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The Misogyny of India’s Cultural Elite: Kavita Bhanot

December 3, 2013

Guest post by KAVITA BHANOT

Thanks to the brave actions of a woman who had the courage to speak out against her very powerful boss, something huge has happened in the last week in India. The very sophisticated, cosmopolitan English-speaking cultural elite of India has been forced, for once, to look at itself, to face up to the sexism and misogyny that it has long harboured.

For many years this elite has been protesting, exposing, judging, mocking the patriarchy of the lower classes – of the policeman, the religious fundamentalist, the ‘unpolished’ politician, the working class urban migrant, the eve-teaser on the street.  But rarely have the men, or the women of this class, looked, in public, at themselves – the men examining their attitude towards women and the women thinking about their own complicity, the ways in which they have allowed or turned a blind eye to the misogyny of the men of their own class.

Neither the incident, nor Shoma Chaudhury’s response to it, surprises me in the least. In the time that I spent in this world, it became quickly apparent to me that deeply entrenched in the suave, cosmopolitan world of English language media, literature, art – were problematic attitudes towards women that neither the men or the women seemed to question.

You see it in the fiction of many male writers – from the Salman Rushdies to the Samit Basus and Palash Krishna Mehrotras of the new generation; their female protagonists are often juvenile fantasy figures rather than three dimensional women. I struggle to think of English language male writers from the subcontinent or its diaspora who have created female characters with the kind of compassion, understanding and complexity that you find in the Hindi fiction of Yashpal writing in the fifties. The misogyny of these writers is there on their facebook walls – in their posts about getting laid, their photographs with ‘trophy’ women. It is there in their conversations and interactions at literature festivals, parties, in workspaces.  In ‘bad boy’ themed book readings. There’s the esteemed writer and teacher who tried to seduce a female student. The high-profile editor accused of sexual harassment of a colleague. The male fiction writers who work for the men’s magazine Maxim India and boast of their access, through sexy photo-shoots, to high profile ‘hot women.’ The male writers, journalists and bloggers who led a campaign to fight the ban on the Savita Bhabhi cartoon strip. I can give countless examples of the misogyny of these men of letters who see women as sexual objects, as arm candy, eye candy, and it is a slippery slope from there to assuming that you can help yourself to these objects as and when you wish.

Living and working in this environment, with these men, women can’t assume that they will be loved for who they are. That they will be respected for the work that they do. The truth is that, if they want to get ahead, women have had no choice but to turn a blind eye to casual sexism.  To silence the contrary voice in their head, as they try to convince themselves that it is for their intelligence, their talent that they are given special favour. Time and time again they are reduced to physical beings. The aggrieved woman in this case was employed as a journalist by Tehelka.  Yet she was being used by Think – a company that is independent of the magazine, to co-ordinate a festival – a pretty face to have around, to take care of high profile guests such as De Niro.

“I wish again,” the reporter writes in her rebuttal to Tejpal’s personal email in which he tries to paint the incident as consensual one, “that you remembered the professional reason I had met you that evening, instead of the storm and the thunderclouds… The conversation from that night was not ‘heavily loaded’ or flirtatious, you were talking about ‘sex’ or ‘desire’ because that is what you usually choose to speak to me about, unfortunately, never my work.”

Every female employee faces this. I spent one year working, with great passion and commitment, as an editor for Osians Literary Agency.  My employment came to an end when I was told (not asked – as if it was a privilege) that I had been selected by the male head of the organisation, alone with nine other young women, to walk on the stage carrying a poster, at a large gala event during which a famous actor would be felicitated. We were told that a former model who had recently joined the company would show us how to walk and tell us what to wear. Two of my colleagues who were working for the company as art historians, and I, objected.  We said that we would not do it, this was not what we were employed to do.  The enraged response from our employer was that we could do as we were told or hand in our resignations.  I chose to resign – a luxury that many in my situation, including those other two women, do not have.

The art, media and publishing industries have been headed for many years by powerful men such as Tejpal and my former boss. They function as cults – headed by demi-gods who wield absolute power.  Employees, and women in particular, flutter around them like devotees.  While women have been emerging as leaders in recent years – many of them seem to follow the same path, identifying with male power, ruling their companies in the same way that men have, treating women in their organisations with as little respect.

The response from my immediate female boss when she heard about the incident above was to tell me, with anger, that I had made a fuss for no reason.  She had had to do all kinds of things to get ahead in her fifteen year career in journalism and publishing, she told me.  I received a similar response from another female editor that I happened to meet that same day and recount the incident to – it wasn’t a big deal she said with a shrug of her shoulders, it was standard practice in companies to use ‘young and pretty girls’ in this way. In fact, she had often used her looks to gain favour in her career – donning a pretty dress for a meeting. This is an editor who, in recent years, has brought into India, diet and fitness books by models, item girls and actresses, an Indian Mills and Boon series, chick lit – in her effort to make the Indian publishing industry more like that in the West – apparently catering to a market, but actively creating it, following the western capitalist model.

Part of the problem with this elite world, is its unthinking embrace of the ways of the West, including a male capitalism that has swallowed up the feminist struggle for sexual, bodily freedom and spat out a distorted version of this which turns women into sexual objects while convincing them that they have got what they fought for and are now free.  As a layer of India goes in the same direction – urban upper class Indian women, often those who describe themselves as feminists, are failing to engage with the dead end that this is leading them towards.  Instead, they write articles in support of banned adverts that feature women as sexual objects of fantasy, they write for magazines such as India Vogue, Elle and Cosmopolitan, they pose for these magazines, perhaps do a spot of modelling. All the while describing themselves as feminists.

Upper class feminist battles have tended to be directed towards men from the lower classes – and I have felt uncomfortable with the class prejudice often hovers in these writings, by men and women, in the various Pink Chaddi, Mend the Gap, Slut Walk, Blank Noise Project campaigns. While they grapple with real problems, these writings and campaigns can reveal a deep-seated fear of the uncivilised poor man on the street, a mocking sneering of the unsophisticated Hindi-speaking accountant in the office – whether or not he is a religious fundamentalist. There are few attempts to recognise the real power that they, as upper class women, actually have over those lower middle class and working class men beyond those moments of eve-teasing in the street, harassment in the bar.

While women campaign for the right to be ‘sluts’ or to be ‘pub-going, loose and forward women’ –  this struggle can evolve, as it has in the west, into pressure to be a ‘slut’, into another kind of prison for women  – a more dangerous one, since women believe themselves to be free in it.

As patriarchy, sexual harassment, sexism are associated with the ‘less enlightened’ men of the lower classes – upper class women can fail to recognise when they are mistreated, abused, assaulted, objectified, raped by the men of their own class, or they can feel implicated in these situations and therefore be reluctant to speak out.  For it is all clothed in cool, urbane, cosmopolitan, smooth-talking – more subtle and therefore more dangerous than the overt patriarchy and harassment of more ‘traditional’ men.

As women in India grapple with their desires, with pleasure, love and bodily freedom, with the changing representations in the public domain of what a woman is or should be – powerful men, especially the ‘sophisticated’ suave men of the upper classes, use this.  The implication, if you don’t accept their advances, is that you are not ‘loose and forward’, not ‘free’ enough – that you are frigid, old-fashioned, puritanical, traditional even. ‘You can love more than one person,’ said Tejpal to the woman at that time, almost placing a challenge before her.

Love is nothing to do with it – there can’t be love between men and women as long as men don’t ‘see’ the women before them, as long as they see women primarily as sexual objects, existing for their own pleasure.

Women’s attempts to be open about, talk about, push the barriers of their sexuality – are used to try to seduce them, and afterwards, they are used to implicate them.  “The context of that ill-fated evening, of our conversation, as you will recall,” Tejpal writes in his deluded email to her, “was heavily loaded. We were playfully and flirtatiously talking about desire, sex….and the near-impossibility of fidelity; and of the aftermath of meeting me one stormy evening in my office when I was sitting watching the thunderclouds.”

These are the ways in which women are manipulated – made to feel that they are responsible, that they played a role in whatever happened.  A rape by a stranger is clear-cut, but in such situations, a woman can often remain silent because she is manipulated by the man to feel that it was consensual.  As the relationships between men and women continue to change there will continue to be many such cases – it is important for women to see them for what they are, and for men to interrogate more deeply how they relate to women – hopefully the highlighting of this particular case will encourage us to do this, to attempt to create new moral frameworks for male female interactions.

40 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2013 12:44 PM

    I identify with your post completely. Most of the media outlets who are frothing at mouth at the Tejpal case, have their own Tejpals. They go virtually unnoticed when it comes to discussions about equality, even, within women who otherwise identify as independent and modern.

    Because they are powerful and sauve ( unlike the proverbial migrant labourer lurking in dark places) , their ‘advances’ and ‘liasons’ are never called by their rightful names, i.e., Sexual crimes. There is almost a giggly, deliciously gossipy quality about these men, the ‘bad boys’, the ‘men with an edge’.

    I wrote a post on it : http://indianfeminist101.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/tarun-tejpal-and-games-powerful-men-play/

  2. December 3, 2013 12:56 PM

    Thank you for an excellent article. ‘the sophisticated, cosmopolitan English-speaking cultural elite’ usually does not know Indian history or you would not, for example, see it welcoming Prince Charles. (E.g. Germany does not publicly welcome or admire Hitler’s relatives.) They do not know any Indian language well and hence are unable to communicate or solve any of India’s problems. Most are adept at getting whatever they need, by any means. Many write nonsensical articles/comments to derogate India in the US/UK press: anything to say their article is in Time, etc. Their lack of identification with India is huge and so they usually, nonchalantly criticise any of India’s achievements, the same India that gave them a good living.

    Most people who have done anything positive for India and most brains, especially in STEM, come from vernacular schools ….

  3. Prayag permalink
    December 3, 2013 1:46 PM

    While I see the larger point you’re trying to make, and might even agree to an extent, I’d like to point out a few things. Firstly, one shouldn’t define feminism so narrowly. You sound like you’ve bought the monopoly rights to defining what feminism is. One well-established fact in the larger discourse surrounding feminism is that there are many ways of being a feminist; and that’s not a bad thing. Secondly, a minor point: Samit Basu is by no means a misogynist. Most of his female characters are vibrant, thriving, independent, smart, strong, and utterly remarkable. Please read his writing before generalizing.

  4. December 3, 2013 3:19 PM

    Lovely. I agree with so much that you say and you’ve articulated it so level-headedly.

    One of the few lines I disagreed with, though, was this one:

    “The male writers, journalists and bloggers who led a campaign to fight the ban on the Savita Bhabhi cartoon strip.”

    Pro-porn is not necessarily anti-women.

    • December 12, 2013 10:23 AM

      I have nothing against erotica, which alas is rare. Porn, a Greek word, specifically means abuse of female slaves.

  5. December 3, 2013 3:44 PM

    Very well written article. Sexual harassment at the workplace and marital rape are committed regularly by educated and well heeled men and it mostly goes unreported and unopposed. Tejpal has been a serial offender and it is indeed creditable that he has finally been nailed in such a water tight manner by the journalist.

  6. December 3, 2013 4:31 PM

    A timely exposure of the so-called champions of feminism.

  7. Gadkar Behen permalink
    December 3, 2013 6:01 PM

    please someone write an article on justice ganguly saying that ‘she came to the hotel room on her own’ while denying all allegations

  8. December 3, 2013 6:19 PM

    This is such a deluded piece of writing! Please do not warp a justified feminist struggle for moral and intellectual equality into a movement that disembodies the feminine form into a poor phantom of its full-bodied self! Do not smother the entirety of feminine expressiveness under a burqa of impotent intellectualism!

    The proper expression of femininity is in the full realization of its potentials in each individual woman — subjectively under her discretion — intellectually, morally, as well as physically — and that necessarily includes the sexual expression as well.

    The goal shouldn’t be to castrate the male (or lesbian women’s) gaze of all sexual appreciation; rather, elevate sexual interaction among people towards greater openness, unabashedness, liberation, and celebration.

    • December 3, 2013 8:52 PM

      Suspicious of (even joint/mutual) conceptions of ‘liberation’ (do it right (eventually) Jerry?).
      Please do cogently say/write more: why ‘deluded’?
      Bhanot seems to be more or less on track…(and the personal, political)…
      Wish she’d write more (with application and focus) rather than short essays

  9. Stella Sherman permalink
    December 3, 2013 8:11 PM

    The female editors you describe – who say “you’re making a fuss for nothing” are very much like your typical mother-in-law, making the daughter in law suffer because she had to.

    All the worse then that these same people are busy brinding to India ‘diet and fitness books by models…an Indian Mills and Boon series, chick lit” – the media equivalent of women-oriented junk food.

  10. vinakam permalink
    December 3, 2013 9:17 PM

    The author’s of this piece who describes herself as a feminist, describes as misogynistic the the efforts of male journalists and writers to reverse the government imposed ban on the “Savita Bhabhi” cartoon strip. The author supports the ban because she thinks it reduces women to mere sex objects for the sexual gratification of men.

    However, another piece on Kafila, http://kafila.org/2013/08/16/the-public-secret-of-savita-bhabhi-jyoti-singh-2/ , authored by another feminist, asserts that the ban is actually misogynistic and demands that the ban be overturned because according to her :

    “” Savita Bhabhi’s ban was a case of preventive morality; Internet censorship meeting patriarchy (and the likes). The hushed Indianism of the bhabhi suffix had finally got out of the bag into the mainstream and hurriedly needed to be put back in its rightful place i.e. next to saali. She wore bindi, sari, and to top it, even a modern style sindhoor, and a mangalsutra rested on her bosom. In a society where all transgressions must be justified in the end, a character without any rationalization and unapologetic about her sexuality, couldn’t be redeemed. (She was not in love with her men and nor did she have a bad marriage.) A character like that is beyond redemption and is dangerous and must be eliminated from our cultural narrative, especially when it is a woman, who must be the cheerleader and mascot of morality at all times. After bequeathing her with this trophy, the other sex ingeniously excused itself to take care of the more important matters. Since she was given something to stand for, she wilfully stripped herself off her human character and became an all-sacrificing beast, inculcating super-human traits. But now she is reclaiming herself. In porn, this change was reflective in the way democratisation and mainstreaming of Savita Bhabhi happened, and its subsequent ban within a year of its online inception –while child pornography goes unchecked– was reflective of the bizarre parameters of social acceptability and unacceptability we operate with.””

    Now taking Savita Bhabhi as an example, as a confused male, I’d like to ask what is the actual feminist stance on Savita Bhabhi ??

  11. Sarfaraz permalink
    December 4, 2013 12:29 AM

    Thank you so much. Its enlightening and terribly true.

  12. December 4, 2013 4:33 AM

    Good one.

  13. Sankaran Krishna permalink
    December 4, 2013 7:51 AM

    Thanks for a very well written and thoughtful piece. Its eye-opening in all sorts of ways.

  14. Abhishek permalink
    December 4, 2013 8:00 AM

    A well written article where naked truth is presented and your pain does leak out….but in parts I thought you were a bit extreme and let’s face it the problem is not limited to the our subcontinent only(Strauss Kahn and many others that I am unable to recall right now)
    To go against the writing of “subcontinental” authors was not right. Art and literature need not be hindered with(personal opinion of authors and personal choice of consumers unless it’s just libel…..false facts and not opinions) and in fact the objectification is not just limited to our subcontinent authors.Even the western authors and movie-makers tend to do the same.Example of Game of Thrones or Bond movies would be a few that come off the top of my head.
    Secondly Savita bhabhi is a porn character,discussing that in these contexts would once again raise the question of item numbers in movies or shows where women are depicted as sex symbols as well.Should those be banned as well?

  15. Shireesh Joshi permalink
    December 4, 2013 8:30 AM

    Maybe you didn’t know it or discover but we know such men exist in all walks of life. Those in power strike openly with impunity. Those not in power do so by bringing strength of numbers and taking advantage of isolated spots and lonely presence. To use this incident to paint the English educated as blind to follies in their midst is really far fetched. And women too exist in all the avatars – those who accept silently (circumstance or otherwise), those who leave and the few who fight.

  16. Manjul Bajaj permalink
    December 4, 2013 9:38 AM

    “Upper class feminist battles have tended to be directed towards men from the lower classes – and I have felt uncomfortable with the class prejudice often hovers in these writings, by men and women, in the various Pink Chaddi, Mend the Gap, Slut Walk, Blank Noise Project campaigns. While they grapple with real problems, these writings and campaigns can reveal a deep-seated fear of the uncivilised poor man on the street, a mocking sneering of the unsophisticated Hindi-speaking accountant in the office – whether or not he is a religious fundamentalist. There are few attempts to recognise the real power that they, as upper class women, actually have over those lower middle class and working class men beyond those moments of eve-teasing in the street, harassment in the bar.”

    I am so glad someone said that and so well. Kudos Kavita.

  17. ENR permalink
    December 4, 2013 10:40 AM

    What a wonderfully written article. Thank you for putting voice to what I’ve felt, time and time again…

  18. December 4, 2013 11:00 AM

    I don’t believe in generalizing people, things or places. It seems pretty unreasonable an attitude to me. For I have been misbehaved and well-behaved-with by “people” (and not just men) from all walks of life. However, at the same time, UNFORTUNATE as it seems, you have hit the nail with great precision.
    Just because you are more vocal, flamboyant and popular does not in anyway suggest that you are entitled to escape the very standards a.k.a the moral-o-meter you set for others. Quick, as a cat, you pounce to judge a person who in all certainty is not even literate enough to comprehend your “precious remarks”. Swiveling around your chair, with a look of far off wonderment, your fingers itch to dance on the keyboard and you seal the fate of many even before the court of justice does so. But when it comes to your own self, you self impose a paid vacation of a sort on yourself and think nothing of it. Wow! Hypocrisy redefined!

  19. December 4, 2013 11:16 AM

    You have easily cherry picked the writers that suit your argument. What about Rohington Mistry’s A Fine Balance that revolves around a female protagonist? What about Sidharth Deb’s portrayal of the female waitress working in New Delhi (in the Beautiful and the Damned). The list goes on and on and on. Both are known for their writing. And not for their trophy girlfriends.

    But Im curious about why you want to make this about India. Yes, this does happen in India (and its horrible that it does – and I am not defending it to the slightest). But this does happen all around the world. Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the maid. Football players in America. Lad culture in the UK. Why in all this, does this post single out India? Make the argument in the larger way women are treated. And thats alright. But Im not sure why the author is talking about her experience at Osian when similar cases – of female employees being asked to dress a certain way (think of female bartenders abroad) happens all the time – and its something that is not limited to India. Yes its bad. Yes its wrong. But to somehow argue that this problem is specific to India is misleading and just wrong.

  20. December 4, 2013 12:42 PM

    Reblogged this on Radical Polemic and commented:
    good article, but , with its own set of problems. Notions about “unthinking embrace of the ways of the West”, “love between a man and a woman” [as if it has to be of a certain way only] etc are problematic.
    However, what almost every single article from progressive sections has failed to address is this:
    That this was a position of power that the man acted from AND had the greater chance of getting away with it. It is not just a question of upper class women accepting the patriarchy and misogyny of suave and sophisticated English speaking men from the upper classes. It is also a matter of hierarchy, which the white collar workplace has created. This can be explained from the numerous ways hierarchical exploitation, mostly psychological, works in these workplaces.
    Without a theory of hierarchy, the social legitimacy that sexual exploitation of the Tejpal sort, cannot be explained adequately

  21. Milind Wani permalink
    December 4, 2013 12:49 PM

    Thank you for this wonderful, insightful, enlightening and dare I say..compassionate piece. I learnt much from it and it will surely help me better negotiate my way as a man. Also liked this because you invoke the necessity of the much maligned ‘class’ as a category for social analysis..

  22. Puneet permalink
    December 4, 2013 4:39 PM

    Excellent piece

  23. December 4, 2013 5:29 PM

    The best write-up on the subject to-date. I identify wholly with her “upper class>lower-class & lower class>upper class” interactions in a typical office environment. Ultimately it all boils down to class conflict.

    Let us remember here that Tarun Tejpal raped his friend’s daughter and his own daughter’s friend. Perhaps he would not have behaved the way he did if his friend too had moved up the social or professional ladder the way he did. Whereas he moved up and his friend remained where he was, suddenly, Tarun felt that he is over and above the constraints of decency involving relationship between two friends. He felt he can take liberties with his friend’s daughter!

    Well. I am very happy to have read a real sensible piece. Thanks>the writer!

  24. December 4, 2013 6:33 PM

    This is a brilliant article! I remember feel horribly depressed and demeaned when as a young features writer I was told to wear sexy clothes for an India Today Group event. Yet when I tried to protest, NO ONE understood and I left a few months later — it was a direct outcome of that evening.

  25. Soma permalink
    December 5, 2013 10:37 AM

    Thank you Nivedita for this wonderful, and truly well-analysed article. i have not come across articles such as yours in the recent past, or ever since the Nirbhaya episode happened. We are indeed cloaked in our so-called upwardly mobile, liberated yet skewed independence!

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      December 5, 2013 1:12 PM

      Please note that the article is a guest post by Kavita Bhanot. I merely posted it as part of the Kafila team:)

  26. December 5, 2013 2:03 PM

    To Kavitha Bhanot and the administrators of Kafila.org, I have taken the liberty to translate this article in Tamil and post it on my blog (a non-commercial one). I did this was purely because, I believe it’s a very important article that must reach as many people as possible. As many of my Tamil-speaking comrades could appreciate the article better in Tamil, i did this for them.

    Kudos to Kavitha and Kafila. I hope you are okay with what i have done.

    Here’s the link to the translated article:

    http://deepaneha.blogspot.in/2013/12/blog-post.html

  27. December 6, 2013 1:14 AM

    Very well written article and level headed. I identify with some parts of it. As you have correctly pointed out, some women comply to casual sexism without choice and some women ride the wave to get ahead in their careers. This is where I, as a man, have felt inverted discrimination. This is where I have seen, women use powers of their bosses against men of their same class to get ahead in their careers.

  28. Punam Zutshi permalink
    December 6, 2013 12:40 PM

    An important piece much needed, long overdue to widen the horizon of recent debates.

  29. Kavita Bhanot permalink
    December 6, 2013 2:02 PM

    Thank you for all the comments. Deepa- thank you for translating the article into Tamil, I’m very glad.

    “But I’m curious about why you want to make this about India. Yes, this does happen in India (and its horrible that it does – and I am not defending it to the slightest). But this does happen all around the world. Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the maid. Football players in America. Lad culture in the UK. Why in all this, does this post single out India?”

    KG – good points and I agree with you. This article is about and directly addresses India and this particular case. But the point that I am making is the same as yours – that all that you describe is happening in the west – meanwhile the western model is being used by the upper-classes in India as an ideal.

    “This is such a deluded piece of writing! Please do not warp a justified feminist struggle for moral and intellectual equality into a movement that disembodies the feminine form into a poor phantom of its full-bodied self! Do not smother the entirety of feminine expressiveness under a burqa of impotent intellectualism! The proper expression of femininity is in the full realization of its potentials in each individual woman — subjectively under her discretion — intellectually, morally, as well as physically — and that necessarily includes the sexual expression as well. The goal shouldn’t be to castrate the male (or lesbian women’s) gaze of all sexual appreciation; rather, elevate sexual interaction among people towards greater openness, unabashedness, liberation, and celebration.”

    I agree Jerry, however my argument is that while women are striving to realise their fully embodied selves – as intellectual, moral and physical beings – men are often not ready for this. It can be difficult for women (in particular heterosexual women) to do this in an abstract way, while men don’t see them in this way, as intellectual, moral as well as physical beings – esp because of the greater power and influence that men have over how women are defined in public forums. And the problem with the sexual gaze of capitalist media/culture, of porn such as Savita Bhabhi – is that it is plastic, commodified, packaged into a reproducible format that actually strips sexuality of sensuality, multiplicity, emotions etc…and it carries a power dynamic, it is a male gaze – this has an impact on lived sexuality. It doesn’t lead towards liberation and celebration…

  30. December 6, 2013 6:07 PM

    Kavita, I absolutely agree. I have been horrified at the letter posted here on Kafila by a large group of Indian feminists arguing that Shoma was not in any way colluding in the cover up of the rape despite the fact the victim herself has insisted she was complicit. I think the vandalism and attack on Shoma was illegal and unwarranted, but she was complicit non-the-less. Working on violence on women, I find consistently that many women running NGOs who are educated, middle or upper class, often are victims themselves, but it is one way of drawing attention away from themselves when they point to the slums. I’ve also found poorer women are far more open about talking about violence and crimes on them by men in their families and communities and acknowledging that it is wrong. The silence with which women, even educated Indian feminists tolerate violence in their own families and communities is horrendous. Till that changes we don’t have a real feminist movement in India

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      December 6, 2013 10:04 PM

      Rita, would you like to quote the relevant portion in the letter that horrified you so much, posted on Kafila to which I was a signatory, in which we argued that “Shoma was not in any way colluding in the cover up of the rape”?

      • December 7, 2013 1:23 PM

        Nivedita — the letter on Kafila states “Shoma Chaudhuri failed in her responsibility as an employer [but] she is neither an accomplice nor an accessory to the crime of sexual assault.” Shoma did more than fail in her responsibility.

        However in her resignation letter to Shoma Chaudhuri, the ex-journalist makes that very clear that she sees her as complicit. She says, “I asked that the words “sexual misconduct” be included. In a phone conversation with me, you [Shoma] asked that he be recused from doing so because he had already admitted to sexual molestation in his emails, and because we needed to “protect the institution”… — this was not an attempt to “protect the institution” but in fact, an attempt to cover up what had really occurred — ..You [Shoma] are now attempting to establish that Mr Tejpal has “another version” of events (as surely, any sexual predator does), and that the “encounter” may have been consensual or non-consensual…At a time when I find myself victim to such a crime, I am shattered to find the Editor in Chief of Tehelka, and you – in your capacity as Managing Editor – resorting to precisely these tactics of intimidation, character assassination and slander…”

        • Nivedita Menon permalink*
          December 8, 2013 1:58 PM

          Rita, though there is little to be done in the face of a determined misreading, here goes for the record:
          That was a statement against the attack on Shoma Chaudhuri’s house by the BJP, labelling her Accused. You dismiss the entire thrust of the statement in a casual line, ‘I agree the attack on her house was illegal and unwarranted’.
          That WAS the sum and substance of our statement . That the BJP action was illegal and unwarranted and motivated by political opportunism.
          We stated that Shoma was not an accomplice in the crime of sexual assault, which she is most certainly not. By saying she was irresponsible in dealing with the complaint, we conveyed that that she was indeed participating in a cover-up. You have no privileged access to the complainant’s utterances, we are all aware of her determined and gutsy refusal to accept the half-measures Shoma was dealing out.
          Nevertheless, we maintain that the BJP had no moral or legal ground to attack Shoma’s home or to term her an accused.
          But if there is any point to be scored by assuming a high moral ground of your own making to which no-one else can aspire, you are welcome to it.

  31. December 8, 2013 9:04 PM

    I had posted a comment, seeking clarification on usage of the term, “male capitalism’ by Ms kavita Bhanot. But it was blocked. Does Kafila block inconvenient comments? I only wanted a clarification. Anyway, let me clarify: there is nothing like gender based capitalism. The capitalist logic pervades every aspect of our lives and the ruling classes and elite sections of society exploit the capitalist relations to their advantage while the majority have no option but to get exploited. Identifying Capitalism with gender, caste or religion is multiculturalism and is a distortion of marxism. I suppose the author understands this.

  32. Tee permalink
    December 14, 2013 6:39 AM

    So, I loved this article, I thought it was spot on. This is a comment for Prayag – I also saw some people on twitter defending Samit Basu – he has many friends, or fans! I don’t think the writer is calling him a misogynist, she’s just talking about the women in his work, but it probably wasn’t fair to mention his name or anyone’s name in this context.

    Anyway, I decided to look him up after reading this – hadn’t heard of him before (something good came out of this for him) and…Latex Latha?? Really?? http://www.firstpost.com/photos/images-a-sneak-peek-at-samit-basus-local-monsters-1212087.html

    Do his friends and fans think thats a feminist or interesting female character?…maybe if you think Spice Girls and Lara Croft and Malika Sherawat are feminist and empowering – which lots of people do! Didn’t that ‘feminist’ Malika Sherawat clip go viral recently…it was mostly men posting it of course. Maybe SB thinks he’s helping women, giving them a voice, talking about eve teasing and all, but I think it’s better if he leaves it up to women to do that themselves if this is what he comes up with – male ‘fantasy figure’ is about right! But maybe, like you say Prayag, his other work is better…

  33. Frances Parker permalink
    February 6, 2014 11:44 PM

    A very thought provoking article. As a westerner, (a white american female) I am in agreement with a lot of your perspective about western feminism and what it has turned into. The problem I see is that women are not wanting to truly take responsibility for how they contribute to this problem (the ways in which they raise their sons to be dependent on them and the dark side of motherhood, their own manipulations, and how they continually betray themselves and make choices that sell themselves out, some who use men for resources and lure them with sexuality, yet continue to blame the patriarchy for it) because of the tendency to identify with being victimized. This causes them to idealize the darker sides of their own behavior or to ignore it completely. It is very comfortable to be the victim and to look at men as the sole problem and predator, but more problematic to own our own contribution and the ways in which we also hurt men. This is more of the problem than we realize, and has contributed to the deep well of misogyny. We cannot stop this and achieve equality unless we are willing to look at our own hatred of men and take equal responsibility for the mess. Also, if we are always the victim and men the predator we are always giving away our power to them. Part of being powerful is taking responsibility for our own thoughts and decisions that contributed to the mess, and believe me we have done just as much as men in a different way, much of our impact has been more subtlety emotional than physical, but nonetheless devastating. Once women become strong enough to forgive themselves for this, own it, and move on then we will become truly powerful and equal and the gender wars will cease.

Trackbacks

  1. The Misogyny of India’s Cultural Elite: Kavita Bhanot – cross posted from kafila.org | Forum to Engage Men- FEM

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