09 March 2016: The eve of 8 March, witnessed two simultaneous public talks on the occasion of the International Women’s Day at the Ad Block. The Teach-in included lectures by Dr Brinda Bose and Prof Sanjay Srivastava on ‘Gender & the Nation’. While, ABVP commenced with a panel discussion on “Being a Wom[a]n in 21st Century” adjacent to the Teach-in.
Dr Brinda Bose, in her lecture urged the audience to broaden the scope of women’s day celebration and extend their concerns beyond a specific gendered identity to take into account the discriminations and injustices faced by other marginalized sections and workers in the informal sectors. She also outlined the history behind the Women’s day celebrations, and ended her talk by dismantling ideas on feminity and womanhood, insisting that the audience simultaneously also take into consideration the LGBTQ movement and its criminalisation under Section 377 of the IPC.
“Women as a unilateral category means nothing except as a metaphor but the metaphor must transform to stand for contestations not just between women and patriarchal forces outside of them but within an expanded understanding of the term itself… just like the nation is a contested space within and not just at its mapped and zoned borders”, said Dr Bose.
Prof Sanjay Srivastava on the other hand, discussed how reflections on women subjugation, must also lead us to interrogate hierarchized gendered identities, and how the dynamics of man-to-woman, or man-to-man relationships operate in the society often giving birth to rigid, inflexible and culturally legitimized notions of masculinities. He charted the development of Indian masculinity, from pre-colonial times, to the colonial times when there arose widespread anxiety over effeteness and machismo, to the post-Independence times, which saw the rise of the ‘Five-Year Plan’ heroes in Bollywood—the doctors, engineers and builders who produced goods and services for the country to progress; to the present times where the Indian male is a global citizen living in a consumer society, having unflinching control in the domestic sphere.
He shared, “We have to understand nationalism not just as a political project but also as a cultural project… We have a connection between masculinity and nationalism in the form of a strong political leader [Narendra Modi] who says ‘I will give you the world but simultaneously I will make sure the Indian traditions are maintained’ so you can be a person of the world and also maintain control over the home.” Prof Srivastava also spoke about how traditional ideas were being re-invented in a new context and the modern day ‘National Hero’ who characterised as a consumer, is not somebody with ‘savings ethics’ and is ridden with masculine anxiety over the “consuming woman” of contemporary times.
During Prof Srivastava’s talk on the relationship between masculinity and the nation, representatives from ABVP, sitting nearby with their mouths tied with black cloths, protested against people from the “other side” who they maintained “ill-treated” ABVP girls on campus. “It is our right to put forth our voices… They say women do not need the protection of men and can walk alone on this campus by being courageous… There is no one to hear our voices… The very JNU known for this strong feminist identity is where we [ABVP girls] have to be in such a shameful state [with our mouths tied] demanding equality”, shared one of the female activists at the event.
Warning those who had allegedly thrown a girl’s belongings out of the dormitory for being a supporter of ABVP and having written anti-ABVP slogans on the bed in one of the girls’ hostels, another member said, “We will head straight to the VC if events like this happen again, we are forgiving you this time and will not be naming the perpetrators… Today these girls [those with the mouths tied] have remained silent but tomorrow they won’t hesitate to use their hands along with their mouths.”
JNUSU Joint Secretary Saurabh Sharma further added, “Our sisters in this campus have been mistreated by these very people who speak of nationalism and women’s rights… GSCASH provides a double standard gender justice… they also condemn those who go against their ideology and have in past known to provide protection to those professors who have been accused of sexually harassing girls on this campus… ABVP has always fought for gender rights and always will”.
The lectures at the Teach-in were followed by cultural performances, poetry recital and address by a social activist from Maharashtra. In what can be considered a very symbolic gesture Lokesh Jain, who performed Akkarmashi ‘The Outcaste’ based on the autobiography of the Dalit writer Shri Sharan Kumar Limbale, gathered a fistful of jowar seeds scattered at the performing arena and offered them to the audience members watching his performance at the end of the play. Dastak, a JNU student’s cultural group also presented a short street play ‘Leher’ depicting JNU resistance against the onslaught of fundamentalist forces.
Dhaval Bhate is a student at CSSS and works for the News Pool of The Informer.