First feminist war of the new century

by Chandra Bhan Prasad

British imperialism did help serve the Dalits' cause. The sciences, modern institutions and democracy were attendant features of colonialism which, in turn, shook the very foundations of the Varna order. The British, however, had no such intent when Queen Elizabeth granted a charter to a few London businessmen on December 31, 1600, giving them monopoly rights to trade with India. But the results were earth shattering.

A closed and degraded society was enlightened and the Dalits could explore the possibility of launching a fresh assault on the order. Without British intervention, the Indian subcontinent would have broken up into several Afghanistans.

The American war against the Taliban is being looked at in many ways. Professional imperialism-bashers may argue that it is America's way of establishing an unquestioned dominance over oil in the Gulf. Other, more intellectually challenged, theorists may claim the war is an effort at demonstrating the West's superiority over the East. Some may even describe this war as a civilisational clash where Christianity threatens the very existence of the Islamic world. But an overwhelming majority believes this war is America's avenging of the WTC bombings while a few argue that America is genuinely trying to rid the world of terrorism.

One could choose any line of argument. A peace activist acquaintance of mine came out with a bizarre reasoning: "The US created the Taliban, nurtured it, armed it and therefore, what moral right do they have to attack their own creation?" I told him, "Arre bhai, if a creation goes wrong, the creator possesses every right to destroy it. European society created feudalism but it also destroyed it." I went on, "Science has been destroying many of its own assumptions which were once considered foolproof. The question before us is: 'Should the Taliban have been destroyed or not?' " The "peace activist" had no credible answer.

As the war against the Taliban is now in its final phase, we must ponder over its results. First, who are the real winners? The Americans/ the White Western world or the Northern Alliance/ the people of Afghanistan? Or, the women of Afghanistan? There could be some dispute but what seems indisputably clear is the fact that the Afghan women are now winning a battle which they themselves did not wage. We are not going to cite here how women in Kabul were flogged for sporting bindis or nail polish, how Afghan girl children had no right to education, how women weren't allowed to work in offices, weren't allowed to sing or dance but were given the right to weep. We are not here to talk about the burqa edict or to discuss the magnitude of violence perpetrated on them. They were treated like cattle and the world knows that.

What has stunned us are the two instances which call for an explanation. First, why were Afghan women under the Taliban, not allowed to step out of their homes unless accompanied by a male member of the family? And second, why did the US President think it necessary that First Lady Laura Bush address the world over a radio broadcast, in order to counter war opponents? We now recollect the prescriptions handed out for women under the Manu Dharma Shastra. Manu said, that under Ashram Dharma, now called "Hinduism", a woman is not entitled to an independent existence: "During childhood, her father is to guard her, once an adult, her husband and in her old age, her son." It is indeed amazing that no Indian feminist group has come out with a serious theoretical proposition against Manuwad! The only instance I can remember of a woman activist of some stature calling Manuwad the fountainhead of all Hindu women's sorrows came in the form of Nandita Haksar. It is only the Dalits who fight women's tormentors. Dalit scholar Rajashekhar Vundru calls Ambedkar India's first feminist voice. Women peace activists protesting the US bombings seem to have given no thought to what prompted Laura Bush to appear on radio.

We could see that the Taliban had, barring guns, attacked every symbol of modernity. Nor did they spare the most credible symbol of peace - the Bamiyan Buddhas. The entire world, at that time itself, should have come together to completely annihilate the Taliban. Those men seemed to have been implementing the post-modernists' manifesto, where the past had an unstated glorification. To us, any past-centric doctrine contains an inbuilt system aimed at humiliating women. It is time we subject all those opposing the US bombings to a rigorous intellectual interrogation.

While ideology blinds, the anti-imperialist ideology blinds incurably. That is painful and dangerous because it endorses the RSS' world view. A self-nurtured cataract could throw individuals into a state of perpetual insanity. And for sure, many in India opposing the US bombings self-consciously brutalise their minds, their conscience and their very existence as normal homo sapiens. I felt indeed enlightened when a woman journalist friend of mine described the present war as "The First Feminist War Ever"! Hats off to the US B-52s!

[Published in The Pioneer on 25th November, 2001]