Friday, September 18, 2009

Patriarchy, Imbibed Norms and Values: Need for Introspection

Eloquent Silences: A Discussion Part Two

N P Chekkutty: Well, what I was trying to say is this: About the convoluted expressions of empowerment in our society, especially among women. I do not claim that men are different. But what makes me worried and why I try to provoke my female friends to think and react, is another trend that I see: Women slowly emerging as the most dependable foot-soldiers of the most retrograde and negative social and political forces.

The classic example of this trend was at the site of Babri destruction. Those who were there to report it (I was not there) could not ignore the ugly sense of jubilation shown especially by females of the Sangh, Sadhwi Ritambhara and Uma Bharati, etc, while people like Vajpayee and even Advani had expressed some shock, at least in public.

I was also referring to the same tendency that was witnessed in places like Maradu (Uma Unni was the quintessential expression o f woman power of the Sangh) and in Nadapuram, where the most virulent and unrepentant group proved to be women.(See the case of Vineeta Kottayi, a widow who was persecuted for over a decade by KSKTU people led by a couple Balan and Narayani. Even the local CPM had to take a stand against them finally.)

That I think calls for some rethinking on the assumption of social scientists that women as a group are normally less prone to violence, are more accommodative in a secular set up, etc.

John Samuel: This is precisely where we have different perspectives. There is nothing like a homogeneous category of ‘women’ or ‘men’- beyond their physical/biological differences. Multiple identities are as much operational among women as much as among men- class, cast, religion, locality, sexual orientation, etc, etc.

Both women and men can be perpetrators of patriarchy. In fact, many such values may be perpetuated by women- partly because of the internalized sense of ‘norms’ constructed and made almost pathological over a period of time.

Just because a woman is part of a reactionary, or fundamentalist or established power structure does not necessarily make such structures and processes less patriarchal. Almost all women leaders in South Asia are the torchbearers of a set of conservative values -- and not expressions of feminist politics-- by any stretch of imagination.

N P Chekkutty: I do not find much of a difference between what I said, and the positions of John. Even when most women internalize patriarchal views and propagate them, it still remains patriarchy. Even if many men internalize a feminist point of view, it does not erase patriarchy.

That again takes us back to square one.

It is not a question of not knowing what is wrong; but not willing to overcome it, not willing to struggle to free ourselves of these internalized norms, not willing to fight for our own freedom.

Here, this struggle can only be an individual struggle, a fight against one's own hidden demons, not a collective one, though ideologies could help us at best to some extent.But sadly, ideology is nothing but a sham, a mirror image. The self-proclaimed progressive turns out to be the rabid obscurantist; the hated communalist, a sensible human being...

That is why I feel all of us need to keep talking. Whether in this group or outside, we need to talk and engage. Unless we do so and try to understand each other, there is no way out, no way ahead.

I will end this note with a small anecdote, something I experienced a few weeks ago:

It was vacation and two children came to spend a few days with us.
As we were sitting at the dining table, the younger one, a very smart guy aged four, asked me innocently: Uncle, are you a Hindu?

I was shocked, but also amused. I said, No, I am Muslim...

I saw he did not like it at all. His face showed it.

Sometime later he declared he did not like Madhavikkutty.
I asked, Why?
Because she became a Muslim...

You know who is Madhavikkutty?
No, he did not know...

Neither did the Nazi kids know who were the hated Jews.

I am deeply troubled and sad not only about the kid but about me too. It was my fault, or our collective fault; our collective silence, our internalized norms at work here. But I see the child is a victim of a criminal indoctrination. And who did it?

I only hope we will see reason and try to tell our kid better stories, give them better ideas that they would not end up cannon-fodder in a fratricidal war not too far away.

V Santhakumar: How do we internalize casteist, fundamentalist, obscurantist and patriarchal values and how to get over them are interesting questions. The fact that YSR (who may have been brought up in a Hindu landlord family) became (an eclectic) Christian and that it did not prevent millions of ordinary Andhrites from adoring him is interesting. However when the same people want his son to be the CM, we see an element of backwardness; this may be showing that all these apparent identity struggles are the reflection of something underlying....

Neelan says that the decline of the left led to the revival of reactionary forces.Yes it is true that the leftist forces did play a role in bringing up secular, non-casteist, non-obscurantist (but not necessarily non-patriarchal) values in Kerala society. We see a revivalism today. My take is that this is due to the (lack of) credibility of signals sent by leftist forces. Some parts have become outdated to even common sense... The messages of modernity combined with this outdated ones cannot communicate credibly to the youngsters who are likely to be idealist...

Let us take a typical boy/girl: that type is likely to think that we should be more environment friendly, the attack of Bush on Iraq is a crime, less likely to think that people should be marrying only within caste, less likely to think that killing others for politics/religion is good, likely to consider poverty something horrible, etc. My point is that the ground for idealism still exists. They may be even open to greater equality between boys and girls. But they are less likely to be influenced by Communist party's slogans or actions today. Saying one thing and doing something else regarding education, advocating that globalization is bad when everybody is trying to get a job outside or in a company exporting knowledge to outside world....

There is a possibility for building on this idealism to nurture anti-casteist, anti-obscurantist, non-fundamentalist, and less-patriarchal values. Unfortunately this cannot be done by the leftist forces today. Sad part is that no one else is trying to build on this idealism, a value system suitable to a modern world...

R V G Menon: Chekkutty, I suspect the two young guests you had are being brought up in an environment where they don't come into contact with anyone outside their own caste or creed, and are constantly being fed with stories about how ‘bad’ the ‘others’ are. Quite often parents are the very source of such indoctrination. Unfortunately, this is quite common in our society. It is quite possible that this was so, even earlier. But we had many public spaces, like the public schools, where this sort of indoctrination could be countered in a natural way. Unfortunately these spaces are also shrinking now.

Some time back I had recounted the results of a study, which showed how children are systematically being routed to denominational schools, where most of the children and all the teachers belong to only that particular denomination (either Christian, Hindu or Muslim).

I can imagine no other antidote than strengthening the common schools system to counter this peril. Let children of all castes, creeds and classes sit side by side and intermingle, and get to know each other. There is no other way. Even in the case of unaided schools, let it be mandatory that the schools should reflect the population profile of the region where it is located.

N P Chekkutty: Yes RVG, I agree with you. We need to strengthen public schools and the experiences with my own children tell me the same thing. There is something in the very atmosphere of a government school/college that makes the children shed much of the inherited notions about their class/caste importance, their social and economic status and other rubbish and help them reach out to others. That makes them better human beings. Though I do not consider myself a very fortunate person, I do think I am lucky in this sense that I find both my children sensible enough to understand the complexity of our pluralist society and I am sure they picked it up mainly from the government educational institutions where they went.

But the parental role in shaping kids is much more important. The kids I spoke about are an example of what happens. They live with their mother and grandmother as their father is away in the Gulf. The women, for a variety of practical reasons, keep to themselves and that restricts the scope for kids to see the world as it is. Most often, the kids are sent to 'prestigious' educational institutions, meaning caste/ community based schools which charge a fat fee and do not allow the kids even to talk in their mother tongue.

This situation in Kerala puts a lot of responsibility on the mother, she is often the sole person interacting with the kids as in most families where the husband is away, coming home only once in two or three years.

Anandi Krishnan: I agree with Chekkutty that women took a communal role in many riots including Maradu. Yes. The educated Kerala has Nair woman, Muslim woman, Ezhava woman, Dalit woman, etc. (like our matrimonial ads which say, Ezava sundari, Dheevara sundari, Pulaya sundari, Nair sundari, Maraar sundari, etc. )Women are not a homogenous category. Caste-wise, religion wise and class wise there is a divide.

Political space is no more a public space for women in Kerala. It was, once upon a time. That does not mean that she is free from any sort of exploitation. As many have pointed out, there is a communal divide and going back to tradition which is becoming more and more visible in Kerala. Yes, in the so called ‘educated Kerala’. How far our education has worked as a liberating force in the society? It was a liberating force during 20th century - no doubt, all the communal organizations of late 19th and early 20th century have raised the issue of education, especially women’s education. From Yogakshema Sabha to Sadhujana Paripalana Samiti, every community organization called for change. Above all, colonialism and imperialism along with casteism were fought tooth and nail with the help of education. .

How Kerala lives and Kerala thinks clearly reveal the social mobility in Kerala society created by education. It has only helped them to become glorified educated housewives is quite pathetic. And that is the paradox of Kerala’s development model. Can we say that our education today is carrying out this role of liberating people from the shackles of social anarchy?

I agree that Sarojini Naidu and many other women were involved in the national movement. These were individual women. A close study of these women in freedom struggle reveals that those whose brother/husband/father were in the movement only could get involved in it. Akkamma Cherian, A.V. Kuttimaalu Amma, Gracy Aron, Verkot Narayani Amma, Dhakshayani, Parvathi Ayyappan, Arya Pallam, Swarnakumari Menon, and many others.

But that is not an issue. Individual women are not a factor. How many women could become a part of the Salt Satygraha? Why Gandhiji was against taking women to Dhandi? Women from all over India had requested and fought with Gandhiji, sent dissent notes to him that he has avoided women. From Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and also from Kerala, women raised their voices against Gandhiji’s attitude. (Recent critiques of Gandhiji in the books Gender and Nation: Breaking Out of Invisibility, Women in the National Movement, etc, are revealing.) During 1942 when Kuttimaalu Amma was selected by Gandhiji for Individual Satyagraha, (Vykthi Satyagraham) how her needs were ignored has been written about in her diary. Akkamma Cherian’s role in fighting the government in Travancore was tremendous, but still nowhere in history the students are taught any of the details. Kerala society has never digested women who articulated /articulate against the existing societal views. It is true that the patriarchy in Kerala psyche has to be studied.

There is no point in blaming the left alone. As the great Valluvar has said when we point our finger to others, the other three fingers are pointing towards us. All of us are responsible for such a plight.

(To be continued.)

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