Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI (Impact and Policy Research Institute), New Delhi, organised a talk under The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps with Prof Pushpesh Kumar on the topic Sexual Violence: Perspectivizing the Role of State on 28 July, 2021.
The event was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, an influential economist, feminist and former Professor of Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.
The speaker of the day was Pushpesh Kumar, professor of sociology at the University of Hyderabad. He has edited the book, Sexuality, Abjection and Queer Existence in Contemporary India from Routledge and serves on the international advisory Board of the Community Development Journal published from OUP, U.K. and Ireland.
Professor Kumar was a British Academy Visiting Fellow in the Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, in 2009. He received M N Srinivas Memorial Prize for Young Sociologist from the Indian Sociological Society in 2007.
As a pro-feminist thinker, he wrote in the Economic and Political Weekly’s special volume on Men and Feminism in India in 2015. In 2017, professor Kumar was invited by the South Asia Centre, Syracuse University, Syracuse, to share his research on Queering Indian Sociology.
Our moderator set the tone for the session by mentioning Mary Taylor, the top legislative official at the U.S. Department of State, who was with the Trump administration since 2017 and resigned post the rise of police brutality.
She highlighted that Hyderabad City Police, along with Hyderabad City Security Council(HCSC), launched a program called “She Triumphs through Respect, Equality, and Empowerment” (STREE) to support and empower women victims of domestic violence and abuse.
She brought to attention some misogynist judgments by Justice Chandrachud and how hetero-sexism reinforces sexism because it subordinates the female sex through its hierarchical polarity.
She lauded four professors of Delhi University, Prof Upendra Baxi, Prof Kelkar, Dr Vasudha Dhagamwar, Prof Lotikadee, who wrote the historic Open Letter to the Chief Justice of India in 1979, challenging the judgment of the apex court on the Mathura rape case.
Professor also reminisced that the first world conference on the status of women was convened in Mexico City, Mexico, to coincide with the 1975 International Women’s Year.
Prof Pushpesh then began with the talk. He used the adage “rakshak bane bhakshak” to analogise the present-day dynamics of policing. With his works, he has explored the sexual cultures of present-day India and the predicaments faced by sexual marginalities.
He juxtaposed sexual politics within popular culture, literary genres, advertisement, consumerism, globalising cities, social movements, law, science and research, the hijra community life, chosen families and kinship, and sites that define the cultural other whose sexual practices or identities fall beyond normative moral conventions.
His lecture essentially connected sociological and political issues, including questions of agency, judgments around intimate sexual relationships, the role of the state, popular understandings of adolescent romance, the notion of legitimacy and stigma, moral policing and resistance, body politics and marginality, representations in popular and folk culture, sexual violence and freedom, problems with historiography, structural inequalities, queer erotica, gay consumerism, hijra suicides, and marriage and divorce.
Prof Pushpesh criticised aggressive masculinity under the folds of criminal law and how the courts are not legal bodies anymore, but patriarchs, infantilising women.
The fairer sex is treated as easily manipulated, then commercially exploited upon. He gave the example of residents of the Khori Gaon area pleading to stop the demolition of their homes and asking provisions for immediate rehabilitation, but the Faridabad Municipal Corporation (FMC) is continuing with the demolition.
He pointed to tweets by a film director, Rajamouli and the casteist remarks in his magnum opus, the Baahubali series. It is unfortunate that the present government has called people who have had the wherewithal to be vaccinated with the same glorified term.
Only recently, Ananya Kumari Alex, the first transgender radio jockey from Kochi, died by suicide after a sex reassignment surgery.
Prof Pushpesh also reminded us of one famous instance from desi pop-culture when the director of Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh, in an interview with Anupama Chopra, said, “If you can’t slap, if you can’t touch your woman wherever you want, if you can’t kiss, I don’t see the emotion there.”
Prof Pushpesh expressed that he looks up to the Ambedkarite model of feminism in times like these.
We discussed how in 2018, Sri Reddy walked to the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce, stripped and sat cross-legged to protest against alleged sexual harassment in Tollywood. Her move gained traction and public support after the Movie Artists Association (MAA) imposed a ban on her.
He scathingly critiqued the International Megan’s Law from the U.S., which requires those who committed a sex offence against a child to have a permanent stamp placed on their passport.
Quoting an abstract from his work Gender and procreative ideologies among the Kolams of Maharashtra:
“Procreative ideologies, alternatively called conception beliefs, are ideas concerning the male and female contributions to biological reproduction. Expressed through the metaphor of ‘seed’ and ‘earth’ in many South Asian cultures, these ideologies have been found to be demonstrably gendered, acting sometimes as a central variable in mediating men’s and women’s access to material and symbolic resources.
“Many gender-sensitive ethnographies have demonstrated the power of this metaphorical understanding in regulating and controlling the body and sexuality of women and affecting the everyday lives of men and women as gendered subjects. The present article examines and evaluates the operation of procreative ideology in the case of the Kolams, a ‘primitive’ tribal community in south-eastern Maharashtra.”
Our discussants were Maitrayee Chaudhri, a Professor at Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, under Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, and Dr G Sridevi, who is an Associate Professor at the School of Economics under the University of Hyderabad.
They elucidated how beauty pageant winners are hailed by the state. However, cricketers are not associated with maternal qualities. Prof Chaudhri called for exploring the possibilities of the state by constantly interrogating its moves because that is precisely the relationship between citizens and the state.
She gave reference to a quote from Sultana’s Dream, “Why do you allow yourselves to be shut up?’ ‘Because it cannot be helped as they are stronger than women.’ ‘A lion is stronger than a man, but it does not enable him to dominate the human race. You have neglected the duty you owe to yourselves and you have lost your natural rights by shutting your eyes to your own interests.”
Then questions from the audience were taken up and we closed the evening with several enriching conversations.
Acknowledgement: Priyanshi Arora is a research intern at IMPRI.
Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary