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What a Bollywood marriage and Priya Ramani’s verdict have to do with caste

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What do the marriage of a Bollywood star and the judgment in a libel suit brought by a powerful man accused of sexual harassment have in common? Well, whatever is wrong with the way feminist millennials understand caste and how it works in India.

I isolated these two seemingly unrelated events because I see them being widely broadcast and shared on social media by my feminist friends. In the first event, on February 18, actor Dia Mirza spoke about an environmentally sustainable marriage with biodegradable products and minimal waste, which matched her public image as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations for the Environment. Where she seems to have convinced my feminist friends, however, is by saying that she had a female priest and a friend aunt who officiated her marriage.

Mirza wrote that her friend went through several hours of training painstakingly to soak up the essence of the scriptures so that she could help Sheela Atta and translate the shlokas.

Allow me to dissect the multiple levels on which such performances appear awakened and emancipating, while they are excruciatingly casteist and riddled with toxicity. The first level is that such attempts at seemingly revolutionary acts only address the issue of gender as it relates to female priests, and not the exclusion of Dalits and Adivasis from the priesthood, temples and all that is considered. as sacred in and by the Hindu religion, as the learning of Sanskrit. . They don’t admit how much Dalit women are in the name of traditions such as Jogini. They fail to recognize the millennia of exclusion, oppression and humiliation suffered by Dalits who have been discriminated against because of their lower caste, and ignore what Dalit intellectuals such as BR Ambedkar have said about the Hindu religion: this annihilation of the caste without the annihilation of the Hindu religion is not possible.

Such acts show the limits of emancipation that modern Indian feminists can attempt, namely that the only type of priest they consider revolutionary is a woman priest. How about imagining a wedding with a Dalit priest? Or better yet, how about acknowledging that Hindu rituals carry the history and weight of caste discrimination? How about rejecting a Hindu wedding and opting for a non-religious ceremony instead?

Cultural theorist and Marxist scholar Raymond Williams argues that tradition is in practice the most obvious expression of dominant and hegemonic pressures and limitations. Tradition is not static, it changes to survive. But in the case of the Hindu tradition, this does not necessarily mean that it has become egalitarian. Williams contends that hegemony operates through the selective tradition, some meanings are carried over while some meanings are excluded. We see this in Mirzas Marriage: The Hindu caste-based ritual marriage remains intact as the gender of the priest changes to signify modernity and progress, ensuring that the Hindu marriage tradition can exist in the future.

The second level is that when feminist millennials share such posts on social media, they are encouraging the same caste blindness perpetuated by celebrities and popular names. Why is it so difficult to reject this kind of tokenism which is radical enough to only feature a female priest but which totally ignores the issue of caste? Why is pain associated with a higher caste person learning the shastras, but not with Dalits who are murdered every year because of their caste?

In the second case, my feminist friends celebrated the Delhi courts’ acquittal of journalist Priya Ramani, who had been sued for defamation by her former editor, MJ Akbar. Ramani had reported during the Me Too movement that she was sexually harassed by Akbar in the early 1990s. The court ruled that a woman can report sexual harassment on any platform and even after decades. He also observed in the context of Ramanis’ deferred accusation that women are often unable to immediately report harassment. Institutional and legal mechanisms such as the Vishaka Guidelines and the Prevention, Prohibition and Remediation of Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace Act 2013 did not exist when Akbar harassed Ramani. The Vishaka Guidelines were drafted by the Supreme Court in 1997 after the rape of Bhanwari Devi in ​​1992. She was a Dalit social worker and government employee of Rajasthan who was gangraped by dominant caste men for daring to raise awareness. the prohibition of child marriage.

Additionally, the public disclosure of Ramanis’ harassment came at a time when a list was created by Dalit student Raya Sarkar in 2017, encouraging women to list academics, intellectuals and popular public figures who sexually harassed women. women for years and who could not and have not been institutionally held accountable for their actions despite legal provisions, precisely for the reasons set out in the Ramani judgment. The loudest rejection of Sarkars’ list came primarily from upper caste feminist academics who appeared to protect the interests of their academic friends and colleagues named on the list, showing that armchair feminism in academia is often a sham. Rather than fostering an environment where young female academics could feel safe, these gatekeepers of Indian feminism attempted to destroy a student-led movement that could have led to the drastic relocation of academics with a history of sexual harassment. So today, when my feminist friends celebrate Ramanis’ victory, they forget the suffering and courage of Dalit women like Bhanwari Devi and Raya Sarkar whose actions made this victory possible.

The shortcomings of Indian feminism and liberalism are that they never take caste into account. They never view caste as a social reality that affects millions of Dalits and Adivasis, through ever-evolving practices of untouchability and discrimination described in the autobiographies of Dalit writers like Bamas. Karakku, Baby Kambles The prisons we brokeand Urmila Pawars The weaving of my life. On social media, attention to Dalit lives is always an afterthought, the hashtag #DalitLivesMatter a mere semblance of inclusiveness embraced by the upper castes that dominate caste discourse.

According to a Dalit scholar, Dalit women are subjugated by two distinct forms of patriarchy by Brahminic men who stigmatize Dalit women and Dalit men who intimately control the economy and sex work. Moreover, the historian that in response to these forms of patriarchy, Dalit women have begun to articulate a Dalit feminist position which also criticizes the exclusive and partial constitution of Indian feminist politics by showing that the Indian feminist is a higher caste. and willfully ignore caste discrimination in favor of gender. Dalit feminists also criticize the anti-caste policy which reproduces the Brahmanic patriarchy.

T Sowjanya that Dalit feminism can be seen through three main streams Dalit feminist activism, the writing of Dalit women and the theoretical formulation of Dalit feminism. ”She argues that Dalit feminism indicates the position of Dalit women at the intersections of gender and caste. and feminism Sowjanya further argues that the marginalization of Dalit women within traditional feminist organizations and male dominance in the traditional Dalit movement have led Dalit women to formulate Dalit feminism.

Dalit feminism is used to criticize the participation of upper caste women and the silence of upper caste feminists like the lynching of Dalits in Khairlanji in 2006. The task at hand is not to leave Dalit feminism to Dalit women, or to only wait for the Dalits. be outraged and speak out against atrocities and caste murders. Rather, it is adopting the critical lens of Dalit feminism, which will investigate and correct the cultural practices, attitudes and habits of upper caste millennials that reproduce centuries-old forms of caste discrimination.

Aarushi Punia is a doctoral researcher in English literature at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Delhi.

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