Friday, 13 December 2013

Thoughts on Section 377: Against the absurdity that is “against the order of nature”

There’s a line from the movie Philadelphia that I recollect every time I’ve discussed homosexuality, the AIDS epidemic, legality and so on. In the movie, as those who’ve seen it are aware, there’s a scene in the courtroom where Denzel Washington, in his cocksure, charismatic charm, says:
“Everybody’s thinking about sexual orientation, sexual preference...whatever you want to call it. Who does what to whom and how they do it. So let's get it out in the open. Let's get it out of the closet. Because this case is not just about AIDS, is it? So let's talk about what this case is really all about: The general public's hatred, our loathing...our fear of homosexuals.”
On the 11th of December, 2013, the Supreme Court of India “set aside” a landmark judgement of the Delhi High Court pertaining to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The Delhi HC verdict, which had effectively decriminalized consensual same-sex relations among adults covered under Section 377 of the IPC (effectively: homosexuality; read the full verdict here), was thus rendered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The assumption, therefore, is that those who engage in sex as stipulated in Section 377 can be tried under it (the description is given below). Section 377 was enacted by Lord Macaulay in 1860, and it states:
377. Unnatural Offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation:  Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.

The Delhi High Court’s judgement, in decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations, thus, was truly bold and revolutionary; and it is pertinent to quote its verdict at length:
 “130. If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of ‘inclusiveness’. This Court believes that Indian Constitution reflects this value deeply ingrained in Indian society nurtured over several generations. The inclusiveness…is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone. Those perceived by the majority as ‘deviants’ or ‘different’ are not on that score excluded or ostracised.”
“131. Where society can display inclusiveness and understanding, such persons can be assured of a life of dignity and non-discrimination…It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.”
“132. We declare that Section 377 IPC, insofar it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution…[and] by ‘adult’ we mean everyone who is over 18 years of age and above.”
It added that the provisions of Section 377 continue to govern non-consensual penile non-vaginal sex and penile non-vaginal sex involving minors (those below 18 years of age) as they “would be presumed to not be able to consent to a sexual act.” This clarification, the High Court held, will hold until Parliament chooses to amend the law, and enact the recommendation of the 172nd Law Commission Report which sought to decriminalize homosexuality [see Section 1.2.1.Part I, (3)].
The two-member bench of the Supreme Court, however, ruled that: “Section 377 IPC does not suffer from the vice of unconstitutionality [and]…that the said section [377] does not suffer from constitutional infirmity.” It thus concludes that declaration made by the Division Bench of the High court is “legally unsustainable”, and puts the ball firmly in the legislature’s [Parliament’s] court, stating: “Notwithstanding this verdict, the competent legislature shall be free to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377 IPC from the statute book or amend the same.”
It further argues that “even after 60 years of independence, Parliament has not thought it proper to delete or amend Section”, the section, therefore, remains valid. The Additional Solicitor General, P.P. Malhotra, in an affidavit by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which:
“…had opposed decriminalisation of homosexuality and…recommended retention of Section 377 IPC because the societal disapproval thereof was very strong. [And] that the legislature, which represents the will of the people, has decided not to delete and it is not for the [Delhi High] Court to import the extra-ordinary moral values and thrust the same upon the society”
It must, here, be remembered that the Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexuality specifically within the Section 377, upholding it in cases of sexual assault – against women, children and men. However, this ‘severability’ is something which the Supreme Court didn’t agree with (read the full judgement here).

Of course, in light of the Supreme Court’s judgement, Denzel Washington’s quote from Philadelphia is exceedingly significant; especially since many have dubbed the Supreme Court’s ruling as “procedural homophobia”. Others, too, have criticised it for being “regressive” and taking us back to the 19th century.
My criticisms of the Supreme Court judgement, however, are different: they are concerned with the judgement being situated in the larger discourse of what I’ve argued is the patriarchal moral-political economy. Although the Supreme Court’s concern is, largely, constitutional and legal, constitutionality is not a textual problem; it’s also a socio-political one. The Delhi High Court verdict was revolutionary precisely because it helped a social group articulate its political and social rights – and, that this social group is not necessarily a “sexual minority”. My other concern is that there are several logical fallacies riddled in the judgement, through which, the Supreme Court effectively sanitizes and, thus, absolves itself of this responsibility from the larger political movement of gender rights.
I shall elaborate on these arguments throughout the course of this essay – and its follow up.

The Supreme Court ruling which reinstates Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, and thereby criminalizes “voluntary” same-sex relations between consenting adults is, to say the very least, regressive. Now, I use the term ‘regressive’ in a very specific way: not in terms of the judico-moral discourse of human rights, or anything, but especially as huge setback to:
(a) The consistent work being done by organisations in HIV/AIDS outreach activities, especially among what is called ‘MSM’ (men who have sex with men), such as the petitioners, Naz Foundation; and, (b) The vocal LGBT community, and other allied organisations and social groups, like transgender communities, hijras, and so forth, who suffer from police brutality, irrespective of the question of law, who are equal stakeholders in this struggle.
The Supreme Court verdict also, apart from these specific concerns, seriously undermines the women’s movement, and the question of gender rights and equality, when it states that:
“In its anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT persons…the [Delhi] High Court has extensively relied upon the judgments of other jurisdictions….we feel that they cannot be applied blindfolded for deciding the constitutionality of the law enacted by the Indian legislature.”
This is, perhaps, one of the most regressive points in the entirety of the 98-page document – “so-called rights”? Would the Supreme Court say that rights of women, Dalits, religious and linguistic minorities are “so-called” rights? This violates the entire legacy of Feminist, Dalit and other politics – and of groups, much like the LGBT community, who have invested their faith in the judiciary; and it is this hope which has been betrayed. My argument, thus, is that the Supreme Court bench fails to situate the Delhi HC’s verdict in the broader context of the gender rights; subsequently, it betrays the spirit of the makers of the Constitution – chiefly, that of B.R. Ambedkar – who sought to include marginalised sections of the population under the protection proffered by the Constitution, and were given respective rights. This becomes more baffling, seeing that the bench observed: “…in last more than 150 years less than 200 persons have been prosecuted…for committing offence under Section 377 IPC…”, there is nothing inherently unconstitutional in the law itself (42; p. 83); and the precedent is on the Legislature to repeal/amend the section (56.; pp.97-98).
I will, however, keep the above problems on the legislature, and the state, in the follow up post. In this essay, I attempt to put the Supreme Court’s logic to the test, especially on the concept which of “against the order of nature”, which is a predominant theme in the court's judgement. The conceptual clarity that I seek to proffer on this condition is embedded in the whole discourse surrounding Section 377, which is, as Washington puts it, “our fear of homosexuals”. 

Firstly, the cases the judgement cites, wherein Section 377 IPC has been used to prosecute offences, were indeed brutal cases (pp. 69-70). There’s no doubt about that: women, children, and even other men can be, and are, victims of sexual assaults. But, a closer reading of these verdicts reveals that the offence is not so much against the bodily integrity of the victim, as it is against the “order of nature”. 
[Note: the text below contains some amount of graphic details. Reader’s discretion is advised].
For instance, in the Khanu v. Emperor AIR 1925 Sind 286 (p. 69), wherein the accused is said to “be guilty of having committed the sin of Gomorrah coitus per os with a certain little child”, the case reads:
“…Is the act here committed one of carnal intercourse? If so, it is clearly against the order of nature, because the natural object of carnal intercourse is that there should be the possibility of conception of human beings which in the case of coitus per os is impossible.”
Further to it, in the Lohana Vasantlal Devchand v. The State AIR 1968 Guj 252 (p. 70), the accused had sexually assaulted the victim boy, by subjecting him to anal and oral sex:
“The question that arose for consideration therein was as to whether the insertion of the male organ by the second accused into the orifice of the mouth of the boy amounted to an offense under Section 377 IPC.”
This verdict, based on a definition of “reciprocity” – “the enveloping of a visiting member by the visited organism” – which intercourse connotes, therefore was that “the act in question amounted to an offense punishable under Section 377.” The verdict cites other cases – one in which a boy was sexually assaulted and murdered, and the other where oral sex was forced upon a six year old girl – and in all of them, the prerogative was to establish is the offence “was against the order of nature”.
In all cases cited, it is sufficient to say that very grave and violent crimes were committed against children. And, by all means, it is the prerogative of the courts to ensure that the accused are given maximum punishment under the valid laws. But, does that validate the archaic definitions embedded in Section 377 – such as ‘reciprocity’, ‘orifice’, and ‘order of nature’? Clearly, from these cases, it would appear that the courts were more interesting in defining what exactly constitutes offence “against the order of nature” – there is no explicit mention of the crime violating the bodily integrity of the victim in question. Even in its own conclusion, the Supreme Court bench observes that, despite the idea of sexual intercourse meant for procreation being outdated, at the same time (p. 71):
“…it could be said without any hesitation of contradiction that the orifice of mouth is not, according to nature, meant for sexual or carnal intercourse. Viewing from that aspect, it could be said that this act of putting a male-organ in the mouth of a victim for the purposes of satisfying sexual appetite would be an act of carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”
Thus, even sexual stimulation gained by “intercourse between the thighs” is against the order of nature (p. 73). In other words, forced oral or anal sex (viz. sexual assault) is not a grave crime insofar as we would seek to define it in terms of physically harming the bodily and mental integrity or personhood of the victim; it is a crime because even if it is consensual, it is against the order of nature.
The judgement, however, does concede that the cases refer “to non-consensual, coercive situations…and the keenness of the court in bringing about justice cannot be discounted while analysing the manner in which the section has been interpreted.” However, this justification is difficult to fathom when the court holds that (p. 77):
“Section 377 IPC does not criminalize a particular people or identity or orientation. It merely identifies certain acts which, if committed could constitute an offence. Such a prohibition regulates sexual conduct regardless of gender identity and orientation.”
In an absence of cases where consent can be established, the Court functions merely on the presumption that there is a form of sexual intercourse that is normal, and not against the “order of nature”, and sexual activity that contravenes this normalcy is, by law, illegal and punishable. In other words, as long as people who identify as homosexuals do not engage in sex, they cannot be criminalized – the absence of proof (of consensual same-sex), constitutes, for the judgement, the proof of its absence. The absurdity of “the order of nature” is foundation stone of the patriarchal moral-political economy. One of the processes through which the moral-political economy sustains unequal relations between and within genders, is by its definition of the dominant (hegemonic) form of masculinity. Furthermore, as Michel Foucault argues in The History of Sexuality, this “new persecution of peripheral sexualities entailed an incorporation of perversions and a new specification of individuals…sodomy was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them” (1978: pp. 42-43, tr. Robert Hurley, New York: Pantheon Books).

There is, however, some truth to the arguments made by the counsel – who represented the Hindu, Christian and Muslim organisations, and the Delhi Child Rights Commission  – opposing the Delhi High Court verdict, saying that Section 377 is gender neutral, and “covers voluntary acts of carnal intercourse against the order of nature irrespective of the gender of the persons committing the act”  (p. 22). Further:
“…[and that in] carnal intercourse between man and man, man and woman, and woman and woman…[there is] no constitutional right that vests in a person to indulge in an activity which has the propensity to cause harm and any act which has the capacity to cause harm to others cannot be validated.”
Thus, going by the above logic, Section 377 does not criminalize only homosexuals – it criminalizes any individual who has it in them to indulge in desire, and pleasure outside of heteronormative norms – thus, rendering people as a “new specification of individuals”, as Foucault put it. It rests on a fallacious concern for human dignity, safety and morality; but is silent on the fact that a great deal of violence is perpetrated on women when they are raped, in many cases, by their own husbands, in accordance “to the order of nature” – which, ironically, still isn’t a crime in the law books (more on that later). Perhaps, then, it is important for those in the gender rights movement to articulate our unregulated right to fuck – not just the “miniscule population” of gays, lesbians, and transgender people, but even straight, heterosexuals, and – who knows, maybe even “thigh-fetishists”?
The arguments concerning “against the order of nature”, thus, firmly seek to entrench patriarchal structures. Referring back to the notion of the moral-political economy, it is not sufficient for it to merely define the dominant category, or signifier, of the masculine; there is a concerted need to define the intimacy of subjects so as constitute the masculine in a sexualised process. The “order of nature” – and this conclusion, I concede, comes rather late – is this the order of the patriarchal moral-political economy.

In the next post, I shall continue my criticisms of the Supreme Court judgement on Section 377 of the IPC, by situating them in the broad context of gender identities, the gender rights movement, and present a critique of the Parliament . Therein, I will attempt to unravel the contradictions of the Supreme Court’s judgement, by arguing that reinstating Section 377 points out the fallacies of the Indian State’s commitment to preserving the rights of marginal groups – both, women, and the LGBT community, have been at the receiving end of the Indian State’s apathy; and by suggesting that the very same state legislate on Section 377, the Supreme Court’s verdict is a historical blunder, and fails its own legacy. Moreover, the clarity I argued for in the case against “against the order of nature”, is pertinent in the follow up post, where I shall situate my argument, alongside the critiques of the state, and structures of legality, in what could be called a “politics of desire”.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Afterthoughts on the Patriarchal Moral-political Economy

There are two disparate, yet connected (made so quite forcefully), events that have captured the public imagination over the last couple of days. The first, of course, has been referred to as the “Saheb stalking” case in Gujarat, wherein the Modi government put a woman, a landscape architect, under illegal surveillance for months. This, allegedly, was at the behest of the girl’s father, who personally approached Modi for her “protection”.
Second, and the more shocking, is the case of Tarun Tejpal sexually assaulting a female junior colleague and fellow journalist at the Tehelka Think2013. Tejpal is the co-founder of Tehelka magazine, which is critically acclaimed for its incisive, critical investigative journalism, something it has pioneered in India – and a bulk of Tehelka’s journalism has been a hard-hitting coverage of the pervasive violence against women in India. This incident, thus, is a trial-by-fire of sorts for Tehelka: one where their ethics, their values are put on the dock. And one, going by the recent turn of events, that looks on extremely shaky grounds.
I, like the majority of sane voices, some of them echoed on Times Now’s News Hour debate last night, think the blame squarely lies on Tejpal, and Tejpal alone (something to which he admits). However, there are certain points that compound the picture. But, in Tejpal’s case, this becomes extremely problematic.

The first is Tejpal’s email to his Tehelka colleagues, primarily the managing editor, Shoma Chaudhury. In the letter, Tejpal writes that: “A bad lapse of judgement, an awful misreading of the situation have led to an unfortunate incident that rails against all we believe in and fight for.”  He further writes for a need for “atonement” but “not just in words”, a “penance that lacerates” him, and with that, he offers recuse from the editorship of Tehelka for six months. The public, naturally and rightly so, is livid. The fact that Tejpal “chooses his own punishment” is in violation of the rule of law, said the Times Now debate. Atonement, lacerations, recuses and moral guilt cannot, in way whatsoever, dilute the reprehensible nature of his actions. They are, as someone rightly put it on Twitter, sanctimonious. And needless to say, the rest of Tejpal’s letter is a glorification of his organisation. 
Now, there are many issues at stake here: the primary one being the (lack of) implementation of the Vishaka Guidelines to put a check on sexual harassment of women in workplaces. There are other pertinent points about the pervasive nature of patriarchal power and control over women in workplaces. Nivedita Menon, for instance, chronicles this pervasive “sexualisation of workplaces”:
“The workplace – from the classroom to the court to the newsroom, every single workplace in short – is utterly sexualized. It is sexualized in a masculinist and misogynistic power-laden way. The continuous invocation of the possibility of sex and of women as sexual objects is the very air of the workplace.”

This culture of violence is an inherent aspect of what I have argued is the patriarchal moral-political economy. Very briefly, the patriarchal moral-political economy denotes an insidious structure, or a network of structures, that function on patriarchal and misogynistic logic of governance. There is no one model of moral-political economy; it is a Janus-faced, hegemonic enterprise, that manufactures legitimacy for violence; and lastly, it invests its power in the repository of the masculine. By this argument, therefore, what has ensued in Tehelka conforms to the operation of a patriarchal moral-political economy.
At the same time, alongside the question of real violence perpetrated on real bodies and by real people, there is a discourse of sexual violence, and our response to it, that is equally real: if not its form, but certainly in its effects and consequences. And this discourse is something that needs to be critically examined as well. People, usually critics of Tehelka, have not spared the opportunity to drag the magazine’s (and Tejpal’s) name through the mud (“critics” is a polite term; I’d prefer the term ‘trolls’, or just idiots). Allegations about “prostitutes” in the offices of Tehelka or the insults hurled at Tejpal’s daughter, to name a few, nauseate the environment. Because let’s face it: we still are a terrible public. We want a spectacle; we want blood; we want hangings and castrations. In the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape-murder, I argued that only because the perpetrators were from a particular demographic group they were caught in record time. In this case, Tejpal represents a different monstrosity: arrogant, sanctimonious, and elite. And we want his blood. This demonization of Tejpal, thus, is a result of a petty, middle class, fettered conscience; wherein, we forget to (or choose not to) see that he, like other predatory men, is human, and must be held accountable for his crimes. For, as Nivedita Menon writes: “Men in the workplace need to know this now, and with certainty, – their sexualized behaviour is not charming or harmless, but a criminal offence.”
Having said that, I do not think that Tejpal – despite his efforts, his “blood, toil, tears and sweat” – is reducible to Tehelka and nor the magazine to him; Tehelkajournalism is the credit of dozens of hard-working journalists – men and women – who certainly, to a degree, embody the glorification Tejpal makes of the magazine. And it’s precisely their faith, and the faith of its readers, that is at stake here – if not entirely betrayed. Perhaps, Tejpal’s glorification of Tehelka is actually a desperate plea for the law of function impartially and without biases; of the magazine upholding the principles upon which it was founded, by seeing that Tejpal faces the full force of the law – something, which the people crititcised by Tehelka, have escaped. Or perhaps, it is sheer arrogance, an indefensible and utterly shameful justification of patriarchal power in the sexualised workplace. We cannot know for sure; and must, unlike blood-thirsty trolls on social media, wait for our courts and legal machinery decide the same (of course, the legal machinery is something that itself is deeply embedded in the patriarchal moral-political economy).

There is, as I mentioned in the beginning, an uncanny similarity in the overarching narrative of the Tehelka case, and the Saheb stalking case. Both cases are models of patriarchal moral-political economies: they rest on a gross abuse of power (a patriarchal power-space, it must be remembered), and both cases are (apparently) shying away from legal intervention. Furthermore, there is the regressive assumption that for women to be “protected” (ironically, by and against patriarchal forms of violence), they must submit to patriarchal controls, and forfeit any agency they have. In the Saheb case, the woman’s agency is completely overtaken and appropriated by her father and the masculine state: the father wrote to the National Commission of Women makes no mention of the alleged “threats” his daughter needs protection from; and Arun Jaitley, in a spectacularly silly move, said that “security and protection are not snooping”.
Similarly, by trying to cover up Tejpal’s alleged sexual harassment, Shoma Chaudhury is doing more harm than good; to Tehelka, and to the larger question about women’s movement, and its critiques of patriarchy. Regrettably, Chaudhury, who once appeared on a debate in The Outsider, where she spoke for the motion that ‘India is no country for women’, and has herself written critical pieces on women’s rights, and violence against women (her coverage of the Arushi Case is most prominent), comes awfully close to what I have argued is the Janus-faced nature of moral-political economies (something we can describe as Jaitley’s comments as). The burden, unfortunately, has befallen on her. As a woman, and especially under these circumstances, I can imagine that things indeed must be very, very hard for her. But this is a chance for her to subvert and challenge the patriarchal moral-political economy – one so pervasive in her own organisation.

Yes, Tehelka and other organisations (media and otherwise) need to implement Vishakha Guidelines; and, more importantly, the criminal proceedings against Tejpal (and the Modi government) must and should proceed, but not in a logic of protectionism to the women in question. That further robs them of agency, and reasserts the perverted nature of patriarchies. They – and the Tehelka journalist more so – need to act on their own free will, free of compulsions, compromises, and coercion [Read Amba Salekar's argument on the same; however, it should also be noted that insofar are we are talking about agency and implementation of law, there are many constraints on the former by the latter: see Postscript]
At the same time, it is extremely imperative that the responsible parties do not go away unpunished. The legal complications in both cases, thanks to my own limitations, are lost on me [See Postscript]. But as sociologist Dipankar Gupta puts it, there is a need to differentiate between the moral and the ethical; the former, he argues, is dangerous because it is personal, ambiguous and thus, dangerous – which is how both Tejpal’s and the Modi government’s actions can be defined as. Hence, he argues for: public ethics replacing private morality; transparency and accountability in public behaviour; and trust in institutions replacing trust in people. However complex and contradictory this may seem, and in spite of my own criticisms of it, the need for such intervention is imperative.
Patriarchy doesn’t make monsters out of men and women; it exists because we see it as normal, because we fail to see the ways in which it harms human beings. This failure – to stand up to, and against, patriarchy; to rubbish atonement, and demand impartial justice; to see violence for what it is – is the fatal flaw. We cannot fall back on our “inordinate capacity to forgive sinners”, “who turn a new leaf”. It is that flaw that we must perpetually struggle against. And I, for one, do hope that Shoma Chaudhury senses this as well. For, it’s not just Tehelka’s credibility, the faith of its readers, or even the question of justice for the journalist, that is at stake here; it is a larger danger of a feminist question failing itself, and its politics. 

PostscriptThere’s two additional points I would like to add on. First concerns the question of agency. According to the Vishakha Guidelines, if sexual harassment does occur and:
“Where such conduct amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with the appropriate authority.”
The prerogative, therefore, was on Chaudhury to register an FIR against Tejpal, and not address the grievances of her colleague. The notion of agency – of the woman filing the complaint on her own, as many, including I, have argued – is compounded. Thus, when we do talk about the law functioning impartially, there are already, by that virtue, constraints on the operation of that agency.
Secondly, since the publication of this post, many ugly details have come out about the nature of the crime, and more shockingly so about Tehelka’s consistent failures of addressing the crime in question; more so, several journalists and editors have also resigned from their respective posts in the magazine. As of now, 25th of November, 2013, the Tehelka journalist in question has given her resignation letter. She has also alleged that Tejpal’s family members have intimidated her. She writes that despite Tehelka “defending the rights of women… [and speaking] harshly against the culture of victim blaming, tactical emotional intimidation and character assassination of those who dare to speak out against sexual violence”, and now that she is the victim to such a crime, she is:
“…shattered to find the Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka [Tejpal], and you – in your capacity as Managing Editor – resorting to precisely these tactics of intimidation, character assassination and slander.”
It would, therefore, appear that whatever cautious arguments I have made above concerning Tehelka, thanks to this gross lack of concern and victimisation of the journalist, now stand discredited. For, as the journalist writes, it is not just Tejpal who has failed her as an employer, “but Tehelka that has failed women, employees, journalists and feminists collectively.” I am left with a bitter, nauseating aftertaste. This is the end of Tehelka as we’ve know it. I might still have great respect for their coverage of certain issues in the past, but clearly, I do not anticipate a bright future for it. And for that that, shame on you, Shoma Chaudhury; and shame on you, Tarun Tejpal. 

Acknowledgements: To Shubhra, for the discussions that never (and, hopefully, should never) end. And to Uday Chandra, for bringing about the complexities of agency in this context, and even otherwise.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Notes on the Patriarchal Moral-political Economy: Hindutva, Fascism & the masculine politics of domination

“Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”
Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended

In my previous post, my central argument was to explore how the patriarchal moral-political economy is Janus-faced; that is, how, through “collective conscience”…the moral-political economy “legitimates violence against the bodies of criminals, not because of the crime they commit, but because who they commit it against; and…in doing so, through its various institutions, it creates and reinforces network of hegemony, that defines criminality…and its (selective, and often brutal) punishment.” In this post, I attempt to offer further explanation on what I call the “masculine politics of domination”, in the context of the political Right-wing Hindutva in contemporary India.
Thus, to reiterate my other two conditions of moral-political economies: there is no one model of a moral-political economy; there are moral-political economies. That is, networks of hegemony, patronage and violence; networks that fall outside the ambit of government, but are insidious components of governance. And one way these networks of violence are operationalized (and legitimated) is through what I call the masculine politics of domination. This ‘politics’ invests its power in the category of the masculine as the dominant trope of organising power relations. However, this does not work in, or limited to, the rigid binaries of gender, or even sexualities. It is located at the intersection of political ideologies, spaces, economics, and, more importantly, in engendering violence, and manufacturing the legitimacy for the same.
Therefore, our discussion on moral-political economies also has a lot to do with the events that unfolded on our television screens the same day that the Saket Sessions court awarded the death sentence to the Delhi gang rape-murder perpetrators: Narendra Modi’s anointment as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

Masculine Politics of Domination: More forms of legitimating violence
That there’s a lot being said about Modi is an understatement. And it is indeed quite a task to sift out contradictory and divergent strands of thought, or ideas that can elucidate what the deal with him is: Is it purely economics? Based on the merits of his so-called Gujarat Model of development? The belief that he can deliver “maximum governance, with minimum government”, where the corrupt UPA has failed?
Or, is it about his complicity (if not direct involvement) in the genocidal riots that rocked Gujarat in 2002? – That are, by any account, one of the worst instances of communal conflicts in India. Clearly, his refusal to talk about 2002, and his usage of metaphors (for when he does) – that the riots were like a “puppy coming under the wheels of a car” and that, naturally, he is sad – is, to say the very least, problematic But, what then? And let us not forget the spate of fake encounter killings between 2004 and 2007, that were, undoubtedly, a quasi-policy of the state in dealing with the sublime threat of Islamic terrorism.
Personally, I do not think that dwelling on 2002 purely on the basis of rhetoric gets us anywhere (which degenerate into petty exchanges). The proof against Shiv Sena leader, Balasaheb Thackeray, in the 1992 Bombay riots was as damning, if not more. And that man, on whose watch one of India’s greatest cities burned, got a state funeral. Will Modi ever be held accountable for 2002? I am not sure. In fact, if anything, the question of the 2002 riots vis-à-vis the patriarchal moral-political economy begs a pertinent intervention in discussing what Ward Berenschot calls “riot politics” in his book Riot Politics: Hindu-Muslim Violence and the Indian State.
For Berenschot, the violence in Gujarat was possible not because it was an explicit government pogrom, or because the riots were uncontrollable; they were possible because of several factors, like the decline of traditional mediation networks in the communities, decline of trade unions, and the rise of virulent Hindutva politics. Older structures, like Pol Panchayats had but lost their influence in the communities of Ahmedabad; in lieu of them, politicians, goondas, and chamchas were now extended patronage networks, to which people (the Gujarati middle class) turned to. And it is these social actors that served as “riot networks”, and the riot, ultimately, was a way of “maintaining power relations” (read his paper here). A feminist reading of Berenschot’s arguments thus renders a conception of a “working” moral-political economy: the question of macro- and micro-spaces, making Berenschot’s work indispensable in our understanding of masculine politics of domination.
Following Judith Butler’s idea of performativity and violence, politics of domination would refer to not only the legitimation of violence – “rape-as-punishment” & “rape-being-punished-by-death” – but also the very nature of the violence perpetrated (the appalling description of violence and rape chronicled by Human Rights Watch’s report on Gujarat). Moreover, this form of violence is a perverse process of creating the bodies of the “other” – women, Muslims, Dalits – as a site which engenders a fundamentally Right-wing politics of violence. Thus, the violence enacted on Muslim bodies during the riots, of allowing Hindus to express their anger”, of “putting the Muslims in place”; as well as the violence perpetrated on Dalits, and women, engenders the legitimacy of violence, and more so, the necessity of it, in the creation of moral-political economies.
In this essay, however, I also explore another fundamental idea: the intersection of fascism with the Right’s moral-political economy. It is my argument that, by representing Modi as the dominant trope of masculinity, and, through his own attempts to forge more secular or tolerant credentials for himself, Modi’s image as “the governator” is essential for the creation of the Sangh’s moral-political economy. Secondly, I also extrapolate how the Sangh itself embodies or represents what Italian philosopher Umberto Eco calls “Ur-Fascism”. [Note: the term ‘Sangh’ is shorthand for mainly the RSS, and its associated organisations: the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal & Durga Vahini].

Modi, Hindutva and image of the “governator”
It is no secret or great big revelation, that the RSS, the VHP and other right-wing outfits associated with the BJP are regressively patriarchal. They, and their assorted misogynistic codswallop, represent what I have earlier described as a culture of violence. Misogyny, policing of sexualities, a pervasive rape culture, are actually normalized fields of violence for them. In Masculinities, R.W. Connell differentiates between different masculinities, and the relationship between them – these being, hegemony, subordination, complicity, and marginalisation (see the previous post for a discussion of Connell’s work on hegemonic masculinity).
The masculine that Modi comes to define and inhabit is, to refer the arguments above, a penultimate form of hegemonic masculinity. The resurgence of the right can also be seen, in part, as a re-masculinization in reaction the emasculating politics of the soft, corrupt UPA regime. It also functions to emasculate and marginalise the masculinity of the Muslim “other” – which has always been the Sangh’s object of attack (more on that later).
That might offer some preliminary explanation on why Hindutva figures so virulently in the political agenda of the BJP specifically. I mean, on the one hand, they are desperate to show that they are not entirely dominated by the regressive patriarchy of the VHP, and much less, the RSS. And on the other, they are equally desperate to reverse the emasculating policies of the UPA, to reassert, and reinstate, what Michael Messner has called the “masculinity of the governator”.
Messner argues that the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger in American politics was done so by him forging a credible, hybrid masculine imagery as a “kindergarten commando”. This, he says, “represents an ascendant hegemonic masculinity…foregrounding toughness, and the threat of violence and following the situationally appropriate symbolic displays of compassions”. This utilisation masculine imagery, for the Republicans, was necessary in national politics to gain voters’ trust in times of fear and insecurity. What the BJP and Modi are trying to achieve, is a similar process. Both, the so-called Gujarat Model and Modi’s masculine imagery, his “56-inch chest” included (he was dubbed “Rambo Modi” with news of his rescue of 15,000 stranded Gujaratis in Uttarakhand after the floods) represents both, a kind of Janus-faced politics, and the constitution of a hegemonic category of masculinity. The shrill cry of Hindutva – his claims of being a “Hindu nationalist” – contrary to being (just) a communal assertion, is actually a masculine assertion. It is, among many other things, an attempt for the BJP to forge the Hindutva patriarchal moral-political economy with the image of Modi as governator at its helm (if the claim of “Ram-rajya”  is not a plea for more patriarchal control, then I don’t know what is). 
Many of these arguments on Hindutva politics, masculinity and male embodiment are explained in Joseph Alter’s Moral Materialism: Sex and Celibacy in Modern India. Alter locates the discussion on celibacy in the milieu of nationalist discourse of post-Independent India, where to contrast the hegemonic, western masculinity of the colonisers, there was a revival in the Indian (more so, the Hindu) conception of celibacy and sexuality.  Incidentally, however, the RSS' recent claim that Hindus should scrap the one-child norm and have more children to “balance” the demographic imbalance (i.e., to counter “rising” Muslim population) represents yet another patriarchal attempt at biopolitics—the most notorious being the mass-sterilizations and family planning under the aegis of Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi.
Thus, apart from being Messner’s “governator”, Modi also serves as the epitaph of popular Hindutva for a vast majority of Hindus (predominantly, male youth) in the country. His stance on the economy (especially, the Food Security Bill), the armed forces, the border, and India’s (emasculated) relationship with China and Pakistan, are fantastic ideological tools that have, and pardon my use of floral language, captured the hearts and minds of the masses. For, as sociologist Shiv Visvanathan rightly points out in his essay, ‘The Remaking of Narendra Modi’: “He [Modi] is a cultural dream for Hindus tired of softness and gentleness who welcome his technocratic machismo.”

Modi, Hindutva & Ur-Fascism
Modi’s hard, masculine stance is, for obvious reasons, highly problematic. Further to Connell’s understanding of the “relation between and within genders”, a closer and more nuanced examination of Modi also begs extremely pertinent questions on fascism, and its relation of the patriarchal moral-political economy. In an interview with Modi when he was an RSS prachalak in the 1980s, social scientist Ashis Nandy described him as “a classic, clinical case of a fascist” and that for the first time in his life he had “met a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, and perhaps even a future mass murderer”. [Note: it should be clarified that I do not have access to Nandy's original statement]. 
Now, I am wary of throwing around a term like ‘fascist’ – partly because Digvijay Singh’s (or, more recently, Nithish Kumar’s) more-than-judicious use of the same bothers me; and also because I do not possess Nandy’s qualifications. However, situating the discourse of Modi in the larger scheme of the Sangh, some of the fascist iterations become evident. Also, Nandy’s later writings on Modi – for instance, in which he claims that politics has “blunted him and made him less dangerous” – are interesting. He writes: “Modi's earnestness has declined...he has become more instrumental [and] is at once less threatening and more dangerous”. Modi, now, can balance his power ambitions, and project the RSS’ (and the Sangh's) patriarchal ideologies in a manner that hides their regressive patriarchy in the patina of “development” and “governance” (Janus-faced). And, while Nandy may seem reluctant to revisit his diagnosis of fascism, I would agree with Shiv Visvanathan, when he writes that we must understand “the remaking of Modi, the modernist as fascist…if we wish to unmake it”.

Umberto Eco’s essay, Ur-Fascism, is extremely pertinent in this regard. Eco, who as a boy survived the Fascism of Mussolini in Italy in the 1940s, has offered the most compelling, exhaustive and chilling explanation of what he calls “Ur-Fascism”, or “Eternal Fascism”. He writes:
“…fascism [did not] contained in itself…all the elements of any later form of totalitarianism. On the contrary, fascism had no quintessence. Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions.” 
But despite of this “fuzziness”, Eco outlines a list of 14 features that are typical to “Ur-Fascism”. A more contextual reading of Eco would thus render a lot of sense to the insidious politics of the BJP and, more importantly, of its allied bodies in the Sangh Parivar (more so when we put Modi in the picture). However, due to constraints of space it is difficult for me to explain and extrapolate entirely Eco’s points on Ur-Fascism to the discourse of the BJP & RSS’ Hindutva politics. However, I shall retain some of the points that I think are extremely relevant in my analysis. 
[Note: I would urge the reader to read Eco’s essay more closely to understand the points he raises about fascism; see also, Sumit Sarkar's essay on The Fascism of the Sangh Parivar, which he wrote after the 1992 Babri masjid demolition, and the subsequent riots that followed].
Thus, with regard to the BJP-RSS in general, and to Modi in particular, my understanding of fascism, and its intersection with the patriarchal moral-political economy, is based on seven fundamental points that are raised by Eco in Ur-Fascism. The first is the “cult of syncretistic traditionalism” which “rejects modernism”. Although Modi’s Gujarat model is, supposedly, pro-development, the Ram janmabhoomi debate features vociferously the BJP’s election agenda. An argument can also be made about the Janus-faced nature of the BJP’s political agenda here: their claims on development, and a regression to their idea of Hindu Rashtra. In fact, it would seem that only in the discourse of patriarchy and fascism can such glaring contradictions coexist.
Second, is the fear of difference, and the obsession with a plot (which is an appeal to xenophobia); this grows with an appeal “against intruders”, which is why Eco terms Ur-Fascism as racist. Third, in relation to the second point, is pacifism is trafficking with the enemybecause life is permanent warfare—be it against the threat of our neighbours, or ISI-sponsored terrorists within the country – who, then, are killed in fake encounters, for display to the world. Tehelka journalist, Rana Ayyub’s exhaustive coverage of the fake encounters in Gujarat is exemplary in this regard.
Fourth, is will to power to sexual matters…this is the “origin of machismo”, and perhaps, the most important point insofar as we are looking at the relationship between patriarchy and fascism. As a woman, a friend of mine once commented, she is uncomfortable with what sees about the BJP’s rise to power; and as a feminist, I share her concern: I find it disconcerting too, that Modi, being a part of a supra-patriarchal institution like the RSS—whose chief, Mohan Bhagwat, claimed that “rapes don’t happen in Bharat; they happen in India”—can appropriate the voice of protests that were witnessed post-December 2012 gang-rape murder (the supreme irony of Modi being anointed the same day as the accused were given a death penalty).
If you require any more evidence, there is none more clear, or shocking, than this clip from Nisha Pahuja’s documentary, The World Before Her. The clip examines two contrasting scapes: first, the camp of the RSS’ women’s wing, Durga Vahini, and the assaults on women and couples in public places, and pubs (the latter by the notorious Shri Ram Sene); and second, the selection round of the Miss India pageant. The instructor at the Durga Vahini (women's wing of the RSS) camp goes on record to say that women are “biologically weaker than men”, and must, therefore, shun any hopes for gender equality. The more shocking aspect about this brainwashing at the camp, according to Pahuja, is what Prachi, a trainee at the camp, has to say about her father, (and, thus, the moral-political economy he and the RSS represent):
 “In a traditional family they don’t let girl child live. They kill the child. So this is the thing. I get angry; I have quarrels with my dad. But this thing, when it comes in my mind, I feel like crying… he let me live. That is the best part.” 
 Modi, for all his claims on development, for all his talks on the “Gujarat model”, ultimately, represents (and, comes from) the same oeuvre and ideology that is espoused by the Durga Vahini camp instructors when they claim “women are weaker than men”; by the Shri Ram Sene when they attack women in pubs; by the Ranveer Sena when they attack Dalits trying to reassert their rights; and, ultimately, by misogynists like Prachi’s father, who claim to mould her as “their product”. My stance as a Leftist often unsettles many of my critics (who happen to be supporters of Modi), inviting jibes of “Stalinism/Maoism”; but, as a feminist, I have more than enough reason, and am more than justified, to be critical of him, and the Right. And I’d dare any apologist to prove so otherwise.
The fifth condition of Ur-Fascism is an appeal to the frustrated middle class – who are (rightly) tired with ten years of the UPA’s corrupt regime and soft policies on terror, the economy, and so on. In continuation, the sixth is selective populism, where the people (in this case, the Hindus they represent) are only a theatrical fiction. Eco says, “…there is, in our future, a TV or an internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
Ramachandra Guha’s experience with such “Hindutva Hate Mail” – what journalist Sagarika Ghose has termed “Internet Hindu” – perfectly illustrates this facet. Terms like “Sickular”, “paid-media”, and, my personal favourite, “anti-national”, are in fast currency amongst these anonymous handles on Twitter. Nowhere, however, have these anonymous Twitter handles provided enough proof to counter any arguments, or to back up the accusations they hurl. And this brings us to the seventh and final condition of my interpretation of Ur-Fascism: it [a syncretistic faith] “cannot withstand criticism”. Eco sums up my thoughts, when he says that the modern community “praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.”
“Development” and the “Gujarat model” are, for apologists and supporters of Modi alike, sanctimonious; any criticism of the same is tantamount to treason. And, they very conveniently forget the fact that any true development must happen through an informed process, through scientific argument, and critical reasoning. These are qualities whose glaring absence is not only conspicuous, but also (I suspect) deleted in the discourse on Modi: because, unlike capitalism for Marx, the masculine politics of domination cannot afford to sow in the seeds of its own destruction. It needs to be fought, and resisted, unceasingly, and without respite. More than anything, a deeper understanding of patriarchal moral-political economies is required to reassert, and refashion feminist politics.

Understandably, my argument is too little, and perhaps, too late, to convince anyone (his supporters, most of all) that it is a very dangerous place for country to resort to desperation to want an authoritarian persona as Modi. His persona – for the lack of a better term – is situated at the intersection of so many discourses of violence and exclusion: and his elevation as a potential prime minister only escalates some of these concerns. However, this discourse is not about Modi: he just happens to be the dominant form of hegemonic masculine in the patriarchal moral-political economy that the Sangh is projecting.
We must remember that the patriarchal moral-political economy is more than just one person; it is an ideology, and an insidious, brutal network of hegemony, dominance, violence and exclusion. It is a system which valorises a persona like Modi, because for the BJP’s (and the Sangh Parivar’s) moral-political economy to come to force, it needs a Modi. An older figure, like Manmohan Singh – or even Advani, for instance – is spent, exhausted, if not entirely emasculated. Moreover, Modi’s image gives legitimacy to the underlying fascist tendencies of the political right, reasserts its core (fascist & patriarchal) values, and constructs what is perhaps the most powerful, and ideologically virulent, form of the patriarchal moral-political economy.
And that is precisely why we will need feminist politics. Always.

My criticisms of Modi, and the 2002 riots, are in relation to a particular and specific argument I am making on the nature of patriarchal moral-political economies. And it stands to reason that any kind of genocide or mass violence engenders a masculine politics of domination. Of course, on the other hand, the Congress would represent a different, “softer” kind of hegemonic system altogether—a more Janus-faced one, as my previous post argued; one that cannot tolerate dissent, or criticism. This is reflective of a larger problem of intolerance in the political space—a governance of paranoia. However, an objective measure cannot be adopted for the two forms; and a discursive criticism becomes necessary.
Any counter-argument, stating that Modi and the BJP represent the lesser evil, and therefore, are the necessary evil, is reflective of intellectual laziness; and so is defending the UPA’s Janus-faced policies. Both forms require incessant criticisms. And I believe I have provided enough critiques on both, in previous posts and on social media platforms. Understandably, this presents a dilemma for less nuanced minds who tend to see and organise realties in binaries.
In this post, I have, to the best of my abilities, tried to infuse a degree of analytical rigour, and provided references to back my arguments. At the end of the day, however, this is a blog post, and lacks the expansive research required for a more academic work; any suggestions regarding the arguments are more than welcome. Conversely, I do not make any claims to being an intellectual; I write. But writing, while not entirely cathartic, is a political act. And, with that, I stand by the by-line of this blog, and the feminist adage that has inspired it: the personal is indeed political 

  This post is a dedication to the brilliant women, and men. I admire, and follow on social media; many of them feminists, activists & enthusiasts, but more importantly, people who value reason & argument. I am thankful to their engaging debates, exchanges & criticisms. 
I am especially thankful to Shubhra Rishi, Ketaki HatéVaishali J, Malathi Jogi, Arundhati Bhattacharya, and Vivien D'costa, for their comments, feedback & criticisms on the earlier drafts of this essay; and to Nolina, for her constant encouragement, support and love.