When progressives shield regressive acts “for progress”

Originally published on Nirmukta.com. Link to the original article: When progressives shield regressive acts “for progress”

Nagraj Manjule is the director of the blockbuster Marathi movie ‘Sairat’ (Wikipedia). The movie has received praise from national and international audience for its scathing portrayal of caste entrenched in Indian society (Please read Our review of the movie for a clear context). The recent article by The Quint (‘Sairat’ Director’s Ex-Wife Tells Her Story of Abuse) has raked up heated debates among the progressive sections. Sunita, ex-wife of the director has raised serious questions about him being praised for his bold remarks on the status of women in Indian society. She alleged financial, emotional and physical abuse against Nagraj Manjule and sought to demystify her marital life with him. As the story spread around, many in the progressive circles responded in a mixed tone. While few outrightly condemned Nagraj’s acts as alleged by Sunita, few reverted to defend Nagraj from the allegations leveled saying that their “private differences” are being used as ammunition by the ones trying to distract the success enjoyed by the director.

On the other hand, consider a recent post in a tabloid titled “Time for a RE-THINK“. The author writes “No doubt Tejpal had committed a grave error” which refers to the allegations of rape leveled against Tarun Tejpal by a colleague. But then the tabloid also talks the need of defending Tejpal against the “relentless” media campaign that shredded the “darling of intelligentsia” image, as it gave “ammunition” to his detractors. Kalpana Sharma brilliantly retorted back at the tabloid on how the whole write up tried to project Tejpal as the victim, and how the power structures in the society function against the victim.

Both these cases have similar undertones. These are the usual cases of doubting the ‘victim’s intentions’ and blaming the victim for the ensuing debate over their allegations. These cases also deal with the intersections of caste, class and gender privilege. Both Nagraj Manjule and Tarun Tejpal are regarded as the best in their fields of works in the progressive circles. When allegations such as these come up to the front the progressive lot has problems with dealing the same. It becomes almost ‘impossible’ to hear anything classified as ‘vile’ against the icons we build upon, because they are just too perfect championing the progressive agenda.

As Sunil D’Monte perfectly describes this in one of the FTB article (Read the complete article here: Arguments From Analogy in Victim Blaming) :

Assumptive World Theory attempts to explain victims’ own responses to their victimisation. According to this theory, human beings see themselves and their world with three key assumptions – (1) they are safe/invulnerable; (2) the world is meaningful and comprehensible; and (3) they are good people. When we are victimised, it shatters this “assumptive world”, and our coping strategies are ways of restoring those assumptions. So amongst other things, it explains why victims often blamethemselves or are in denial about their victimisation.

When prejudice enters the mix – i.e. when there are “in-groups” and “out-groups” having different levels of power and status – then attributions become even more distorted. The article The Psychology of Prejudice explains some of the distortions which come into play – such as fundamental and ultimate attribution errors, outgroup homogeneity bias, ingroup favouritism and implicit bias. It is easy to see the compounding effect these phenomena would have in the blaming of a victim who belongs to a low-status group. System Justification Theory is another theory, which suggests that victims in low-status outgroups might preserve and justify the un-just status quo – which could lead them to blame members of their own group (e.g. women justifying men’s violence against themselves).

It is the social privileges in this kyriarchal power structured world which tip over the balance scale making the oppressor into a ‘victim’ and vice versa. Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi women in India face ‘triple oppression’ in the form of class, caste and gender. They are often subjected to tortuous questionnaires when they allege abuse, sexual violence, street harassment or humiliation in the hands of savarna/dominant caste men or their own households. The goody-goody men accused of any violence are often shielded citing that they gloat over their success in their respective fields. Search operations are run to find out the “other side” of the story to make it more balanced. This very attitude has for long choked the voices of women abused and harassed among the ‘progressive’ sections. Be it households or workspaces, this has been the norm.

This is what Swati Kamble had to say in her personal narrative of surviving domestic abuse (Read the complete article: When Love is Brutal):

To the society that pretends it is a private matter, I want to say loud and clear that domestic abuse is real. It happens more frequently than we would like to believe. It happens across caste, class, religion and race. Education level of the abuser or the abused doesn’t have much impact on how badly you may be beaten up or how long you will stay in that relationship before you get out, if you are able to get out at all. The physical and mental trauma undoubtedly has a long-lasting impact. As survivors, we may feel weak and feeble. But we shouldn’t blame ourselves and should courageously voice out the injustice.

It was plain mockery that during our relationship, in social forums we went together to speak as colleagues for Dalit women’s rights and in the private domain my rights were getting violated every day. We both led very contrasting lives. To the outer world I was a confident, outspoken young woman and he an introvert but equally diligent promoter of Dalit women’s rights. In my personal life I was oppressed and he was oppressing me. Who could have ever believed? For example, people were shocked to know he could do something like this to anyone. At the very same instance some told me to forget about it. Most of the people I spoke with gave well-meaning advice. They said you are out of it and that’s what matters. You have a better life ahead and he doesn’t deserve your attention. I saw that as much as people felt sad, shocked about partner abuse, they thought it to be normal. Something to be forgotten about and moved on.

Equating a person’s abuse with “ammunition” against someone’s acclaimed reputation is a misnomer and it comes out of sheer ignorance of the power structures pounding the victim. Taking a note out of personal case here. When one of my aunt finally spoke out against her abusive husband (taking support from women’s rights organisations), who is well known for his anti-caste and trade-unionist activism, she was publicly shamed as an ‘attention seeking woman of bad character’. My mother garnered strength from her firm resolve and started speaking out against the psychological and physical abuse she was facing. Both these narratives “threatened” their goody-goody image in their respective circles which they openly condemned as “household bitching”. The most important point was Bahujan women speaking up against the assumed progressive activists. I grew up watching and experiencing violence and their ‘balance tipping’ antics.

Before we go on to fawn over progressive icons, it is always better to watch out. It was days after I graffiti-ed John Lennon’s “Imagine” only to later being told by a friend about the amount of domestic violence he perpetrated. It was hard as a survivor of domestic violence to come out of the depressing reality. The intersections of caste and gender don’t necessarily obligate it to use them alone as a sacrificial agenda. That would completely sabotage the fight against the kyriarchal power structures or the fight for social justice. It would be completely unacceptable to be apathetic to these voices who have dared to speak out and voice out their oppression. We are living in times where a convicted rapist’s sentence is being knocked off to protect his “star athletic swimmer career” and his heinous act being called “20 minutes of action“. Let the voices speaking up against any kind of gendered violence be heard and not throttled and dismissed. Let’s not sacrifice abuse and violence to maintain the status quo of our “progressive” agendas.

DISCLAIMER: The experiences of abuse being discussed here are  straight up assaults and the perpetrators can be charged under criminal cases. The title in no way meant to trivialize such grave and dastardly  actions as mere “regressive acts”.

The controversial CSIR declaration form

“Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), India, a premier national R&D organisation, is among the world’s largest publicly funded R&D organisation. CSIR’s pioneering sustained contribution to S&T human resource development is acclaimed nationally. Human Resource Development Group (HRDG), a division of CSIR realises this objective through various grants, fellowship schemes etc.”

This is the description of CSIR in the official website. CSIR has recently landed in a controversy when Associate Professor Dr. Joby Joseph, a faculty at Centre for Neural and Cognitive Sciences, University of Hyderabad made a Facebook post about an absurd declaration form. The form has to be filled and signed while accepting the research fellowship or associateship. The first controversial part of the form is this particular field which asks the research fellow to sign a field below. You can access the complete form here: (Declaration/Undertaking form)

Capture

CSIR boasts to be one if the “premier Research and Development organisation” in India. While it is okay for a government funding agency to pledge allegiance to the country and constitution, how “scientific” is it to remind “god’s help” in carrying out their research. The complete lack of scientific temper from elite Indian research organisations is sickening. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been constantly flagged by rationalists for offering “special prayers”, “placing replica of Mars orbiter mission” etc at Tirupati Temple. None of this define the scientific temper expected from these institutions.

Another part of this undertaking is the sections where the candidates are asked to sign some twisted fields based on their marital status. The unmarried male candidates are not allowed to marry for second time if ‘alive’ or ‘legally separated’ but could do the same after obtaining permission from “competent authority”. Similar fields have been given to ‘married male’ and ‘female candidates’. How on earth does does ‘marital status’ affect or foster research?

Many research scholars readily condemned this particular declaration.

Do you remember Raif Badawi?

Raif Badawi. A name which I picked up when I started engaging myself with the questions of Human rights, censorship and free speech. It was a catchy title which made me click on the link which carried Raif’s case. “Saudi Blogger to get 1000 lashes”. Coincidentally it was during the same time I started blogging. Given the rise in the number of satire websites and blogs, I first felt this too fell in the same criteria only to be proved true when I googled the keywords. “Blogger, lashes, 1000, Saudi Arabia”. Living in a country where lashes, lynching and honor killings happen almost everyday, the news didn’t come as a shocker; except the part where the crime was blogging and expressing dissent. I started reading more about Raif, his works and the condition of Human rights in Saudi Arabia. In the midst of this, a news headline appears where Raif received his ‘first installment of lashes‘.

The news was disheartening. I went on to follow the campaign aggressively on social media. It opened up the world of human rights for me, where the world’s advanced democracies maintain diplomatic relations with such an oppressive regime where writing is a crime! Many human rights organisations took up the issue with Ensaf Haider, the spouse of Raif Badawi lead the campaigns from the front. She co-founded the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom which has been campaigning internationally for the Raif’s release. This is one of the story of numerous political prisoners languishing in Saudi Arabia’s jails. Cases of juvenile prisoners like Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr have been imprisoned for participating in pro-democracy protests.

Meanwhile Raif went on to continue his struggle from the jail compound. Multiple dates were announced on to flog him again but were scrapped at the end. Raif went on to win many international awards and recognition in the following years. Notable ones among them being Netizen Prize of Reporters without Borders 2014 and Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, 2015 (awarded by the European Parliament). Raif’s case even brought a diplomatic showdown between Sweden and Saudi Arabia, when the foreign minister of Sweden openly condemned his flogging. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia still remains adamant on it’s position of not heeding to such external political pressure from both state and non-state actors.

Raif’s struggle is not his own or his family’s. It’s the fight of the freethinkers around the world who make a stand against bigotry and fundamentalism pushed upon by religious institutions, non-state actors or even the state. Raif’s only crime was sparking a discussion on liberalism and secularism online through the portal Free Saudi Liberals. Worse, Raif’s lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair was sentenced for 15 years for being associated with Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) which allegedly ‘antagonizing international organisations against the kingdom’, relating to his engagement with international human rights mechanisms including the UN system and ‘incitement of public opinion against authorities’. Samar Badawi, a prominent human rights activist and incidentally the sister of Raif, too was arrested and questioned on multiple instances for raising the issue of Human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Ensaf Haider recalled what Raif once said on freedom of speech. “My husband once wrote that freedom of expression is the ‘air that any thinker breathes and the fuel that ignites the fire of his or her ideas’, and he was right. “This is why he is wasting away in jail today, and precisely why the world’s free writers should use their freedom of expression as a weapon in the war on oppression.” Nothing can be more precise than this to urge the freethinking community to support not just Raif’s cause but thousands of prisoners languishing in jails of different countries, whose only crime was expressing dissent against a religious or political establishment. After the release of Atena Farghadani, an Iranian cartoonist who was arrested and jailed for expressing dissent through cartoons and her activism; I now have hope of watching Raif and all those freethinkers and political prisoners locked behind bars to walk free. The day won’t be far if we citizens of various countries separated by invisible borders stand in solidarity against censorship and oppression. By holding our governments and religious institutions responsible of their actions which are oppressive, inhuman and anti-reason. That would be a fitting tribute to all those people who have stood with reason and sacrificed their lives throught the ages.

Raif’s opinions on life in an autocratic-Islamic state under the Sharia and his perception of freedom of expression, human and civil rights, tolerance and the necessary separation of state and religion  are published in this book (according to description on Amazon) 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think I’m yet to read the book but going by the reviews it must be a book worth giving a read.

Visit Raif Badawi Foundation website  and CiLuna’s blog for more details about ongoing campaigns and write-ups on Raif’s case.

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Velivada under siege!

It was during my 8th standard summer vacation if I remember it right. I along with my uncle went out to walk in the village. After walking few blocks we came across an area which had shoddy tent like structures. You could barely call them houses as they were built with straw, wood and mud. I asked my uncle, “Who lives here, in these ‘houses'”. “This is the place where ‘untouchables’ live, it’s called ‘velivada'” he replied. I not knowing who the ‘untouchables’ were thought they were some kind of ‘diseased’ people forced to live away from the village. It took me many years to realise that the disease which made them live as outcasts is caste. A ‘Velivada’ is a ghetto where the ostracised and socially boycotted dalit masses are forced to live. They are regarded as ‘polluters’ and aren’t allowed to access the roads or the water wells by the upper/dominant castes of the village. Their mere shadow or presence is considered polluting.

In the last week of December 2015, a “punishment order” was issued against five Dalit research scholars was issued by the University of Hyderabad’s administration. It ordered for hostel expulsion order and  banned the “entry of students in groups to certain public spaces”. As a protest a ‘Velivada’ in the middle of the Shopping complex on campus. The Shopping complex is a place where formal and informal “intellectual discussions” take place over a cup of tea or juice. The ‘Velivada’ stood there for days unnoticed until the unfortunate day where one of the socially boycotted research scholar Rohith Vemula ended his life. Spontaneous protests erupted allover the campus. All roads led to the ‘Velivada’ which turned into the protest site. Even after the death of their friend many including the remaining four research scholars started living there. Students slept in solidarity fearing that the ‘Velivada’ would be removed and destroyed.

The protests continued on. Both the university administration and the state tried their best to disrupt the protests by resorting to various methods. The ‘Velivada’ witnessed another historical event titled ‘Ekalavya Speaks‘ where students spoke about the discrimination they faced at various points of their lives, in classrooms, in public places, in labs etc. The ‘Velivada’ not just turned into a symbol of resistance but it stood there as a reminder of discrimination and violence carried out on millions of Dalits languishing in countless ‘Velivadas’ across the country. The dominant caste nexus of both the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar couldn’t tolerate such a structure existing on campus. On May 20, an atrocious order was issued which termed the structure and the tents around it to be “illegal” and “unauthorised”.

The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice (JAC) which is leading the protests condemned the order and burnt its copies in protest. In the early hours of May 28, the University security personnel barged into the Velivada, pulled down the protest tent erected by the JAC, tore and vandalised the banners containing photos of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Fresh protests erupted over the desecration of the protest site and stealing of banners and photos. Even after a blockade and constant demand from by the JAC, the material stolen from the protest site wasn’t returned back. As their requests to get back the tent yielded no results, the JAC members gave call to the students on and professors community on campus to donate their old clothes for the preparation of a a new tent. The students gathered around the ‘Velivada’ with the raw material collected and started to stitch the tent. As a reaction to this a huge deployment of security personnel was made around the ‘Velivada’ where the personnel warned the students not to indulge in the preparation of “unauthorised” structures. The students resisted their attempts to confiscate the raw materials.

Never did a structure terrify the ruling establishment as the ‘Velivada’ is to the Bramhanical forces on and off campus. A ‘Velivada’ is a common sight in almost all the villages of India, where dalits live in inhuman conditions with no proper water or electricity. Basic human rights are denied to them almost every day. These countless ‘Velivadas’ tell the story of the centuries old hindu social order i.e. caste. Tales of violence and discrimination emanate from every household. The successive governments have failed to address the issue of caste discrimination and violence prevailing in every sphere of life. Be it the government offices or institutions of higher education, discrimination against the marginalised sections i.e. Dalits, Bahujans, Adivasis and queer community is still prevalent. Each day the newspapers carry a news of an atrocity against these marginalised sections. Those countless ‘Velivadas’ spread across the country are the silent spectators of these atrocities. There is nothing different about this ‘Velivada’ inside the University which has witnessed mindless witch hunt and repression against the students. The only difference is it stands strong in the middle of an elite higher education institute, which is located in a metropolitan city which like any other urban localities chants the cliched phrase, “Caste is invisible”.

The defence of this ‘Velivada’ is the need of the hour when the ruling class is bent on erasing the memory of an atrocity committed right inside this elite institution. It is a democratic space of dissent where a struggle against caste based discrimination is being waged. It is protests rising from this very ‘Velivada’ brought the discussion of caste back to the forefront. Therefore, it becomes the right of progressive forces to defend this space from being demolished and the dissenting voices to be silenced.