Out of the Box – Televisualised Identities and Their Politics

 

Shaheen Ahmed

shaheen"The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true"

~ Baudrillard1

No truth about television can be truer than this quote – television is a reality, a reality which is nothing but simulacra. As Jean Baudrillard explains the real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models – and these can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. It no longer has to be rational, since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance. In fact, since it is no longer enveloped by an imaginary, it is no longer real at all. It is hyperreal: the product of an irradiating synthesis of combinatory models in hyperspace without atmosphere2. Thus, it becomes the question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself which means that the real will not be produced again.

Probably, we can use the logic of the hyperreal to argue about the creation and re-creation, the assertion and the re-assertion of certain hegemonic identities in the television serials being aired prime time in Indian television. A lot has already been written about the soap operas especially the ones that were produced by Balaji Telefilms which aired primarily on the Star network since the early 2000. Here I intend instead to look at so-called family comedies which are currently on-air in Sab TV, a satellite channel with emphasis on the hit comedy serial "Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chasmah". Here I will attempt to not only look at the regressive portrayal of women but also how stereotypes of certain communities are created and reinforced through the garb of these family oriented serials. This engagement becomes all the more pertinent during this time as the general elections have hugely polarized the populace and there is the looming possibility of a right-wing government heading the country.

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Gender Outlawed: The Supreme Court judgment on third gender and its implications

 

Gee Imaan Semmalar

geeJustice KS Radhakrishnan Panicker and Justice AK Sikri delivered a Supreme Court judgment on April 15,2014. That is all that can be said clearly. Who the judgment includes or excludes in its understanding of transgenders, whether transgenders can identify as male/female or third sex, what is being guaranteed to us as citizenship/civil rights etc is characteristically lost in legalese as is the case in a lot of judgments.

Who filed the petition?

The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, to provide free Legal Services to the weaker sections of the society and to organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes, filed a social interest litigation on providing third gender status to hijras, on reservation and other issues in 2012. In 2013, this matter was tagged together with a petition filed in the Supreme Court by the Poojaya Mata Nasib Kaur Ji Women's Welfare Society, an organization working for kinnars, a transgender community. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender rights activist from Mumbai intervened in this case with the help of lawyer Anand Grover (project director of HIV/AIDS unit of Lawyer's Collective in Delhi).

Who is being granted third gender status by the SC judgment? How are they described?

It is not clear who is understood as transgender in this judgment:

"TG may also take in persons who do not identify with their sex assigned at birth, which include Hijras/Eunuchs who, in this writ petition, describe themselves as "third gender" and they do not identify as either male or female. Hijras are not men by virtue of anatomy appearance and psychologically, they are also not women, though they are like women with no female reproduction organ and no menstruation. Since Hijras do not have reproduction capacities as either men or women, they are neither men nor women and claim to be an institutional "third gender". Among Hijras, there are emasculated (castrated, nirvana) men, non-emasculated men (not castrated/akva/akka) and inter-sexed persons (hermaphrodites). TG also includes persons who intend to undergo Sex ReAssignment Surgery (SRS) or have undergone SRS to align their biological sex with their gender identity in order to become male or female. They are generally called transsexual persons. Further, there are persons who like to cross-dress in clothing of opposite gender, i.e transvestites. Resultantly, the term "transgender", in contemporary usage, has become an umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, including but not limited to pre-operative, post-operative and non-operative transsexual people, who strongly identify with the gender opposite to their biological sex; male and female" pg 10

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Of Caste Massacres and Judicial Impunity: Bloodstains in Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe...

 

Anand Teltumbde

(Text of the Third Comrade Naveen Babu Memorial Lecture, delivered by Anand Teltumbde) 

At the outset let me thank DSU for giving me this opportunity to pay my homage to comrade Yalavarthi Naveen Babu, who was martyred at the young age of 35 in Andhra Pradesh. I personally knew Naveen as a young man bubbling with revolutionary zeal and energy as an editor of Kalam, the organ of the AIRSF formed in 1990 and an organizer of the International Seminar on Nationality Struggles in Delhi in February 1996, which I attended. The last I met with him was in Chennai just a few months before his martyrdom. I complement DSU for instituting this memorial lecture, which would help young students in JNU to see how one of their own had lived and died for the cause of Indian revolution.

If Naveen had been living today, he would have been in forefront in protesting against the obnoxious pattern of judgements coming from Patna High Court in the cases of massacre of Dalits taken place in 1990s. As such, the topic decided for this memorial lecture is quite in tune with the memory of this revolutionary.

All of you know Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe, the small obscure hamlets in Bhojpur and Arwal districts of Bihar respectively, which were catapulted to the world map in mid 1990s for their infamous massacres of Dalits. About Laxmanpur Bathe massacre, the then president of India, K.R. Narayanan, had expressed his indignation saying it was a 'national shame'. Unfortunately, Laxmanpur-Bathe was not to be the lone such shame; there were scores of them before and after Laxmanpur. A quarter century since, the process of law has reached to put a lid on these cases, reminding Dalits of the laws of Manu after 86 years they had burnt Manusmriti in Mahad and after 63 years the country had installed Bhimsmriti in its place. It only wakes them up to the hollowness of such rhetoric which unfortunately informed the Dalit movement after Babasaheb Ambedkar, during the last 56 years. It verily tells us that nothing has changed; if at all, it has changed only for worse. Worse, because in Ambedkar's time Dalits, approximately were a homogenous mass, appeared like a giant getting up from his deep sleep of millenniums; now it is a hopelessly fragmented mass, splintered into classes and subcastes, pretending to be awake but actually in self imposed stupor to the reality around.

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Going backward

 

Surinder S. Jodhka

surinder jodhkaThe Jats, without doubt, have been the most important and powerful caste community in the rural landscapes of northwest India. The sources of their dominance have typically been their control over agricultural lands, their demographics and their networks beyond the village. However, unlike the other "dominant castes", such as the Marathas of Maharashtra, the Patels of Gujarat, the Reddys and Kammas of Andhra Pradesh or the Lingayats of Karnataka, the Jats of northwest India have also been the "superior-most" community in terms of their status in the local rural caste hierarchies. Even though the institution of caste is pretty strong in the region, the hold of Brahmanical ideology has always been rather weak. The values of khudkasht (self-cultivation) that have dominated this region for long also provide the frame of reference for social hierarchies of caste in the region. No one was as good as a zamindar, and the category did not imply an absentee landlord here, as it did in Bengal, Bihar or eastern UP. Anyone who cultivated his own land and did not have to work for others as a farm labourer could qualify to be a zamindar, provided he belonged to the right caste community.

Even a Brahmin in rural Haryana would choose to identify himself as a zamindar if he owned agricultural land. However, given the social, cultural and economic significance of land, only the most valued could own it. Landownership and social status have been synonymous in the region. During my fieldwork in Haryana, I found rural Brahmins easily conceding to the status superiority of Jats and other landowning dominant caste communities. No wonder Dalits in the agrarian landscapes there have been almost completely landless. It is their landlessness, and not their "ritual status", that accounts for their vulnerability in rural areas. Caste in the region has always operated within the framework of land relations. The Banias, Brahmins or Punjabi Khatris/ Aroras could claim superior status in urban centres but never in the rural areas.

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Elephant Corridors

 

Vivek Kumar

Why walking alone will always work for the BSP

Canard, controversy, condemnation, criticism, caricature, the Bahujan Samaj Party chief, Mayawati, has seen it all in her long and tortuous journey to the top. But the fact is, as the 2014 Lok Sabha polls near, she poses the most formidable challenge to BJP icon Narendra Modi's prime ministerial ambitions. Shrewdly, she's also staying away from the media glare, bent more on quietly consolidating her core constituency of Dalits with additional bolstering layers—minorities, chosen OBC gro­ups (she banks heavily now on Most Backward Castes), with a cushion of the savarna jatis, Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. This silence is deliberate, for she feels that as soon as the BSP begins to look formidable to the eyes of the opposition, their casteist mindset sets in and they unite, cutting across ideologies, to try and defeat the party. To substantiate her point, she cites data from the 2012 UP assembly elections.

However, she's confident that if any state can put the brakes on Modi's caravan to Delhi, it's UP—and within UP, she sees the BSP as the prime actor in this project. It's no empty boast. On the turf of ideology, organisational strength and mass perception (as a tough administrator), Mayawati's party will be the one to beat in UP. Especially if her pitch of 'Jai Bhim' (against the bjp's 'Jai Shri Ram') wins the confidence of the Muslim minorities.

Indeed, her savdhan rally in Lucknow was a clarion call for this. On January 15—in the wake of the winter deaths in the Muzaffarnagar camps—she drove home the point that, during her regime (2007-2012), there had been alm­ost no riots. This despite the opposition trying to create such situations. She also highlighted instances of how the Muslims and Dalits helped each other during the recent riots in western UP. In a fervent appeal, she called for the Dalit-Muslim brotherhood to be maintained at any cost, especially in the current atmosphere where communal forces were creating havoc freely in a Samajwadi Party- ruled Uttar Pradesh. In a frontal attack on Modi, she reminded supporters how BJP regi­mes—whether in UP or Gujarat—are prone to orchestrating communal violence. Modi, as CM of a small state with just a six crore population, could not check the 2002 carnage, so how will he manage one billion Indians of different castes and religions at the national level, she wanted to know.

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Great Britain under the Spreading Fangs of Caste

 

A K Biswas

Part-I

Caste in New Home

In the voyage of caste to the Western hemi-sphere, the first port of call was Britain. The Hindus take pride that they did not conquer any nation with sword. But they exported caste to sabotage England internally. The cancer has gone deep and assumed so critical a dimension that Queen Elizabeth assented to an amend-ment in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill in April 2013 when the House of Commons bowed to reassure from the House of Lords to include caste as an aspect of race as part of the Equality Act 2010.1 This is the first country outside India where caste discrimination has been put on the statute book to contain, if not crush, the exploding malignancy.

The 2011 census returned 816,633 Hindus, including 450,000 untouchables referred as Dalits, in England and Wales while the figures for Scotland are yet to be released. Dalits account for 55 per cent of the Hindus. They face the same caste discrimination and atrocities their brethren have to contend with in India. A realisation is yet to dawn on the Hindus in their overseas homes that their conduct and behaviour, practices and peculiarities are anathema to civilised society or congenial human environment. "I shall be satisfied," said Ambedkar, "if I make the Hindus realise that they are the sick men of India and that their sickness is causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians." The British Hindus have proved his apprehension infallible. The caste malignancy is not confined within the four walls of India; it spilled over as a "danger to the health and happiness" and infected others, forcing the hands of the rulers to act for its suppression. Ambedkar foresaw this: "As Hindus migrate to other regions of the earth, Indian caste would become a world problem." Caste has become a global nuisance, threatening the delicate fabric of social peace, happiness and unity wherever the plague visited.

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