Of Brahminical patriarchs and their aspiration

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 22, 2018 13:22 hrs
Twitter CEO

One fine Monday morning, after the perfect press op – a meeting with women who are “journalists, writers, and activists”, and who all hold the distinction of having been trolled on Twitter – Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey thought he had found the perfect photo op: holding up a placard that read “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy”. What better street cred among feminists and anti-caste activists, and how effortlessly too, he must have thought.

What it ended up eliciting was a disclaimer and almost-apology from Twitter India, which clarified that Dorsey had been gifted the poster by a Dalit activist who was part of the tête-à-tête, and that it did not reflect either Dorsey’s personal beliefs or Twitter India’s collective principles, except to show that they were open to “all voices”.

The loudest voices came from the right wing on Twitter, who accused Dorsey of everything from incitement to rioting, to “targeting an ethnic group”.

It would be rather un-Brahminical to riot, of course, and patriarchs can hardly be called an “ethnic group”. Yet, there were bursts of angry resentment from India’s Brahmins, patriarchs, and their supporters, 280 characters at a time.

What was getting the protesters’ knickers in a twist?

Was it the “Brahminical” that was a problem? Should the placard have been more inclusive, asking for all kinds of patriarchy to be stopped?

Or was “patriarchy” the problem, and would the response have been more muted if the placard had called for other Brahminical nouns to be smashed?

Or was it the linking of the two?

In India, it is easy to connect caste privilege and gender privilege.

Since the dawn of the scriptures, the “purity” of women has been consistently tied to the preservation of caste.

Women have the unique advantage of knowing exactly who their baby-daddies could be, and therefore the preclusion of male insecurity is contingent upon the subjugation of female sexuality.

And so it was that men came up with sayings such as: “A woman crosses her nuptial threshold only twice – once when she enters, and once when her corpse is taken out.”

Women have for long been tasked with preserving the honour and respectability of the men who own access to their sexuality – for the simple reason that all it would take to subvert the caste hierarchy is a woman disregarding caste for lust.

It may not be “Brahminical” exactly, but patriarchy in India certainly has casteist origins, with the control of female sexuality through the control of the movement and attractiveness of women rooted in the preservation of caste through birth.

From Manu of Manusmriti fame, he who penned what is arguably the world’s first sexist tome, to the sage Agastya – admittedly by later, and perhaps inaccurate, reports – most men were keen to categorise women as fickle, with a love of material things, fond of machinations and manipulation, adulterous, and so lacking in love that they could trample all over the puppy-faces of one lovelorn man and move on to the next, unless they were closely guarded.

Which also goes to show that one thing casteist patriarchs have always had in excess is self-pity.

So it was proved on Monday too, when Dorsey’s detractors demanded whether he would hold up a swastika in Israel, whether he would speak about Islamic bigotry in Saudi Arabia, whether he would take on the US over various apparent transgressions.

“Why us?” they screamed. Was it because Brahmins and patriarchs were too tolerant, so Zen that they invited provocation with their forbearance?

“No longer!” they cried, and called for Indians to boycott Twitter in favour of a make-in-India microblogging site; they derided Jack Dorsey for being persona non grata in Trump’s corridors, and pointed out that China has banned Twitter.

Most baffling, however, was how oblivious these “Brahminical patriarchs” were to the implication of their arguments – that they are essentially no different from Nazis, Zionists, and Islamic fundamentalists than the “sickulars” and “libtards” and “presstitutes” have long been suggesting.

They also appear oblivious to what it implies about their aspirations – while holding the prejudices their more successful role-models of bigotry did, they have not been able to impose the same dictatorial censorship in their domains and this is what they seek to rectify.

These persecuted patriarchs also seem to be unaware that they cannot claim the privileges of the majority while also claiming the victimhood of the minority.

For decades, Indians have prided themselves on their difference from Pakistan. The difference used to be free speech.

But now, there appears to be little difference where freedom of expression is concerned. Pakistani Twitter is certainly a more liberal space than Indian Twitter.

The renaming spree on which various state governments are embarking, the notion that India is a “Hindu” country, and the privileging of violence over debate appear to be closing the gap between India and the dictatorships on which the right wing would like to model this country.

In his first address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

Over the decades, his words have proved false.

They will prove false in India too, when we take away a person’s right to hold up any placard, irrespective of its alignment with our own beliefs.

Is this what casteist patriarchy aspires to?

And if it does, should it not be smashed?

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage.