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Jack Dorsey’s dicey placard and a looming brahminical firestorm

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An innocuous tweet by Anna MM Vetticad has kicked off a storm in India. In the picture attached to the tweet is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey holding a placard which said “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy”. It looks like Jack has picked the most inappropriate time for his brain freeze moment. In a society that revels on religious sentiments with Ayodhya and now Sabarimala as flashpoints, imminent state assembly elections and general elections next year where religion is going to play a massive polarizing role, calling out for the annihilation of Brahminism is directly at loggerheads with the Hindutva plank of the BJP and RSS which is essentially about revival of Brahminism. It may not be a lot, but Twitter is going to lose out on quite a number of accounts.

There are many interesting arguments and counter-arguments flying around on Twitter which prompted me to ponder over what Brahminism or rather what the premise of Brahminism is. Our fundamental building blocks are genes, so we are products of genetic engineering and subtle changes in genetic structure ensures that we are all different from one another. As we evolved from cave dwellers and hunters to farming and societal life, two things happened: our genes also evolved, and our needs increased. Some among us started collecting information and recording it in different ways and became good with it. As our needs increased, the scope of work in society also expanded. This is how different professions in the society evolved. This was probably the greatest time of human evolution. All skills were equally important and respected, and everyone joined hands to drive society forward.

Fast forward to thousands of years later, and we get to see the Aryan and Vedic culture in India. The basic premise of society hadn’t changed, but society was divided into four broad categories based on people’s professions: Brahmins (scholars), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (traders) and Sudras (professionals). Kshatriyas were always busy fighting or preparing for wars. Vaishyas were the business class. Sudras were the backbone of the society to keep it running on a daily basis. So who would manage information, record it and pass it on to other people? This was the responsibility of the Brahmin class. Ancient texts across the world are replete with how Gods or beings from other worlds came to earth and shared their knowledge with us. So they shared their knowledge with the Brahmins who recorded everything. Brahmins used to hold sway over the courts of Kings, and they were the ones who charted the administration of the kingdoms and became advisors, conflict resolvers and solution providers for the entire society. The picture was perfect up to this point till the advent of Kali Yuga when Brahmins started to monopolise their knowledge. Their stature and prominence started increasing in the society, and the worst affected by this were the Sudras who were gradually relegated to the menial class. This, in spite of the Vedas clearly mentioning that everyone is born as a Sudra and a person’s caste is decided by the profession he/she chooses. With the advent of temples and idol worship, Brahmins seized control of the concept of worship and made themselves the sole authority of temples and Gods. It is from this point that all the draconian rules of Brahminism evolved many of which survive even to the present times.

Brahminical patriarchy was born out of the dominance over society that Brahmins gained with time and they used it to exploit people of other castes especially the Sudras. The supposedly “impure” Sudras were not even allowed to come before or be in the vicinity of Brahmins. But Brahmin men could use Sudra women to satisfy their sexual lust. More than violence it was their wily exploitation and oppressive societal rules such as not allowing people from other castes to drink water from their wells that alienated them from other castes. The oppression extended to their own women as well. Even their emotions and needs were muzzled and they were permitted to marry only Brahmin men. Brahminical patriarchy is still prevalent in the rural society especially in the North Indian belt. They have maintained their stranglehold with caste based divide through vote bank politics and not allowing people of lower castes to get education and better lives.  The most recent example was the picture of tribal girls being made to wash the feet of the CM of UP and a few other upper class leaders who were sitting on a dais.

Surprisingly, how did Brahminical patriarchy survive into the 21st century? Two reasons. One, our need to free the country from colonial rule was completely misplaced. How did colonial rule take its roots in India? India was not invaded and subjugated by the British. They came for trade and saw the caste-based divide in the society and how small kingdoms were constantly fighting with one another. They took advantage of our fractured society to become our rulers. Freeing the country of colonial rule was not the solution to our problem. Then, we incorporated the caste-based divide of our society into the Constitution because the makers of the Constitution felt it necessary for the upbringing of the lower castes through reservations. What did that result in?

Complete imbalance in our society, the creation of vote bank politics and with it the rapid decline of Brahminism. Giving more opportunities to the lower castes had undesired effects. They started feeling entitled to what they were getting, and more importantly, their angst against the age-old oppression they suffered at the hands of Brahminical domination started spewing out. The need was only to create a level playing ground for everyone without any differences and let the best ones win. Provide facilities for all irrespective of any divides and discourage any/all caste/communal based discourses. We would have had a political system based on governance and administration and a society free of all age-old divides.

The second and the most unnecessary reason was the rise to prominence of the Hindutva ideology. RSS and its political front BJP propagates the Hindutva ideology under the premise of protecting Hinduism and keeping its traditions and customs intact. But the truth is nowhere near to it. There was no religion called Hinduism till the advent of Kali Yuga and idol worship started. So the rise of Brahminical dominance coincides with the creation of Hinduism as a religion. BJP and RSS are both managed and administered predominantly by people from the upper class. As Hindutva ideology has gained prominence so has the bitterness and friction between upper and lower caste people increased especially in the North Indian belt. After being in governance for five years in the country and with abject failures of demonetisation, GST implementation and now under a cloud of scams, BJP is winding back to its rhetoric on Hindutva agenda for 2019 elections with temple based issues at Ayodhya and Sabarimala.

The primary reason why Brahminism lost their relevance is because Brahmins were not a working class community and as society evolved, religion took the backseat. Because in the Vedas it has been mentioned that caste is based on the profession we choose, Brahmins were averse to doing any other work, wanted to stick to temples, scriptures and their strict religious lives and were largely not willing to integrate into a rapidly evolving society. If the same proponents of Hindutva and Brahminism were to follow the Vedic rules, the majority of the Brahmins, even temple priests are working professionals or engaged in business now. So none of them can be strictly considered as Brahmins. Brahminism exists now only through inheritance from a lineage which simply amounts to holding on to old traditions.

There is no need to smash or destroy anything. With time everything evolves, and old traditions and rules will make way for new ones. But holding on to them is like keeping wounds open especially when they become part of political discourse. Any attack on the wounds, no matter how small will evoke loud and heated reactions. This is what has happened with the Jack Dorsey episode.

Expect the fallout to persist for a while with plenty of articles, arguments, responses and noisy TV debates to follow. Thanks, Jack for creating one more reason for people to debate and ignore the critical aspects of an economy in distress.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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