By Kavita Krishnan
Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it.
— Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
‘Middle class selective outrage’; ‘lynch mob mentality’; ‘macho protectiveness’; ‘coexistence of placards demanding women’s autonomy with those demanding castration for rapists’ — these are the ways in which some sceptics have described the ongoing movement against sexual violence. Activists of women’s and students’ movements, who have chosen to identify with this movement, have been accused of romanticising what is actually a dangerous mob phenomenon.
Why should the prospect of contradictory consciousness in a mass movement worry us so much?
This question brought me, inevitably, to the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci: “The active man-in-the-mass has a practical activity, but has no clear theoretical consciousness of his practical activity, which, nonetheless, involves understanding the world in so far as it transforms it. His theoretical consciousness can indeed be historically in opposition to his activity. One might almost say that he has two theoretical consciousnesses (or one contradictory consciousness): one which is implicit in his activity and which in reality unites him with all his fellow workers in the practical transformation of the real world; and one, superficially explicit or verbal, which he has inherited from the past and uncritically absorbed.”
This contradiction, this conflict, is the stuff out of which political transformation and radicalisation is made. On the streets, I saw it in action many a time. Let me recount one occasion. On December 29, the day the young fighter succumbed to her injuries, we gathered at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar in condolence. Our appeals to desist from shrill sloganeering were snubbed rudely by a small group that was seeking to control the Jantar Mantar space. We moved a small distance away and joined some young women sitting quietly with tears in their eyes.
The slogan of ‘freedom’ was taken up with enthusiastic variations, demanding the freedom to be born, to be fed, to study, to work, to have control over property and money, to dress according to one’s choice, to love, to control one’s own reproduction and sexuality, to free oneself from abusive marriages, to be free of the fear of violence at home and in public spaces
Gradually, the circle of people sitting in silence and grief swelled, as people spontaneously gravitated to that space of gravity and reflection. Gradually, from among them, rose the songs and slogans of freedom, and towards afternoon, the voices of young women speaking their minds. A young man came up to me: “I have been at the protest every day,” he said. “I fully support the struggle for women to be safe from violence. But I am disturbed by the slogans of ‘freedom’ being raised. If my sister is free to dress or go out with anyone, won’t it put her at risk? I just can’t help feeling disturbed by the idea of her freedom.”
His admission of his discomfort was disarming in its honesty, and we talked for a time about why this idea of women’s freedom was disconcerting. He admitted that before his participation in the movement, he could not recall having felt similarly disturbed: the different rules for women and men in our society had seemed quite natural and right. “Embrace that feeling of disturbance,” I urged, “and see where it takes you.” After all, that disturbance was a crack in the edifice of patriarchal commonsense: a moment when patriarchal certainties turned shaky and doubts were born.
There were many other occasions. My favourite is the one documented by Shuddhabrata Sengupta of ‘Kafila’, where a man with a ‘Yamraj’ mask listened to anti-death penalty speeches, took off his mask, tore up his own placard, and took up a placard which said, ‘Death penalty is not the solution’.
The slogan of ‘We Want Justice,’ initially, was taken to mean only punishment — even hanging — for the rapists. At that point, it seemed that the rulers and MPs — from the Congress, BJP, and other parties — were happy to be seen endorsing it. As long as ‘justice’ meant ‘death penalty,’ as long as women wanted ‘safety’ and ‘protection,’ few in government or Parliament seemed to have any problems with it.
However, almost immediately, the slogans of ‘We Want Freedom’ began to expand the boundaries of ‘justice’, with women raising placards saying ‘Woh kare to stud, main karun to slut?’ (If he does it he’s a stud, if I do it I’m a slut?). Also, ‘Don’t teach me how to dress, teach men not to rape’.
And the men responded too. We saw a young man carrying a placard: ‘When we men wear muscle shirts, women do not rape us’.
We watched as the slogan of ‘freedom’ was taken up with enthusiastic variations, demanding the freedom to be born, to be fed, to study, to work, to have control over property and money, to dress according to one’s choice, to love, to choose a partner irrespective of caste or gender, to give birth to a girl-child, to control one’s own reproduction and sexuality, to free oneself from abusive or unsatisfactory marriages, to be free of the fear of violence at home and in public spaces, to protest without the fear of State repression and custodial violence.
Courtesy : http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2013/02/5793
Courtesy : http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2013/02/5793