Two Patriarchies

  1. India’s right wing is quick to condemn Talibani patriarchy. But they outrage over the calling out of Brahminical patriarchy
Brahminical Patriarchy
The poster must be seen against the backdrop of what is happening in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

The photograph of Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, holding a poster while standing alongside some Indian journalists and Dalit-Bahujan women activists, is being made into a big issue by Brahminical forces from BJP/RSS platforms. The poster read “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy”. Union minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, apart from T V Mohandas Pai and others, made it an alarmist issue and some even used it as opportunity to intimidate the journalists and activists.

The poster must be seen against the backdrop of what is happening in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The issue of women of menstruating age, between 10 and 50, not being into the shrine has drawn global attention. It is known that the RSS/BJP is supporting the anti-women agitation at Sabarimala. This, after the Supreme Court judgment in favour of women’s entry. The same group mobilised Muslim women against triple talaq for their freedom. However, in Sabarimala, they are mobilising Brahminical women against their own rights. Would the world understand this shift in stance?

The Western world, which follows a more liberal brand of spiritual engagement of women, sees this as the Indian version of Talibani patriarchy. The Talibani patriarchy wants the Muslim woman’s body to be hidden from men’s view in public. It is from this context that a Malala Yousafzai emerged from Pakistan as the global campaigner for girls/women’s rights to be equal with boys and men.

Brahminical patriarchy has constructed an equally horrible image of India by not allowing menstruating women to visit temples. The man’s body, which contains semen, a crucial bodily fluid, is acceptable, and he gets all the rights; but, a woman’s body, with its menstrual fluid, is deemed unacceptable, and she can’t get the same rights. This is shocking. Let’s assume that Dorsey looks at the poster from that point of view and wants to oppose this form of patriarchy. What is wrong with that? Can we hide what is happening in Sabarimala from the world’s gaze?

The Hindutva-Brahminism clique thinks that the world should hate Talibani patriarchy but not Brahminical patriarchy. The question here is: Why should this kind of patriarchy be called Brahminical? Why is it not ever labelled Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi patriarchy? Historically, and spiritually, the theory of the woman’s body and its “pollution” is a Brahminical construct. In the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi spiritual system, there is no such man-woman difference in spiritual systems. Ayyappa, for example, was/is an Adivasi/Shudra/Dalit deity. Mostly, it is they who take the Ayyappa mala and wear black dresses, and go there. Brahmins would generally not do this. But the protests are being organised by the same forces who respect saffron as a Hindu colour but not the black dress code or colour of the Dalit-Bahujans.

The practice of women visiting the temple along with their husbands/ sons/brothers was very much a part of the spiritual experience at Sabarimala — it was also, usually, a Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi practice. Only after the Kerala Brahmin priests took over the shrine by overthrowing the tribal priests was the new tradition of women being disallowed imposed.

A similar attempt is also being made to change the traditions of the famous Sammakka/Sarakka Jatara — a tribal festival celebrated in Telangana. The Vishva Hindu Parishad is trying to displace the tribal priests who drink liquor and eat meat during the jatara time, hand over the temple to Brahmin priests, and convert the jatara into a vegetarian space. The RSS has created structures that convert Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi temples into Brahmin/Hindu temples, and impose very primitive practices on the devotees.

The historical difference between Brahminical patriarchy and Shudra/ Dalit/Adivasi patriarchy is that the former practiced sati, child marriage and permanent widowhood. The latter, what I call the Dalit-Bahujan patriarchy, has no such practices.

Some Brahmin reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (Bengal), and, Gurajada Apparao and Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu (Andhra), tried to reform Brahminical patriarchy. Some changes have come about because of that. But the RSS is negating all those reforms and pushing back society to the pre-reform stage with a theory of Hindu parampara and sanskriti. It wants reforms in Indian Islam (by opposing triple talaq and so on), but it wants to set the so-called Hindu society back. The Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi culture and heritage (in their language, parampara) reflect a democratic man-woman relationship. That is because both men and women of the community have been working in the fields for millennia, from the days of the Harappan civilisation almost 1,500 years before the Rig Veda was written or codified. But the RSS and those who follow their ideology would treat just Brahminic parampara and sanskriti as Indian, denying the ethos of the productive agrarian communities, which is much older than the Brahminic parampara.

Though patriarchy exists within both cultures, Brahminical patriarchy is more oppressive and undemocratic. For example, there has always existed the right to remarry among the Shudra/ Dalit/Adivasi cultures. But, among the Brahmin/Bania/Kshatriyas, this is still a problem. This needs to be debated and changed.

With Sabarimala getting the world’s attention, the Indian and global public spheres are debating patriarchy. When these forces, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are appealing to the global order to oppose Talibanism, how can  the same people prevent the global community from opposing Brahminical patriarchy?