Sunday, 26 January 2014

‘The Grammar of Anarchy’ Debate: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

NoteThis is an excerpt from Ambedkar's speech made in the Constituent Assembly, on November 25th, 1949 (Constituent Assembly of India - Volume XI). The full debate can be accessed here. 

On 26th January 1950, India will be an independent country. What would happen to her independence? Will she maintain her independence or will she lose it again? This is the first thought that comes to my mind. It is not that India was never an independent country. The point is that she once lost the independence she had. Will she lose it a second time? It is this thought which makes me most anxious for the future. What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only India has once before lost her independence, but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of some of her own people. In the invasion of Sind by Mahommed-Bin-Kasim, the military commanders of King Dahar accepted bribes from the agents of Mahommed-Bin-Kasim and refused to fight on the side of their King. It was Jaichand who invited Mahommed Gohri to invade India and fight against Prithvi Raj and promised him the help of himself and the Solanki Kings. When Shivaji was fighting for the liberation of Hindus, the other Maratha noblemen and the Rajput Kings were fighting the battle on the side of Moghul Emperors. When the British were trying to destroy the Sikh Rulers, Gulab Singh, their principal commander sat silent and did not help to save the Sikh Kingdom. In 1857, when a large part of India had declared a war of independence against the British, the Sikhs stood and watched the event as silent spectators.
Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. This anxiety is deepened by the realization of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indian place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.
On the 26th of January 1950, India would be a democratic country in the sense that India from that day would have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The same thought comes to my mind. What would happen to her democratic Constitution? Will she be able to maintain it or will she lose it again? This is the second thought that comes to my mind and makes me as anxious as the first.
It is not that India did not know what Democracy is. There was a time when India was studded with republics, and even where there were monarchies, they were either elected or limited. They were never absolute. It is not that India did not know Parliaments or Parliamentary Procedure. A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that not only there were Parliaments-for the Sanghas were nothing but Parliaments – but the Sanghas knew and observed all the rules of Parliamentary Procedure known to modern times. They had rules regarding seating arrangements, rules regarding Motions, Resolutions, Quorum, Whip, Counting of Votes, Voting by Ballot, Censure Motion, Regularization, Res Judicata, etc. Although these rules of Parliamentary Procedure were applied by the Buddha to the meetings of the Sanghas, he must have borrowed them from the rules of the Political Assemblies functioning in the country in his time.
This democratic system India lost. Will she lose it a second time? I do not know. But it is quite possible in a country like India – where democracy from its long disuse must be regarded as something quite new – there is danger of democracy giving place to dictatorship. It is quite possible for this new born democracy to retain its form but give place to dictatorship in fact. If there is a landslide, the danger of the second possibility becoming actuality is much greater.
If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions”. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O'Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.
The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies, at the base of it, social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life…[And] these principlesare not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality; equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many; without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them. We must begin by acknowledging the fact that there is complete absence of two things in Indian Society. One of these is equality. On the social plane, we have in India a society based on the principle of graded inequality which we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty.
On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which is Assembly has to laboriously built up.
The second thing we are wanting in is recognition of the principle of fraternity. What does fraternity mean? Fraternity means a sense of common brotherhood of all Indians – if Indians being one people. It is the principle which gives unity and solidarity to social life. It is a difficult thing to achieve. How difficult it is, can be realized from the story related by James Bryce in his volume on American Commonwealth about the United States of America.
    The story is – I propose to recount it in the words of Bryce himself – that:
    “Some years ago the American Protestant Episcopal Church was occupied at its triennial Convention in revising its liturgy. It was thought desirable to introduce among the short sentence prayers a prayer for the whole people, and an eminent  New England divine proposed the words `O Lord, bless our nation'. Accepted one afternoon, on the spur of the moment, the sentence was brought up next day for reconsideration, when so many objections were raised by the laity to the word nation' as importing too definite a recognition of national unity, that it was dropped, and instead there were adopted the words `O Lord, bless these United States.”
    There was so little solidarity in the U.S.A. at the time when this incident occurred that the people of America did not think that they were a nation. If the people of the United States could not feel that they were a nation, how difficult it is for Indians to think that they are a nation. I remember the days when politically-minded Indians, resented the expression “the people of India”. They preferred the expression “the Indian nation”. I am of opinion that in believing that we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realize that we are not as yet a nation in the social and psychological sense of the world, the better for us. For then only we shall realize the necessity of becoming a nation and seriously think of ways and means of realizing the goal. The realization of this goal is going to be very difficult – far more difficult than it has been in the United States. The United States has no caste problem. In India there are castes. The castes are anti-national. In the first place, because they bring about separation in social life. They are anti-national also because they generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste. But we must overcome all these difficulties if we wish to become a nation in reality. For fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation. Without fraternity equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint.
    These are my reflections about the tasks that lie ahead of us. They may not be very pleasant to some. But there can be no gainsaying that political power in this country has too long been the monopoly of a few and the many are only beasts of burden, but also beasts of prey. This monopoly has not merely deprived them of their chance of betterment, it has sapped them of what may be called the significance of life. These down-trodden classes are tired of being governed. They are impatient to govern themselves. This urge for self-realization in the down-trodden classes must not be allowed to devolve into a class struggle or class war. It would lead to a division of the House. That would indeed be a day of disaster. For, as has been well said by Abraham Lincoln, a House divided against itself cannot stand very long. Therefore the sooner room is made for the realization of their aspiration, the better for the few, the better for the country, the better for the maintenance for its independence and the better for the continuance of its democratic structure. This can only be done by the establishment of equality and fraternity in all spheres of life. That is why I have laid so much stresses on them.
    I do not wish to weary the House any further. Independence is no doubt a matter of joy. But let us not forget that this independence has thrown on us great responsibilities. By independence, we have lost the excuse of blaming the British for anything going wrong. If hereafter things go wrong, we will have nobody to blame except ourselves. There is great danger of things going wrong. Times are fast changing. People including our own are being moved by new ideologies. They are getting tired of Government by the people. They are prepared to have Governments for the people and are indifferent whether it is Government of the people and by the people. If we wish to preserve the Constitution in which we have sought to enshrine the principle of Government of the people, for the people and by the people, let us resolve not to be tardy in the recognition of the evils that lie across our path and which induce people to prefer Government for the people to Government by the people, nor to be weak in our initiative to remove them. That is the only way to serve the country. I know of no better. 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Religion, Homophobia and the Aftermath of 377: Some notes from Jamaat-e-Islami Hind's “protest against homosexuality”

I was walking past Azad Maidan on my way to CST when I saw something that caught my eye. It was, as most things at Azad Maidan are, a protest. But the nature of the protest is what intrigued me: it was a “protest against homosexuality”, organised by Jammat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), which appraised the Supreme Court verdict of December 11th, 2013, which effectively criminalized consensual same-sex between adults under the archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This wasn’t surprising since Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) has been very vocal in its support of the Supreme Court verdict. Against my better judgement, I decided to stay there for a few moments, and try to understand what this “protest” was really about. Never before, have I been in an atmosphere that was so intolerant and venomous. I sat amidst JIH volunteers holding placards like: “GAY: God Abhors You!”, “Homosexuals are selfish”, and “Gay rights are not human rights!” It was, also, an atmosphere fraught with fallacies, hatred and misinformation.
Before I proceed with an overview, and criticism of the JIH “protest”, let me clarify a few things: firstly, I write as a student of gender studies, so my views are more concerned with JIH as representing a patriarchal ideology, than they are as a religious organisation. There are homophobic and irrational views across the political and religious spectrum—and most of them are as worse, if not more, than the others. In this case, as it just so happens, Jamaat is an Islamic organisation. In fact, they had even roped in a sadhu to speak out against homosexuality. Secondly, in this article, my argument is against the misinformation, lies and inaccuracies about homosexuality that the JIH presented. Finally, this article attempts to examine how differing ideologies (religious, political) coalesce under patriarchy and, in that respect, it also presents a critique of such pervasive patriarchal structures.

Homosexuality is a Western idea; it is against Indian culture; it will lead to population decline”
First of all, there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that homosexuality made its way from the West to India—even during colonialism. That India has its own legacy of homoerotic representations in literature and art, and that there are prominent queer themes in Hinduism, too, is entirely (and purposefully) absent in their discourse. As Devdutt Patnaik writes:
“…homosexual activities – in some form – did exist in ancient India…its existence was acknowledged but not approved. There was some degree of tolerance when the act expressed itself in heterosexual terms.”
Indian “culture”, therefore, for organisations like Jamaat and the political Right, exists purely in a rhetorical space, and is divorced from historical facts. Their limited and myopic reading of history of the West also fails to see the moral panic over homosexuality, even in the United States and Britain, and Europe. As Abhay Kumar points out:
“The argument is made in such a way that Indians – both Hindus and Muslims – are opposed to homosexuality, while Indian culture is painted as morally sound and Western culture is morally repulsive and corrupt. The difference between Hindus and Muslims, seen as the source of perennial ‘Hindu-Muslim’ conflicts, suddenly disappears.”
Thus, events like the persecution of homosexuals by the Third Reich, the Stonewall riots, the assassination of Harvey Milk, Proposition 8, and the present-day persecution of homosexuals in Russia—to state a few examples—cannot at all figure in their interpretation of the “West”. It, like their definition of an “Indian culture”, is an empty category to be used for political mobilisation. In fact, what both Jamaat and the sadhu forgot was that Section 377 is an explicitly colonial legislation, based on Victorian morality and control over sexuality. To put it simply, had it not been for the West and British colonialism, there would be no Section 377, and by extension, there would be nothing for Jamaat to protest against.
Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that it is homosexuality that’s affecting population growth in the West; and the same would hold true for India. An examination of the population growth and total percentage of homosexuals in the United States of America, for instance, lends no credibility to the claims of the JIH. The population of the USA in 1970 was 205.1 million, and in 2012 it was 313.8 million—a population rise of approx. 65.3% in 42 years. At the same time, according to a study conducted by the Williams Institute in 2011, an estimated 3.5% of adults in the USA identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. On the other hand, as of 2013, the contraceptive prevalence rate in the USA is 76.4%. This, coupled with factors like increased costs of livings, declining family size, capital-intensive labour, and so on, have possibly contributed to a slower growth rate – and, most definitely, not homosexuality.

Homosexuality is a disease; it causes AIDS; it can be cured”
As with their earlier claims of homosexuality being a factor causing population – and thereby, civilizational – decline, these claims of the JIH, too, are untenable. First of all, in 1973, the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II) eliminated ‘homosexuality’ as a mental disorder. Through this elimination, argues Dr Robert Spitzer, who authored the paper:
“…we will be removing one of the justifications for the denial of civil rights to individuals whose only crime is that their sexual orientation is to members of the same sex.”
Clearly, then, homosexuality per se is not a deviance, or a disorder, and much less a disease (However, the ASA’s usage of the term ‘Sexual Orientation Disturbance’, too, is extremely problematic. But that’s an argument for another discussion). Further, questioning the givenness of gender and sexual identities, anthropologists have presented compelling cases wherein several indigenous cultures (and, even biology) do not conform to the binary model of gender. Anne Fausto-Sterling, for instance, has presented a historical overview of “intersex” identities and argues for a need to think of five sexes, and not two. Sharyn Graham, studying the Bugis in Indonesia, too, presents a case for five genders, as well as a ‘meta-gender identity’.
Their arguments on HIV and AIDS, too, are ill-founded. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted by only four means—of which, homosexuality can account for only one, i.e., unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected partner. It is estimated that 85 to 87% of all HIV transmission is through unprotected sex. And while anal sex does increase the chances of HIV transmission, it is difficult to estimate exactly how much of it is through homosexual sex. Thus, homosexuals who have sex without using condoms would be at no more, or less, risk of contracting HIV, than heterosexuals who do the same.
According to the Supreme Court verdict, HIV prevalence among MSM (Men who have sex with men) is approximately 7%, and that there are about 25 lakh MSM in India presently. This, however, is a contested figure, as the category of MSM does not just include gays, but also men who are married, and do not identify themselves as homosexuals. According to the Behavioural Sentinel Surveillance (BSS) report in 2006, “three percent” of all respondents “indulged in sex with males in the last one year”. And, in the states with high awareness on the issue “the involvement was also reported to be the highest”; among these, “only one-fifth used condoms during the last occasion of sex with a male partner” (BSS, 2006: p. xix). The BSS 2006 report on MSM further estimates that, on an average, consistent condom use among MSM is approximately between 35 to 36% (this includes both, with commercial and non-commercial partners, in 10 Indian cities) (ibid, p. 42).
Thus, on a practical note, the dynamic (and dangerous) nature of HIV transmission makes it extremely difficult to chart out an exact statistical figure of risks. Instead, it is more feasible to understand the notion of “risk” through vulnerabilities—that is to say: communities that are socially, economically and culturally vulnerable are at a greater risk of contracting HIV. By forcing the question of AIDS on only homosexuals, we run the risk of misunderstanding how it affects other marginalised groups, like drug users, female sex workers, AIDS widows and orphans. Furthermore, as Shivananda Khan of Naz Foundation (one of the petitioners in the SC) argues, factors like stigma, discrimination, violence etc. are responsible for driving the disease underground, and these seriously harm intervention efforts that are trying to address issues like transmission, prevention and building support systems for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs). This persecution of homosexuals—and, those who work on health issues of MSM—is, thus, framed under the misguided assumption that social ostracism can deal with AIDS.
In fact, JIH wants these people to hide, and be underground—to live in khauf (fear), as one of their speakers put it.They said, that after the 2009 verdict, gays “came out on the street and marched fearlessly”. This, for the JIH, is in absolute contravention of patriarchal norms. Homosexuals, further to being persecuted, must also be deeply shamed for being who—and, what—they are. More to the point, not only is this attitude being deeply dehumanizing, it is, I argue, also one that seeks to entrench them in the worldview of the dominant patriarchal discourse.
The questions that I have raised above, however, are of no concern to the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and other patriarchal ideologies. They are resistant to viewing social reality, and problems, as complex; for them, the force of their arguments comes from simplifying issues of sexuality, reducing it to a notion of patriarchal control over bodies, and stems from the concern—or obsession, more correctly—over control of sexuality and property rights. For instance, their supposed “cure” for homosexuality is early marriage. In older days, they said, people were married off precisely because this “prevented them from getting homosexual desires”. So, for people to get these “desires” in the first place, would not the homosexual desire be “natural” in all of us?—which must, then, be “prevented”?
Further, they claimed: “If we legalise homosexuality today, then tomorrow will we also legalise crime, rape, sodomy, bestiality, incest, and so on?” Once again, the Jamaat speakers displayed their ineptitude at understanding Section 377. In cases of rape and sodomy, insofar as there is evidence to indicate that it was non-consensual and/or coercive, Section 377 can, in theory, be applied—and the victims of such sexual assaults could be women, minors and even other men.The merit of the Delhi High Court verdict was that it presented such a nuanced reading. But nuances, for Jamaat, and other like-minded organisations, are almost incomprehensible, it would appear. In fact, they would rather cite the “historical evidence” of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, to justify their view that homosexuality is a sin, that it is immoral, and so on. I won’t even try providing any credible references to refute these claims because that would only insult my intelligence, and that of the readers’. Their entire “protest” was rife with such logical inaccuracies. This evidently demonstrates that the JIH did not have the first clue about what homosexuality actually entails; theirs was, from the beginning, a prejudiced view—nothing more, nothing less. However, the crux of Jamaat’s protest, I suspect has more to do with their desire to portray themselves as a masculine, chauvinistic outfit, than one actually concerned with religion.

The government must not amend Section 377, or they will lose our votes”
I confess, they did not use the exact same words; but, their sentiments were apparent. Indeed, this was their primary reason for holding the “protest”. They said, Congress ministers who are supporting the amendment of Section 377, and thereby “decriminalising homosexuality”, should think twice about it, given the 2014 General Elections are only a few months away. There was also a vague, and snide, speculation over Rahul Gandhi’s (prolonged) bachelorhood, and the Congress’ desire to amend the said Section. Jamaat’s criticism of the Congress, thus, was an implicit projection of their support for the BJP (as if the presence of the sadhu was not enough)—whose president, Rajnath Singh, “welcomed the Supreme Court verdict”, making their stance on homosexuality quite clear.
Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s intolerance of homosexuality, and its alignment with the Hindutva Right on this, therefore, is much less a coincidence, than it is an indication of a condition that gives them power and legitimacy in the dominant patriarchal nature of politics in India. This kind of political machismo and parochialism aims to ’emasculate’* a certain section of the population, and is perhaps the most prevalent form of power-mongering in Indian politics—the MNS’ tirade against the “north Indian migrant”; Shri Ram Sene’s and the VHP’s assaults on women in pubs and public spaces; the violence directed on individuals by the Khap Panchayats in the form of “honour killings”; and, now, this renewed persecution of homosexuality. These are, all of them, indicative of a masculine politics of domination in a system of the patriarchal moral-political economy. Patriarchy, more than being a redundant concept, is widespread in contemporary society, institutions, and politics in renewed and pervasive forms. It functions on the subordination and persecution of sexualities (and other caste, religious etc. identities), and aims to punish the transgression of patriarchal norms.
Moreover, what I found particularly infuriating was one speaker’s reference to Ambedkar, and how, he added, the constitution must “prevent homosexuality from spreading”. As an admirer of Ambedkar, this statement was offensive to me personally, and it also undermined and insulted Ambedkar’s legacy, and all that he stood for. Ambedkar was a revolutionary—if not the most revolutionary—thinker of 20th century India. Besides his struggles against Brahmanical hegemony, it was Ambedkar’s Hindu Code Bill that not only challenged Brahmanical patriarchy, but also gave civil liberties to Hindu women, such as rights over property, divorce, and so forth (see Sharmila Rege’s Against the Madness of Manu, Navyana, 2013, pp. 204-243). As with the championing for the rights of marginalised communities, the legacy of Ambedkarite political thought underscores the contemporary struggles against the homophobia and sexism of (patriarchal) organisations like Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and the Hindutva Right-wing. Homosexuality—as with giving property rights to women—is precisely the target of such masculine politics of domination, because it deeply unsettles the notion of power that comes to be defined in terms of, and gains privilege from, a hegemonic masculinity.
By the end of the “protest”, I wanted to speak out, and question their claims.
But, to be really honest, I could not take that suffocating and venomous atmosphere anymore. I left. And then, I Tweeted this whole incident—a pointless exercise, really. Not entirely because I failed to say this to the JIH “protestors”; but because they—like other organisations are trying to assert a patriarchal moral superiority—did not possess the acumen or sophistication to engage in any kind of debate, especially one that would undermine their masculine imagery. Their attack on homosexuals is an empty exercise to gain masculine capital in a patriarchal moral-political economy. To conclude, therefore, Jamaat’s “protest” was no more than a self-congratulatory exercise; a desperate bid to keep itself—and its sense of morality and patriarchy—relevant in a charged political scenario.

This post first appeared in the secular humanist website,, under the title ‘Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s Homophobia.’ I am thankful to the editors for their feedback on the post, and for publishing it on their platform. You can read the original post here.

* The term “emasculation” is used here very specifically. In case of analysing violence against homosexuals, and especially gay men, it is important to see how entrenched patriarchal and homophobic attitudes work insidiously to deny them a “gay” masculinity—because, that would mean the constitution of a masculinity outside of the hegemonic and patriarchal moral-political context. ‘Masculinity’ is a reified category precisely because it is such reification that gives it power in certain contexts. Thus, something as ubiquitous as using the term “gay” or “faggot” as an insult, seeks to undermine (and, in more serious cases, deny) masculinity to even (presumably) straight men, until they conform to the notion of hegemonic masculine identity. I have explained this in detail in an academic research paper on masculinity in the critically acclaimed TV show, The Wire. Access it here.