The Global Rise of the Right

Amid the rise of right-wing parties to governments across Asia, Apoorv Tiwari cautions against prematurely writing off the Leftist ideology.

The past year has seen elections in several democracies in different parts of our complicated globe. Since the beginning of 2013, voters have exercised their franchise in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh), the far-east (Japan, South Korea), and Europe (including national elections in several countries as well as the recent elections to the European Parliament).  Despite the diversity in terms of culture, geography and issues across these elections, there have been two essential points of convergence.  Firstly, the mandate for the winning party/coalition has been decisive in most cases. Secondly, these elections have ushered in a revival of the political “right”.

This trend is particularly evident in Asia, where three of its largest democracies – India, Japan and South Korea – have voted centre-right political formations to power after decades of centre-left rule. While their policies may differ based on specific requirements within their countries, it would be safe to assume that Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe and Park-Gun-Hye mark a definite departure towards the right when compared with previous regimes in their respective countries.

In this context, many have begun to write political obituaries of the Left in Asia. In India, even the Grand Old Party which has ruled us for more than five decades has been reduced to an embarrassing minority in the lower house. What then do these left/centre-left parties do? The most logical answer would perhaps be that they reinvent themselves and embrace some elements of the “right”.  They might be advised to look beyond entitlements and doles as strategies for social inclusion, and accept the merits of free-market capitalism.

Logical and intuitive as such suggestions may be, the strategy to challenge the right-wing by blindly moving to the right may be fraught with political risks, and may weaken democracy in India.  Firstly, a rainbow of parties spread across the ideological spectrum always offers more choices to the voter. In this election, people voted for the centre-right, even disregarding traditional determinants of voter behavior such as caste. However, that does not imply that the centre-left has become irrelevant. If anything, it may be relevant to remember that it was “crony capitalism” rather than socialism that was the principal reason behind the many scams that beset the previous government.

Additionally, it may be pertinent to remember that during the 80s, when there was still a fair degree of consensus on socialism as the only viable economic strategy in India, the BJP’s professed ideology of Gandhian socialism found few takers. It was only religious mobilization of the masses that made the BJP truly national party in the early 90s. Similarly, the Congress or the Communists cannot hope to defeat the BJP by abandoning their commitment to socialism. What is needed is a cleansing of socialism to rid it of some of its hypocrisy and distortion.

In our urge to celebrate this period of political stability and a China-like unfettered rule for the next five years, we must also remember that political stability must contribute to a deepening of democracy in India, and not erode its very foundations.

Apoorv Tiwari is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and currently working as an associate with Swaniti Initiative. The opinions of the author  are independent of his association with Swaniti.

The Puzzle of the BJP’s Muslim Supporters in Gujarat

Raheel Dhattiwala examines a political phenomenon in Gujarat: the support of Muslims for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that many Muslims perceive as responsible for the brutal violence in the State in 2002 when at least a thousand Muslims were killed. The findings are based on 23 months of ethnographic fieldwork — in periods spanning three elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — and an analysis of 101 polling booths in Ahmedabad city.
The following article is a summary of a policy report by the author.

BJP Muslim

Image credit: Hindu Centre

Are Muslims shedding their resentment for the BJP and voting for it? The potency of this question is greatest in context of Gujarat where it gained significance soon after the BJP’s political rapprochement with Muslims in 2009. This report attempts to answer why Gujarat’s Muslims would support the BJP, a party that many continue to acknowledge as having perpetrated violence against Muslims in the State less than a decade ago. In doing so, it examines the profile of the BJP Muslim supporter and what ‘support’ actually means.

Findings of this report are primarily based on in-depth fieldwork evidence spanning three election periods in Ahmedabad city (2010 to 2014). Indeed, interview evidence suggests an unprecedented surge in public support of Muslims for the BJP in this period. Motivations of support varied for those Muslims who had joined the party as members, from those who were supporters/campaigners for the party. For Muslim party members, political patronage of a party deemed to stay in power in the State was a strong incentive to vocally support the BJP as opposed to value rational incentives for the supporter/campaigner (“to get rid of our anti-national image we have to be with the BJP”). Common to both groups of supporters was the effect of personal experience of the violence. A Muslim with direct experience (e.g. death of a family member) of the violence in 2002 was least likely to voice support for the BJP.

At the same time, inferences drawn from 101 polling booths in seven assembly constituencies in Ahmedabad highlight a distinction between public and electoral support: more Muslims were likely to have supported the BJP in public only, than going out and voting for it as well. This is plausible given that anonymous referendum implies the possibility of public behaviour being distinct from electoral behaviour. The sample booth analysis suggests not more than 10 per cent votes were cast by Muslims for the BJP. This figure is not very different from Muslim voting for the BJP in Gujarat in the years prior to 2009. Of course, making ecological inferences from booth-level data has its own set of caveats, which further highlights the uncertainty of claims— “over 30 per cent Muslims voted for us”—made by the BJP from constituency-level aggregate figures.

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2014 Elections: The Waves of Change?

Although the public discourse surrounding the 2014 general elections seems to be centered on the effects of a “Modi Wave”, Mathew Idiculla stresses the need to remember that elections in India are ultimately a multi-polar contest fought over varied issues.  

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That 2014 would be a year of change seems inevitable. Whichever political formation wins the upcoming national elections, India will soon have a new Prime Minister after nearly a decade under Manmohan Singh. But beyond a mere change of guard, this election has the potential to alter the political and economic trajectory of India. This is not merely because Congress is projected to get one of its lowest ever tallies as per most opinion polls, but also because its chief challenger seems to embody a thought quite different from that held by all previous prime ministers.

2014 could very well be remembered with other landmark years in India’s political history- 1967, when Congress domination ended as it lost power in half the states; 1977, when for the first time Congress was unseated from power at the centre and 1984, when Congress won its highest vote share ever and had for the last time a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family as the Prime Minster. In terms of economic policy, 1991 saw a major policy shift in India with the opening of the markets which was further taken forward by the BJP led NDA government. However, since 2004, India has followed an “inclusive growth” model which sought to go beyond economic growth and focused on delivering social welfare by enacting various socio-economic rights. But with economic growth lowering to 5.5 per cent this year and rising inflation, the viability of this model is under the scanner and the policy priorities of the next government could hence undergo a major shift.

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The politics of apoliticising gender in India

Bhoomika Joshi and Sanober Umar

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The widespread protests after the rape of a young woman in Delhi during December-January 2012-13 were analysed as signals of a mass awakening of gender consciousness in India by many commentators, especially among the urban metropolitan youth. Political parties across the spectrum registered their responses against the incident, ranging among demands for capital punishment, castration and life sentence.
However the incorporation of ‘gender’ as an agenda for electoral politics by mainstream political parties did not find an expression and still remains absent. The subsumption of gender as a platform of political ideology under other debates and the absence of taking into account the intersectionality of various identities within the category of gender has prevented the full expression of political consolidation of feminist ideologies at the state level. For the world’s largest democracy, ‘gender’ as a realm of political contestation and agenda remains subsumed under other ‘larger debates’. Elections in India are not fought, loss or feared by political parties over the need to address the impact of gendered discrimination. Gender as a principle of organized agenda for political action, especially at the larger national level has not garnered the same level of interest as other matters of political power, contestation, and negotiation.

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Rape – The Terrible Child Of Patriarchy

rapeShreeppriya GK

On a gloomy morning in the last week of the departing year, a few tube-lights shone down on a solitary teak desk. In the harsh light lay what had been, for the past several days, the daily harbinger of death and depravity – an array of newspapers.

The brutal gang rape and torture of a young physiotherapy student in New Delhi on the 16thof December had sparked national and international outrage over the state of women’s security in Delhi and the rest of the country. Her sad demise on the 29th of December after a heroic battle against all odds fueled further protests and agitations, calling for tougher laws and stringent action against rapists.

Newspapers were inundated by a deluge of freshly reported rape cases, with victims ranging from toddlers to senior citizens. The media and intelligentsia focused all their energies on making rape, its causes, its consequences and judicial clauses their prime-time issue across all channels of communication.

What causes rape? – they wondered aloud. Rapists do. That is the only truthful answer. But the geriatric gentry of my country, often going by titles such as Minister, MP or MLA decided to compete for the best foot-in-the-mouth response to that question. From short clothes and westernization to going out unescorted by a male family member to astrological positions - there was no dearth of opinions pinning the blame on the victim. It must be mentioned here, that the liberal media, now thrusting microphones into the faces of angry young women, appropriately flayed each of these commentators for their regressive views.

But the common thread running through most of these responses was the passivization of the act. They spoke of rape as something that ‘happened’, not as an act that was committed. This somehow absolved the culprit of most of the blame, making it look like what he did was some inevitable reaction to external circumstances beyond his control. Rape is not a natural disaster that ‘happens’ unexpectedly, qualifying for us to have ‘precautions’ (mostly things that women should/shouldn’t wear or do) in place to prevent it. Rape is a crime and should be treated as such, not just constitutionally, but socially as well.

There are several factors that allow a patriarchal society to use rape as a tool to suppress women and their cries for equal rights. Some of them are explored here.

The Myth of Modesty

An overwhelming majority of the population believes that short, revealing clothes are ‘provocative’ and incite men to commit sexual crimes. Rape statistics have proved that the victim’s clothing has little to do with the crime as opposed to her vulnerability as perceived by the rapist. Women in burkhas have equal chances of getting raped as those in short skirts. However, this doctrine has two distinct benefits in a patriarchal society. Firstly, it lures women into a sense of denial and false security, convincing them that they cannot be possible targets because they do not dress in a certain way. Secondly, it reinforces male control over the female body, allowing men to dictate how women present themselves in public. Nigerian writer Amaka Okafor-Vanniin her piece ‘Nigeria Has A Rape Culture Too’ says:It is in this policing of a woman’s body and the hyper-vigilance of the female sexuality, which dictates and subordinates what the woman wants or does not want, that the problem lies. This policing and hyper-vigilance translates to the society telling the woman that there is something inherently wrong with her body. Thus she must be told what to wear (or not wear) to limit the exposure to men and when she doesn’t conform, and is assaulted or arrested, then she is responsible. In other words, if a woman’s body is visible, it ought to be available for sex or punished for this visibility.

The last line especially rings true, going by some of the popular male sentiment on internet forums. The notion that a woman wearing revealing clothing is a legitimate target for sexual advances is largely prevalent. What is more concerning is that there is barely any difference made between a woman seeking consensual sex and getting raped. To them, the act is just sex.

It Isn’t Surprise Sex

The idea that rape is a fallout of sexual repression or over-sexualization in our culture is advocated by several religious groups and Khap Panchayats (unauthorized kangaroo-courts). Rape is seen as an act of agitated sexual relief, an urgent need to quench sexual desires aroused by the aforementioned garments or suggestive behaviour. The University of Minnesota in its sociological findings on rape states the following:Rape is experienced by the victims as an act of violence. It is a life-threatening experience.While sexual attraction may be influential, power, control and anger are the primary motives. Most rapists have access to a sexual partner. Gratification comes from gaining power and control and discharging anger.Rape is a lot more than an unwanted sex act, it is a violent crime. Many rapists carry a weapon and threaten the victim with violence or death.Rape is an act of violence, not passion. It is an attempt to hurt and humiliate, using sex as the weapon.

In several cases, rape is used as a tool to ‘teach the woman a lesson’ on modesty, how to conduct herself and what not to do. If her conduct is seen as an aberration in the patriarchal scheme of things, the man takes the righteous responsibility to punish her for her waywardness.

In a sexually conservative country like India, overt sexual representations in mass media are met with protests, bans and public interest litigations for obscenity. How then, does the average male get along? Indians are the second largest searchers for porn on Google. There is a thriving market for locally and globally made porn movies in shady single screen theatres that resist crackdown using accomplices in the system. To maintain high moral standards in public while also enjoying sexual gratification from the objectification of the female body, there is the indigenous concept of ‘item numbers’ in films. These are peppy songs wherein a skimpily clad woman gyrates suggestively in front of a group of drunken, leering men, providing much needed eye candy to the front - benchers. What’s more, the censor board passes these with a U (Universal – suitable for all) certificate and these songs get inserted in ‘family films’. The respectable average citizen cannot, of course, be seen as condoning such raunchiness and improper conduct. Therefore, we have filmmakers conveniently splitting the representation of women into two: the pure heroine and the sexually charged vamp.

The Madonna - Whore Concept

A brainchild of Sigmund Freud and part of his psychoanalytical theories, the Madonna-Whore concept talks about the male notion that sees women as essentially belonging to two broad categories – the pure, virginal, motherly Madonna and the debased, characterless whore. The man would want to raise a family with the Madonna and claim her as his own in public while the whore would be his outlet for sexual desires, also evoking his sense of disdain. When a man suffers from the Madonna – Whore complex, he cannot see his wife as a sexual partner, except for procreation. Therefore, he seeks sexual intimacy outside of his marriage with women who satisfy his physical needs, while he looks upon them with virtuous contempt.

Filmmakers in conservative societies probably suffer from this complex, for it is very clearly manifested in their work. They seem to provide a clear demarcation between the Madonna who is ‘marriage material’ and the vamp, who is there to merely titillate. The deeply entrenched hypocrisy in allowing a man to take the moral high ground while enjoying access to both the Madonna and the whore as he pleases is what slowly manifests into a warped civil society. This also serves to bridle female sexuality, offering the woman either virginity or promiscuity in a blunt bargain.

Counting On Fingers

There is no wonder then, that questions on the victim’s character are considered normal during a rape trial. Though the constitution does not take into account any aspect of the victim’s sex life while making observations on rape, the flawed forensic evidence does not even let the victim take it that far. Human Rights Watch reports that the use of the Finger Testis still prevalent in Indian hospitals to determine if rape has occurred:In the finger test, also known as the two-finger test, the examining doctor notes the presence or absence of the hymen and the size and so-called laxity of the vagina of the rape survivor. The finger test is widely used in efforts to assess whether unmarried girls and women are “habituated to sexual intercourse.” Yet the state of the hymen offers little to answer this question. A hymen can have an “old tear” and its orifice may vary in size for many reasons unrelated to sex, so examining it provides no evidence for drawing conclusions about “habituation to sexual intercourse.” Furthermore, the question of whether a woman has had any previous sexual experience has no bearing on whether she consented to the sexual act under consideration. The continued use of the finger test points to a gulf between Indian forensic and legal practice and current scientific knowledge and court decisions that recognize women’s rights.

The Finger Test allows defendants to strengthen their case when the assault involves women habituated to sexual intercourse. Though the law does not discriminate between the different kinds of women that can seek protection under it, the enforcers often draw the line. A ‘promiscuous’ woman has less chances of seeking prosecution than a virgin who was violated. In her article ‘We Are All Part of the Rape Culture’, Akshi Singh writes:Sex workers and domestic workers are at the receiving end of systematic sexual violence but the violence faced by them is normalized in the structure of our society.

Our politicians have gone to the extent of trivializing rape cases involving commercial sex workers as a transaction gone wrong and not a crime.

Regardless of whom the rape physically ravages, the predominant perception is that it damages the family’s honour the most - the family, nominally represented by male heads.  It allows for rape to be a tool for one man to carry out attacks against the other by defiling his woman. This is often seen in community skirmishes where women are raped in the presence of their husbands to teach the men a lesson. Damaging the woman is equal to damaging the man’s property – she ceases to be an individual entity in these cases.

There is a certain pattern in the relationship establishment that is mandated by popular culture, particularly films. A man (often the hero) is seen to be slotting the women he comes across into three neatly divided categories: mother, sister, (potential) girlfriend. He is fiercely protective of them and his righteous anger directed at anyone who harms them is consistent with the rightful dominance he exerts over them.

I have often argued that there is a fourth category – the stranger. The woman on the street, in the train, at the mall. Here is a woman who is a separate entity, devoid of male ownership.

She should be left alone, and unconditionally, at that.

Our glorified hero has no business with her, regardless of what she’s wearing, where he spots her or what time of the day/night it is. He also has no rights to her body regardless of her age/marital status/vital measurements.

It seems like quite a simple concept to grasp, but the slew of male chauvinistic films that reiterate a man’s default ownership over any woman he sets his eyes on often run to packed theatres, and this is a worrying cultural trend.

Religion, ritual, culture and relationships have for long tied women down to abusive social and moral structures. Patriarchy works out a bitter deal – it takes away freedom and hands out blame. It will, as long as we continue to believe that honour lies in an unbroken hymen.

Shreeppriya GK is purusing M.Sc. in Social Anthropology at Oxford University. 

Healthcare for Women: Should be big agenda for Elections 2014

Sucheta Tiwari

ImageThe three waves of feminism seem to have overlooked the Indian shores. We are a country where any conversation about gender issues tends to get lost within layers of complexities ranging from predominantly patriarchal societal norms to misrepresentation of women in government offices. The issue of women’s health weaves through all of these layers and emerges as one of the most complex, yet one of the most poignant issues of the day. Mr. K.D. Singh brought up the issue of sanitation and drinking water facilities in his post. I will try to delve deeper into the healthcare issues of Indian women.

Indian healthcare stands on a unique ground for a variety of reasons, the most obvious one being the lack of a well defined healthcare system. The rural-urban divide in healthcare facilities is representative of the dichotomous nature of almost all aspects of living in India. The uniqueness of our position does not end at a gaping chasm between the preventive and treatment facilities available to the populations in these areas: it extends to the disease spectrum that our population is heir to. On the one hand we have one of the heaviest burdens of lifestyle diseases like diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease, and on the other hand our infant mortality rate and our maternal mortality rate remain among the worst in the world. While the prevalence of diseases like cancer requires cutting edge medical science for control, we also have heavy disease burdens of completely manageable conditions like malaria, dengue, malnutrition and anaemia.

Add to this the unique position the Indian woman finds herself in. That our society’s patriarchal methods have led to disastrous consequences for women is seen statistically in our persistently skewed sex ratios. Female foeticide still remains at large despite the Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act coming into effect nearly twenty years ago. Our maternal mortality has improved slightly and we are now at 212 maternal deaths per 100,000 per year; but this is far from the MDG target of 109 by 2015. (We are much closer to attaining the MDGs in areas like Infant Mortality, HIV/AIDS control, Malaria management: which probably hints at inadequate efforts invested in understanding the situation of maternal mortality in India).

Even when we put gender-specific public health issues aside, Indian women are faced with a plethora of completely preventable but utterly mismanaged conditions. Seventy-five per cent of pregnant women are anaemic from low levels of iron. In a country that can’t really boast of basic public amenities for sanitation, it is the women that bear the brunt of our Open-Toilet culture. From the obvious public health disaster that an undeveloped sewage disposal system is to the lack of menstrual hygiene, the problem of sanitation in women creates a domino effect that affects not only their health and the health of their children; it also results in adolescent girls dropping out of school for fear of embarrassment.

This brings me to the taboos associated with womanhood that have ingrained themselves in our culture. Menstruation is shameful, sex education is a far cry from reality, and domestic violence in most segments of the society is so well-rooted that it is considered a way of life. The infamous Delhi gang rape case of last December brought about social mobilization that, if sustained, can be the beginning of change. But it’s important to realize that violence is as much a public health issue as it is a social one. The signs of violence need to be identified, proper medical care systems- both physical and mental- need to be in place for victims of violence. Most importantly, public health campaigns to promote awareness of ongoing violence and human rights movements at the grassroots level need to be targeted towards women, so that they can take charge of their own lives- the one thing that hasn’t happened in sixty six years of independence.

While health policies like the Janani Suraksha Yojana are a great way to promote safe healthcare practices among women, monitoring their efficacy is vital if any real change is to be brought about. Training Anganwadi workers, ASHAs and ANMs in the community has been a good step to empower women while improving the health of their communities. But again, even with regular training programs in place, their actual efficacy must be monitored by an external agency if we want to see results. Without an actual measure of the results that a policy brings about, all policymaking is mere tokenism in the name of governance.

It is well known that several healthcare plans have been put forward by the planning commission; most of them are well rounded and well researched initiatives. The real problem lies in their implementation or lack thereof. WHO recommends that governments spend at least 5% of their GDP on healthcare. In India’s fledgling attempts to achieve this, we have only managed to spend 3.9% of our GDP on healthcare- an even lesser amount on issues specific to women. Funding is only one part of the picture. We need people working at the grassroots level on issues of sanitation, safe births, violence, nutrition- and we need impartial, third-party review of their work.

The issue of women’s health as a whole needs to be broken down into components. We need the government to work in collaboration with NGOs, individuals and organizations with vested interest on these components. And we need periodic reviews of the larger picture for targeted improvement. While the problem may seem insurmountable, it can be tackled by persistent dedication and action.

Sucheta Tiwari is an MSc Global Health Science student in the Oxford University Nuffield Department of Population Health. She completed her MBBS from Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi

Women as Political Actors- Rethinking Strategies

Aprajita Pandey 

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Civic engagement on gender issues has seen a massive recent shift from catering to women-specific laws, policies, and programs to questioning the fundamental structures that propel gender inequality. The influence of active women’s movement in India is visible in research, academic exchange, democratic institutions and larger political debates. Rather than stereotyping women as apolitical, disinterested parties, women are now more fully acknowledged as active political agents.

However, there is still a stark difference between women’s engagement as a political class versus male engagement in the political sphere. Women’s networks are largely circumscribed to the domestic / private sphere, segmented off from the more dominant public politics of men. While women’s groups may organize themselves, develop solidarity around their issues, and make decisions on the personal front, these decisions are commonly viewed as apolitical and unique to women, and thus weaker than the “active” politics of the traditionally male sphere.

Government institutions are extensions of the society’s culture, mindsets and power relations. Any step forward to reclaim democracy and political rights for women necessitates a parallel step to dismantle the structures undermining women’s autonomy. While women’s groups have resisted these structures from outside the system, low female voter turnout and miniscule female representation in positions of power proves there is a long way to go until women within the prevailing system are equally heard.

As Mr. Singh states, this is a radical time to reinvigorate consciousness of gender inequality and to bring women’s voices to the political front. In states like Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh and Goa we have witnessed remarkable increases in female turnout and recognition of female voices on safety and culture. This rise of consciousness or dialogue needs to be tapped in the upcoming Delhi State assembly elections as well as during the National elections.

Haiyya as an organization believes in filling this gap through people-powered change. Collective power only comes when people band together – and the strongest collectives use shared identities, shared experiences and shared values to build commitment. That makes this aggregation of women’s voices together becomes highly crucial. In our Rise Up! Campaign in Delhi, we use the shared identities, experiences of marginalization and empowerment, and shared values to aggregate women’s voices for power. In the constituencies of Malviya Nagar, Kasturba Nagar, Karol Bagh, and Model Town, Rise Up! Captains and volunteers are creating women’s voting blocks where women grow from disparate voices into an organized network focusing on using democratic governance to address their issues.

Large-scale policy changes, programs and laws are a way to reduce gender-based disparity, but for an organizer – and for civil society – the most important, step is to empower women to raise their voice. By coming together, discussing their issues, engaging with governance, and making an informed vote, women can truly come to yield political power.  The challenge, however, lies in emphasizing shared struggles associated with gender, rather than falling into divisions of socio-economic class. Through the discussions that Haiyya sparks to yield powerful voting blocks, women have found a space to spark a more constructive and inclusive society.

Aprajita Pandey is Partnerships, Communications and Research Associate at Haiyya. 

Haiyya was founded in February, 2013 by Deepti Doshi, who is a graduate in Public Administration from Kennedy School at Harvard University.  Haiyya (www.haiyya.in)  is a mission-based, non-partisan, Mumbai-based organization that  promotes leadership and community building as a means to foster civic engagement. Currently, Haiyya is working on Rise Up! Campaign in Delhi for aggregating women’s voices in the upcoming State assembly elections.