To travel with Conradian determination

Priyamvada Gopal adds more to the picture of the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh and the documentary and the reactions against it. I’ve disagreed with Gopal in the past and thought I was going to again, but in the end she makes good points.

She does some rather annoying sneering at Udwin on the way there though.

Udwin’s elevation to the status of free speech martyr and the ensuing controversy is likely to boost the viewing figures in Britain for a film that she describes as having been made through enormous personal sacrifice. She has stressed her abdication of home comforts to travel with Conradian determination to explore “the blackest recesses of the human heart”. Indian feminists, on the other hand, have expressed unease – not only with the timing of the documentary’s broadcast which might, they fear, result in a further trial by media of the accused, already fast-tracked through the judicial system because of the public outcry, but also with some of the premises both of the film and the associated “Daughters of India” global campaign against sexual violence to be launched next week at a star-studded New York screening.

As the leading feminist campaigner and Secretary of the All-India Progressive Women’s Association, Kavita Krishnan, notes, Indian anti-rape protestors themselves have unambiguously rejected the patriarchal language which denotes women as daughters, wives or sisters entitled to protection in that capacity rather than as human beings who will assert themselves and resist attacks on their bodies and rights.

Indian women’s rights campaigners – who, as it happens, have been active and vocal on the question of rape for decades before December 2012, even if that miserable event galvanised a wave of impressive fresh protests – frequently find themselves wedged between Indian patriarchs who deny that rape is a serious problem or blame it on westernisation, and the well-meaning but often ill-informed “maternalism” of some western feminist quarters that lay the blame on a particularly retrograde mindset in India.

Oh yeah? I know plenty of Indian feminists who lay the blame on a particularly retrograde mindset in India. I’m a little surprised that Gopal doesn’t seem to know any.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not claiming that the US has a fabulous track record on this issue. Ha – what a sour joke. But I have a hard time imagining a US defense lawyer boasting that he would gather the whole family to watch as he set fire to his daughter for messing around. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe there are such lawyers, and they’re just not reported in the media. But in any case, there’s no shortage of Indian feminists who are outraged at the mindset that says men get to punish women who go out at night by raping them and yanking their intestines out.

But then she does go on to make a worthwhile point. (Worthwhile by my lights, yes.)

Rape can be a perfectly modern weapon that is intimately connected to other systems of privilege, exploitation and inequality, including, in the Indian context, caste oppression, religious chauvinism, resource appropriation (including that of mineral-rich land from indigenous tribal communities by multinational corporations) and the vicious economic inequalities fostered by an unfettered capitalism prosperity that has yet to bring basic shelter and nourishment to millions.

To talk about rape in terms of a savage cultural psyche locked to the past is to miss the dense wood for the most exotic trees if that discussion does not examine how the same government appealed to now by Udwin is backed by Hindu right-wing political groups which allegedly wielded mass rape as a weapon against Muslim women in Gujarat in 2002 where Modi was chief minister. (One Hindu supremacist recently called for even dead Muslim women to be raped). To not note the ways in which rape has been systematically used to keep Dalit women and communities “in their place” by upper-castes threatened by change is to fail rape victims.

I don’t see any obvious tension between the two, but the reminder is useful.


  1. says

    I would like to disagree with the substantive point Ms. Gopal is trying to make. For most situations, the same problem can be approached in many ways, reductive, prescriptive/didactic, and so forth. What Ms. Gopal says here is not incorrect, but there’s no denying the fact that it starts with the generic Indian male mindset. Now, how that mindset is informed is a separate, larger issue. The mentality of a rapist is but a natural progression of rampant sexism and misogyny taken to virulent proportions that pervades the Indian society.

  2. johnthedrunkard says

    East= good.
    If Brown Eastern men do evil, blame the British Empire, the media, the Elders of Zion etc. etc.

    Brown, eastern people have no will or culture of their own, they exist only as storm-tossed corks on the tide of The Great Orientalist Conspiracy,

    Pull the other one.

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