The past week has seen a raging controversy playing out on Twitter over its CEO Jack Dorsey holding a poster saying, 'Smash Brahminical Patriarchy'. While a group of netizens found the idea violent and targeted against a community, others defended it as a legitimate advocacy against a caste order which discriminates against Dalit women.
There are three arguments to be made about the case. The first is about the semantics of the term 'Brahminical Patriarchy' without in any way invalidating the experiences of Dalit women who face the multiple burdens of their caste and their gender. The second is the tone deafness of Twitter and its CEO, to make a selective statement on patriarchy by positioning Brahmins and by extension, Hinduism as the root of discrimination against women. And importantly the third, which is the elitism and exclusionary nature of the event itself. Let us begin from the third point.
In various clarifications and articles circulated on social media, a number of the women journalists, activists and change makers invited to the closed door meeting have said that the meeting was an extremely important space to make Twitter a safe space. The women shared the ways in which they have survived abuse on Twitter and have used the medium to initiate change in the society. But it is a known fact that all the invited women belonged to the same political persuasion and espoused the same type of social activism. While the claim was to represent 'all' the voices of women, there was little diversity among the women themselves.
They are not the appointed gate-keepers of all women using Twitter as a platform, to be able to comment on the unique experiences of multitude of women who are regular users. Twitter is supposed to be the disruption that smashes monopoly of opinions and discourse, which has been the stronghold of a few privileged women. Much like the smashing of 'Brahmanism' which most of these activists considered to be by-product of a small group of people alienating and discriminating others through rigid definitions of purity and pollution. Why could Twitter, for instance, not invite the some of the women who have used Twitter to lead an organic movement in Kerala on the issue of Sabarimala. Or the women influencers with a stated right wing ideology who face the same if not more abuse on a regular basis. Surely, their voices and their experiences matter too and they also deserve to be heard.
Twitter neither felt the need to make the space more accommodative of women with a different voice or a different politics nor did the privileged women consider what truly would count as inclusion of 'all' women. The external display of support for inclusion and defence of Jack Dorsey 'smashing Brahminical Patriarchy', tried to conceal a modern day story of privileged voices having access to most relevant spaces and discourses.
Now, let us move to the first two points.
There is no denying of the fact that there is an insidious way in which caste intermingles with gender to push Dalit women towards multiple marginalisation. If we look at the roots of the word, it is Brahmanical Patriarchy and not Brahminical Patriarchy which indicates that it is a commentary on the larger question of caste in the Hindu community and the way it intermingles with gender primarily through endogamy. Brahmanism The Indian identity and the Hindu identity can be considered one and the same and hence, it is beyond doubt that the religion should also be held to scrutiny when it comes to issues like caste and gender. Therefore, the interrogation is not misplaced. But there are a few issues to be highlighted here which could serve as a criticism of both the construct and the controversy.
Firstly, the poster in the hands of Jack Dorsey said Brahminical and not Brahmanical Patriarchy. A reading of the works of Dalit feminists like Uma Chakravarty and Sharmila Rege would clearly point out the word used is Brahmanical. So, the argument that Brahminical Patriarchy has nothing to do with Brahmins is completely false. The makers of the poster certainly have the knowledge that they are putting the value imputation on the Brahmin community and not the entire Hindu caste order through their choice of words. It implies that the burden of caste solely rests on the Brahmin community and as an extension invalidates the caste struggles within other communities. It is not the simple case of alternate spellings but a loaded statement of how caste equations are pondered upon. This negates or at least diminishes the patriarchal structure in other caste and religious groups because the onus of caste and gender struggles is presented as originating and sustaining solely because of the efforts of the Brahmins. It is like terming Racism as Whitism, which would imply that Blacks, Hispanics and Asians are not racist towards each other.
The second issue is the chasm between academic parlance and popular usage of certain terms. There is a necessity to acknowledge the many slips that could happen in lifting academic terms as they are used in sanitized settings and throwing them at an uninitiated audience. Twitter is not an academic medium and the nuances of Brahmanical Patriarchy would be lost on people who have not ventured into the work of Dalit feminists. But the same point could have been as easily made by not placing a community at the centre of both caste and gender discrimination in India. For instance in academic parlance, Sharmila Rege is her paper argued about the 'Masculinization of Dalithood' which could easily be worded as Dalit patriarchy. But if such a term was used minus the nuance in a public and non-academic setting, it would meet with the same kind of backlash. Advocacy sheltered by academia reduces itself to a small hole in the wall as it has a very legitimate concern of communication. There are many positions by many Dalit feminists and academics which would not be acceptable to a large section of women and if the CEO of a leading organization takes such a stand without any context, it is bound to invite criticism.
The third aspect is of the trivialisation of the word Brahmanical which has now extended from everything from Patriarchy to Rasam and from Coffee to Gulab Jamun. Such a discourse seems distanced from reality and only a reserve of academics and activists, who would have difficulty in being taken seriously in any non-academic setting. If there is a possibility of getting micro-aggressed by every single thing which is shared by a Brahmin and call for its denouncement, it would only increase the backlash on a community for a historical wrong. Caste atrocities are present between all groups, yet the gaze is fixated on one community.
In a closed, elitist and privileged event which selected women with homogenous view points and discarded others are dispensable, the talk of inclusion and marginalisation needs a critical internal gaze. Privilege like power is not static and changes across social settings and time periods. Twitter is wrong is not just realizing the relevance of power and privilege in the setting and the product created by them but they are also wrong in not questioning or at least interrogating the many nuances of the controversial poster that they chose to display. For a business organization to so clearly make a selective political statement and not understand the multiple views around it, could only come from the fact that they have never made the effort to be truly accessible to diverse actors. Maybe that is the first point of inclusion that they should look at.
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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 11:38:05 IST