In times of globalization and Hindutva, gender issues are being appropriated as cultural issues. This calls for a reformulation of our feminist agenda, to reclaim our issues and reconceptualise them such that feminist politics poses a challenge to the caste/class conceptualization of Brahminical Hindutva. Such a reconceptualization calls for a critique of Brahminical hierarchies from a gender perspective. Such critique have the potential of translating the discourse of sexual politics from individual narratives to collective contestation of hierarchies.
In the Brahminic social order, the caste based and sexual divisions of labour are intermeshed such that elevation in caste status is preceded by the withdrawal of women of that caste from productive processes outside the private sphere. Such a linkage operates on presumptions about the accessibility of the sexuality of lower caste women because of their participation in social labour. Brahminism in turn locates this as a failure of lower caste men to control the sexuality of their women and underlines it as a justification of their impurity. Thus gender ideology legitimises not only structures of patriarchy but also the very organization of caste.
Drawing upon Ambedkar’s analysis, caste ideology (endogamy) is the very basis of the regulation and organization of women’s sexuality. Hence caste determines the division of labour, both sexual division of labour and division of sexual labour. Brahminisation is a two way process of acculturation and assimilation and throughout history there has been Brahminical refusal to universalize a single patriarchal mode. Thus the existence of multiple patriarchies is a result of both Brahminical conspiracy and of the relation of the caste group to the means for production. There are therefore both discrete (specific to caste) as well as overlapping patriarchal arrangements.
Hence women who are sought to be united on the basis of systematic overlapping patriarchies are nevertheless divided on caste/class lines and by their consent to patriarchies and their compensatory structures. If feminists have to challenge these divisions, their mode of organization and struggles ‘should encompass all of the social inequalities that patriarchies are related to, embedded in and structured by.
Sharmila Rege | A Dalit Feminist Standpoint (1998)
The history of agitations and struggles of the second wave of the women’s movement is a history of articulations of strong antipatriarchal positions on different issues. Issues of sexuality and sexual politics, which are crucial for a feminist politics, remained largely within an individualistic and lifestyle frame. Since issues of sexuality are intrinsically linked to caste, addressing sexual politics without challenging Brahminism results in lifestyle feminism. During the post-Mandal agitations and the caste violence at Chunduru and Pimpri Deshmukh in Maharashtra, women of the upper castes were invoked as feminist subjects—assertive, nonsubmissive and protesting against injustice done to them as women and as citizens.
In the anti-Mandal protests young middle class women declared that they were against all kinds of reservations (including those for women); they mourned the death of merit and explicated that they were out to save the nation (5). At Pimpri Deshmukh in Maharashtra, following the brutal killing of a dalit kotwal (also an active mobiliser for the local Buddha Vihar) by upper caste men, upper caste women publicly complained that he had harassed them and was sexually perverted. They claimed to have incited their men to protect their honour, thereby invoking the agency of upper caste women. The issue was not merely one of molestation or of violence against dalits, but one that underlines the complex reformulations that Brahminical patriarchies undergo in order to counter collective dalit resistance.
–Sharmila Rege | A Dalit Feminist Standpoint (1998)