Recently, there was a lot of hullabaloo on a committee established by Mahesh Sharma, the Minister of State for Culture and Tourism. The 14-person committee’s aim, according to a news report, is to ‘rewrite Indian history’. It is to establish a “correlation between ancient Hindu scriptures and evidence that Indian civilization stretches back many thousands of years.”
Some of its aims, as professed by Mahesh Sharma, is to also treat scriptures like Ramayana as historical documents, and examine artefacts from locations in scriptures, mapping dates of astrological events mentioned in the texts, and many more.
There was a surge of Facebook statuses on my newsfeed, and this article was shared across Whatsapp groups. Many were disgusted, many were fed up, and many called out the fascistic nature of the current BJP government. In fact, many of my friends who would generally not be vocally political also shared the news report, saddened.
But, haven’t we been always rewriting, dismissing, and destroying history? In fact, we already control the narrative in most spheres.
Let’s start with a few articles first.
A piece in the Aljazeera on how the Indian media wants Dalit news but not Dalit reporters
“After searching the country for more than 10 years, I have been able to find eight Dalit journalists in the English media. Only two of them have risked “coming out”.”
Another on in The Hindu, that talks about upper caste domination in the national media.
“In the first-ever statistical analysis of its kind, a survey of the social profile of more than 300 senior journalists in 37 Hindi and English newspapers and television channels in the capital has found that “Hindu upper caste men” who form 8% of the country’s population hold 71% of the top jobs in the national media.”
This piece in The Wire talks about how higher education is still a bar too high for Muslims and Dalits in India.
“When anti-reservation groups invoke “merit” and “quality”, they completely ignore the social exclusion of these excluded groups which form the large majority of the population.”
This post talks about how people from the ST and SC categories are grossly underrepresented.
“Dominant caste Amnesty staff resent any conversations or dialogues around caste. The fact that at Amnesty India, crores are being spent on salaries and projects that leave out – systematically and deliberately, issues faced by the Scheduled Castes of the country, is of absolutely no concern for this group. What bigger human rights violation in India than that faced traditionally by thousands of groups categorised as SC?”
A piece on Round Table India very effectively questioned whether caste diversity ever existed in the Indian development sector.
“The sector, which claims to be working for the welfare of the marginalised, is disproportionately occupied and operated by privileged sections with Brahmanic cultural capital.”
This report in The Hindu threw up some interesting numbers.
“Just five per cent of Indians said they had married a person from a different caste, says the first direct estimate of inter-caste marriages in India.”
I could go on and on. But the rest is for you to look up and read up on.
The core point of this is that we, the dominant caste, the heterosexual, cis-men (and women too) occupy positions of power in most places. If you don’t believe it – take a moment and check the caste-gender-sexuality-religion demography of where you work, the positions in which you work, and your friends/networking circle.
We control the narrative. We are rewriting history. With every moment, every step, every word, every discussion, every Facebook post, every Tweet, every article, every research, every case-study, every book, every song, every painting, every development-sector initiative, every impact-analysis, and every stand-up joke. We are rewriting history.
Since we are in positions of power, and since the society is structured to believe us more, we can dominate the narratives in every sphere, without any questioning, without much criticism.
It is easy for us to keep posting statuses and sharing articles on how the BJP is rewriting history. Sharing articles about the eight-year-old rape victim in Jammu is easy. I am fatigued looking at the number of articles my peers share on social media every day. At what point, will we start speaking the truth? The truth about our family, about our friend-circles, about our lives?
At what point will we write statuses about how our parents are patriarchal? At what point will we write about how the university in which we study in promotes rape culture and enables sexual harassers? Will we ever raise questions in our workplaces, in our universities, in our homes? At what point will we reflect on our lives, honestly, and speak the truth? The truth about how we perpetuate the systems we abhor. The truth about how we are complicit in the systems of caste, patriarchy, hetero-normativity. The truth about how we are the same individuals who will not find ways to call out sexist, casteist, islamophobic, capitalist behaviour in our every day lives?
There is no point being political online and enjoying your privileges at your homes and in your relationships. There is value to what you do only when you constantly reflect and learn. The onus is on you to read and understand how patriarchy works, how caste-system works, how capitalism works.
It is on you to then apply your theoretical understanding on to your lives. The point is not for you to go and save a Dalit-community, or write a heart-wrenching piece about how you met a resilient woman in a slum. There are billions of articles about oppressed communities already. There are thousands of researchers right now in India studying one oppressed community or the other. There are so many feminists right now who think they are building materials which will upturn patriarchy.
But all of us are predominantly, again, dominant castes, Hindu, heteronormative. Can some of us pay heed to the constant critique that many activists from the oppressed communities have been raising since ages?
The point, what I have also been told, is that we need to be reflective on the kind of structures we are engaging with. What that means is that, okay, you want to contribute, you want to change the inequalities that you see around. Great. But, now, all you need to be reflective on, in every step, is that – are you punching up or are you punching down?
Punching up involves you questioning power, questioning privilege, questioning the space you come from, questioning your safe-privileged space. Punching down means that you continue to do what you anyway do – write articles about how Dalits are manual scavengers, about how you are saddened by what happened to rape victims, about how you are angry at what BJP is doing, about Modi, about the men out there (and never in your family). And you continue to write, make art, write books, participate in discussions, engage in online verbal debates – not about you but on something out there, out there, and only out there.
Punching down means you gain PhDs, Masters, and many other accolades doing very safe things which will never affect your privileges, which will never require courage. Because, mind you, punching up surely involves giving up your privileges. You cannot have both at the same time.
I think the thumb rule is to completely stop whatever you are doing in your life and revisit everything as soon as you find that you are being put on a pedestal more than being criticised and pulled down. The more you find yourself in a comfortable space doing what you are doing, the more it means you are holding on to your privilege.
Punching up, not only involves critiquing the things that are closest to you, including your lives – it also means that you use your privilege to enable pathways for the oppressed to take over your space. To occupy your seats in the media, in the bookshops, in the online space, in the judiciary, to hold and use your pens and keyboards to write articles and statuses. And you shut up and work on dismantling power structures in your space, and you be the whistleblower of our sexist, casteist, patriarchal, heteronormative, islamophobic spaces.
When you speak truth to power, when more people speak truth to power, new ways of politics will surely emerge. Solidarity will emerge. New ways of punching up without having to burn-out or becoming completely isolated in your political fights will emerge.
Only then we can build a community of allies, standing in true solidarity with the oppressed. The allies who will listen more, read more, and reflect more. The allies who will punch up. The allies who will stop quoting articles after articles. The allies who will know when to shut up.