A lot has changed since I started with my MA. I am not only talking about the rapid ‘reforms’ taking place in the university itself but talking about a whole global political climate. Of course, one can argue that change is always for the good and some can argue against it. However, how would a person, who is stuck in between these stands and at the same time being not allowed to argue, discuss or debate make his/her ground? Through this paper, I would like to take a look at some of these ‘changes’ or ‘reforms’ taking place within our country (and globally) and try to establish (if I can) its linkages with a rapid and aggressive assertion of masculinity.
I begin my attempt with taking a look at the global political trends. Of course when one talks about ‘trends’, the Donald cannot be far. I remember watching a speech of US Ex-President Barack Obama roughly a year back when the US election campaigns were in full swing. I still remember one of his concluding lines (I think it was the State of the Union speech), he said and I quote, “the next time when someone will be addressing you, I believe that person will be a ‘she’”(referring to the lady in the high castle, our very own Hillary Clinton). He couldn’t have been more wrong. The election results brought in ‘unexpected’ results and Donald Trump was elected the US Presidential Elect (by popular vote). It is not my agenda to go into the debate of the US elections etc. I am more concerned here with the brash, misogynist, rowdy, xenophobic Mr. Trump. His campaign slogan ‘make America great again’ I think sums it all up. The violent assertion of white masculinity, not only on what they call ‘immigrants’ but also on their own citizens is for all to see. And to say that it was suppressed in this ‘new age of reason, post-enlightenment, post-globalization’ and all such hullabaloo would be an understatement. Attacks by ‘Islamic radicals’ (as the media houses CNN and BBC reported) were reported before the elections, the most famous one being of course the shooting in a Gay bar in Orlando. When it comes to some of the tweets, interviews and even the presidential debates of President Elect Donald Trump, I think we all know enough already but I want to highlight the fact that in almost every such instance is a hidden ideology that “I as a rich, white American man, have the freedom to say anything and do anything because the world revolves around me and I rule the world”. A new violent, aggressive and masculinist man has come to the party! This is not an isolated instance by any means. One can look at Russia and the leadership of Putin there as well which runs almost on similar lines. Germany and France are also catching up in this ‘trend’.
Now, lets come to home sweet home, or how it has been sold to the world in recent times, ‘Incredible India’. The changes in the socio-political and cultural spheres here in India also have not been short of rapid. I began this paper by mentioning that a lot has changed in the country since I joined MA. This cannot be more true when it comes to the voices I hear around the university campus and even within it. Some students have been more vocal and aggressive as well as assertive than others. The ‘age of hot young blood has ushered in’, as I was told while talking to one of my fellow classmates. But before moving into what has led to this increasingly vocal and aggressive as well as brash ‘breed’ of ‘hot young blood’, lets take a look at the changes taking place at the wider scale. There is a character in the Harry Potter series whose fear is such that J.K Rowling has given him the title of ‘he, who must not be named’. I shall refer to a particular person sitting at the top of the political rung in our country at the moment by that very title. Part of the reason for me giving him this title is because of the fear he and he and his followers (lets call them Death Eaters) instill on others who question them (but ‘he who must not be named’ in particular) and are critical of them. Now lets see how ‘he who must not be named’ is presented to us or rather how he projects himself. He is very hard working. ‘Facts’ about him working his ass off for the country are every once in a while circulated in social media. They state that he wakes up early in the morning works for eighteen hours, manages to remain healthy and is travel to other countries for leisure trips, oops I mean important meetings with politicians of other countries. He is a devout ‘Hindu’ and speaks his mind (on certain occasions he is very silent somehow).
Jokes aside, I want to highlight how it is not he who must not be named who sells but his masculinity. He is projected as a person too much involved in his work and therefore there is obviously no space or time in his life for unimportant things like his wife and mother. Seldom the media talks about these junior artists. Still, the rhetoric that emerges from the Death Eaters is that “he is wholeheartedly working for the betterment of the nation”. It is almost but an attempt to project he who must not be named as an unmarried (but married to the nation state), devout and chaste person who has given everything up for the country. The nation (BHARAT MATA) is his EVERYTHING. What he does can and is only for the betterment of us all inhabitants of India. He is the patriarch. Like any other patriarch who to assert his masculinity keeps a close check on his household, so does he as well. Time and again he to show his authority and assert his control on his household comes up with instruments of check and balance (like the UGC fiasco, JNU case and now demonetization). It is a reminder to all the inhabitants in his household that they better behave and that they not be unruly else they could be labelled as traitors to ‘mother India’. However, like with every family there are some unruly children nonetheless and they need to be beaten and bashed and be checked upon the most. This unruly child in the northern most part of the country as well as the north east bears the brunt of his authority. Coming to the lower levels, the Death Eaters do the messy work in his household. The Death Eaters go from place to place and cleanse the household of any unwanted visitors like many people of other religions living in his household for many years. They are made to return to their homes. The homes are given ‘proper’gender roles and women and homosexuals are segregated. As he who must not be named is hygienic and clean so should be the populace, his household. Hence, the schemes of ‘swachh Bharat’ etc. I will elaborate this in the coming paragraphs.
When I was given this assignment and was asked to go around and explore what all is happening around and observe, I thought that I would never be able to explore so much. But then I realized that one of these ‘spaces’ of exploration which I every time ignored was the one which I was the most familiar with, i.e. the Delhi Metro. It is really amazing how much you can observe by just taking your headphones off for a bit and listen! I came across this advertisement in the metro which was an advert for LPG subsidy. It showed a woman sitting on the kitchen floor smiling and doing ‘her job’, along with a photo of he who must not be named. When I clicked the photo, a gentleman seeing what I was doing got up and asked me what my profession was, to which I replied that I am a post graduate student majoring in History. I do not know what I did but he gave me a full lecture of 45 minutes on the metro throughout my journey on why and how he who must not be named is perfect for the job of running the country and that women’s role is ‘better suited’ in the kitchen. He was a well educated person (he was an MBBS and a practicing orthopedist at one of the most reputed hospitals in Delhi and in the country as well). I let him get it all out on me. I roamed around the campus (DU) and got into random discussions with my friends in DSE, FMS as well as some of the colleges. I found out a very interesting thing. Every time I asked my friends anything about the government, the opinions of my friends be it in agreement or disagreement with the government almost every time centered on he who must not be named. For those who were in agreement with him, their argument was that they don’t agree with his party’s ideology but trust he who must not be named only, because they believe that ‘he is actually trying to make things better’. I think this a point that need to emphasized. Almost everyplace you go nowadays (market places, bus stops, railway station etc) you can see a photo of the man who must not be named as occupying the most space in any of the party advert and his various ‘welfare’ schemes. People identify with he who must not be named, even his own party I think now sells itself through him. He who must not be named is a very marketable commodity these days, almost a brand in itself.
Further, there are some trends that can be noticed in the cultural spheres as well which I believe have also played a crucial role in this new Indian masculinity to emerge. Lets take a look at how the music scene has changed over the past decade. With the likes of Indie-pop artists going into decline there has emerged a new breed of Punjabi (more specifically Jat influenced) rap. Alas, it is bad upon my part that I am not fond of rap music much but some of the song titles are easily recognizable – ‘Blues eyes hypnotize’ ( a classic for me when it comes to the objectification of women), ‘Chittiya Kalaaiya’ etc. If one listens closely one can see how the singer asserts his masculinity almost in an unapologetic way. One can take a walk in any street and can here such songs be played and sung joyfully by both men and women. It is also worth noting that seeing the movies that involved the unruly child of he who must not be named ten years back and now, except for one or two movies every other movie involves ‘action’ by the Indian government against ‘terrorists’ or ‘threat to nation’ (‘Baby’, ‘Holiday’ to name a few). A few movies have also been made which have tried to sensitized people on gender and consent and I hope more such movies be made. But he who must not be named is not leaving movie industry to function independently as well.
There is also an increased number of gyms that have opened up in the past few years. An increasing number of youths are enrolled in these gyms. Fitness and hygiene (I mentioned about ‘swachh bharat’ etc in the preceding paragraphs) are now being increasingly emphasized. A mention must also be made about media (social media as well). We saw prime time news on Indian news channels, their anchors screaming at the top of their voice, giving their own opinions and flashing them as news flash. Debate and discussion seem to have taken a unimportant role. Another issue attached to this is of the role of social media. Distracting the people and strong opposing anyone critical of he who must not be named has become the norm. The other celebrity face that can be seen practically everywhere is that of a very flexible man. He has come out with his own brand of ‘indigenous’ products and is now becoming a brand in itself. Be it toothpaste, soap, spices and what not he is everywhere. I will correct the previous line, he is everywhere but one, he still hasn’t entered the condom market. Herbal flavored condoms is what we all want. However, I don’t think this will be out anytime soon because some of the Death Eaters want ‘Hindu women’ to produce four to five ‘sons’ (obviously not daughters, because dowry, duh!).
I want to clarify that just because I am critical of he who must be named doesn’t mean that I am aligned to the Left. The Left for me is also doing its fair share of hocus-pocus. Lets take for example a protest march that I went to recently. A collective of female students of universities of Delhi/NCR organized a protest against sexual harassment, fewer number of hostel seats for them as compared to male students as well as against curfew timings. Now this march had an agenda which was quite different from the issue of the unruly child in the northernmost part of India. Still, some of feminists associated with the Left joined the march and started chanting slogans which might have been related to the larger feminist meta-narrative but not necessarily with that particular march. Moreover, the person who chanted those slogans is not a member of that particular collective. There is also this incident that took place in JNUSU elections. There various wings of the Left combined to decimate the Right there but they went a bit ahead when they performed ‘last rites’ of the Right there. I understand the emotions that they would have been going through but I still believe that they shouldn’t have done that. What I fear the most is that the Left doesn’t do anything stupid and impulsive which I think will give the Right an excuse to go all out on them. Also, from what I have read in many feminist articles of late (be it pertaining to my gender papers or any newspaper articles) is that the Left is increasingly associating itself with feminist movement and that is not allowing for the various definitions of feminism to come together. My understanding of feminism is that, that it has many definitions. People say that it is a wrong thing. But why? Why is it having many definitions a bad thing? Doesn’t it allow it to be flexible and for its greater application across various backgrounds (be it transnational feminist discourse, inter sectional feminist discourse, sociological feminist discourse or historiographical feminist discourse)? Both the Right and the Left are not allowing for this movement to flourish, I believe. I would also like to mention that we, MA students of Department of History have our whats app group. Since DU (or any university for that matter) consists of people coming from various backgrounds, so are in our very classroom as well. During various controversies of late, opinions of both Right and Left were very evident in the ‘conversations’ that took place. It seemed that the whole of the class was divided into the Right on the one hand and the Left on the other. Students on both sides let it all out on each other and we other students who did not abide with both, enjoyed a first row seat to the mayhem.
The other major issue that I have seen around of late (both as student as well as a gender equality activist) is that we talk about inter-disciplinary in practically every paper we study. We as students of history cannot study the subject in isolation to anthropology, sociology, political science, English etc. However, when it comes to a world and interaction outside our studies there is practically no interaction both between the students of other departments and teachers/professors on a formal level. Informal interaction between the students is there but that is also not of a significant scale, its minuscule. I found this really astonishing. We as students of history don’t know what or how lets say students of botany or mathematics are being taught and how they approach research work. There is no interaction. So much for inter-disciplinary studies! We as students and people involved in academia need to bridge this divide. Why can’t we have inter-department interactions on a formal level? Won’t this only better the level of academic research in our country? Doctors don’t think outside their profession, scientists are involved in their own research and so are historians and students of history. This is a very sensitive matter and at a time when education is being targeted by he who must not be named and Death Eaters, academia needs to stick together. It is high time that we leave aside our differences and do whatever we can to educate, debate and discuss (be it over tea and cigarettes or over rum) as many people as we can, because as easy as they may seem, they are not and they are the wheels which will drive our country forwards and to greater heights.