Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Being an Indian And A Feminist? Has The World As I Know It Come To An End?

This is a guest post by Jaded 16

image Jaded16 is a Radical Feminist from India. She writes a humour blog ‘Oi With The Poodles Already’, attempting to make her world a little woman-friendly using healthy doses of irony and sarcasm to de-condition the Indian masses. It is at times like these when she loses all her sense of humour and starts looking for a rock big enough to live under.

I'm fairly new to this space called the "feminist blogosphere". My blog is just shy of being six months old and has recently become a tad bit famous over the last month or so. With this e-fame (however brief or slight) comes a bigger responsibility :  handling trolls who infest my space everyday. My troll-mail isn't that different from most of your troll-mail  (with the ever-charming photographs of their boners, neatly listed reasons why I suck and need to put my head in the oven, how my writing is so deeply unoriginal that it makes the troll cry etc you know the sort) However, one thing all my trolls point out is -- how am I an Indian and a Feminist? Isn't there a law or something against it? My trolls behave as if it was I who single-handedly discovered Plutonium and managed to feed the entire country in the course of one day.

As much as I pity these trolls for being victims of the single story as pointed out by Chimamanda Adichie; I also sense a grain of truth in their words. Though there are a few Indian feminists on the internet writing for important blog sites (The F-Word Blog, Feministing to name a few) and highlighting issues affecting marginalised cultures as ours, today, we see very few or possibly no points of view from feminists living in India and fighting it out. This the point in the post where I see you metaphorically nudging me to point the obvious - I am an Indian and I live in India. How convenient. At the same time, I'm not really sure what an Indian feminist is.

I have read about Vandana Siva, presented a paper on Mahashveta Devi, fallen in love with words of Kamla Das, Nabneeta Dev Sen, Gauri Despande, Eunice D' Souza, Pandita Ramabai  to name a few. There are resources that guide me to archives of Indian women who lie buried deep in local histories. The problem that faces me is a different one - I cannot seem to identify entirely with any one of them. I don't feel victimised by the alien western culture nor do I feel like I'm treading in unknown space when writing or thinking in English as these feminists did. As a child born on the brink of the era of globalisation, my first language IS English. Like Bhalchandra Nemade , I don't see myself as a pawn of the Colonial language. I am equally fluent in my mother tongue Gujarati as  I am in English. This rules out many issues and debates Indian feminists bring up time and again. I feel like an outsider when I read yet another essay about how alienated the author feels when faced against the Colonial giant as she goes on to equate the oppression she feels when writing in English with mainstream patriarchal oppression. As much as  I respect her words and opinions, they don't resonate with me.

These feminists talk of forced marriages, oppression at the hands of their in-laws and society shunning them for the smallest social transgression - as a teenager living in Mumbai, these issues seem like fairy tales. I can agree I am speaking from a privileged stance, yet, as it turns out, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Most students my age feel the same disconnect with radical writers and feminists of the 80's. We've grown up in somewhat liberal households, working parents aren't a novelty to us, we've been exposed to mainstream Western culture all our lives. We have gay, lesbian and trans-sexual classmates and friends. This doesn't make us liberal or progressive, but just the current demographic of the Indian youth.

We do hear horror stories of child marriages, of honour-killings, of female feticide, the daily rapes in Delhi ; there are many, many issues that need immediate attention -- from reproductive rights to the need for liberal expression of sexuality -- but again, all of this just translates to white noise. There is no reaching out to the afore mentioned demographic of Indian youth. This is not because they are apathetic (I agree some thick skinned idiots simply don't give a fuck) but because of this disconnect we feel; the very same disconnect that borders dangerously close to assuming we live in a "post-feminist" world (to the delight of the omnipresent patriarchal douchebag). We don't need a role model that 'gets' us, nor do we have the stereotypical need to be Americanised.

Most Indian teenagers have to negotiate their Indian identity into either blending in with Western values and immediately being liberal or retaining their Indian-ness and try to re-negotiate what norms they accept, for what purpose etc. To add to this existential burden, if the teenager is also (unfortunately) a feminist, then said teenager has to again see what norms of Western feminism to pick and which ones to leave out. There is no point in expecting a sexual revolution from a culture where parents would die of mortification being caught holding hands in public - there is a lot we have to filter and adapt to what suits us best while remaining true to the core beliefs and ideals of feminism. If I don't then I'll be sprouting Solanas in her original tone and next thing I know I am in an asylum. To make it simple - it's a hard job being an Indian feminist.

I still resent and speak out against patriarchal norms dictate many of my actions, I try to de-condition the bias we have against Muslims and point out the fallacies in pop culture and media. I can do that in the terminology I am comfortable in to drive my point home to you. So just because I talk of Nora Ephron instead of Gurinder Chadha, Maya Angelou instead of Gauri Despande, Alice Walker or Toni Morrison instead of Taslima Nasrin, Margaret Atwood instead of Arundhati Roy, harp praises about P.J. Harvey instead of Kavita Krishamurthy, bring up Gilmore Girls instead of Ladies Special - the list never ends - my Indian-ness doesn't fade away in the Western hoo-ha. If I talk using 'Indian' terminology (case in point:  rIotis, chai and dhobis ) I'm not being any more Indian than I am now.

Winding down my rant, all I can say is, next time you want to leave a comment on my blog, asking me "why don't you sound Indian?" and "How do you manage being an Indian and a Feminist all at once?" take a step back and think about just how much bias and prejudice your one sentence contains. And then you can tear up the latest headline that suggests (yet again) that we live in a post-anything world.