(This speech was delivered by her in the 'People Against Fascism' gathering, also known as Manushya Sangamam, on 19th December 2015 at High Court Junction, Ernakulum. The following transcription is based on the YouTube video uploaded by Kerala Freethinkers Forum on 21st December 2015. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLUsUklBqF0)
I have a lot to say about the paper presented by Sunil. However, I do not think this is the right platform or context.
I would like to shed light on a couple of things within the next eight to ten minutes allocated to me. Let me tell you in all sincerity that in the past few days I have gone through a variety of political dilemmas, crises and reflections. The possible reason for the same could be the discussions and debates held in cyber spaces and elsewhere in the context of this event (Manushya Sangamam) and its organization. These discussions might have led me to certain political predicaments in the past few days.
At the very outset, I think, I need to speak about two things. Firstly, why did I participate in this Manushya Sangamam? Notwithstanding the differences and disagreements that I have with the idea, conceptualization and organization of Manushya Sangamam, I am convinced that participating in this event is part of my political obligation. I view any small step against fascism with a lot of hope and possibility.
Secondly, I have been thinking about how I would mark my presence in this event as a Dalit woman and as a Dalit feminist. This was one of the questions which made me apprehensive.
As I was walking to this stage, I heard the introductory speaker and others talk about breaking the barriers of identities, castes and religion in order to view 'human beings' as 'human beings' and arrive at a unity of 'human beings'! This is a fine vision. Possibly, this was a vision, a big dream which the left escorted to Kerala. I do not consider nor do I intend to coerce that such a vision of 'the human' is a product of European modernity. However, one needs to ask whether this idea of humanness (manushyatvam) can be gulped without any criticism. Further, one needs to ask whether this conception of humanness rejects, ostracizes the existence of social and sexual identities of several groups. I would not conceptualize the human as a neutral point but possibly as a carrier of several brahmanical, patriarchal, casteist, monolithic heteronormative values. However, I am worried whether we are rejecting all these diversities and conflicts to reach at an idea of humanness.
I am fully mindful of the fact that I am addressing an anti-fascist gathering. I am fully convinced about the need to fight Hindu fascism. But in the context Kerala, can we really place mainstream, organized left political parties and their outfits, who are also sharing this stage with us, outside the realm of fascism?
As a person who studied in Kerala after the 1990s and also as someone who had the good fortune to be a part of dalit organizations in university campuses, when I investigate the above mentioned question, I find that across colleges and university spaces left students' organizations, especially SFI (Students Federation of India) operate with such monopoly that they invisiblize and silence all forms of differences and diverse voices. This domination is an on-going reality. In such a context, when we mobilize against fascism, it is of utmost importance for left organizations and especially its students' outfits to rethink and rework their goals and aspirations. One needs to pertinently ask whether these organizations are ready to abandon such fascist tendencies. This question is extremely significant. Without asking and answering this question no anti-fascist project can go ahead.
Next, when I looked at the list of organizations and individuals who were invited for this gathering I was confronted with a related question. In a gathering where organizations like CITU (Centre for Indian Trade Unions), affiliated to CPIM) and Mahila Association (All India Democratic Women's Association, affiliated to CPIM) are invited, why didn't Muslim League find representation? Why was V.M. Sudheeran or V.T. Balaram not invited1? I think such exclusions, intentionally or unintentionally, emerge from a leftist imagination of an anti-fascist gathering. Since I do not prescribe or share this leftist imagination, I think it is my political obligation to raise this issue of exclusion.
Instead of approaching the 'human' as an idea of European enlightenment, we can possibly try and conceptualize it as a product of Dalit struggles for more than a century to enter into a plausible idea of humanness. This is not to deny the significance of oriental and Malayalee conceptions of the same. Nevertheless, I doubt whether such a conception dictates us to abandon our diversities and histories.
Moving ahead I would like to talk about the exclusion of Muslim organizations in this gathering. The reasons enlisted for their exclusion are applicable to many left organizations sharing this platform. I already spoke about left students' outfits and their fascist tendencies in Kerala's campuses. One very graphic example of fascist behaviour in the context of moral policing came from the women's wing of CPIM – Mahila Association. After the Ratri Samaram2, organized in front of the State Secretariat, Mahila Association reacted to this protest by literally cleaning up the premises (as an act of purification!). Moral policing should be seen as a manifestation of fascism. Left organizations are behind none in endorsing such manifestations.
Thus anti-fascist league cannot be a leftist alternative. On the other hand, it is the energy, leadership and contributions of new social movements of Dalits, Adivasis, sexual minorities and other marginal groups, which would produce an alternative social renaissance against fascism. I do not intend to rubbish left politics. On the other hand, I believe that the left can participate in this struggle only when they reconstruct, rework and change their goals, aspirations and practice. Along with a struggle against fascism it is also important to ask who our allies are.
Before I conclude, I need to repeat and reinstate that I participated in this gathering not simply as a human but as a dalit woman. I am participating in this gathering as a female body socially burdened by casteist, savarna fascist and several other oppressions. Thus, to stand with any step against fascism, however limited it may be, is my political responsibility. This gathering should become more expansive and inclusive. This can be achieved by engaging minority organizations, irrespective of their drawbacks. I personally have a critique of such organization. Nonetheless, in the Indian context, an anti-fascist league against Savarna Hindutva fascism is impossible without minority organizations. Such a gathering should be ready to listen and engage with conflicting, opposing views and social currents.
I appreciate the fact that the organizers have deliberately tried to provide representations to many diverse groups. Having said that, I wonder whether we need to view faith in a religion as criminal? Do we need to criminalize the faithful? We may find many non-religious people in this gathering. They may be Dalits or minorities. But don't we also need to accept those who have religion and consider it as a matter of faith and politics? This, I think is an extremely relevant question.
In this anti-fascist league, I participate not as a human being but as a representative of those who share all my identities as a dalit woman and as someone who faces several forms of oppressions. We can come together; we can unite, only when we appreciate our diversities. We need to enable a co-existence of diversities. The language and way to such co-existence is not at all easy. However, I think constant conversations and experiments would help people overcome their differences of opinions and conflicts. I would like to imagine this anti-fascist gathering as a space for such open democracy.
Translated from Malayalam by Nidhin Shobhana.
1. V.M. Sudheeran and V.T.Balaram are leaders of Indian National Congress, Kerala.
2. In 2008, Rathri Samaram or Nisha Samaram (All-Night Protest) was organized by Intellectuals and Cultural Activists in solidarity with Chengara land Struggle in front of the State Secretariat. CPI(M) using its newspaper (Deshabhimani) and Channel (Kairali TV) sponsored a campaign against the protestors charging them of immorality. As a symbolic gesture of cleansing the 'polluted' premise of the protest, AIDWA's women volunteers [women's organization of the CPI (M)] swept the premises. This counter-protest was supervised by prominent women leaders including a CPM MLA.
Rekha Raj is a Dalit Feminist/Writer and Project Manager (Women's Rights) at Amnesty India.