You’re an Indian Feminist? But You Don’t Live in a Ditch!
Hello good readers of Bitch blogs! Starting this week for the next twelve weeks, I’ll be blogging at Bitch about Indian feminist books and films and I might quite possibly “ruin” India for many of you (it’s a superpower of mine, I’m often told) and I’m hoping in turn you’ll “ruin” my impression of north-Atlantic feminisms (which in my experience have not been of the most dedicated listeners). Apart from the sense of accomplishment I get while rupturing romanticized versions of India—because really, who wouldn’t be happy to break bubbles like: “What do you mean there are no tigers on the street? So this tattoo really means "my father is over there" in Sanskrit? Why can’t I like, go to tribal camp?”—I also hope that this break in lines of thought and action will make us talk and listen to one another.
This talking and listening to each other seems simple, but in theory and practice it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn to do, and am still learning—to listen to myself, to listen how my voice sometimes induces silence in someone else, and still learn to listen, even if it’s hard and draining. Even if it makes you hate yourself or the world, sometimes, both. What I hope to do here is to start and sustain a dialogue around these frames we use to listen, talk and view each other.
Before we go any further, let’s start with this: Who comes to your mind when I say I’ll be talking of “Indian feminists, their work, and feminist media”? Perhaps Deepa Mehta because of her trilogy of films titled Fire, 1947 Earth, and Water? Or maybe Arundhati Roy? Some may talk of Taslima Nasrin’s Lajja since the book plays out in India? Maybe you’d be familiar with Gayatri Spivak, if you come from academia (or fandom!)—point is, we’ve learned to recognize “Indian feminism” in a specific way, and it’s not an accident that these names are famous, and not so many others. This isn’t to say any of the above are “real” or “not authentic” Indian feminists, or just because certain names don’t take up so much space, they must immediately be “more attuned to ‘real’ issues”—these kinds of binaries serve no one, particularly not us, as people invested in a politics of listening.
We learn to respond to certain frames of “Indianness”—of that oppressed, voiceless, mutilated, and/or violated Indian body (usually female), who is the “subject” of our discussions of “real Indian feminism,” and the person talking to you is usually someone who knows your language(s)—while you can do without ever learning hers—and builds a world suited to her and your mediated world of Indianness. Obviously, there is quite a power imbalance between “local” and “global” feminisms, but this divide isn’t an accident. Nor is it sustained just by one end—we’re all implicated in some form of the other. And, I’m hoping this point of shared complicity—this complicity may vary from different locations, but it exists and is fueled by us together—will become our springboard of discussion and a way forward.
For the next twelve weeks, I will be writing about the works of Meena Kandasamy, Rokheya Sawat Hassan, Arun Kolatkar, Ismat Chughtai, Amruta Patil, Madhu Kishwar—everything from Bollywood films to documentaries made by feminist filmmakers, interspersed with links and references to Indian feminist academia whenever possible. I hope you enjoy this series as much I've enjoyed planning it.
By now, you’ll want to know who I am. I am Battameez (which literally translates to “mannerless”); it is a term I get called a lot, and I’ve learned to revel in it. I’m studying to get my M.A. in women’s studies in a tiny city somewhere in India (no tigers, but I see goats and elephants if I squint hard enough)—which means I’ll check any comments you’ve made a full 10-12 hours after you’ve left them. Patience with the delays in comment moderation and responses will be gratefully appreciated. When I’m not rambling here, I write on my tumblr, a lot of the time in all caps. As I said, I really don’t have any manners—living in the proverbial ditch does that to a person, I’m told.
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