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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Revolutionising Against the Morality

Did we ever have to be bothered by a kind of discursive scheme about right & wrong, good & bad, virtue & vice, prevailing in varying degrees at any place on earth inhabited by humans and from time immemorial, which is absolutely constructed on the foundations of gender- ie; on the worst of arbitrary division of the entire humanity into men, women, transsexuals, trans gendered, eunuchs, etc.?

Why is it that most of us remain so unsuspecting and obedient to the ways through which certain attitudes and practices about making friends, loving, mingling, sharing, living together, experiencing joy by exercising autonomy over bodies, etc are seen as disastrous deviances, while certain others are rigorously imposed on all, as unchanging laws of virtuous living?

The near-universal mode of propagation of the human species, largely bases itself on organization of all thoughts, imaginations ,dreams and actions concerning love and sex, around a single institution, viz, the hetero-sexual family. This is possibly the single institution that has played the pivotal role in selectively sanctifying certain kinds of economic, social and cultural activities of people through ages cutting across geographical, anthropological and other differences, while certain others were just demonized.

The system of privileges and deprivations emanating from the hetero-sexual, monogamous and patriarchal family and its gendered social life, unfortunately, is taken for granted by most of us, despite many historical efforts to successfully add to the statute book the concept of gender justice, albeit in a rudimentary form.

Though the law remains there at a distance to be operative for certain category of actors, as against others for whom there is virtually no meaning for citizenship, gender continues to be an instrument of denying, or being denied important human rights. Certain kinds of human interactions compared to certain others, are too conspicuously identifiable by gender that one will find it far less cumbersome to go by the local ethos, than to go by the the law of the land, for that matter. Further, if anyone dares to invoke the law and the Constitution of the country with the hope that tyrannies acted out in the name of tradition, culture, protection of morality etc may be diffused, more violent attempts to suppress aspirations for freedom are sure to be encountered.

This is has come especially characteristic of our situation, which is often tagged as third worldly. By belonging to this category, at least majority of us are considered lesser entitled to human rights compared to the way most people in the West are. Often, we are told that in our context, individuals' freedom matters less when the great crisis of our times is that crass commercialism is destroying our great culture and tradition. Likewise, we are told that invoking the right to personal liberty, autonomy and dignity of individual is a sin by itself, which is originating from the outlandish patterns of destruction; which in turn might portend dreaded anarchy and chaos around.

Hence, you need to be conforming to the dominant modes in everything: unchanging faith in religion and god; unchanging faith in the system that rule; faith in the hetero-sexual, monogamous and patriarchal family- stated or unstated in the last though, but not the least by any means. What is likely to pass off quietly in between, however ,is the already existing insecurity in the minds of people ,the feelings of already becoming prey to a host of anarchical forces, economic , social , cultural and so on , which have scant regard for the law or for the rights of fellow humans.

What were the courts doing ?

Ordering a stay on a 'public interest' litigation against Shilpa Shetty and Richard Gere during the last year for having enacted a demonstrative kiss in public view the Supreme Court had made certain remarks gravitating itself to a preference for Puritanism .and orthodoxy in attitudes toward expressions of love and sexuality. Significantly, 'the kiss case' had originated in the context of the campaign Gere& Co had undertaken for promoting awareness among the public and ending discriminations against HIV victims.

As Ratna kapur, Director, Centre for Feminist Legal Research, Mumbai has observed;

"What is at issue is not whether the 'kiss' deserved such
attention, but the extent to which India's obscenity laws are
increasingly being used for moral policing and encroaching on
the rights to free speech and expression.

While there has been no opposition expressed by feminist
groups or civil society members to 'the kiss' there has also
not been any enthusiastic endorsement of the 'performance.

The resounding silence speaks to a deeper discomfort around
issues of sex and sexuality that continue to haunt the borders
of free speech and expression"

[Times of India article , 25-05-2007: Bold and Beautiful]

According to Ratna, the Shilpa Shetty / Richard Gere case when did arise in the context of a public awareness campaign on AIDS and the controversy it generated provided an appropriate moment for feminists and others to generate a healthy
debate on the line between safe, consensual sex and risky
behaviour, the issue was simply caused to be hijacked by the censorship lobby.

Through a number of decisions on censorship issues etc and striking down the ban on the bar dancers in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court has bothered themselves more with imagined or actual threats to the regime of heterosexual -patriarchal -monogamous value system, than with protecting the freedom of expression itself. For example, it decided that where the bar dancers at beer halls who were comparatively few in number need not be banned from performing, it was categorically considered not desirable to allow such performances everywhere by other women in other establishments, for example.
Such decisions clearly send the message that sexual explicitness is
immoral by itself, and further that sex and sexuality are not a normal part of our
humanity, but a corrupting and unhealthy influence from which
'decent people' must be protected.[Ratna Kapur]

The Battles for Citizenship

The politics of claiming autonomy over bodies cannot perhaps wait, until all the fears associated with morals and culture are settled forever. It is imperative to talk about how deeply the gendered individuals in a hetero-normative society would love to assert their freedoms as others would.We seem to have reached a point that no political movement can inch ahead, unless the conspiracy of silence about sexuality is broken. Sexuality is an important arena of struggle, where everybody would perhaps need to fight at least for the legally enforceable rights against those privileges and deprivations perpetuated by the ill founded morality regime, based solely on gender.

What do you think of same sex love?

In most countries of the West, discriminating provisions of law relating to the practice of same sex love have been removed from the statute books. The Psychiatric Association of America, as early as a quarter centaury ago, had called for understanding homosexuality less as a mental disorder than at par with patterns of sexual behavior termed as normal (heterosexuality).

Gay politics has now become part of the antiwar and human rights movements. One of the stipulations for any European country to become a member of the EEC is that the aspiring state should decriminalize homosexuality. Paradoxically enough, the Indian Penal Code has section 377 still intact , with the effect that homosexual love relation could be booked as offence punishable under IPC. It may be recalled that the law itself had come to effect under colonial rule to enforce Victorian morality on the indigenous people, and in most the countries where this reigned, similar laws have already been thrown to the dust bin of history.

In recent decades, there has been sweeping change world over in ways of addressing sexuality. For example, in many countries laws have been reformed with a view to ending social discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and the transgendered (LGBT). Rights of LGBT have even become part of agenda of the left, albeit with serious limitations originating from rigid conceptual paradigms. Further, at least a few of the important bodies affiliated to the UN has recognized the right of sexual self-determination and sexual orientation of individual as inalienable human rights. Similarly, ending stigmatization of sex work has lately been among the agenda of reforms in many sovereign states and societies. Yet another area where the taboos have disappeared,

is the realm of imparting scientific sex education to children right from their schooling age.

Despite many of these changes taking place around, moralism has become an easily identifiable obsession with our dominant societal attitude to sex, cutting across the divides of class, gender, caste and religion.

Fear, inconsistency, duality in standards, hypocrisy, opportunism and most often, hate and violence form the hallmarks of this moralism. We find newspapers celebrating moralistic gazes on peoples' private lives, which stop at nothing short of trampling upon legal rights of individuals quietly leading their peaceful lives. Stories brought out under the caption of news are largely designed for reproducing the same values of morality, apart from being the stuff that feeds sensationalism. At one end of this morality spectrum one finds cowardice though, proceeding to the fag end, you will see a diabolic propensity for mob- violence that can visit upon all categories of minorities including women(in the sense of women being a cultural minority as observed by Kate Millet), transsexuals and the transgendered.

Viewed against this kind of scenario, human rights in the context of sexuality become virtually denied to large sections of people. These sections comprise those yet kept waiting at the doors for entry to the enterprise of heterosexual family , or who have been pushed to the outskirts of this family for not being able to conform. For example, to the unmarried, widower, widow, divorcee, homosexual, transgender, lonely, sex worker, differently abled , and so on.

There is certainly no disagreement that forms of sexual behavior leading to aggression and violence are to be condemned as anti social. But the imperative, however, is to realize that sex- related atrocities are not same as demanding sexual freedom. Despite the fact is clearly understood that patriarchal standards of conformity in sexual behaviour is most often the root cause of sexual atrocities, we still shy away from raising many fundamental questions. For example, despite elaborate discourses we had on patriarchy, many a feminist fails to take note of the fact that sexuality itself is a social construct built around a gendered society. Most of the assumptions of gendered life that are generally accepted without questions therefore do not just result from a shameful ignorance, but they also constitute criminal neglect in a serious political sense. There is criminal disregard for the lived experience of people which in turn, has played a major role in suppressing the great faculty of creativity in humans.

We have been virtually made into a people with unspeakable mental stress and neurotic disorders on the one side, and to a horde extremely intolerant, revengeful and insensitive toward the idea of change, on the other.

Any societal attitude that refuses to treat the people with sexual orientation other than the hetero as human beings would necessarily amount to justifying unspeakable acts of violence and discriminations. Same sex love relationships certainly do raise questions about the stereotypical, which in turn, contribute to the ultimate challenge to the presiding system of privileges based on gender.

Judith Butler

and Gender Trouble

Judith Butler, through her epoch-making 'Gender Trouble' and some other works has strived to raise pertinent questions as to how the comparatively irrelevant features of biology between male, female and the transsexuals should stand in the way of people's claim for commonality as humans, for example, equal rights to citizenship. Heterosexuality has simply got to be thrust as the norm, according to Judith Butler, for which there would have been no basis at all, save the irrational and arbitrary division of gender. According to her, the whole of humanity becomes divided to actors as though they were required to perform the differing roles as man and woman according to a pre-written script of gender. It is these roles for performance that readily deny access to the trans gendered people; their very right to exist as humans with feelings and intelligence, as people capable of loving, being loved ,learning, thinking , struggling, taking part in politics, dreaming about future,etc etc. are most invariably and instantly denied by the hetero normative society.

From this universal scenario of heterosexual norms when we come to the Indian context, we find that caste in Hindu belief system undoubtedly exaggerates and accentuates those malfeasances originated by gender in the first place. Here, every atrocity or discrimination perpetuated against women bears complimentarity to atrocities against people of lower castes.

The gory accounts of witch –hunts recently acted out against women, reported from eastern, central and even the southern states of India signify how the brutal practices of witch hunt go by a caste- gender formula. Atrocities against unattached single dalit woman following allegation of witchcraft, apparently pass largely unopposed even by male chieftains of the concerned dalit community, possibly because the victim in most such cases is living outside the heterosexual family!

Coming back to recent reports of witch hunt in India as largely caused by caste, we need to pause for a moment. If the massive hate generated against the victims were attributable only to their belonging to certain lower castes, the fact of their being all women would have had no significance. If we were to take a look at the Europe of the dark medieval ages, we would find that as many as 15-20 million women were murdered at the behest of the Catholic male clergy in a period of three or more centuries. All these women were whites , as the dark people and continent were yet waiting to be explored by the white men, then.

This might suggest that most debates taking place in our country being focused on caste though for reasons valid enough, have nevertheless, had a tendency to bye pass the equally important factors of gender.

Dismembering of Bhutmangi family,

(Khairlanji-2006, September)

As we go further, we just can't but believe how an entire village of upper caste people almost ceremoniously participated in a brutal mass violence involving parading naked a woman with her higher secondary school - going daughter, college-going son and another son who was blind , maiming, , killing them all ,and finally mutilating even the corpses of the four members of the dalit family in Khairlanji, Maharashtra.

The dalit woman's staunch resistance against the upper caste peoples' demand to cede her small piece of land for a road and the complaints made by her to the police against previous assaults were reported as the provocation for the mob violence .

Significantly, another story referring to the allegedly bad moral of the woman too was reportedly employed to generate hate; perhaps this story had apparently been put in place the moral regime of right vs wrongs. Participation of the nearly the whole of upper caste village in this diabolic act of hate on the one hand and glaring failure on the part of the district administration and the media to take cognizance of the incidence until a month after the occurrence on the other , should indeed sound bizarre. Bhutmangi's alleged adulterous connection with another man, possibly was used in augmenting the hate ; that the family needed to be taught a lesson was perhaps made easier to be bought by the villagers by invoking ideas of moral terror and hate. It is also noteworthy that the series of violence in Khairlanji were so typical of moralistic terror when characterized by stripping, parading of the women victims naked, forcing them to be raped and so on.

What do the Religious Texts Say on Women's

Probable Claims for Autonomy Over Bodies?

Several scriptures and other ancient texts are replete with examples where women are forbidden from claims for inclusiveness like active citizenship or its equivalent, and they are placed alongside the people of lower castes. . For example, in the anushasana parva of Mahabharath, we find Bhishma advising Yudhishtira never to trust women as they are innately lascivious to such extent that even if you make them tread a hotbed of burning desert, they will never compromise their desire. Same is said about the need to keep the lower caste people under strict control and vigil,on umpteen occasions in many texts including the arthasaasthra by Kautilya.

Women of all castes , especially in their reproductive ages are presumed impure by virtue of their bodies, more or less in same ways as the working class, who in turn, labour with their bodies.

Upanayans for Brahmin boys are performed these scientific days with more fervour than before, perhaps; never mind the underlying purpose of this ritual is cleansing a male Brahman of the impurity of birth, to become a true dwija (twice born); this is to rectify the imperfection due to having come out of the womb of a woman.

Why does the superiority

in number fail to make a difference?

Perhaps numbers do really matter; but may be so only in a genuinely functioning democracy. This, we haven't come across though, it should definitely help asking why the minority dictums of the elite males should prevail, despite women and lower castes actually being far more in number.

Why are shikhandis being made out

To be repositories of perpetual hate?

Transsexuals, like Shikhandi in Mahabharath are invariably despised and placed in status, even much lower than that of women, and are often employed for doing dirty jobs. We find the most bitter of abuse averywhere in India, in someone being called a napumsaka (transsexual/transgender/eunuch) . This is usage is loaded with much more contempt than a man being accused of behaving like a woman, or vice versa.

What Could be the Answer?
Determined efforts both in thought and action, to revolutionize the existing notion of morality by all concerned seem to be imperative for a change for better.

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