Mahatma Gandhi was once criticized heavily by Rabindranath Tagore for his statement saying the earthquake in Bihar was caused by the practice of untouchability. It was God’s punishment for the sin committed by humanity through the practice of untouchability. This statement, according to Tagore, was unscientific and it indeed was unscientific.
Though Gandhi’s words lacked scientific temper Gandhi fancied a rehabilitation and reconstruction which was not just at a physical level but also at moral and ethical level. Rehabilitation and reconstruction of society in a more human way. While this imagination of Gandhi was poetic in nature the poet Tagore stood for scientific temper. Both these statements, though sound contradictory, were statements made with deep concern for the world and with a dream for a just and better world.
Following the earthquake in Nepal now we are hearing some say “beef eating” is the reason why earthquake happened in Nepal and some are saying “Rahul Gandhi” is the cause for the earthquake. According to some “extra marital sex” is the reason for Nepal earthquake and according to some the Nepalese should not rebuild their temples and get converted which hints at “pagan worship” being the reason for the earthquake.
So, in various tongues in various ways in various colours we are witnessing people from various faiths and belief systems trying to make this world more regressive more conservative by sowing poisonous thoughts through ridiculous statements. If Gandhi saw the natural calamity as a chance given by nature to reinvent the society in a more human way people now are seeing it as an opportunity to gain political mileage and colonize human minds with their regressive thoughts and sow hatred. None of these statements have the creative imagination for a better world as Gandhi did nor the scientific temper which Tagore demanded. Nor do any of these statements are rooted in the deep concern and care for the world and humanity the way Gandhi and Tagore’s words were.
Did the earth tremble because of such heartlessness in the world? Did the decay in humanity make the earth shiver?
In over one week lot of ink time and [at least] virtual space has been spent on ‘My Choice’ a short video done by Vogue in the name of women empowerment. The video which features Deepika Padukone and several others is directed by Homi Adajania based on a piece written by Kersi Khambatta.
A video as this couldn’t have been imagined in India before December 2012 and a response as this also wouldn’t have come prior to December 2012 though the reaction would have been more or less on the same lines.
A medical student being raped in Delhi on 16 Dec 2012 angered people like never before and mobilized massive protests on the streets of Delhi. Voice of protest and demand for justice came from several quarters of the country and media echoed these voices religiously, dutifully and vehemently.
Discussions and discourse on feminism, gender sensitivity, misogyny, patriarchy, masculinity, women liberation, oppression, moral policing occupied a seat in coffee shops, ice cream parlors, entered drawing rooms and became a part of common sense and daily lives.
Slowly we saw advertisements and cinema speaking of gender equality, depicting strong women and media reporting rape and sexual abuse incidents from across the country.
Just above two years after Dec 2012 and we see Vogue come up with My Choice short video which after initial celebration has been hammered heavily though the points of disagreement are varied.
As a response to the My Choice video by Vogue there have been counter-videos which are men’s version of My Choice, a husband’s version and dog’s version of My Choice. Many who have overall liked the video have objection to “sex outside marriage” being called a “choice.” There are also responses that critique the video saying it caters only to a certain section of the society.
In the mirror of ‘My Choice’ or the cracked mirror of ‘My Choice’ what we see is not just the aggressive masculine response but also the shallowness of post-December 2012 feminism and the setback it caused for feminism.
The wave of feminism that was created following December 2012 as a response to the Delhi rape did not expand its discourse of feminism much beyond sexual abuse, freedom to “go out anytime” and to “wear anything”. The discourse did not take patriarchy by its horns, shake the foundation of patriarchy and take the caste, class intersections seriously into its discourse and failed, to a large extent, identify capitalism as an antagonist too. As a result the feminist wave created became not just too urban centric but also very neo-liberal individualistic which appealed only to some privileged and did not envision changing the society fundamentally.
The movement remained a reaction, to a large extent, and did not turn itself effectively into solid action.
The media started reporting rapes and sexual abuse more than ever before. Though it is good, the way media held its discussions and debates and created a discourse around these rapes it reduced feminism majorly to fight against sexual abuse and feminism as a fight for freedom of uninterrupted mobility without any threat.
At the same time jargons like “Commodification” “Misogyny” gained currency but the discourse around it did not seem to go deep. The words did get used quite carelessly too in the sudden spur of reaction.
Lot of films that came after December 2012 though did not claim to be feminist did certainly encash on the gender sensitive pro-women temperament of the society. These films, like Queen, Highway, NH10 etc, reflect what the discourse of feminism had come to appear like and which majority of people bought. These films were very individualistic and spoke of privileged class girls and their personal journey which fought personal battles and did not subvert the patriarchal structure even by an inch.
The ads encashing on the gender sensitive sentiments encouraged consumerism in the name of feminism and sadly feminism did not take on capitalism enough.
Feminism in this point of history also imbibed a good amount of masculine aggression. So finally when the shallowness of this wave of feminism exposed itself with ‘My Choice’ the reaction that came from the male quarters was more aggressive than before.
The way in which men have responded to ‘My Choice’ is troubling because it appears like the masculine aggression is more than before now. The video hoping to empower women unintentionally seem to have strengthened patriarchy and masculine aggression. The actual struggle for gender equality and women empowerment seem to have gotten a blow from the shallowness of the post-December 2012 feminist discourse.
While not acknowledging the fact that choice is also a privilege, a luxury ‘My Choice’ is again a very neo-liberal capitalist idea of feminism which does not aspire to change the world fundamentally and only seeks the liberty within the existing system to enjoy some of the privileges.
The actual tragedy of times is that a good number of sections which is critiquing ‘My Choice’ for its shallowness and its limited inclusiveness are on the same side, opposite of ‘My Choice’, as the right wing conservative regressive and also the male response which is high on sperm.
Though it looks like there is a setback on feminist movement now, it certainly is no failure. A good number of responses to ‘My Choice’ do speak against it from a radical point of view critiquing the neo-liberal nature of it and its upper class upper caste urban centric gaze. A more radical feminism, which has been there always, has now entered the centre stage which was till now occupied by the ‘My Choice’ kind of feminism.
We are one step closer to a new world, it appears.
[Even as I express these thoughts I am skeptical of what I think because I dont know to what extent these thoughts stem from the yet unfinished project/ process of scrubbing off the patriarchy in me and the voice is that of the ‘man’ in me.]
Some thoughts of an atheist on the occasion of Hanuma Jayanthi.
While returning from Lanka, after having set fire to Ravana’s empire, Hanuman stopped on a rock in the middle of the sea to immerse his fire-lit tail into the sea and extinguish the fire. At that point a question passed his mind: “What if the fire that I lit also consumes Seeta devi?”
We are living in troubled times and things around are burning. At such times we should be asking ourselves if/ how we are also party to this fire ? In this fire which is consuming everything are things that we love, respect, worship, adore also getting reduced to ashes?
Amidst our anger, war, revenge etc there are always a chance of us losing something precious, tender that belongs to us that is within us that which defines us too.
That for which we are battling only might get lost might get burnt in the fit of anger in the adrenaline rush for war for revenge.