by Rahul Sen
Shenaz Treasurywala’s open letter to the prime minister and other ‘powerful and popular men’ in the country like Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan et al has been circulating in the social media, generating sensation and lauding at different quarters. Apart from the sloppy sentimental politics that the letter tries to slap on the face of the readers, there is, probably, no single important point made in the whole text. The letter, in other words, is a patriarchal rant; reaffirming, reassuring and reinstating patriarchy and a structured epistemological oppression at different levels.
After my initial response on Facebook, I have been accused by someone as being a cynic, deliberately misreading the letter, seeing everything negatively and churning out wrong meanings out of it. This is true. My mind has been corrupted and tainted to see things crookedly and I will continue to vex and question other minds too till they are equally infectious. Let me take up each issue at one time and level my allegation against them, as I see it.
1. The letter is written to men who are ‘powerful’ in the eyes of Shenaz, to whom she makes an appeal – of ‘saving’ and ‘protecting’ women of the nation. How perfectly keeping in tune with the agenda of the present right-wing administration, of saving women into passivity, inaction and non-agency. The horrors of such a protectionist spiel imprison women in the name of empowerment.
2. In letter is naive and innocent in its assumption that women get raped ONLY by men. In Shenaz’s compulsory heterosexual world, lesbian rapes never happen. This further invisibilizes the number of same-sex rapes that happen, go unreported and shunted into silence.
3. In 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was executed in West Bengal for raping a juvenile girl. It sparked a huge row over the validation of capital punishment then. But interestingly, did it stop rape in West Bengal? Does capital punishment at all help in preventing crime? Shenaz’s insistence and push for capital punishment is illogical, banal, non-sensical and pointless.
4. Shenaz, in her letter constantly refers to western outfits, skimpy clothes, miniskirts and pushes an argument that these cannot be the parameters of rape. While it is true up to a certain point, it makes a blind assumption that ONLY women who wear skimpy clothes are being raped. From the classist and elitist vantage of Shenaz, Kamduni or Badaun did never happen; or frighteningly, even if they have happened, they are too trivial to be taken into cognizance.
5. Shenaz’s position is not too different from the rabid rightists in her pro-censorship stance. Her call to ban Uber is beyond my comprehension. This shifts the attention from the individual (the rapist) to the organisation which has the dangerous potential of diluting the crime and the malaise.
6. The most disgusting point made in the letter is a conscious valourization of the US, where she feels ‘safe’ to wear short skirts; this seeming egalitarianism of the US in terms of its gender friendliness is a dangerous push of its imperialistic, hegemonic and exceptionalistic agenda; nothing different from the kind of homonationalism that the US propagates.
Feminism, apart from being a political stance has become a fashion statement. Everyone is a ‘feminist’ and a gender-activist these days trying to bring about equality and change. This, coupled with celebrity endorsements and support has given birth to kind of ‘pop feminism’ that is exclusivist, flawed, apolitical, masquerading as faux-liberal and faux-empowering. From Kalki Koechlin to Farhan Akhtar, Lady Gaga to Emma Watson, and now Shenaz Treasurywala – in the name of posing a threat to the status quo, feeds the trend. In the present day Indian context, where the Right has taken over every aspect of life; where media and society has heralded Modi as the ‘first feminist’, what we need to do foremost, is, resist such neoliberal rant and protectionist spiel and up the ante against the moral brigade trying to coax politics and sexuality, and the politics of sexuality.
To read Shenaz Treasurywala’s open letter, visit: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/actor-shenaz-treasurywalas-open-letter-to-pm-amitabh-bachchan-srk/1/406410.html