Personal is Intellectual

Zeeshan Husain

zeeshanAs a young student of social sciences, I heard the phrase "personal is political" from a teacher who dealt with gender issues. I could sense that it meant our personal lives are somewhat a microcosm of the political (and social) reality in which we live. We, as members of the society, practice those macro realities in our everyday interactions. In the context of the phrase that the larger reality was called 'patriarchy'. One can broadly define patriarchy as the supremacy of male over female. The supremacy is manifested in religion, caste, class, education, etc. There is one more thing that the phrase 'personal is political' has taught us. It has in some ways tried to push us to look within our own lives. It prompted us to ask ourselves- how much are we replicating those macro patriarchal structures in our micro lives. This short piece delves into this correlation between microscopic everyday practices and macroscopic social structures.

I see in various academic circles, a number of scholarly articles being written in online media, national dailies, etc. Academic 'rigour' is almost the monopoly of 'great' souls who are casteless and religion–less. We, as students of social sciences, share those articles over WhatsApp and Facebook and discuss them with our friends. In such instances, one sees a broader pattern, one that speaks of the academia of India at large. I see that many, if not most people writing such pieces are from privileged castes, class and even religion. Their words are flowery and quite radical. They seem to be quite revolutionary. But a little more careful observation leads to an almost opposite picture. I find that hidden behind these radical words are their status quoist faces. One gets astonished seeing how these thinkers can speak so eloquently and impress people of all social backgrounds. Yet, in their actions, they remain so conservative, communal and casteist, in one word Brahmanical. Their actions simply betray their words.

Academia is for careers and people are professional here. Our academia is almost like an agraharam. We rarely come across any teacher from Bahujan category. The majority are Brahmins and other savarna castes. They remain at a win-win situation. Some are Marxists, some are liberal, some post-structuralists, but all are Brahmanical. This is how Indian academia behaves. In words, one can defend Kashmir and North East and so on, but in actions, we listen to a well-planned inaction. No action is their strategy. Just nothing must be done for the benefit of the oppressed. Otherwise, Savarna careers would be at stake.

Should we not ask– their personal lives should also be counted as their intellectual lives? That such people are hypocrites at the end of the day, making a career out of social and political problems. One wonders why they do not want to let the subaltern speak. Basically, they hate when the subaltern speaks. I personally have seen (and faced) resistance by such academicians whenever a Muslim or a Dalit student enters their cabin for some academic help. I hope next time if someone writes any 'radical' essay, one would look back to see how much one has actually tried to solve it. Our personal lives should be taken into consideration to evaluate our intellectual lives. Else we will remain in academic temples serving Brahmanism till eternity. 

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Zeeshan Husain is currently pursuing PhD from School of Social Sciences, JNU and his PhD theme is around Dalit movement in Uttar Pradesh.

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