(Written for Kindle Magazine)
By Saswat Pattanayak
The shock and clamor surrounding Donald Trump’s ascension to power is entirely unwarranted. The sentimental protests, tearful mournings and fearful disbelief about how to make sense of Trump are self-serving exaggerations. Self-serving, because taking such positions merely distinguishes us from the nastiness that defines Trump. To the mortified, he is the indecency that is impossible to explain and he is the vice we have apparently fought all along. Trump is the worst of humanity, the enemy of the marginalized, the maniac who cannot be trusted with a nuclear button, the groper-in-chief who must not have become the commander-in-chief of the most consequential country in this planet. There is an inversely proportional relationship we share with his moralism. He is the anti-mirror, he is the nightmare personified, he is the friend of Putin, he is the American Modi. He is the enemy of the Muslims. He is the enemy of the women. He is the enemy of the poor. And no wonder, he even dashed our hope of having the first female president in American history. Where do we go from here now? Will our world not end now?
More ridiculous than Trump’s victory is the collective grief prevailing in its aftermath. More irksome than the erratic ignorance of Trump is the irresponsibility of our political memories. More culminating blow is landed to us from our hunky-dory imaginings of the American states of affairs preceding this poll than from the Canadian immigration website crash. It is our luxuriously privileged indulgence in our botoxed worldviews that allows our imagined future tragedies to surpass the reality of our past indifference. We are eager to lament an unseen tomorrow while justifying the legacies that have been harrowing for decades. In fact, keeping with that adulation of our rectitude, we are hoping for our noble old behaviors to be emulated in coming years. Have no fear, Obama assures us, we are all now the cheerleaders for Trump. No matter how disqualified he was, no matter the sexual predator that he was, no matter the tax evader that he was, no matter the racist, Islamophobe, misogynist untrustworthy xenophobe that he was, long live our democracy, which we shall continue to introduce in every land of this world under his leadership.
Lest the energy of dissonance and dissent is channelized differently, Hillary Clinton reminds us that peaceful transition of power is what we not only believe in, but cherish. All our banking institutions and corporations and bosses of both the big parties are not going to be overthrown. We are going to accept the results gracefully like we always have because we have unequivocal faith in the system they own. We must continue to work together with them to relish the American greatness that we have defined in all its past, present and future tense. Hallelujah!
Trump is not a miracle. Trump is culmination of American exceptionalism which has been preached by every president preceding him. Trump is the logical apotheosis of humanized capitalism, where the winners take all, where executive decisions are sacrosanct, where we feel it right to sponsor deaths and tortures and waterboarding and drones and assassinations and weaponization of regions that we consider inferior.
Today liberal America is shaking with moralist rage, in fear and anger. There are protests outside the Trump Tower. There are letters school children are writing to Trump. There are celebrities urging their fans to continue the fight. An unprecedented climate of uncertainty hovers over America. Apprehensive of what the first 100 days of Trump can result in. Will illegals be deported? Will there be wars? Will other countries now be scared of our hooliganism? Will there be visa restrictions on people? Will there now be assaults on women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights? Will black people be safe any longer? Will hardworking people flourish anymore? Will a few elites enjoy concentrated wealth? Will our healthcare industry fail? Will our education become unaffordable? Will there be public protests and police atrocities? Will the rich now manipulate taxation system? Will we ever have a female president? Will we be able to explain our children about what our president should do and what he actually does?
All these and many more questions plague the well-meaning liberals. They are finding everything surreal with Trump’s triumph. The world is no longer the same. The good old days of freedom, respect, dignity, decency, morality, virtues and values are past us. Trump has forced us to wake up from our American dreams.
Maybe it is high time that we did and maybe we owe that to Donald Trump. After all, it is not Trump who stands exposed today. It is the sheer hypocrisy of American liberals that stands exposed. Liberals conveniently forget that it is not Trump who had deported the largest number of people and separated family members in millions within past eight years. It is not Trump that built secret chambers of tortures to round up human beings that have been called “illegals”. It is not Trump that ordered the wars and interventions all around the world that resulted in assassinations of world leaders. It is not Trump who won the Nobel Peace Prize and launched the industry of drones resulting in deaths of thousands of innocent civilians – women and children – in faraway lands. It is not Trump that has made America the biggest rogue nation in history. It is not Trump who privatized healthcare and education and forced people to debt. It is not Trump who bailed out the Wall Street or launched attacks on protesters at Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter. It is not Trump who caused the new Jim Crow and massive incarceration of Blacks and Latinos. It is not Trump who refused to recognize same-sex marriage for decades, or who prevented women candidates from becoming nominees of major political parties. It is not Trump who prevented Shirley Chisholm a nomination, it is not he who stopped Cynthia McKinney’s dream, it is not he who halted Hillary Clinton’s journey to White House when she aimed at it for the first time.
Indeed, Trump shall also be held accountable in coming days. But unlike Modi who had bossed over riots and massacres before being elected head of India, Trump has had no impacts on political landscape of the United States. He is no American Modi. Unlike Putin of Russia, Trump did not have any bureaucratic experience or political support for him to rise to unchecked power. He is no American Putin. Unlike any other president in American history, Trump had no sway over politics or military prior to this. He is no typical American president either.
He is a result of a democracy that the United States takes pride in. It is existential to American identity. This is the democracy that understands only one language – a language of money and competition. And both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump used this language to their best abilities and only one of them won by a slight margin. To be especially afraid of the newest master of this language is to be afraid of this system itself.
The values that have emboldened this system lie at the foundation of this country. From celebration of Columbus and observation of Thanksgiving to colonization of numerous lands – whether Puerto Rico or Hawaii or dozens more such annexations; from erasure of the indigenous Americans from every stream of public life to judicial killings and systematic disfranchisement of black people, America’s strength has always been its excesses. And this might of American state has constantly been met with resistance of freedom fighters throughout – from Frederick Douglass to Oscar Lopez Rivera, from Paul Robeson to the Black Panthers.
To suddenly lose the good old days flavor, now that a certain Donald Trump has risen to power is to insult the rich histories of struggles that have duly acknowledged and battled against American excesses, one president at a time. This placement of anger on Trump is at the same time an undermining of decades-long organizing efforts by the working class against the ruling elites. United States has never been great, and as long as its plutocracy exists – with support of both the major parties, probably never will become great. Indeed, no country is great because of its ruling class; its greatness is measured by the dignity it amasses despite its ruling class. Whether it be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, their taste of success is not a yardstick to evaluate how much Americans have been liberated. In fact, the ceremony of voting and electoral theatrics are necessary exercises to keep the power-hungry relevant, and more importantly acceptable.
The filthy rich Clintons who run dubious charitable organizations and charge millions of dollars via their political double-speak should ideally be despised. Bill “I-don’t-know-that-woman” Clinton’s assaults on women and his wife’s steadfast support for his misogyny should ideally be abhorred. Hillary Clinton’s views on black youths and gay marriage that took opportunist turns for political gains should have been grounds enough for her disqualification. As the biggest receiver of Big Pharma concerns and Wall Street interests, Hillary Clinton should ideally have been rejected by liberals who espouse progressive values. The manner in which Democratic Party bosses manipulated Bernie Sanders campaign should have distanced every conscientious liberal from her. And yet, under this obligation to hold voting as a sacrosanct exercise, and to elect that candidate who has more probability of winning, regardless of the content of character (which ensured the silencing of Jill Stein from the discourse), the liberals find a pressing need to forgive everything that is wrong about Hillary Clinton. And yet magically, they reserve the same yardstick exclusively for assessment of the Republican candidate. Likewise, Donald Trump should ideally have been disqualified from addressing any nation, considering his history of hate speeches, his admittance of being an assaulter, his tax evasions, and his fear-mongering pleas. And yet, the Republican voters feel compelled to make their candidate win at all cost and pass the yardstick unto Hillary’s.
This is the sort of democracy that Fidel Castro had long ago dismissed as phony. A system which justifies a status quo by means of validation from those it aims to oppress. It nullifies all possibilities of revolutions by using a mandate to justify continuation of a duopoly. The domination of two wealthiest parties is such that not only the presidential debates do not have provisions for third parties, but even the media at large ignore the views of political leaders that challenge both parties at the same time. People who vote for third parties are ridiculed for being spoilsports, and even blamed for all the political mishaps. This year too, it was no different – the Democrats blamed third party voters for the victory of Trump, while over 10% of Obama voters and 9% of registered Democrats did end up voting for Trump this poll – which is way more significant a number than the entire voter population that supported third parties.
The capacity to imagine beyond duopoly is systematically discouraged. In effect, every couple of terms, each party gets a chance to enjoy power with tacit understanding. The outgoing president graciously makes space for the incoming one. The same rogue policies continue to appease big businesses, they further prison-industrial complex, and the presidents outdo each other in aggressions abroad. Whether it be Kennedy or Reagan, Clinton or Bush, Obama or Trump, foreign policies of this hawkish nation rests on the idea of a few enemy states to engage with militarily. Hillary Clinton’s win wouldn’t have changed the course in any way whatsoever. Russia, Iran, Syria, Libya, Pakistan and North Korea were among many enemy states directly envisaged by her. Trump will end up substituting a couple at best. But the same game shall go on without interruptions.
The illusion of freedom to choose a candidate, the desire to elect a winner, the urge to submit to ruling class whims – elections are festivals to celebrate our collective surrender to our exploiters. And in these times of intense inequality, poverty, homelessness, wars and displacements, euphoria surrounding Trump’s victory is an act of political masochism. And more crucially, getting all depressed owing to Clinton’s defeat amounts to political complacency. This was indeed the nastiest battle in recent history – but only a battle between two power-hungry, egotist rich individuals. Both had irreparable flaws and neither exhibited leadership traits that could provide a vision for a better world. If Trump’s pet peeve was China, Clinton’s was Russia. If Trump did not disclose tax returns, Clinton hid her transcripts on corporations. If Trump had a history of assaulting women, Clinton had a history of standing by an assaulter. If Trump was threatening to make America “great” again, Clinton had already aided in making America “great” many times in the past. No matter who among them would have won, the world would still be dreading American intervention and drone strikes and unilateral declarations against regions it deemed helpless.
That said, there are a few critical lessons from this election. Especially for the young people and children who are failing to understand how to look upto a sexual assaulter and a bully as their role model. The answer is, it is not possible to treat Trump as a role model. But it so happens that our children are not told the whole story by the liberals. In the entire history of the United States, there was hardly a single President who had the accomplishments to be a role model. The lesson number one is that winning is not everything and often times, people do not win because they are correct. A president is basically a winner in a race to power, just as there are winners in various other fields. Simply because most people believe in a faith, a party, a person does not mean that makes it alright to unquestioningly adopt the same. Simply because there are authorities in law, politics, academics, religions does not mean the authorities are to be held inviolable. Just because plutocratic systems have been shoved down to us disguised as democracy does not mean this is the system we must protect at all costs even if the victors are assaulters. Secondly, there is no such thing as Karma. Feel-good liberals and conservatives alike tend to believe in such fatalistic theories and pass them on to next generations. If Trump/Clinton are the type of people who dominate the political stage while Stein/Baraka kind of candidates receive less than 2% of votes, it is not because of good/bad karma, but because of our comfortable indifference towards capitalism and willful ignorance of ongoing movements against it.
Finally, the lesson is not in expecting hope to be trickled down from politicians whose source of power is private capital interests, rather to painstakingly gather all the hope that we can, trace its foundations in centuries old aspirations to free the lands and people of greed and monopolies; in not allowing these corporate czars from defining what is a people’s revolution, rather to collect the scattered leaves on the paths of revolutions scarred by the martyrs bloods. The lesson is to use Trump’s rise as an opportunity to look beyond the hype of the two-party system and to reimagine the political landscape. Instead of waiting for any messiah who will “fix” everything for the working class, it is the working poor themselves whose organized efforts need to bring down the power corridors.
Capitalism is inherently ableist, sexist, racist and individualist. Trump is its outcome and White House is its upholder. The eyes need not be set on the prize that devours us all, but on the one that liberates us all. Communism alone can offer that alternative. If we can imagine. As the capitalistic contradictions reach zenith in the citadel following Trump’s rise, the good news is, it is not going to be as difficult to reimagine. It is only inevitable.
By Saswat Pattanayak
It was more than a coincidence that Sahir Ludhianvi was born on an International Women’s Day. His concern and respect for women was as much personal as it was political. For him, no one – and nothing – was more important than his mother Sardar Begum. Resenting her husband’s feudal properties, his mother had left that household and raised Sahir on her own. And Sahir grew up as an organic revolutionary against landlords and burgeoning capitalism of that era. And more importantly, as a progressive poet deeply aware of the capitalistic exploitations of women and the working class.
An avid reader of Marx, Sahir early on was influenced by Faiz and Josh – prominent communist poets of that era. His early compositions included “Jahaan Mazdoor Rehte Hai” [Where Workers Reside]. In 1937, Sahir joined All India Students Federation (AISF), affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI) – committed to anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles. He was expelled from both the colleges (in Ludhiana and Lahore) that he attended, due to his political activisms. Sajjad Zaheer’s Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWM) would subsequently provide Sahir his cultural platform, to express himself as a socialist poet rejecting ‘art for the sake of art’.
As a revolutionary poet, Sahir wrote “Kuchh Baatein” [Some Issues]:
“Des ke adbaar ki baatein karey
Ajnabi sarkar ki baatein karey
Agli duniya ke fasaaney chhoddkar
Is jahannumzaar ki baatein karey”
[Let us talk of the nation’s tribulations
Talk of the colonial power impositions
Why bother with heaven’s splendors
Let us talk of the hell we possess]
As a communist poet, Sahir wrote the poignant verses “Aurat ne janam diya mardoen ko, mardone ne use bazaar diya” [Women gave birth to men; men made them commodities]. His analysis of feudalism/capitalism manifested itself in the splendid tribute to Taj Mahal, full of scorn borne out of a materialistic outlook that defined his work.
“Anginat logoen ne duniya mein mohabbat ki hai
Kaun kehta hai ke saadiq na tha un ke jazbe
Lekin un ke liye tasahir ka samaan nahin
Kyon ki woh log bhi apni hi tarah muflis the”
[Countless peoples in our world have showered love in abundance
Who can claim their heartfelt love ever lacked sincere affections
But they lacked the means of advertisement, of crude exhibitions
After all, they were like you and I: submitted by birth to cruel situations]
Sahir’s secular credentials were unmatched. An avowed atheist, he rejected the organized religions as impediments on the path to attaining a sense of humanity. Addressing an abandoned child without a social identity, Sahir wrote:
“Accha hai abhi tak tera kuchh naam nahni hai
Tujh ko kisi mazhab se koi kaam nahni hai
Jis ilm ne insaan ko taqseem kiya hai
Is ilm ka tujh par koi ilzam nahni hai”
[A bundle of joy you are, sans a given name
Disconnected from religions, that’s your gain
Religious texts have only divided humanity
My child! So far they couldn’t attack your sanity]
As a communist poet, he was not just dedicated to women’s empowerment and secular values, he also was a peacenik who refused to believe in sanctities of geographical borders that justify militarism. He wrote –
“Khoon apna ho ya paraaya ho
Nasl-e-adam ka khoon hai aakhir
Jung mashriq mein ho ki magrib mein
Amn-e-alam ka khoon hai aakhir
Bomb gharoen par giren ya sarhad par
Rooh-e-ta’amir jakhm khaati hai
Khet apne jalein ki auroen ke
Jis’t faakoen se tilmilaati hai”
[Shed our blood, or theirs
Lives lost are of human race
War on the East or against the West
Casualty is troubled peace
Bomb our land, or across the borders
Afflicted are souls under construction
Homeless our people, or theirs
Suppressed is oppressed expression]
It was his internationalism that was recognized in the Soviet Union and his commitment to humanist values remain unchanged till the end of his life. In 1961, when Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by CIA, Sahir would protest and leave behind a haunting masterpiece, like none other –
“Zulm ki baat hi kya, zulm ki aukaat hi kya
Zulm bas zulm hai aagaz se anjaam talak
Khoon phir khoon hai, sau shakl badal sakta hai
Aisi shakley ki mitao toh mitaaye na baney
Aise sholey, ki bujhao toh bujhaaye na baney
Aisey naarey ki dabaao toh dabaaye na baney”
[Injustice can only do so much
Capable of nothing much
But the blood can take many shape
Shapes that are permanent
And indomitable slogans]
Sahir’s dream coincided with that of a revolutionary who is capable of imagining not just a world without borders, but also a world without prison cells – a song that is so relevant today in light of sedition charges routinely applied to silence independent thinkers of the society Sahir once had sought to liberate.
He wrote –
“Jis subah ke khaatir jug jug se hum sab mar mar kar jeete hai
Jis subah ke amrut ki dhuun mein hum zahar ke pyaale peete hai
In bhookhi pyaasi ruhoen par ek din to karam pharmayegi
woh subah kabhi toh aayegi…
Manhoos samaaji dhaancho mein jab julm na paale jaayenge
Jab haath na kaate jaayenge jab sar na uchhale jaayenge
Jailoen ke bina jab duniya ki sarkaar chalaayi jaayegi
Woh subah hum hi se aayegi”
[For the dawn, that for ages, we nurtured with sacrifices
For that morning of nectars, have we not consumed poisons
These impoverished souls will finally be rewarded
And such a dawn, shall one day be ushered in…
As crimes cease to be structural givens of societies
Justice no longer served with torture, death penalties
A new world needs no oppressive prison
We shall usher in such a new dawn!]
As a communist poet, like Neruda, Sahir was close to the women of his life. Since none of his relationship could be formalized, and he died shortly after his mother’s demise whom he loved endlessly, he remained much misunderstood in his personal life. Many criticized him as an egotist megalomaniac seeking attention. But Sahir remained indifferent to both adulation and brickbats.
In 1971, when he was awarded with the prestigious Padma Shri, he told his close friend and fellow progressive poet Jan Nisar Akhtar, “Yaar Jan Nisar, ab sarkar ko tumhe bhi Padma Shri se nawaazna chahiye” [Jan Nisar, the government should now honor you with a Padma Shri as well].
Jan Nisar, amused, asked Sahir, why [“Bhala aisa kyoun”]?
Sahir wryly replied, “Ab yeh zillat mujh akele se bardaasht nahni hoti.” [I cannot bear this embarrassment alone.]
[All translations by Saswat Pattanayak]
More translation of Sahir’s poetry –
“Ardent greetings to working women and women toilers throughout the world who are uniting in one common family of labour around the socialist proletariat.
I wish them every success:
1) in strengthening the international ties of the workers of all countries and achieving the victory of the proletarian revolution;
2) in emancipating the backward sections of women toilers from intellectual and economic bondage to the bourgeoisie;
3) in uniting the peasant women around the proletariat—the leader of the revolution and of socialist construction;
4) in making the two sections of the oppressed masses, which are still unequal in status, a single army of fighters for the abolition of all inequality and of all oppression, for the victory of the proletariat, and for the building of a new, socialist society in our country.
Long live International Communist Women’s Day!”
J. Stalin, Pravda, No. 55, March 7, 1926.
March 8th as the International Women’s Day was first observed in 1917 in Leningrad. And it was no mere coincidence that this day also marked the first day of the great communist revolution. Declaring this day as the International Women’s Day, women workers of Petrograd organized themselves, and brought over 50,000 workers to join them, demanding “bread, peace and land”. Revolutionary women were joined by students, white-collar workers and teachers heralding red banners and chanting “Down with the War!” The Tsar tried to suppress this movement by deploying over 180,000 troops, but many refused to budge, bogged down by the sheer enormity of women revolutionaries on the streets! Heeding to the calls of the women comrades, the Russian Army turned mutinous, and what was organized as the International Women’s Day resulted in abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty and the end of the Russian Empire.
Such is the significance of March 8th!
8 March heralded the new era of communism in the world, starting with the Soviet Union that was guided by this day to incorporate policies to prioritize gender equality. Lenin on March 4, 1921 wrote in Pravda, “You cannot draw the masses into politics without drawing in the women. For under capitalism the female half of the human race is doubly oppressed. The working woman and the peasant woman are oppressed by capital, but over and above that, even in the most democratic of the bourgeois republics, they remain, firstly, deprived of some rights because the law does not give them equality with men; and secondly—and this is the main thing—they remain in household bondage, they continue to be ‘household slaves’, for they are overburdened with the drudgery of the most squalid, backbreaking and stultifying toil in the kitchen and the family household. No party or revolution in the world has ever dreamed of striking so deep at the roots of the oppression and inequality of women as the Soviet, Bolshevik revolution is doing. Over here, in Soviet Russia, no trace is left of any inequality between men and women under the law. The Soviet power has eliminated all there was of the especially disgusting, base and hypocritical inequality in the laws on marriage and the family and inequality in respect of children.”
On the International Women’s Day of 1925, Stalin wrote in Pravda, “There has not been in the history of humanity a single great movement of the oppressed in which women toilers have not participated. Women toilers, the most oppressed of all the oppressed, have never kept away from the high road of the emancipation movement, and never could have done so. As is known, the movement for the emancipation of the slaves brought to the front hundreds of thousands of great women martyrs and heroines. In the ranks of the fighters for the emancipation of the serfs there were tens of thousands of women toilers. It is not surprising that the revolutionary working-class movement, the mightiest of all the emancipation movements of the oppressed masses, has rallied millions of women toilers to its banner. International Women’s Day is a token of the invincibility of the working-class movement for emancipation and a harbinger of its great future.”
While much of the western world had not yet allowed women to vote, or to work alongside men in various spheres of life, let alone granting reproductive rights; inspired by the advances of March 8th, Soviet Union had enormously succeeded in implementing gender equality, legalized abortion, and supported one-parent families. The USSR Constitution’s Article 122 read: “Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, government, cultural, political and other public activity. The possibility of exercising these rights is ensured by women being accorded an equal right with men to work, payment for work, rest and leisure, social insurance and education, and by State protection of the interests of mother and child, State aid to mothers of large families and unmarried mothers, maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.”
Indeed, addressing the Central Committee on March 8th, 1949, Stalin declared that 277 women had been elected Deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and more than 1700 elected to the Supreme Soviets of the Union and Autonomous Republics and about half a million women were Deputies to local Soviets. As much as 44% of the total number of graduates in Soviet Union were women, while 237 women were awarded with the highest civilian award of the country. Motherhood and rearing of children in the USSR were also highly regarded, with the state assigning enormous funds to aid mothers with large families and to unmarried mothers. Over 2.5 million mothers were awarded the “Motherhood Glory” and “Motherhood Medal”. It was not just a coincidence that more women were elected to the Supreme Soviet than the number of women in most democratic countries’ legislative bodies combined during that time. In a way, women were empowered in varying capacities – as politicians, as factory workers, as engineers, as peasants, as mothers – with or without a husband.
Very first official recognition of March 8th in the world was made in Soviet Union due to the efforts of Alexandra Kollontai, who went on to become the world’s first female ambassador (to Norway, in 1923). Kollontai considered Women’s Day as a “militant celebration”, a “day of international solidarity, and a day for reviewing the strength and organization of proletarian women.” She recalled later, “but this is not a special day for women alone. The 8th of March is a historic and memorable day for the workers and peasants, for all the Russian workers and for the workers of the whole world. In 1917, on this day, the great February revolution broke out. It was the working women of Petersburg who began this revolution; it was they who first decided to raise the banner of opposition to the Tsar and his associates. And so, working women’s day is a double celebration for us.”
Prior to March 8th inspiring the Revolution and ensuring women equal rights in the USSR, struggles of women as an organized movement had already been duly observed starting 1909. On February 28th that year, women socialists of the United States had organized with meetings and demonstrations all over the country demanding voting rights. Next year in 1910, German Communist Clara Zetkin recognizing the American socialist workers, called for a demand to observe “Women’s Day” under the slogan, “The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism.”
In 1911, German communists wished for March 19th to be considered the Women’s Day. Kollontai mentions that it was no mere coincidence either, for on that day following 1848 revolution, “the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promise he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.” It was in 1913 that the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda recognized “Working Women’s Day” on March 8th, but soon thereafter the movement paused a while with the first world war breaking out.
While the First World War was ongoing, Norway alone managed to respect the Russian working women’s call to observe the Women’s Day in 1915. And finally, 1917 arrived and on the 8th of March, women of Russia marched the streets demanding “Bread for our children” and the “Return of our husbands from the trenches” as the slogans that firmly and officially established the International Women’s Day, as we know of it today. Alexandra Kollontai wrote, “At this decisive time the protests of the working women posed such a threat that even the Tsarist security forces did not dare take the usual measures against the rebels but looked on in confusion at the stormy sea of the people’s anger. The 1917 Working Women’s Day has become memorable in history. On this day the Russian women raised the torch of proletarian revolution and set the world on fire.”
(By Saswat Pattanayak, March 8th, 2013)
Additional reading: International Women’s Day :: A Short History
By Saswat Pattanayak
The need is to change the entire language of rape. Not to just call it a rape, but as rape by men. Not simply that a Dalit woman was raped, but a Dalit woman was raped by a Hindu upper-caste man. Not just a woman was gang-raped, but six men raped a woman one by one by one by one by one by one. Not just Violence Against Women (VAW), but Violence Against Women By Men (VAWBM). Not just laws around gender discrimination or sexism, but specifically around men discriminating against women or laws to hold male sexists accountable. Not just a survivor or a victim, but a woman victim of a crime committed by men. Sure, it will upset the traditional editing style sheets, and the brevity would be a casualty, but there are far greater casualties in the process when we do not explore the societal norms by calling them what they really are and each time supplementing them with supportive statistics.
In a rape culture, as Andrea Dworkin once said, statistics do not quantify the injuries, they are used merely to convince the world that such injuries even exist. All the more reason why social locations of the victims and the perpetrators need to be declared while reporting the violence, because the invisibility of genderqueer and religious/caste/racial minorities is even more pronounced when we fail to take into account the perpetrator as even a gendered being. Merely categorizing a sexual assault as violent crime is to discount the very complexed and humanized basis of rape culture. The truth is all of us – men and women – have been socialized with casteism, homophobia and heterosexism. Denying this will keep the prejudices intact. We need to recognize any racist and homophobic/transphobic remarks and the abundantly circulated “rape jokes” even before we can recognize the various ingredients of the rape culture we inhabit. As Dale Spender mentioned in her work “Men Made Language”, there are 220 words for a sexually promiscuous woman and only 20 for her male counterpart. We need to alter this man-made language and call rape as what it actually entails, as described by the women survivors/victims, not as how the sexist judicial experts define it by.
Military rape, minority rape, date rape, workplace rape, marital rape. There is our rape, and then there is their rape. If violence against all women must stop, there probably is little use in stratifying rape in this way. But in a lesser than ideal environment that pervades us, such a stratification is acutely essential. Social locations – age, gender, class, nationality, sexual orientation, ability, caste, race, religion, etc play significant roles in enabling a rape culture to remain acceptable for centuries now. Ignoring social locations is the primary reason why it takes so long for the men to realize that rape is untenable. Because truth be told, rape culture prevails not because rape is considered an heinous aberration, but because rape is socially sanctioned in the garb of various systems of oppressions.
If conviction rate is abysmally low all over the world when it comes to cases of rape reaching the court, it is precisely because there lies a distinction between what ‘we’ consider as rape versus what ‘they’ do. Ageism affects rape culture to the extent that younger women are more likely to be accepted as rape victims than older women. The “two-finger” test is a logical continuation of such an illogic. When it comes to gender, the men are rarely accepted as rape victims (even when the perpetrators remain overwhelmingly men). Out of fear of being called a “sissy”, a man in the rape culture rarely tests legal boundaries, which in turn, by definition exclude men from the purview as potential victims. Class as a cultural construct poses as much a hindrance to justice as it remains as an economic category. Rape of “low-class” women hardly merit any legal consideration, let alone conviction. The “good women” can only be raped, ever since the days of mythologies or since beginning of the “world’s oldest profession”. Nationality of the woman works against her if she happens to be a refugee from Bangladesh, a subject of a disputed region such as Kashmir, a freedom fighter from the North-East, or a prisoner of war anywhere in the world. Rape is blurred even more when it comes to alternative sexual orientations. The stigmatization goes one step further as the larger world perceives sexual assault itself might have “caused” queer people to be queer. Caste and race play decisive roles in how rape statistic is registered. Dalits, Muslims or genderqueer in India are constant targets of sexual assaults that are hardly ever considered as hate crimes, leading to no special provisions to protect the most vulnerable sections of the society.
Such abject desensitization is not unique to a specific country. Following the unprecedented media coverage of recent gangrape in Delhi, many commentators across political milieu have come up to interrogate “Indian culture”. While some have discovered the Indian culture mutilated through western influences leading thereby to violence against women, the more critical variety have been on a spree to denounce everything about Indian culture to point out its inherent sexism that has logically led to a misogynistic atmosphere. Demands are being made to not just focus on Delhi, but rest of India, not just on Hindu women, but women from all religions and regions, not just the middle class, but also the working class and the indigenous. All these are necessary and certainly long overdue. At the same time, all these demands invariably – directly or indirectly – work towards cleansing the national image. The idea is to let our Motherland emerge stronger by taking care of ‘her’ women and prevail upon the world as the land of mythical superwomen that India is destined to re-emerge as. Such romanticized notions of an infallible nationhood undergoing a shocking phase of gangrape has itself made a mockery of women’s issues on this planet, while systematically undermining the political economy of sexual assaults.
In a rape culture, rape should appear as the least shocking of realities. Sure, India has a 26% conviction rate, but in the United States, there are an estimated 400,000 “rape kits” currently backlogged. And by the time the kits are tested the statute of limitations expires and the rapists no longer get charged. Only 24 percent of rapists are arrested in America. The statistic is not any more encouraging in the United Kingdom either. The British government acknowledges that as many as 95% of rapes are never reported to the police, and the country has roughly 6.5% conviction rate. Los Angeles with 923 cases, Philadelphia with 945 cases and New York City with 1092 incidents of reported rape cases, the differences between first world and third world countries soon begin to fade when it comes to treatment of women. According to FBI, a violent crime occurs every 25.3 seconds with a murder every 35.6 minutes while forcible rape takes place every 6.2 minutes. Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center reports that 78 women are forcibly raped each minute in the U.S. (which is 1,871 per day or 683,000 per year). Over 23% of lesbian and bisexual women had been raped compared to 6% of their heterosexual peers. Likewise, 83% of women and 32% of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted.
America has no national rape law and among the victims of hate crimes, the number of raped women are double the number of those murdered. Not to mention, of the average 90,000 rapes reported, only 20,000 rapists are identified each year. Moreover, statutory rape is excluded from the definition of rape, just as forcible oral or anal penetrations are. Also excluded from the definition of rape are penetration of vagina or anus with an object or other body part, the rape of a man, the rape of a woman by another woman, any non-consensual rape that does not involve physical force such as rape during the drugged or drunk conditions.
Dwelling upon the uncanny resemblance between India and the United States, the “culture” in Rape Culture emerges as merely a condition, not the root. The political economy – the various stages of evolving feudalism and capitalism – offers the systemic grounds for rape normative. Towards that extent, rape culture is a global, and not a national, phenomenon and it sanctions violence against women by men across all cultures of the world.
Delhi faltered only in so far as the jingoistic tone retained its character by expressing shock and disgust that unfolded in dramatized teary-eyed disbelieving manners. Beyond that, any feminist movement small or big – in rural hinterlands or capital cities – is worthy of unquestioned solidarity. It is only because the Delhi protests focused so much on reclaiming “Indian culture” (clearly a regressive myth in itself), that the global media continued to focus on India reforming itself, rather than understanding the revolutionary potential that such a movement could realize at an international scale.
Just as not everyone who protests against rape condones death penalty, it is also erroneous to assume that all those who join the protesters in Delhi have necessarily remained silent during assaults on women in Kashmir, Manipur or Gujarat. Instead, the question we need to ask at this hour is whether or not those who have been protesting against injustice anywhere else in the world will also join their counterparts in Delhi. The dominant energy within progressive forces displayed in enormity is a continuation of the larger anti-status-quoist progressions in India that are quite evidently present to the extent that the Prime Minister considers some activists as traitors to the country and as principal threats to India’s internal security. It would be a monumental mistake to overlook this acknowledgement on part of the state power that a viable alternative exists in India that clearly has caused unprecedented discomfort to the ruling elites. The massively organized supports for the Maoists and indigenous peoples all over the “tribal belts” demonstrate this anti-nationalistic presence. Numerically, the statistics may not be overwhelming, but there is a growing consensus and empathy-building in process that must be duly recognized as potentially revolutionary in Indian context. These groups of dissenters have invariably always protested against misogyny and patriarchy, without exceptions, and they have expressed similar outrage when it came to Delhi.
Everything that has been said about violence against Dalits, on Muslim women and women elsewhere in India, especially in Gujarat and Kashmir, are true. And it is also true that the national media have neglected to adequately report – as is their wont – the protest movements associated with the causes in North-East and Odisha. But it is quite another thing to suggest that people have not raised their voices against oppression in India, while the Indian state machinery has been roundly harassing and brutalizing dissenters – including numerous Soni Suris – all over the country all these years, precisely to throttle the resistance movements.
Many progressives have questioned why Delhi, why now and why the middle class? Isn’t the middle class, after all, the biggest perpetrator of violence against women? The answer is perhaps a tad simplistic – culturally enslaved by the corporate media, the bourgeois elements in Indian society usually wake up only to the “breaking news” and “shocking news”. And therefore the concerns are genuine – that the middle class might even disappear from the map of activism as soon as the media cease coverages of this specific “event”. And to criticize them for not finding Manipur and Gujarat shocking enough is to state just the obvious. However, to find them joining the ranks of their traditional adversaries in exposing the multi-level failures of the Indian state power, in fact provides a profound opportunity for further sensitization and consciousness-raising. Any occasion is as good as the present to forge alliances with the reluctant and the enthused, the enlightened and the uninitiated. History is replete with revolutionary moments, occasional and unexpected “sparks” that have altered its course.
What India needs right now is greater mobilization among peoples across social locations from all over the country and the world – to sufficiently challenge the dominant narrative propounded by the “vibrant democracy” advocates. Not to strengthen it by employing reactionary excuses of undermining the growing dissent. But to overwhelm the ruling class with pronounced narratives of non-compliance that hitherto were considered unpatriotic. If the eventual goal is to transform the entire society, it has to take into account the heterogeneity of comradely compositions and revolutionary diversity – recognizing the differences, and celebrating the common goals. Its not some monolithic Indian culture we need to reclaim from the purists. We need to participate in and make the entire women’s movement our own – sustained media or not, political will or not. And we need to Take Back the Nights – everywhere in the world.
Renowned feminist Selma James recently cited Mumia Abu-Jamal’s response to the increasing criticism of the Occupy Movements as being less than inclusive. She said when some people asked Mumia why “this place (Occupy) is so white?”, he answered, “Then get your ass over there. If its white, darken it. Turn up. Participate. Make it yours.”
(Written for Kindle Magazine. Illustration: Soumik Lahiri)
By Saswat Pattanayak
Psy has surpassed every artist in history by attaining one billion views, but that alone is not instructive. The measure of greatness in Park Jae-sang remains in his consciousness-raising about capitalistic contradictions and imperialistic warmongering in undiluted terms.
In a Eurocentric world dominated by the disturbingly unifying English language, where American narratives grip past and the present times, it is easy to wonder why a Korean wields such an influence. The answer is as easy: why not.
After all, Korea is like no other. It indeed is the center of the universe – the site for contestation of ideologies. The country that sparked the Cold War and divided not itself, but the world into two. Who can better define its historical role than the most savage of chroniclers, Winston Churchill: “The importance of this bloody place lies in the fact that it has led to the re-arming of America.”
Korean resistance against the imperialists led to Truman’s NSC 68 – the most significant document outlining American ambitions to control the world. In 1951, America’s annual defense budget of $13.5 billion for the first time more than quadrupled to $54 billion. In major American cities over 50 percent of county residents started working in defense and aerospace sectors, which started accounting for nearly 80 percent of all manufacturing. NATO formally became the tool of American expansionist tactics. While Koreans unitedly were fighting the Japanese colonizers under a broader leftist umbrella, fearing political repercussions, America did everything to sabotage the freedom struggle and actively aided the pro-Japan reactionaries. The provisional government Korean People’s Republic (KPR) which was formed by prominent Koreans of all political leanings was finally suppressed by the West because it sounded too progressive for American taste. To eliminate any iota of communism in Korea, America employed chemical weapons in the Korean War and while taking control of the South, the war resulted in the deaths of 4 million Koreans, out of a total population of 30 million.
Anyone surprised by the success of Gangnam Style would also be surprised by the existing anti-Americanism in Korea. Western militarism has effectively divided the country into not just two economic zones, but have also presented them to the world as two ideologically opposing regions. World is constantly fed with a glorified image of South Korean freedom and North Korean oppression, whereas the differences are far more subtle. The widening class society in South Korea is as much of a problem as the stagnant North Korean economy. And modeled to excel within the market capitalism, South Koreans amply confuse their limited sense of freedom with unbridled consumerism. Psy’s satirical take of Gangnam district is precisely a commentary on this contradiction.
Psy reminds us that even as Korea today remains divided along two opposing lines, it was not meant to be so. Following the Second World War, the Soviet Union and the United States occupied Korea to expel the defeated Japanese, but the demarcation line 38th Parallel was not meant to create two different countries. As the erstwhile allies turned into hostile foes with Cold War setting in, the United States changed strategies and aided pro-Japanese camps in order to defeat communism at any cost. Towards that end, American forces defeated the very purpose of the occupation, which was to recognize Korean struggle against feudalism and imperialism. Indeed in the name of Korean War, the United States recolonized the land by installing the deeply reactionary and unpopular Syngman Rhee regime, so Korea could henceforth be easily controlled by the West. With China going to Mao, Japan could not afford to let go of Korea, and the United States targeting Asian “markets” had to control further communistic expansions.
Being a culturally proud people, Koreans had long resisted feudal and imperialist forces, and they refused to be the experiment for American expansionism. Their freedom struggle against Japan was equally a freedom struggle against the American invaders. Blatantly ignoring their pleas, Rhee was flown into Korea in one of MacArthur’s airplanes as a stooge of the US Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) which was firmly opposed by the freedom fighters united under KPR. After remaining for 35 years under the Japanese feudal/colonial brutalities, Korea had demanded absolute freedom, but American military government not only appointed various Japanese officials to positions of power, they also eliminated those who rose against feudalism. Whereas the North implemented widespread and effective land reforms and ensured women’s equal participation in decision-making levels, South Korea refused to even enact a law to bring about land reforms, and when they finally did, it went unenforced, eventually giving rise to vast economic inequalities marking the Korean territory today.
Long standing wars waged by the Koreans against Japanese and domestic feudal lords have been constantly ignored by the corporate media worldwide. South Korea has merely been rendered to be a glorified market for American capitalism. So far as strategic partnerships go, South Korea is merely a military base, and its only relevance is underscored by its ability to wage a war against communist North. Unlike the Americans, Koreans are subjected to conscriptions to remain forever prepared to defend their land against communism. And in the name of democracy, they continue tolerating totalitarian regimes that are adequately assisted by global capitalism. Since April Revolution of 1960, South Korea has faced similar outbursts against its dictators ruling over “democracy”, but the protesters have been massively crushed down and largely ignored by the world media.
Only after “Gangnam Style” was interpreted as a criticism of capitalism, Psy’s “villainous” sides and that of his huge fan base are being further explored. How could a visibly comical pop singer expose capitalism’s core philosophy as inherently corrupt by alluding to sky-high credit card debts in South Korea? How could it be that the country that so far exemplified all that are known as capitalistic virtues suddenly is getting its vulnerabilities exposed through Psy’s powerful rendition that attacks quite consumptions of class society ethos? Thanks to him, attention has now embarrassingly almost shifted from the North to South Korea with the vicious nature of capitalism now wide open for greater critique than ever before, what with Psy’s enormous popularity across the globe. Gangnam Style has started to bother western propaganda mill which traditionally attacked North Korean communism by contrasting it with the flourishing South Korean capitalism. Turns out, that Gangnam is the neighborhood of South Korea’s biggest brands, accumulating seven percent of the entire country’s GDP in an area of just 15 square miles. The richest one percent of South Korea continues to thrive at the expense of the rest for whom the average credit card debt exceeds 155 percent of their disposable income (Max Fisher of “The Atlantic” compares it with 138 percent debt noticed in the US sub-prime crisis).
With Psy making fun of every aspect of Korean consumerism, (and the nouveau riche obsession with coffee) it has led to further interrogation into his vociferous criticism of American imperialism. Indeed in a 2004 live concert, he was quite simply asking for destruction of the American military. His lyrics sampled and translated reads: “All those — Yankees been torturing Iraqi captives and // All those — Yankees who ordered them to torture // Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers // Kill them all slowly, kill them all painfully.” Not only did he sing these lines to a jubilant crowd, he also physically destroyed an American tank on the stage smashing it several times in sheer display of hatred towards American occupation that has held Korea hostage till date.
When it came to Gangnam Style, Psy did not employ an image of a tiger – the South Korean national animal – to be sarcastic about Gangnam. He instead chose North Korea’s national emblem, a winged horse. His march upon the “Chollima” – the revered symbol for Asian communists is clearly intentional. After refusing to be conscripted by South Korean army, and protesting against American occupation of Korea, Psy is now taking on the capitalistic world, riding to victory against militarism on his North Korean horse – and transforming the world with – to quote Kim Il Sung in a different context, a “rush as the speed of Chollima”.
Psy has shattered a few more, albeit less visible, grounds. He has embarked upon a path that is destined to alter the fascist standards of beauty/acceptability as we know them. By convincingly overshadowing Justin Bieber, he and his team of Korean performers have finally overthrown the typical young white male/female image associated with the word “sexy”. Western obsession with fascist standards have conventionally benefited from a racist societal structure that defines beauty and laws of attractions. Psy is not young, tall, lean, or muscular and his is no “angel eyes” – the very criteria that all western publications and leading modeling/acting agencies in the world take into account while declaring their annual lists of sexy men and women.
Invariably all western media outlets found it quite funny when a liberal publication priding itself on progressive values called “the Onion” recently declared North Korean communist leader Kim Jong-Un as the “Sexiest Man Alive”. But, China’s People’s Daily did not ‘get the joke’ and it applauded the Onion’s recognition of the Korean leader: “With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true. Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and of course, that famous smile.”
And yet, seeped into racist mindsets as the Americans and their allies are in the world, they all started laughing aloud for having taken the Asians for a ride. How dare these Asians think they will be declared the sexiest people in the world? If the West has been successful in relegating to its racist dustbin the anti-imperialist dragons in the form of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, how can the anti-capitalist horses in the form of Psy and Kim Jong-Un prove victorious now? Not just the Onion, even the New Yorker made fun of Kim Jong-Un by publishing that failing to test a rocket, the Korean leader could try launching a signature fragrance titled “Number Un”. Little do such fascist reports by Borowitz sense that missile launches are worse offenders than actual perfume sets. And little do the Onion and its sadistic audience realize that the world has already started to gradually replace the existing standards of socio-political values, and like Gangnam Style visually depicts, what appears at close uncritical quarters is vastly different from what truly is happening, once the focus shifts to include the larger context.
(Written for Kindle Magazine)