“A marked feature of Hindu society is its legal sanction for an extreme expression of social stratification in which women and the lower castes have been subjected to humiliating conditions of existence. Caste hierarchy and gender hierarchy are the organising principles of the Brahmanical social order.” - Uma Chakravarthy wrote in Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State
“Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy” — this simple statement has recently made Twitter trolls and Brahmin savarnas go berserk on the micro-blogging site after its CEO Jack Dorsey appeared to endorse it in a photo-op during his recent visit to India. The man was trolled endlessly for a photograph in which he posed holding in his hands a placard with the aforementioned statement printed on it with many savarnas accusing him of spreading hate against a particular community. Many of his critics said that he could have smashed patriarchy in general and not Brahmanic patriarchy in particular. However, there are certain differences between the way both these terms are defined.
Why is it ‘Brahmanical’ Patriarchy and not just Patriarchy?
In India, a country traditionally categorized and ruled on the basis of the Brahmanical social order, that is, caste system, gender violence cannot be looked at in isolation, nor can caste hierarchies be made invisible. Caste system is thriving/being safeguarded by maintaining the ‘purity’ of blood through women’s reproduction. It is also the very reason why Brahmin women’s movement is restricted. Brahmanical patriarchy ensures that she does not get ‘polluted’ as she is the gateway /entrance of caste system.
The hegemony of one caste over all kinds of social spheres — from media, legislature, bureaucracy, judiciary to academia and civil societies — is the reality of India and one cannot deny it. And so is the fact that caste violence is directly proportional to gender violence i.e., the institutions of caste and gender are intertwined. Caste system can also be called as Brahmanism, denoting the supremacy of a Brahmin man, his role in caste system’s functioning and sustenance.
Endogamy is the essence of Brahminism, meaning, marriage within same castes, where the decision of whom to marry is made by a Brahmin man. This is patriarchy with the intersection of caste prejudice. The same control and oppression can be seen in other significant aspects of caste system like - sexuality, division of labour along men and women but also along upper castes and lower castes, secondary status on women compared to men but the hierarchy of this secondary standards can be seen on caste lines too, in structured layers. All controlled by a Brahmin man - hence, Brahmanical patriarchy! And, when we question the oppression, we challenge the structures, the roots of it and the conceptual framework of it.
And now, some eye-openers for all of us: These days it seems the meaning of things, especially on social media, has been reversed.
What is hate speech today?
Posts of marginalised women challenging the oppressive social order is today defined as hate speech. Challenging the casteist trolls is hate speech. Speaking up against the injustice and violence that is induced on us is hate speech. Demanding social justice is also hate speech.
What is not hate speech today?
Giving us rape threats, abusing us on our social media posts, celebrating the videos of lynching of Muslim and Dalit men on social media posts is not hate speech. Enjoying watching Dalit and Adivasi women getting stripped and paraded naked and beaten up and sharing them across for voyeuristic pleasure is not hate speech.
This whole outrage on Twitter for Jack Dorsey holding a simple poster which demands social justice is the sheer reflection of casteism that prevails in the veins and arteries of this country. For all of those who argue that caste doesn’t exist in India anymore, this is the proof. Please reflect on this. We would be wrong if we think only Hindutva brigade is trolling Jack in the name of hate speech: so many progressive Brahmin liberals have also been deeply hurt as their fragile casteist souls failed to face the reality.
“I wish that these trolls were as incensed by the murder of 13-year-old Raja Lakshmi in Tamil Nadu, who was decapitated in front of her mother by her killer. When Savarna men face the same scale and frequency of gender based violence that Dalit Bahujan and Adivasi women and non-binary people face then we can talk,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit right activist and artist who designed this poster series.
Coming to the Twitter’s legal head Vijaya Gadde’s appalling tweet, which says, "I'm very sorry for this. It's not relective of our views. We took a private photo with a gift just given to us - we should have been more thoughtful. Twitter strives to be an impartial platform for all. We failed to do that here & we must do better to serve our customers in India."
I am not surprised by it. Twitter has always been a very unsafe space for all of us, who demand social justice. Look at what happened to @Dardediscourse’s handle. She has been a leading voice talking against oppressive structures and got blocked by Twitter for more than 7-8 times as she’s apparently ‘disrupting their community standards’. I have never seen Twitter blocking men who gave us rape threats and said they will pull our intestines out.
The irony about this whole #JackInIndia series, is that, at every panel or meet that the company organised, only elite upper caste voices who think they represent all women and all communities, have been invited to be a part of discussions on making Twitter a safe space. Safe space for whom? And from whom? Even in the photo that is going viral now, you will see many Brahmin savarna women and only one Dalit woman who has been invited as a token.
“It doesn’t make sense for having me just as one token, but I made some strong points regarding improving the platform, but the poster was not discussed,” says Sanghapali Aruna from Project Mukti who made a subversive move by taking the poster to the meet and handing it over to Jack.
Indian feminist movement and society is the example of why we need intersectionality here. One cannot end gender oppression without ending caste oppression. One cannot smash patriarchy without the annihilation of caste. Till then, let’s Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy!
Divya Kandukuri is a Freelance Journalist whose work focuses on the intersections of Caste, Gender and Mental Health. Views expressed are personal.