Category Archives: Rahul Sen

Love in the Time of Hindu Mahasabha

by Rahul Sen

~

LaxmiBai was the ignitor, desire was the fuel, Facebook was the furnace. It all started with this mysterious profile of LaxmiBai creating an event page and sending invites over Facebook to attend a protest in front of the Hindu Mahasabha Bhawan at Mandir Marg against their diktat to forcefully marry off couples who are found celebrating on the streets, in the parks or other public spaces on Valentine’s Day. Their ire being, Indians blindly imitating and valourising a western import (much like homosexuality), they decided to choose ‘marriage’ as a weapon – for punishment, for torture, for disciplining. In a way, this act of the Hindu Mahasabha has somehow managed to fracture the apparent ‘sanctity’ of the Hindu marital institution by using it as a mode of retribution. This uncannily equates the Hindu Mahasabha’s political position with those myriad feminists who stand against ‘marriage’ and rant against the oppressiveness of the institution. Some of us, who identify as feminists, have been saying the same thing for all this while now, that marriage is oppressive, that marriage is an encumbrance, that marriage is debilitating!

It is in this hope that the protesters gathered in front of the Hindu Mahasabha Bhawan; to show solidarity because we share a similar sentiment on the idea of ‘marriage’. But we respected (pun intended) the Mahasabha’s decision; we reached there in our best of clothes – wearing sarees, lehengas, ghagras and kurtas – because we were to attend weddings and also to get wedded, to anyone and everyone! But things did not turn out well, as was expected. We were forcefully detained by the police, all 400 of us, at the Parliament Street police station. But what followed was spectacular and unprecedented. The detained protesters entered the police station like a baraat – singing, dancing, full of fun, frolic and mirth. The policemen were baffled and bewildered; what is this? Why are they doing this? Is this a protest? What are they protesting for? Probably some of them must have been thinking – why are they even arrested? There was a frown in all of their face; trying hard to comprehend what was going on. Some were amused, very amused for they got five hours of free entertainment – dancing, singing, music, recitals, poetry and performances.

‘Shuddh Desi Romance’ was a success. The right wingers were scared; very very scared; so scared that they ordered detention of a group of unarmed, peaceful protesters who had nothing else but free spirit at their disposal – a spirit and temperament that refuses to be chained by the moralist propriety of the Hindu Mahasabha! The protest has been successful in registering dissent through art and desire – a dissensus that embodied every song we sang, every step we danced, every poem we recited, every slogan we raised! Desire as a weapon for protest has not only been unprecedented but also unsettling; and this is precisely, what scared the Hindu Mahasabha and scares all those right wing outfits that stand against non-normative desire.

It started with the profile of LaxmiBai who has been the motivating factor behind organizing this event, this protest. Speculations have already been circulating in different quarters as to who the person is; is it a male or a female profile; is it any student? This anonymity has accentuated the anxiety of the opposition, the state, the right wingers because LaxmiBai can emerge out of nowhere; LaxmiBai can mobilize people – LaxmiBai is everywhere, from 377 to Kiss of Love, from Narmada Bachao to Gharwapsi, from Badaun to Soni Sori, from Irom Sharmila to Farmers’ suicide, from ‘Jal Jangal Zameen’ to Suddh Desi Romance – LaxmiBai or these LaxmiBais come up in unexpected numbers, from unexpected quarters. They beat, break, slap, tear, gnaw at the hegemony of the state, at the tentacles of the moral police, at every outfit that thrives of fanaticism, fundamentalism, communalism and oppression.

~

image credits: Nigar Khan

Advertisements

Very Short Stories

I

by Rahul Sen
~
Loy won’t let his model preview his portrait until it’s finished. The model would come each day and bare herself on the sofa to strike a pose. The same pose was being struck days after days.

The gentle locks falling on her forehead, the soft bend of her neck, the rotundity of her well shaped breasts, were being intently gazed at by him. Part by part, within and without, observed with an impeccable vision and an instinctive intellect. But his hands seldom moved; it was only his pupils that rolled all over her body and seemed to swim within the reservoirs of her exceeding beauty.

Yet, one day, when out of sheer curiosity she went to the other side of the canvas in his absence, she found the canvas devoid of her figure, devoid of any human outline… It contained iridescent shades of hues – red, yellow, green, violent, orange – strokes that crisscrossed the white canvas to carve out a space of wonder that captures love and art in abstraction….

***

II
by Tina Das
~
We never hugged- we are scared of it. It never happened that success was celebrated with physical contact of any sort. We liked to be “dignified”. Funny, we were anyway a strange family- uh no, not strange, quaint sounds better.

It was the second year of my hostel- dad had decided to visit. He sat in the visitors room, stoic, or “dignified”. He saw two giggly girls hug and kiss each other and asked me, “Is it a new trend? This hugging business?”

I smiled and waved it away with a shrug.

The day I walked back with a battered face, courtesy a protest against rape. My mom screamed at me. She said it was not required- this drama of protest. I kept quiet- of course, she didn’t know I was also raped once, by the old man who claimed to be my uncle. Dad didn’t know, of course. He didn’t know till the day when his granddaughter was pawed by the same man and she ran to me for a big hug. We all hugged then, quaint family, we hugged too late.

***

III
by Prateeksha Pandey
~
ऑफिस में बैठे बैठे लाल टी-शर्ट वाले लड़के ने एक उदास कविता लिखी. फिर लोगों की वाहवाही पर एक खिन्न मुस्कान के साथ लैपटॉप का फ्लैप गिरा दिया. ठहाकों में बाकी दिन गुज़र गया. घर आकर बैग खोला तो वाहवाह करने वालों की फेहरिस्त में 15 नाम और जुड़ गए थे पर ठहाके गायब थे. ये ठहाके रोज़ कहाँ छूट जाते हैं? पर खिन्न मुस्कान तो अपनी ही है. फिर वो खाना खा कर दाहिनी करवट सो गया. सुबह उठा तो पिछली रात के खाने का स्वाद मुंह में पुरानी स्मृतियों की तरह बसा हुआ पाया. हर सुबह खिड़कियों से नयी उदासी चली आती है. आज फिर कुछ झूठे जुमलों और सच्ची कविताओं के औजारों से दिन को ठोक-पीट के बराबर करना होगा.

***

image source: unknown

In Response to Shenaz Treasurywala’s Open Letter

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

The Long Arm of the Right!

by Rahul Sen

~

Once Aamir Khan’s supposedly ‘obscene’ pic went viral on Facebook and soon after a case was slapped against him, reactions poured in from either fronts –from those who clearly stood against this moral fanaticism and arbitrary censorship and those self-proclaimed vanguards of Indian morality, culture and tradition who masquerade as do-gooders set out to maintain the sanctity of the Indian ‘nation’ state. Ironically, despite a strong right-wing government at the centre, this time the objection was not raised by the rabid right-wingers but a Kanpur based advocate named Manoj Kumar who felt that the poster might adversely affect “children and the elderly” and has hurt his sentiments.

While the virtual space witnessed a deluge of comments and debates regarding this censoring act, a supposedly ‘feminist’ friend of mine put up a status, venting his anger against the apparent ‘commodification’ of the male body for capitalistic ends. Part of it reads as follows, “if a director is smart enough then he/she can induce our curiosity by promoting some other thoughtful images or symbols instead of using a ‘body’as a sellable object”. The commodification discourse is not an unfamiliar arena within the feminist study circle and has been rendered problematic by subsequent theorists through the injunction of the ‘agency’ factor. Feminists who champion the objectification discourse to oppose the projection of sexualized images of the female/male body, find themselves aligned with the right-wing, rabid fanatics who think the ‘indecent’ and ‘erotic’ images and representations would tear down the moral fabric of the society. Uncomfortably, therefore, their claims, demands and politics turn out to be quite identical.

This particular friend of mine had an almost monologous argument with me where he repeatedly harped upon the idea that using the body as a ‘sex object’ would prove detrimental for the society. Apparently, he was all up for banning and censoring projection of women as sex objects but never raised the issue of projecting them as service objects in popular serials and soaps. For such feminists, commodification comes across as unproblematic where the supposed exchange or transaction between two parties or agents (as per the Marxian idea) is obscured; one party is shunted into silenced, dehumanized and his/her agency is stripped of.

*****

Even before the Aamir Khan controversy had sprung up, ‘Hate Story 2’ released its music album featuring Sunny Leone in one of its tracks. ‘Pink Lips’ instantly became a hit among people across age and class, although, it generated great discomfort among a particular section for its obvious association with Sunny Leone. The ‘porn start turned actress’ (as she is commonly referred to in the mainstream media) is known to foster jittery feelings among conservatives and also ‘liberals’ who are discomfited only by her pornographic career. Sunny Leone no longer remains an actress but a phenomenon, a symbol for a culture that valorizes and romanticizes sexual violence but impedes female sexual agency and desire.

Another friend of mine who takes great interest in ‘feminism’ and ‘gender studies’ mentioned her annoyance at this song for she felt, that, the song objectifies women and is terribly misogynist! What most of these upcoming ‘feminists’ fail to recognize, in matters pertaining to sex work, pornography, or the so called ‘selling’ of the body, is the question of agency and autonomy of the self! Instead of the popular perception of seeing them as ‘victims’ of patriarchy, they can conversely be seen as ‘agents’ who are fully capable to exercise their critical abilities and take decisions on matters pertaining to sexuality amongst others.

Coming to the particular song, I find it extremely powerful and potent in terms of the exertion of female agency, autonomy, will and volition in matters pertaining to sexuality and desire. Instead of those numerous Bollywood numbers that prey upon female sexuality and writers who think through their phallus; this song ruptures the distribution of the sensible order by bringing into attention, the female genitalia. Pink Lips also stands for the labia and can be said to have an auto-erotic impulse; a discard of the heteronorm altogether. In When Our Lips Speak Together, LuceIrigaray torches the movement away from the hetero-norm to the auto-norm. She says, “If I say again and again: not, nor, without. . . , it’s to remind you, to remind us, that we can touch each other only when naked. And that to find ourselves and each other, we have a great deal to take off. So many images and appearances separate us, one from another. They decked us out according to their desires for so long, and we adorned ourselves so often to please them, that we forgot the feel of our skin.” The song goes a step further in its documentation of female desire – from self to other. Far from being a victim of misogynist trap, it turns out to be an agent of championing female desire.

*****

Although both the representations generated visible discomfort among the masses arising out of an intense erotophobia, there are striking differences between the reception of both. While the nude image of Aamir Khan could not be accommodated within the hetropatriarchal male gaze of the spectators, the ‘Pink Lips’ song showcased a fraught relation between patriarchy and female sexuality. While there is an intense zeal to thwart female sexual agency yet there is a hunger for consumption of that sexual proliferation; a desire mixed with hatred and attraction.

The reason why I coalesced these two incidents is because I found the responses to them extremely significant. Both persons, apparently ‘feminists’ called for a ban or censorship on images that they deem derogatory to the dignity of wo/men. All in all, their claims are not different from those right-wingers who choose to ban images and arts for ethical purposes. These are the right times. Right has the nation turned not only in terms of governmentality, electoral and vote bank shielding, but also in terms of popular ideology, aesthetics and politics. The upcoming brand of ‘feminism’ too reeks of a strong right-wing mindsetwith Modi as the ‘first feminist’. The Right has, therefore, become a phenomenon whose ideology is perpetuated not only by parties that ascribe to Hindutva principles but also individuals and selves who claim to be morally upright, pristine and vigilant. The Right’s victory certainly goes much beyond those 336 seats; into the crevices of the human psyche that determine the way of life, for the self and the Other. Feminism, too, hasn’t escaped from their encroachment; the mounting erotophobia can be combated through such songs, images and arts that puncture the distributive sensible order and mark a moment of dissensus in such Right times.

~

Image source: http://www.edenposhcouture.com/s/cc_images/cache_4010348.jpg?t=1401729983

Purging Desire: Sport, Masculinity and Homoeroticism

by Rahul Sen

~

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus shooting.” ~ George Orwell, The Sporting Spirit (1945).

On June 14, 2014, I witnessed an over-flooding of my Facebook newsfeed with status updates about Netherlands’ defeat of Spain in the FIFA World Cup 2014 in which the latter suffered a historic defeat with a score of 5-1. What was more appalling was the number of rape-analogies that were drawn in many of these status messages indicating a symbolic emasculation and feminization of the defeated team. Hash tags such as – #orange #revengeissweet #thrashing #raped or #rape #revenge #Netherlands – were widely deployed along with those status messages that disclosed a language of bestiality, monstrosity, savagery, aggressiveness, patriarchal and masculinist pride.

*****

Sport has always maintained a circuitous liaison with the politics of sex, sexuality and gender. Rather, it would be convenient to say that the politics of gender encoded in the arena of sport is problematic; fraught with issues of patriotism, desire and nationalism. Predicated on the bedrock of competition, aggressiveness then becomes the hallowed virtue of the sportsmen and the team whose defeat of the opponent is taken as a token of colonialist pride and supremacy; the joys of invading territories and land. If violence is taken as the other name for patriarchy then sport emerges as the most powerful manifestation of the patriarchal self.

At a surface level, the most striking feature of this patriarchal institution is the rigid gender-segregated nature that it maintains. The binary of man-woman, male-female, masculine-feminine with the former always reigning over the latter, is nowhere, perhaps, perpetuated so rigidly and explicitly as in sport. Apart from the exclusion of any gender variant person into the arena, one can hardly name a sport where women (with all its problematic significations) enjoy equal privileges as men. The media, then, being a partner in crime plays a pivotal role in invisibilizing even the handful of games where women take part. I can tell this with confidence that not a single person who is not associated with sport (or even those who are very much into it) can name a female cricket player who too represents the nation or state in tournaments. This institution (like many others) does not like to entertain any shade of grey or ambiguity in terms of gender; the intersex body always being excluded from its domain. When the Pinki Pramanik rape allegation came to fore in 2012, what seemed more important was to prove Pinki as a ‘man’ based on the deep seated presumption that women cannot rape women or as if the right to ‘rape’ is an exclusive prerogative to be enjoyed by men. But there was a more dangerous politics of misogyny working underneath this endeavour to prove Pinki as a ‘man’; it would then mean that all of Pinki’s national and international achievements would go to the treasure house of ‘men’, snatching from female repute in sport and adding more to the list of masculinist achievements.

Although, sport emerges as an institution that champions and reifies hegemonic masculinity, it cannot be taken as a monolith. There is hierarchization within sports as well with some games being more masculine than others. This is more true of outdoor, competitive games than indoor ones (like chess); rugby and soccer, for instance, are deemed as more masculine than cricket which demands more grace and sophistication. However, all of them are sewn with the thread of a latent misogyny and embedded homophobia. Although, in the recent times there have been gay athletes who have come out and flaunted their sexuality; sport’s entrenched association with homophobia is quite evident and not unknown to any. Even though, Google came up with a rainbow doodle against Russia’s anti-gay law, in solidarity with queer athletes and highlighting a quote from the Olympic Charter that read: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play”, one can hardly recall any instance where an inter-sexed body ran the race or swum the pool. What was and has been the cynosure of attention was/is the male body with rippling muscles, bare aggressiveness and steaming pride all set to devour its opponent.

In 2013, when Emerson Sheik, a Brazilian soccer star, uploaded his photo of kissing a male friend on Instagram, sport’s discomfort with same-sex intimacy was set ablaze. Homophobic slurs and slogans were brandished against him from not only the sport community but also from viewers and fans. However, Emerson’s own response comes across as even more terrifying; condemning the attack against him as an “idiotic prejudice” he went on to say that it was “Emerson the person, not Emerson the footballer” informing his own subconscious homophobia (and discerning the game as free from any gender-variance) and latching onto the same, old public/private dichotomy. What seemed discomforting for the sporting community was the kind of ‘touch’ that Emerson had indulged in; such a ‘touch’ is certainly not desired for by the sporting community. ‘Touch’ comes with its own politics and significations in sport; homosocial unit, though it seems, time and again has competitive sports (like football or rugby) and also others have revealed their embedded homoerotic strain. Think of the spectacle that we consume – sweaty bodies pouncing upon each other (after casting a goal or taking a catch); hugs that are tighter and more passionate than we experience; bodies jumping onto the back of other bodies; some bodies lifting other bodies from the ground in an act of wistful embrace; kissing too features occasionally in such a sight – yes, this is not a gay orgy that I’m describing but a sight that is very common in sports. Biting the opponent or inflicting corporeal pain is not uncommon in sports too. Such an act would be deemed homoerotic and face outright condescension and censorship outside the field; but within the field it comes across as a hegemonic masculine act to reward the teammates and purge themselves of all kinds of gender-deviance and aberrant desires with the field emerging as a purgatario. This is the apparent paradox and fraughtness on which sport thrives; desire, here, is pitted against desire. The desire to emerge hegemonically masculine is, therefore, set against the desire to indulge in a homo-sexual/social bodily exchange. It almost serves as a patriarchal ritual to exorcise latent same-sex desires and all other forms of subordinate masculinities.

messi_neymar_hug

Sport has always bordered on this slippery ground; between homophobia and homoeroticism, between the desire to emerge masculine and the desire to symbolically sodomize/penetrate the opponent with the field/playground emerging as a highly erotic zone that has been couched under hetero-patriarchal ideological legitimation. Heading towards a post-queer world, if we live by the battle-cry that ‘we are all queer’ then sport is perhaps the most living example of this. The Luis Suárez incident should not be seen in isolation; it is implicated in the larger discourse of gender politics.