Power Of Patriarchy
FRONTLINE|March 13, 2020
The struggle for women’s emancipation cannot be separated from the fight against the hierarchical caste system which both perpetuates and strengthens Brahminical patriarchy in India.
Venkatanarayanan S.

The yearly celebration of women’s day and the ritualistic glorification and worship of women notwithstanding, there is an urgent need for a critical appraisal of the status of women in India. Such an appraisal as a mere academic exercise will not generate much value unless it is politically charged to fight for women’s emancipation.

When the chief executive officer of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, held up a placard that read “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy” while meeting a group of feminists during a visit to India in November 2018, it created a huge uproar in the media, forcing him to apologise. Brahminical/ Brahminism has been narrowly equated with the Brahmin caste, and even so-called “liberals” began to attack the Twitter CEO for being party to this casteist slogan that targeted one particular community, excluding all others.

Other than the small academic circle, the words “Brahminism” and “Brahminical” are widely used in political circles while fighting for the rights of marginalised communities. The usage clearly signifies the attitude of dominant sections that obstruct the rights of marginalised communities rather than indicate/target any particular caste. Understanding the real meaning of Brahminical patriarchy, which cannot be narrowly confined to a particular caste, can offer a holistic perspective in understanding the status of women in India.

Patriarchy generally refers to the hierarchical power relation in which men are dominant and women are subordinate. The subordination of women is explicit in many ways, in both private and public spheres, where women are denied rights and access to many things that are easily available to men. Patriarchy as a concept/tool helps in the critical understanding of the status of women in any society. According to the eminent gender historian Gerda Lerner, patriarchy manifests and institutionalises the domination of men over women and children within the family, and extends its influence over the public sphere in a society. In spite of patriarchy having common features across societies, it acts differently in every society, combining with other dominant structures. In India, this nexus between patriarchy and the caste system has been found to be historically exploitative and mutually feeding off each other.

CASTE IN INDIA

Caste divisions in India dictate one’s occupation, dietary habits, rituals, marriage and other interactions with members of other castes. Members of the upper castes enjoy more wealth and opportunities, while those of the lower castes perform menial jobs. According to a recent study jointly conducted by Savitribai Phule Pune University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, 41 per cent of the country’s total wealth is owned by upper-caste Hindus. The “untouchables” are in a permanent state of “impurity” and forced to do menial jobs such as toilet cleaning and garbage removal.

Caste, being an ascriptive status without any possibility for social mobility, has four defining features, namely, hereditary specialisation, hierarchical relations, repulsion with other castes to avoid any alliances, and endogamy.

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