Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kamla Bhasin and a rape joke on FB

Feminists and human rights activists in India know Kamla Bhasin from her work with rural women, the Delhi based NGO Jagori, peace and harmony in South Asia, her work with FAO and also her feministic songs. I heard her at a meeting of Adivasi women who had been displaced by "development" projects and was electrified by how she would rouse a crowd. Here is Kamala di at Indra Prastha college, New Delhi.

I recently came across a quote by her in Shauna Singh Baldwin's Book Review of "Making a Difference"

“It (feminism) has challenged me at every step and in every aspect of my life, because it is the only-ism that enters into our families, our bedrooms and our most intimate relationships; and the questions of equations, practices and traditions. It has turned the PERSONAL into the POLITICAL.”

Why I am writing this now? I recently reconnected with a classmate from college on FB. He posted this on his profile:

"Sahakarichaal....... nenakkum sokham .....enikkum sokham..............ALLENKIL......enikku maaathram sokham................))))) T G RAVI while raping SREEVIDYA in Film UDAMBADI" .

For my non-Malayali readers, let me translate this: this is a dialogue from the Malayalam movie "udambadi" where one character (presumably the villain), played by actor TG Ravi is saying to the character played by actress Sreevidya while raping her: "If you cooperate both of us can get pleasure, if you don't only I get pleasure". Rape is not a joke and to joke about it, is not a joke either. I have not seen the movie (in any case my friend has only approvingly (and with the smiley symbok attached) quoted this statement on his wall without giving the context) , but going just by this statement, it celebrates rape as an assertion of patriarchal power over a victim, who is expected to comply with the perpetrator's sexual demand. It also makes clear that sexual pleasure of the woman is irrelevant, she is there just to be enjoyed, like a commodity. What more do you need to show the utter violation that rape is?

My good friend human rights activist and film maker Aishah Shahidah Simmons (incidentally, Aishah has directed a path breaking documentary NO! on the rape of African American women) once said in a panel discussion that we should call out people and challenge them when they come up with racist, sexist remarks and not let it pass. Because, who knows, maybe when people are challenged that they may think about their unexamined prejudices. So, we can change the world, one person at at time. At least that is the belief:-))

I am torn - I do not want to have a discussion with this guy who I don't that well (we did not hang out together) but I also feel so angry that he can joke about rape in a public forum and other men have made statements affirming it. This guy has a little daughter who he clearly adores, but the argument I do not want to make is "what if your sister/wife/mother/daughter was raped?", because the feministic argument should not be about women whose roles are a man's sister/wife/mother/daughter, but about women's equal worth and dignity as human beings. The sister/wife/mother/daughter argument is directed at the protective instincts of the man, to protect "his" women. From the Supreme Court (anyone read some of Justice Krishna Iyer's verdicts on women's rights?) down, we feminists have our hands full dealing with protectionism. Treat us as human beings - nothing more, nothing less.

I do not know this guy well, so I am not sure how to react. This is what feminism does to you, as Kamla di says, it has "challenged me at every step and in every aspect of my life". Should I write to him privately? I do not know.

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