Over the past year, a number of issues have cropped up on campus that have forced a fairly large number of people to think on issues that go beyond what they can see till the bend. People have been forced to confront conversations pertaining to complicated and nuanced issues such as gender, sexuality, caste, privilege and other such issues rooted in identities that we either ascribe to or those that have been placed on us by society. In fact, if one were to really think about, the progression of discourse in general during our time has led us to a place where we hold the key to these discourses for the future. This is in some ways a microcosm of where our generation finds itself – as a decider of the turn these issues are going to take and how we choose to engage with them is the determining factor of the direction.
It is this aspect of how we choose to engage that had within it an unqualified, possibly naive assumption that is guarded only by the hope that Andy Dufresne famously spoke of in Shawshank – the assumption being that we are willing to engage. And the reason that this is such a dangerous assumption to make is because power structures have ways that challenge ruthlessly all those who dare challenge them. There is a huge inertial shift required for us to start talking about these things. And the reason I call it big is because of many reasons.
Chief among them is denial of the existence of the issue. The most recent example of this is the way that the climate change debate has unfolded. There are still people who refuse to acknowledge the idea that humans have and are continuing to alter the earth to the detriment of both themselves and the earth. Their beliefs are not rooted in any science or the science of the denial of science. It is rooted in the idea that recognizing the existence of human alterations to climate will result in a catastrophic effects on the way that people live certainly but more importantly on the political and cultural ethos that societies choose as grundnorms. It will involve changing our current methods of resource exploitation and will take away entirely from the short termism of corporate gains that form the core of our economic systems.
Why is this relevant? Because much like climate change, talking about sexism or caste discrimination on a rational level is not really a debate. It is the realization that the way that we have conducted ourselves for millennia is wrong. It is to challenge power structures so entrenched with society that you can actually ask the question – what came first in society – politics or discrimination? These power structures are exemplified by the caste system or patriarchy wherein an entire set of human beings is stripped of their humanity and agency and is told that there are better people around them who are the ones they should fall behind. Whereas a khap panchayat or an isolated community would do these things more blatantly, the subtlety that these can act with is not to be underestimated. Even in cities or better yet in educational institutions, acts of sexism are rampant. But what become equally dangerous are the effects that sexism or caste discrimination can have when the perpetration is hidden. This can be in the internalization of norms that are rooted in sexism or patriarchy such as ascribing of certain roles and traits to women or even when we fail to challenge the perpetuation of said norms.
There are many things that we as a community can do. The least of these is begin engaging on these issues. This engagement can take various forms. It can be through the written word or the spoken word. It can be chastising a friend for calling using words or phrases that are sexist or racist. I am not saying that every such usage is necessarily sexist or racist but given the close proximity that we live to each other in, we can certainly tell where something is borne out of ideas rooted in sexism or casteist discrimination or some other form of identity based arbitrary idiocy.
It is with the intent of encouraging discourse that we at Glasnost have decided to create a separate section called “Pehchaan”. The idea that anyone and everyone can take some time out and speak about any persecution that they may have felt or experienced and how it could be countered. The idea is also to begin a conversation to some extent about the same. This conversation, we hope encompasses people from the student body and we hope that many of you respond to this. I know what you might say. I know you might be busy and that it is such an effort to respond rationally at times with the written word. But all it takes for evil to triumph is when good men and good women do nothing about it. Maybe you don’t even have to write in response. You can show solidarity or critique or criticize otherwise. But we must all have difficult conversations where we attempt to eliminate personal agendas and biased short termism from the picture.
This may not be easy. After all, we are used to a certain way of life. But there are so many little things we can do to engender change at a personal level and one that may eventually transcend to some sort of societal change. The simplest example is the usage of the word slut wherein a slut is necessarily a woman who sleeps around with lots of men whereas a man who does the same is a stud or a player. Maybe not all of you think that way. Maybe you have just become so used to saying the word that it has become an intrinsic part of your vocabulary. Maybe you don’t even think on the lines that such lopsided usage has a detrimental effect on how we view women. Discussing this may obviously painful. I am sure there are “better” things you could be doing. Watching TV shows or the IPL (Gah!) or having your special alone time. But for the sake of engendering a better community, we ought to start thinking about nuanced shit such as this.
Someone much braver than me once said that words are for the means to meaning and for those who will listen the enunciation of truth. And if truth be told, there is something very wrong with the society we live in. It’s time we at least attempted to change it. That much, we owe to each other and to everyone else we call human but have watched or ignored as they suffer from this identity based persecution. So please speak. Please listen. Talk. We could at least try. If not, we already have resigned ourselves to our fates.