirely, while castigating her instead for wearing indecent attires. And finally, when this attracted the attention of white feminists, they rallied behind her to protest slut-shaming.

Following her memorable performance at VMA in August, Miley Cyrus helped generate what Mikki Kendall had earlier hashtagged as, “Solidarity Is For White Women” (in lambasting the ways white feminists had been protecting the disgraced Hugo Schwyzer).

In conveniently overlooking the serious nature of cultural appropriations, what suddenly reemerged within the feminist discourse is how race intersects with feminism itself. It became quite apparent that feminism – or for that matter, any radical politics – was not going to make any headway, if it was not explicitly going to embrace intersectionality. In other words, was Cyrus going to find support from only a section of feminists, on issues that had direct implications for them? Does feminism often work this way? If yes, should it?

The images of Cyrus that night were compelling for various reasons. Her sexy outfits were the least of them all, in an era of a virtually saturated landscape so far as sexualized visual images go. What stood apart was how she used black women as props on the stage that night, reminiscent of the days of slavery when white masters used slaves as stand-alone objects/accessories for amusement of their guests. What stood apart was how she created an atmosphere of a circus, with herself as the ringleader motorboating black women as the dancing bears.

That she wanted to live out her fantasies and feel sexually empowered were all defensible propositions, but the fact that she had to degrade black women as objects in order to play those out, while in real life she does not have to experience the racist society as a black woman does, was what made it all so irrefutably disgusting. Likewise, while the white feminists upholding her right to rub herself on Robin Thicke was an acceptable defense, what became a profound contradiction was their remaining silent over her own treatment of backup dancers. Indeed, when black women pointed this out, they faced the charges of misconstruing feminism – thus, it remained no longer a Cyrus moment. It demanded critical reflections on part of all those who identify with feminist, progressive and revolutionary politics.

Batty Mamzelle wrote, “Historically, black women have had very little agency over their bodies. From being raped by white slave masters to the ever-enduring stereotype that black women can’t be raped, black women have been told over and over and over again, that their bodies are not their own. By bringing these ‘homegirls with the big butts’ out onto the stage with her and engaging in a one-sided interaction with her ass, (not even her actual person!) Miley has contributed to that rhetoric. She made that woman’s body a literal spectacle to be enjoyed by her legions of loyal fans.”

What the Cyrus episode brought to the fore was not just the need to apply intersectional analysis to feminism in the US, but by its very extension and logic, to have it applied everywhere. In much similar vein, argument can be made about the selective solidarities displayed among Savarna feminists in India, who remained eerily silent throughout the protest marches against rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Jind district of Haryana. The level of indifference was so staggering that the mainstream media which had gone agog to report extensively on rape culture since Nirbhaya, entirely ignored a three-day conference organized by Dalit women to question the casteist nature of Indian justice system. In a bold move to oppose what I would term, after Kendall, as “Solidarity Is for Savarna Women”, the organizers (AIDMAM) exclaimed: “The silence from all corners is deafening and this particular case of alleged rape and murder of a 20 year old Dalit girl in Jind is only another one in a long list of cases of sexual violence on Dalit women. Today, we do not even know what to ask for! Should we make a claim for a separate State for Dalit women? A State that will give us a life of security? A separate State that will allow us to live our lives peacefully? A State that will permit us to go to schools? A State that will allow us to go to the toilet without fear? A State that will give us the basic right to life? Dalit women have lost all hope in the Government, in the police, the judiciary, the elected representatives and with civil society. We do not want to just trigger the conscience of the system and the people, but seek all voices for justice for Dalit women in India.”

While the defense of “sluttiness” remains the primary – and, valid – agenda for white feminists in the US, the demand for police protection of nightlife in Delhi remains a legitimate concern of savarna feminists in India. At the same time, what the racial implications of the powerful images of Cyrus that night suggests, the peripheral realities can no longer be kept under wraps. While defending Slutwalk, it is necessary that white folks do not appropriate slavery, just as while deploying additional police force to ensure “Bekhauf Azadi” for urban women, it is necessary to make the legal system work efficiently to render justice for Dalit women whose priorities may vary qualitatively.

Solidarity across race and caste is a possibility only when the histories of unique struggles by the historically oppressed are duly recognized, and sufficient consciousness-raising efforts are undertaken by the historically privileged.


Our Rape, Their Rape


By Saswat Pattanayak

The need is to change the entire language of rape. Not to just call it a rape, but as rape by men. Not simply that a Dalit woman was raped, but a Dalit woman was raped by a Hindu upper-caste man. Not just a woman was gang-raped, but six men raped a woman one by one by one by one by one by one. Not just Violence Against Women (VAW), but Violence Against Women By Men (VAWBM). Not just laws around gender discrimination or sexism, but specifically around men discriminating against women or laws to hold male sexists accountable. Not just a survivor or a victim, but a woman victim of a crime committed by men. Sure, it will upset the traditional editing style sheets, and the brevity would be a casualty, but there are far greater casualties in the process when we do not explore the societal norms by calling them what they really are and each time supplementing them with supportive statistics.

In a rape culture, as Andrea Dworkin once said, statistics do not quantify the injuries, they are used merely to convince the world that such injuries even exist. All the more reason why social locations of the victims and the perpetrators need to be declared while reporting the violence, because the invisibility of genderqueer and religious/caste/racial minorities is even more pronounced when we fail to take into account the perpetrator as even a gendered being. Merely categorizing a sexual assault as violent crime is to discount the very complexed and humanized basis of rape culture. The truth is all of us – men and women – have been socialized with casteism, homophobia and heterosexism. Denying this will keep the prejudices intact. We need to recognize any racist and homophobic/transphobic remarks and the abundantly circulated “rape jokes” even before we can recognize the various ingredients of the rape culture we inhabit. As Dale Spender mentioned in her work “Men Made Language”, there are 220 words for a sexually promiscuous woman and only 20 for her male counterpart. We need to alter this man-made language and call rape as what it actually entails, as described by the women survivors/victims, not as how the sexist judicial experts define it by.

Military rape, minority rape, date rape, workplace rape, marital rape. There is our rape, and then there is their rape. If violence against all women must stop, there probably is little use in stratifying rape in this way. But in a lesser than ideal environment that pervades us, such a stratification is acutely essential. Social locations – age, gender, class, nationality, sexual orientation, ability, caste, race, religion, etc play significant roles in enabling a rape culture to remain acceptable for centuries now. Ignoring social locations is the primary reason why it takes so long for the men to realize that rape is untenable. Because truth be told, rape culture prevails not because rape is considered an heinous aberration, but because rape is socially sanctioned in the garb of various systems of oppressions.

If conviction rate is abysmally low all over the world when it comes to cases of rape reaching the court, it is precisely because there lies a distinction between what ‘we’ consider as rape versus what ‘they’ do. Ageism affects rape culture to the extent that younger women are more likely to be accepted as rape victims than older women. The “two-finger” test is a logical continuation of such an illogic. When it comes to gender, the men are rarely accepted as rape victims (even when the perpetrators remain overwhelmingly men). Out of fear of being called a “sissy”, a man in the rape culture rarely tests legal boundaries, which in turn, by definition exclude men from the purview as potential victims. Class as a cultural construct poses as much a hindrance to justice as it remains as an economic category. Rape of “low-class” women hardly merit any legal consideration, let alone conviction. The “good women” can only be raped, ever since the days of mythologies or since beginning of the “world’s oldest profession”. Nationality of the woman works against her if she happens to be a refugee from Bangladesh, a subject of a disputed region such as Kashmir, a freedom fighter from the North-East, or a prisoner of war anywhere in the world. Rape is blurred even more when it comes to alternative sexual orientations. The stigmatization goes one step further as the larger world perceives sexual assault itself might have “caused” queer people to be queer. Caste and race play decisive roles in how rape statistic is registered. Dalits, Muslims or genderqueer in India are constant targets of sexual assaults that are hardly ever considered as hate crimes, leading to no special provisions to protect the most vulnerable sections of the society.

Such abject desensitization is not unique to a specific country. Following the unprecedented media coverage of recent gangrape in Delhi, many commentators across political milieu have come up to interrogate “Indian culture”. While some have discovered the Indian culture mutilated through western influences leading thereby to violence against women, the more critical variety have been on a spree to denounce everything about Indian culture to point out its inherent sexism that has logically led to a misogynistic atmosphere. Demands are being made to not just focus on Delhi, but rest of India, not just on Hindu women, but women from all religions and regions, not just the middle class, but also the working class and the indigenous. All these are necessary and certainly long overdue. At the same time, all these demands invariably – directly or indirectly – work towards cleansing the national image. The idea is to let our Motherland emerge stronger by taking care of ‘her’ women and prevail upon the world as the land of mythical superwomen that India is destined to re-emerge as. Such romanticized notions of an infallible nationhood undergoing a shocking phase of gangrape has itself made a mockery of women’s issues on this planet, while systematically undermining the political economy of sexual assaults.

Their Rape:

In a rape culture, rape should appear as the least shocking of realities. Sure, India has a 26% conviction rate, but in the United States, there are an estimated 400,000 “rape kits” 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. Los Angeles with 923 cases, Philadelphia with 945 cases and New York City with 1092 incidents of reported rape cases, the differences between first world and third world countries soon begin to fade when it comes to treatment of women. According to FBI, a violent crime occurs every 25.3 seconds with a murder every 35.6 minutes while forcible rape takes place every 6.2 minutes. Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center reports that 78 women are forcibly raped each minute in the U.S. (which is 1,871 per day or 683,000 per year). Over 23% of lesbian and bisexual women had been raped compared to 6% of their heterosexual peers. Likewise, 83% of women and 32% of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted.

America has no national rape law and among the victims of hate crimes, the number of raped women are double the number of those murdered. Not to mention, of the average 90,000 rapes reported, only 20,000 rapists are identified each year. Moreover, statutory rape is excluded from the definition of rape, just as forcible oral or anal penetrations are. Also excluded from the definition of rape are penetration of vagina or anus with an object or other body part, the rape of a man, the rape of a woman by another woman, any non-consensual rape that does not involve physical force such as rape during the drugged or drunk conditions.

Dwelling upon the uncanny resemblance between India and the United States, the “culture” in Rape Culture emerges as merely a condition, not the root. The political economy – the various stages of evolving feudalism and capitalism – offers the systemic grounds for rape normative. Towards that extent, rape culture is a global, and not a national, phenomenon and it sanctions violence against women by men across all cultures of the world.

Our Rape:

Delhi faltered only in so far as the jingoistic tone retained its character by expressing shock and disgust that unfolded in dramatized teary-eyed disbelieving manners. Beyond that, any feminist movement small or big – in rural hinterlands or capital cities – is worthy of unquestioned solidarity. It is only because the Delhi protests focused so much on reclaiming “Indian culture” (clearly a regressive myth in itself), that the global media continued to focus on India reforming itself, rather than understanding the revolutionary potential that such a movement could realize at an international scale.

Just as not everyone who protests against rape condones death penalty, it is also erroneous to assume that all those who join the protesters in Delhi have necessarily remained silent during assaults on women in Kashmir, Manipur or Gujarat. Instead, the question we need to ask at this hour is whether or not those who have been protesting against injustice anywhere else in the world will also join their counterparts in Delhi. The dominant energy within progressive forces displayed in enormity is a continuation of the larger anti-status-quoist progressions in India that are quite evidently present to the extent that the Prime Minister considers some activists as traitors to the country and as principal threats to India’s internal security. It would be a monumental mistake to overlook this acknowledgement on part of the state power that a viable alternative exists in India that clearly has caused unprecedented discomfort to the ruling elites. The massively organized supports for the Maoists and indigenous peoples all over the “tribal belts” demonstrate this anti-nationalistic presence. Numerically, the statistics may not be overwhelming, but there is a growing consensus and empathy-building in process that must be duly recognized as potentially revolutionary in Indian context. These groups of dissenters have invariably always protested against misogyny and patriarchy, without exceptions, and they have expressed similar outrage when it came to Delhi.

Everything that has been said about violence against Dalits, on Muslim women and women elsewhere in India, especially in Gujarat and Kashmir, are true. And it is also true that the national media have neglected to adequately report – as is their wont – the protest movements associated with the causes in North-East and Odisha. But it is quite another thing to suggest that people have not raised their voices against oppression in India, while the Indian state machinery has been roundly harassing and brutalizing dissenters – including numerous Soni Suris – all over the country all these years, precisely to throttle the resistance movements.

Many progressives have questioned why Delhi, why now and why the middle class? Isn’t the middle class, after all, the biggest perpetrator of violence against women? The answer is perhaps a tad simplistic – culturally enslaved by the corporate media, the bourgeois elements in Indian society usually wake up only to the “breaking news” and “shocking news”. And therefore the concerns are genuine – that the middle class might even disappear from the map of activism as soon as the media cease coverages of this specific “event”. And to criticize them for not finding Manipur and Gujarat shocking enough is to state just the obvious. However, to find them joining the ranks of their traditional adversaries in exposing the multi-level failures of the Indian state power, in fact provides a profound opportunity for further sensitization and consciousness-raising. Any occasion is as good as the present to forge alliances with the reluctant and the enthused, the enlightened and the uninitiated. History is replete with revolutionary moments, occasional and unexpected “sparks” that have altered its course.

What India needs right now is greater mobilization among peoples across social locations from all over the country and the world – to sufficiently challenge the dominant narrative propounded by the “vibrant democracy” advocates. Not to strengthen it by employing reactionary excuses of undermining the growing dissent. But to overwhelm the ruling class with pronounced narratives of non-compliance that hitherto were considered unpatriotic. If the eventual goal is to transform the entire society, it has to take into account the heterogeneity of comradely compositions and revolutionary diversity – recognizing the differences, and celebrating the common goals. Its not some monolithic Indian culture we need to reclaim from the purists. We need to participate in and make the entire women’s movement our own – sustained media or not, political will or not. And we need to Take Back the Nights – everywhere in the world.

Renowned feminist Selma James recently cited Mumia Abu-Jamal’s response to the increasing criticism of the Occupy Movements as being less than inclusive. She said when some people asked Mumia why “this place (Occupy) is so white?”, he answered, “Then get your ass over there. If its white, darken it. Turn up. Participate. Make it yours.”

(Written for Kindle Magazine. Illustration: Soumik Lahiri)

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)

David Letterman: Privileges produce Consensus

By Saswat Pattanayak

(Written for publication in Women’s Rights NY)

Contrary to mainstream media depictions, David Letterman did not have any affairs with his staff members. And contrary to liberal media apprehensions, the world does not need to be bothered about whether the incidents took place before or after his marriage. Letterman’s apologies to his wife on air are ridiculously unnecessary, and his failure to step down from his job after admission of guilt is soaked in implicit privileges.

What Letterman has done is sheer abuse of his economic power and gender privilege. His unabashed claim that any disclosure of the details would embarrass his women employees he had sex with, evidences blatant sexism. Its a great irony of our times that women continue to not only put up with sexual advances at workplaces, but also are expected to maintain silence in fear of their career prospects. And here is a liberal intellectual who advances this regressive theory in an effort to “protect” his victims.

If Letterman feels his acts with the female employees are not unethical, the same must hold true for the women too. Hence, he needs to announce the names of the staffers, and the judiciary system must ensure that nothing harms the women simply because they had a relationship with Letterman. If Letterman’s job is not being taken away despite his being the perpetrator, there is no reason why the women’s will be.

If, however, Letterman feels he has violated ethics and possibly laws, by acting unworthy of his stature by means of either sexually exploiting the employees or by indulging in “consensual” sex with employees with full knowledge of their otherwise social commitments, then Letterman should have already resigned long time back, and having failed to do so, he must set an example now.

However, as it turns out, the world came to know about Letterman’s abuse of power only following the blackmailing tactics, indicating Letterman had something to hide, and this something was clearly unethical.

Letterman’s statement is wrong at so many levels: “The creepy stuff was that I have had sex with women who work for me on this show. Now, my response to that is, yes I have. I have had sex with women who work on this show. And would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would, perhaps it would. Especially for the women. But that’s a decision for them to make–if they want to come public and talk about the relationships, if I want to go public and talk about the relationships.”

First, Letterman’s dismissal of the employees as just “women” without names who “work for” him on the show clearly smacks of disrespect. Secondly, to assume that the onus must lie with the women to protect their character from being tarnished is the age-old excuse under which men have sexually exploited women all along. Letterman’s reasonings might be proper considering his tradition of making disparaging remarks about women (Sarah Palin and her daughter were verbally humiliated by Letterman solely based on their gender), but they are no grounds for escaping critical scrutiny. Thirdly, the race and gender blindness of powerful men have always assumed that it is entirely possible for the women victims to become public and talk about their relationships with the perpetrators, and that, in doing so, they just might be believed. Letterman assumes he and his victims are on the equal level, without taking into consideration the disparate social locations they belong to, the unequal power relationships they share, the economic class barriers among them and the gender equations prevailing in today’s sexist world.

Whether Letterman invites legal troubles or not is unimportant. At the crux of the issue are his responses and responsibilities as a media personality who has been accorded viewership. An abuse of power coupled with racial privileges cost Don Imus his job. Letterman’s is an instance of abuse of power coupled with gender privileges. Sexual harassment at workplaces are so rampant and complex in their stratifications that it is implicitly required for the employers and employees not to engage in sexual relationships. This is necessary not because it may or may not cost the employer a reputation or the lack of it, but because, more often than not, the women employees will be victimized to suffer as silent subjects without alternative recourses. The women employees usually have lesser choices to explore avenues when they are confronted with hostile or demanding employer. Not only as being men, but also as being economically superior, the male employers need to enforce codes of conduct where the assumed disadvantages of female employees are not violated by anyone at the office, least of all, by the bosses themselves.

Letterman has violated the workplace ethics by involving in sexual relationships – not just with one woman, but with several, while being an employer. He has also displayed disgusting attitudes towards women in understanding their limits and potential. And his making references to his “affairs” in jocular fashion only adds to his already established sexist image.

When legality follows, Letterman may face charges, or like another privileged creative professional brought to recent limelight, Polanski, may gather enough media support for his case so as to have himself pictured as the victim. But for now, American media do not need Letterman’s jokes and judgments, considering his sense of “creepy” is beyond reproach, and judge he must never again. Privileges produce consensus. Letterman is the brightest instance who abused his privileges.