Savarna Feminism: A dangerous cocktail of upper caste privilege and exclusionary feminism

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Savarna Feminism: A dangerous cocktail of upper caste privilege and exclusionary feminism
Image Source: Youth Ki Awaaz

‘What if Shakespeare had had a sister’ — Virginia Woolf’s hypothesis that an identical intellect, similar to that of Shakespeare, if in case resided in his never-born sister, she would have never achieved the success that he received, still holds true. In this case, given the societal mores and constraints, the probability is very close to the number ‘zero’. The irony is, under the present circumstances, irrespective of geography and ethnicity, this theory has become the constant denominator of every factor of the outcome.

Although, the progress seems quantifiable enough to enjoy victory over the conservative thoughts that are deep-rooted in the society. There are still miles to go before we claim our splendid triumph. With more women joining the bandwagon, at least we know that the movement is thriving to survive another blow.

However, the main question that shakes the very basis of these movements, is the ideological framework that has no ‘Code of Conduct’.  These feminists cannot be grouped together. They come in different forms like liberal feminist, socialist feminist, black feminist, eco feminist, savarna feminist and dalit feminist. Much like white feminism in the West, Savarna feminism is a feminist movement led by the upper caste women where they exclude the needs of Dalit women, although, they have been facing extreme oppression by the castiest and the patriarchal norms. These women who are enthusiastically hooting for women’s rights on social media often forget about the privileges their caste and background provide them; that allows them to be unabashedly loud against patriarchy while ignoring the cultural nuances that nurtures the identity of a woman who is oppressed not only because of her gender but because of her caste too.

Savarna feminists raise their voices with euphoria and easily ignore the class stratification that has put them on a pedestal. Their interaction is limited to the elites and upper caste members of the society, and without getting to know the realities of the oppressed class, they cannot understand the intersectionality faced by the Dalit women of India — 3000 years of oppression cannot be wiped out with a few articles and tweets against patriarchy.

Savarna Feminists’ reaction about the entry of women inside the Sabrimala temple was a classic example of not recognising the engrained effect of casteism on women. If this was about the inclusivity of women in the temple rituals; it would have never served the purpose, as all the decisions regarding the temple would still be taken by the Brahmin men. The use of hashtags like #WomenAreNotUntouchables were to counter-argue an accusation that was not explicitly spelled out. Further, this kind of linguistic violence inflicts pain on Dalit women who have experienced ‘untouchability’ by the Brahmans for ages.

In the spark of the #metoo movement, men with great power were brought to shame for their misdeeds by women who chose to break their silences — journalists, actors and even male classical dancers were brought under the radar. Women were judged and trolled for sharing their opinions, but at least they found solace in the emotional and functional benefit of finding fellow survivors and empathizers.

In 2017, when the movement gained momentum in India, a 24-year-old law student, Raya Sarkar came up with a list of sexual harassers in Indian academia, the number of entries increased as more and more women came out to name their harassers. The list received appreciation from many, it was an act of resilience against the perpetrators of crime, but it also faced criticism from feminists who argued, “calling out the name of the harasser without any context can erase the long struggle against patriarchy”. On this, the Dalit feminists pointed out that the initial ‘metoo’ in India was exclusive of the caste inflicted pain on Dalit women and Sarkar provided them with a platform to call out the offenders, which the mainstream feminist movement wisely sidelined. The movement is toxic and it reacts spontaneously with ignorance that is oblivious to the existence of differences in the society due to class, caste, ethnicity, and religion.

To disempower the belief of pseudo-masculinity, we need to act gradually to achieve equality for all, irrespective of the gender. We must have a holistic view, similar to what Ambedkar had – caste, patriarchy and capitalism are permeable forces with no concrete boundaries. It is not possible to deal with one of the elements without considering the other.

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Anushree Ghosh
Anushree is a writer and theatre artist. She graduated in bioinformatics but chose to pursue her passion for writing. As a content writer she has contributed articles for Delhi’s oldest city magazine - Delhi Diary, Real Estate website - Realty Myths, Food Panda, and is an active storyteller, narrating stories to the underprivileged kids through Jijivisha Fellowship by Slam Out Loud. she is also the official storyteller for Amar Chitra Katha's initiate to conduct storytelling sessions in different schools. She has also been a keen contributor for the Social media content for a social awareness campaign with SADRAG (Social and Development Research and Action Group). She has worked with eminent theatre groups in Delhi and has acted in Urdu, Punjabi, English, Hindi, and Bengali plays. She has played prominent roles in plays like Dara Shikoh (Directed by M.S Sathyu), Bebe Ka Chamba (Director by Sohaila Kapur), Lady Macbeth's Lipstick (Directed by Niloy Roy). And now she runs her own set-up 'Art Pickles', dedicated to the promotion of art & culture and holds events on topics related to art & culture, like, Music of Satyajit Ray, Existentialism, LGBT & literature, etc.