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Understanding The Context To Jack Dorsey’s Encounter With #SmashBrahminicalPatriarchy

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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.

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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.

Read more about her campaign.

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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.

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 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.

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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
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