The recent scathing attack on the Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey by certain sections of the Indian populace reflects something serious about our society rooted in patriarchy, not just its inability to comprehend gender and caste politics and the sheer aversion towards it, but also the inability to identify and acknowledge contexts. Contexts in general, but here in particular with reference to how people have interpreted Dorsey’s photo with a group of women where he is holding a placard displaying the very popular slogan in the Indian feminist discourse #SmashBrahminicalPatriarchy.
Like many others from the league of Indian feminists, I was awed, furious, and utterly disappointed while scrolling past the constant shower of delusional comments and interpretations to that image of Dorsey’s. It was a gathering of women journalists and activists who were invited by Dorsey for a discussion on how Twitter has served the unheard voices of identities at the margins set to make a significant impact on people’s perceptions, through their advocacy on social media. There were several women present at the event expressing how their fight against the hegemony of race, caste, religion, etc. is furthered on account of their access to Twitter. The placard, as claimed by Dorsey in his statements after the uproar, was gifted to him by an Indian Dalit activist cum journalist present at the event. All this was encapsulated in that photo where Dorsey was merrily holding the placard in question, with a group of revolutionary women.
Little did he realise that his act of responsibility and solidarity with the women would be intercepted as an act of hatred towards a community, inviting imbecile counter currents from sections that are averse to comprehending contexts with respect to something, from as simple as a photo, to issues as critical as gender and caste inequality. Individuals and groups have been calling out Dorsey as being ‘Hinduphobic’, undermining Brahmins, and supporting groups waging a war against the community. While his action couldn’t be further from being an act of hatred, it definitely did symbolise the celebration of women who are advocating for gender equality by leveraging Twitter’s platform.
I am here not to ridicule people who fail to comprehend feminist discourses, but to take side with the group which is struggling to construct a comprehensible version of what #SmashBrahminicalPatriarchy means to women and especially Dalit women in the Indian context. A lack of understanding of gender politics among people is a resultant of the mainstream education system’s reluctance to question hegemonies, deconstruct societal norms, and its failure to instill gender sensitivity among students. However, hostility towards movements asserting caste and gender equality stems from the insecurity experienced by communities that have been relishing their privileges handed down to them by a series of otherwise oppressive societal structures and are unwilling to shed them.
To reiterate what feminists throughout the world have been shouting out at the top of their voices is that simply using the word patriarchy to recognise the root cause of women’s oppression is a passe. How patriarchy manifests in countries and geographies would vary depending on how individual societies are structured and how their people are woven around these structures in each of these geographies. In USA, race determines how the society functions and patriarchy manifests itself, whereas in the Hindu dominant India, caste is the major driver of the patriarchal structure. The caste system keeps Brahmins at the top of the hierarchy with Shudras at the bottom. The norms that govern people’s lives in the Hindu society cascade down from Brahmins enjoying the highest privileges to the Shudras bearing the brunt of the former’s unjust privileges. People belonging to castes other than Brahmin conform to norms, rituals, and occupations prescribed by the latter which has solidified into an exploitative and unequal power structure. Women existing under this structure are expected to submit their agencies to be controlled by men. A Dalit woman is the worse off as she bears the brunt of a double disadvantage in the Hindu society which stands on the edifice of caste, the first of being a woman and second of being a Dalit.
This is why in contemporary discourses on caste and Dalit feminism, oppressive societal norms and systems stemming out of the caste system are termed ‘brahminical’. When Indian feminists claim that they stand against brahminical patriarchy, they imply being against the oppressive ideology which hinders women, especially Dalit women, from asserting their rights, and not against individuals bearing the privileges of a Brahmin by birth. When a Dalit activist sloganeers #SmashBrahminicalPatriarchy, she dreams of emancipation of the oppressed, possible only with the demolition of a structure that perpetuates inequality and injustice for women, especially the Dalit who are grappling with the double disadvantage of being women and that of being Dalit.