Category Archives: gender

People’s Politics Is Not About People – the Lesson ‘Progressive’ Politics Taught Me

Note: this writeup is largely an ‘insider’ criticism about the ‘radical left’ that the writer has come in contact with, online and offline, mostly in Kolkata.

A few experiences with ‘progressives’:

Case 1: “He’s brilliant, y’know, he topped the Joint Entrance Examination! This organization has excellent members, many medical and engineering student.” – is how I was informed about a certain students’ organization. Many of the members of the organization often took pride in the academic records of their own and the fellow members. They took pride in the educational institutes which were ‘centres of excellence’. I saw some of them recently organizing a talk on meritocracy and the problematic conceptions of merit.

Case 2: A discussion was organized. The discussion was attended by quite a few, including students, some of them Dalits and Adivasis, who participated in the discussion. The chief speaker, however, was an upper caste teacher with no history of regular participation in anti-caste struggles. No one said a word when this speaker spoke. No one asked about his neighbourhood, the demographics, the flat-owners. However, there were several interruptions of enquiry – about landholding, demographics etc. in his village – when an Adivasi student was speaking right after him. The discussion was about caste oppression, organised by a platform against caste violence in college campuses.

Case 3: A conference was to be organized in protest against some atrocities. The progressives sat together to decide which persons to invite as speakers. The speakers’ list was decided according to how important the mainstream media finds the speakers.

Case 4: “Ew, look at all the fat on him!” said one progressive person, pointing at a fellow comrade. Another progressive fellow, at a different moment, said to a girl, “you’re pretty!”

Case 5: A progressive person, in a public meeting, described a girl, “she doesn’t do much, she just walks around the campus wearing shorts,” progressively making it a point to mention her clothing.

Case 6: A progressive fellow, eloquent in his description of alienation in the society and the cruelties of capitalism, mentioned of someone, “he’s a waste, he’s just a depressed guy who can’t stick to one job.” On another occasion, the fellow said to another guy, “it’s a low-skill job, which is why you’re paid so low.”

Case 7: A progressive election of committee members – one progressive fellow who has been part of the previous committee calls some others aside, and asks whether they would like to be a part of the new committee. One of them says this cannot be decided like this, others too must opine. Then, the member proposes the names in the meetings, and asks if anyone objects. No one does, and thus the committee is elected.

Case 8: A progressive fellow writes in a magazine that a ‘glorious minority’ emerging from ‘castles’ of progressiveness, which happens to be two of the elite educational institutes of the city of Kolkata, will possibly play a crucial role in ushering in progressive social change (or something of the sort).

Case 9: One progressive to another, “you need to get him into our organization before someone else recruits him into theirs! He seems to be hanging out more with them. What are you doing?”

Case 10: One progressive, at the dissociation from ‘JNU Nationalism’ in a statement condemning anti-Kashmiri violence and RSS-ABVP-media’s role in shutting down discussions on Kashmir, said that she could not stand for ‘militant anti-intellectualism’.

And so on. What I meant to say is that in its practice, as far as I have seen in my limited experience of them in Kolkata, ‘progressive’ politics often marginalizes the vulnerable, the shy one, the ‘ugly’ one, the one who’s struggling to carry on in a world that is so cruel to them, the ones without much ‘social capital’ and upholds the ones with it, just like the rest of the society does, as long as they sing its tune. It talks about debates and discussions, but finds ways to shut down interactions and forms mutually antagonistic cocoons within the ‘progressive’ circles, often through outright slander.

I know I too am far from its vices. I’ve been insensitive, casteist, patriarchal, ableist and so on, and I still often am. This is not guilt-mongering, this is the admission of a problem which needs at least an attempt at a solution. Similar problems exist in various ‘progressive’ quarters, those I am acquainted with, with very little admission, and far less attempts at finding a solution. Take the case of caste. Leftist politics, the kind I’ve seen and have been a part of, owes much to Dalit-Adivasi movements and articulations in developing its understanding of caste oppression and it still has a long way to go, but I’ve hardly seen many admitting to this contribution of Dalit-Adivasi politics (which now compels even the arch-elitist leftists to give a lip-job in condemning the conventional idea of merit and meritocracy). Interestingly, many of the voices critical about Dalit politics (‘identity politics’) do not ascribe any general negative description to left politics. I have come across a post on Facebook strangely describing Salwa Judum as ‘identity politics’, since Salwa Judum talked about getting rid of non-Adivasi ‘outsiders’ from Adivasi-inhabited lands. I wondered if the same poster would also draw an analogy between Marxist-Leninist leftist politics and proponents of theocracy, since the former speaks of a group of ‘vanguards’ who are of an ‘advanced consciousness’ and thus more fit to be leaders, quite like the theocrats who find their religious leaders to be of advanced consciousness. I wondered whether the leftist who described the Dalit-Bahujan web-platform Round Table India as ‘cynical’ (as if after all these years of ignoring and marginalizing the caste issue, there is no reason to be cynical) would also describe Kafila, a website run by various university professors and ‘scholars’, as casteist, if such general descriptions are to be given to them. At the same time, I am hardly acquainted with the various strands of Dalit politics, but I’ve come across constitutionalist, patriarchal, elitist assertions claiming to be propagating the anti-caste cause.

There is no ‘pure’ human being, not even close, nor can there be in this society where one’s self-preservation and gratification are often at odds with those of others. The term ‘progressive’ assigned to oneself is thus often little more than vacuous self-aggrandizement. Yet we must engage with each other, and find modes of socialization that are beneficial to all parties involved. We should engage with all, and at the same time, while oppression exists, we should all have relatively ‘safer spaces’, for it is hard to imagine a person who is not oppressed in some ways. This is cliché, but needs repetition – if the gratification of one rests on the subjugation of another, then that is a problem. Even the informal social networks that we create are often based on hierarchies within, which we need to be mindful of and guard against. We need to stop celebrating social capital in all our engagements. It is NOT politics against oppression where oppressed people don’t get much space to express their thoughts. Neither does it help when various kinds of oppression go unnoticed. We need to get greater participation for all in a political process, find out ways in which people are wrongly excluded from greater and more meaningful participation, and try to resist them.

by Sutanaya

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Why did I use a Rainbow Filter Display on Facebook?

Ever since the judgement of the US Supreme Court came out legalizing the same-sex marriage, there is an outnumbered reaction on social media sites regarding Facebook display pictures and it exactly went viral when people like me started using the celebrate pride link created by Facebook which can transform the display picture into rainbow filter. Initially, the change of DP on FB might be to show some solidarity to the victory of love over partner preference. So, I also chose to use the celebrate pride link to change the colour of my DP only to show support and solidarity. First thing came in my mind while changing the DP was that, may be it can pressurize the society and the government to change their perceptions towards the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) people and it is the right time to hit the iron hard.

                                                                            Celebration of Pride

But soon after the things went wrong. People started using the celebrate pride link as a fun-sharing tool. Some people even do not know the actual meaning of the colour. They just used the link out of bound and by just following the trend on FB. No one knows as to when the trend becomes a troll. Continue reading Why did I use a Rainbow Filter Display on Facebook?

Yes, I Cheer the US Same-sex Marriage Ruling, But With Worries

Yes, I support the US Supreme Court ruling, but not because I think that “love” has won. Marriage is a legal/social institution between two people. Marriage is not a stamp that you need to establish that you ‘love’ someone. Neither does marriage mean that there is ‘love’ between the pair. It would be nice if people stopped equating marriage and love while celebrating the ruling.

Marriage Celebration al 062
image from kansascity.com

Then why do I celebrate the ruling? One, because if you, a resident of the US, want to live with a same-sex partner who’s from outside the US, now you’d be able to get your partner a citizenship. Two, it is discriminatory to have less choices for homosexual relationships. If a heterosexual couple can choose to marry or not to marry, so should a homosexual couple. Three, in a society like the US where most opportunities are market-dictated, if a partner has sacrificed employment opportunities in order to be with their partner, in case such a union breaks, that person would be eligible for compensation.
Continue reading Yes, I Cheer the US Same-sex Marriage Ruling, But With Worries

Porn as an Ally of the Institutions of Marriage and Family

1. Approaching these questions online with a google search – something like porn+marriage – shows most debate to indicate that porn is at odds with or harmful to ‘marriage’. Arguments seem to range from ‘watching porn is considered infidelity by partners’, to ‘watching porn erodes emotional attachments’ to ‘watching porn makes sexual intercourse between partners less interesting’ to ‘porn leads to comparison’ to ‘it makes for bad parenting’ to ‘it is an addiction’ to ‘porn is a pathway to infidelity’ and so on. Clearly, the arguments are as numerous as the people voicing them, hence lack any general value; moreover, they seem like they apply to individual households rather than to marriage in any broad sense.

2.What is also noteworthy of these discussions is that the family they have as reference is the Christian American or European family; some openly state their concerns in terms of findings (“50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted”). Therefore, partly the debate is to be seen as an extension on the general prudish debate, in which religion comes to hold a visible presence against what are dubbed as forms of immorality. The core of the problem, however, seems to be the break-up of the family unit. It is assumed in these discussions that the family is natural to humans. We can imagine similar concerns to come up had these questions been raised in our own context, with “Christian” replaced by the analogous organized religious identity, and other kinds of scriptural references and arguments against porn.

Continue reading Porn as an Ally of the Institutions of Marriage and Family

Review of Tanu Weds Manu Returns

Kangna Ranaut, R. Madhavan, Jimmy Shergill, Swara Bhaskar and Zeeshan Ayyub starrer movie Tanu Weds Manu Returns went all good in its opening week. It has been the first movie of 2015 to cross the 100 crores marks in the box-office. Though some of the reviews I came across did appeal me to witness the movie, few among my friend circle did the opposite to me. Usually, I am a fan of Kangna’s acting. So I chose to watch this one despite my friends’ discouragement.

Kangna Ranaut as Tanu. Courtesy: Google Image

Actually, this movie started with showing the quarrel of a four years-old couple. Kangna has successfully finished her double role as Tanu (Manu’s wife) and Datta (later, Manu’s girlfriend). Madhavan played the role of Manu, Dr. Manoj Sharma. After getting married, they started to live in London. Good sense of humour will give extra impetus to your entertainment.

The bone of contention between the couple started after a year of their marriage and the issue is that they do not accept their faults and instead they are busy in noticing their partner’s fault. So, they do not want to compromise and their relationship starts decaying. Continue reading Review of Tanu Weds Manu Returns

Recent Movements in Kolkata – Some Personal Reflections – Part 1

By Kisholoy 

Unlike some other parts of the country, Kolkata has not seen any major movement for a long time. The last time a significant opposition to the powers that be was initiated was during the Nonadanga slum eviction. In fact, ever since the “paribartan” government came to power, Hokkolorob movement emanating from Jadavpur University was the only major unrest in the city that caught both the headlines and the imagination of the people of this city and indeed beyond. Of course, if we consider the entire state, several movements have been constantly taking place. The Kamduni post rape unrest which took a sharp anti government turn, the ongoing protests at Lumtex Jute Mill and several other jute mills like Victoria, Bhadreswar; the Viswa Bharati students’ movement against removal of internal quota, protest by Durgapur BCET teachers, TET scam protests, Saradha chit fund protests, SSC candidates’ protests against corruption to name a few. In a series of essays, I will be focusing on three of these protests – Hokkolorob, Durgapur BCET and SSC movements. The emphasis will be on those aspects which have generally escaped mainstream attention.
Continue reading Recent Movements in Kolkata – Some Personal Reflections – Part 1

Review – The World Before Her [2012] by Nisha Pahuja

by Kisholoy

The World Before Her is a documentary that attempts to contrast the lives of two women who apparently belong to very different worlds. One of them heads a Durga Vahini camp, while another is a beauty pageant aspirant. The director Nisha Pahuja must be congratulated for closely observing the women in their various moods. That said, while she explored and even commented on the regressive aspects of the Durga Vahini and nicely exposed at least some of the contradictions of that life, she failed to be nearly as critical of the other side of the binary. I will strongly argue that the director was not just “documenting” but also passing her own judgments, not only by the choice of footage and conversations, but also by showing some clippings of extremism by the Hindutva goons. Not once did she comment directly on capitalist consumerism which is at the root of the conceptualization of beauty contests. Right from setting a standard definition of what constitutes beauty to objectifying the human body, not to mention feeding the frenzy of presenting the human body as a consumable object [subsumed in the logic of market] – the beauty pageants happen to be hubs of regressive value generation.
Continue reading Review – The World Before Her [2012] by Nisha Pahuja

Kiss of ‘Love’?

by Sutanaya

The first thing that came to my mind when I decided that I would write a piece on the Kiss of Love protests for this new blog was how many possible misinterpretations there would be of what I want to say. I am in favour of the act of public kissing per se being used as a protest form against imposing restrictions on public physical intimacy, be it by the state police or the self-appointed police folks of the society. However, the articles and facebook updates I’ve come across (such as the ones on the Delhi Kiss of Love event page) and the speeches I listened to (such as the one by Nivedita Menon) of the pro-Kissoflove camp are either presenting the notion of Kiss of Love in a way that I’m not fully in agreement with, or are silent about such presentations. So it may be easy to interpret my opinions as a dismissal of Kiss of Love, but I want to stress that that is not what I want to do. Rather I’d like to add to the existing discourse around #KOL, while supporting its agenda of freedom of consensual intimacy. And here I will focus on only parts of the discourse around Kiss of Love, leaving out the counters to the Sanghi opposition of #KOL, because many others have already called out the Sanghis elaborately on their patriarchal, misogynist, rape-sanctioning, violent, casteist, religious fundamentalist standpoints and acts.
Continue reading Kiss of ‘Love’?