Evolution and Disengagement: The Ongoing Struggle between ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’
‘Indian Culture’ or ‘Bharatiya Sanskriti’ happens to be a set of arbitrarily selected codes of behavior and conduct that the Hindu right-wing, hand in glove with their politically fascist representatives, attempt to impose on the rest of the country. To lend credence to their opinion, they selectively cite the Vedas and the Upanishads and then rope in Manu- the ancient Hindu patriarch to showcase what an ideal way of life ought to be. As self-appointed guardians of morality, these groups of people attempt to masquerade their will as the general will of the citizens of the Republic of India. Their rights to choose their ways of life remain inalienable only as long as they do not transgress the rights of every other citizen who does not see eye to eye with them. The law of primogeniture that ensured that familial property could only be passed along through male heirs promulgated patriarchy and complimented Manusmriti (the body of Manu’s laws governing human relations). The cooperation of patriarchy with capital landed or otherwise, ensured that the legitimacy of the ‘Great Family of Man’ would never be questioned.
The institution of marriage today is challenged more than ever before as people wise up early on in life to the absence of ‘happily ever afters’ and opt for divorces rather than living unhappy lives with incompatible spouses. Both determined marriages and love marriages end up in dissolution making the youth skeptical of the entire idea of marriage. The skepticism in its healthy avatar has ushered in live-in relationships. This is because the need for intimacy is as inalienable as the need for food, clothing, and shelter. The financial independence of both partners ensures one would never take the other for granted. The lack of a legal obligation to remain married nullifies complacency from creeping into the relationship, keeping the necessary flames alive and vibrant.
In other words, the youth of India today are finding newer ways to deal with the challenges of changing times. They are finding ways to negotiate their desires for affluence and intimacy on their terms. These changes understandably do not sit well with those with nostalgia where patriarchy reigned supreme. As a wounded wild beast, they employ their Khap Panchayats and other lumpen elements named after Lord Shiva and Lord Hanuman to harass and physically injure lovers exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of choice to love whoever they choose.
Section 377 of the IPC
The debate around Section 377 of the IPC also brings to the fore the unease of the moral police. If one were to cut through the legal jargon, one finds that the only valid objection to reading down article 377 would be that currently there are no laws in our land that deal with the situation where a man ends up raping and molesting another man or a boy. The limitation of the existing laws is that it defines molestation or rape only as an act of violence perpetrated by a man on a woman. Except for Sec 377 of the IPC, there is simply no provision where the law can take cognizance of a man being raped either by other men or even by a woman. When talking of and about rape, the most crucial element is the concept of consent or its absence. If anybody, at any point of a romantic/sexual situation revokes his/her consent, the continued pursuit of intimacy is by definition, rape. Consent is further elaborated as permission which no minor can give. The group of western European nations that India aspires to join almost unanimously agree on these definitions of rape and consent because these definitions tie up directly with the fundamental right to freedom of choice, which is also recognized as an inalienable human right by the United Nations Organization.
It is important to look at the question of freedom of choice as a nation because India is a country that functions as a parliamentary democracy wherein the task of making and amending laws is assigned to the parliament. Ours was not a country created through the sacrifice of millions to become a democracy that practices the tyranny of the majority. Our constitution stands for representational governance that takes into account the welfare of all stakeholders in the running of the state. In their salutation to the nation on its 66th Republic Day, the party with the most significant mandate in the parliament conveniently omitted the words ‘secular’ and ‘welfare’ while defining the principles that characterize our nation. Under the circumstances, one might feel that the marginalized and the dispossessed must turn to the judiciary for reprieve against an oppressive political class. The truth, however, is that only a minuscule minority of fascists within the ruling class wish for our country to be a den of backwardness and socio-economic oppression because only then can they hold on to their position of power and privilege granted through the nexus of patriarchy and capital. The only way to dismount this clique of oligarchs is to see that each one of us is a victim of its machinations. If women who comprise 50% of our population, join hands with queer individuals, religious and ethnic minorities who have all been fighting against state oppression for decades, the cumulative electoral base would be strong enough to wipe out even the strongest political clique that has consistently hijacked our nation’s political apparatus.
If the national mobilization against the brutal rape and murder incident of December 2013, in the national capital, is any indicator, the youth of today, particularly the young women no longer care for patriarchal subterfuge. They do not seek patronizing protection instead of freedom and empathetic, earnest young men increasingly do not find themselves inadequate or challenged in the presence of empowered and capable women. The disenchantments which push straight folks to spurn traditional gender roles and the stifling family structures also affect queer, and we share an actual area of commonality trying to decide for ourselves the terms of our intimacy without the interference of the moral or state police. This is not to argue that same-sex relationship or live-in relationships are without their own set of challenges. Like all paradigm shifts, these new structures of intimacies will also have their own set of problems, but that hardly means we ought to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The citizens of the country must be able to form an effective connection with each other, understanding that being in love differently is and has never been a lifestyle choice even if fundamentalists cry themselves hoarse declaring otherwise.
The Rises of Nazism in Germany
If however effective coalitions are not formed because straight people do not wish to care about the plight of queer people or vice versa, if urban men and women do not care about the plight of rural men and women or if we keep playing up caste cards, planning to stand up only for ourselves and for nobody else then we would do well to remember the following poem by Martin Niemoller written to criticize the cowardice of the German intelligentsia in the face of the rise of Nazism in Germany:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”
That our society is in flux cannot be argued with. Much is changing yet much more remains the same, especially when it comes to sexual politics. To be assigned second class citizenship on account of one’s gender or sexual preference is as bad as being marginalized for one’s caste and religious affiliations. The politics of desire is a personal one and may not be easily subsumed within xenophobic vote bank politics of caste and class, but in so far as the personal is always political, it is high time we imagine and formulate new political alliances that guarantee and safeguard the freedom of choice for all individuals, within the domestic as well as the public sphere.