Twitter & Brahmanical Patriarchy: What Would Pandita Ramabai Say?
Decades after Pandita Ramabai and others campaigned against patriarchal practices, misogyny prevails.
This weekend, toxic trolls morphed into savarna saviours. Ironically, the focus of their wrath was Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, a portal that turns sociopaths into stars and broadcasts the existential angst of US president Donald Trump in 280 characters, real time.
Twitter Trolls & Brahmanism
Poor Jack was mauled after a photograph of him holding a poster that read, “Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy”, on a visit to India went viral. Brahmanical patriarchs (BPs) worldwide weren’t amused, and expressed themselves in language that would’ve shamed any khalasi.
This included a serving central police officer who mused why Dorsey shouldn’t be jailed for ‘provoking’ caste riots. Thankfully, such conflagrations have not occurred. But Twitter has grovelled for its CEO’s ‘misstep,’ much as a Dalit would have to if her shadow darkened the water of a high-caste well.
Another troll, who exhorted American BPs to teach Dorsey a lesson by shorting Twitter stock, might have got the ear of Kubera, God of Wealth. Twitter, trading at USD 32.14 on Monday, 19 November, closed at USD 31.05 Tuesday, the 20th.
The venom dumped on Dorsey proves many things. Nearly 250 years after Raja Ram Mohan Roy began his campaign against child marriage and the practice of sati, upper-caste misogyny remains a toxic undertow in Indian society.
Ram Mohan Roy’s Got Nothin’ On Today’s Savarna Saviours
Roy was horrified by the practice of child marriage and condemned it strongly. The Manusmriti had prescribed, “A man of 30 years shall marry a maiden of 12 who pleases him, or a man of 24, a girl of eight years of age.” Upper-caste society improved on this by condemning boys as young as seven or eight to marrying girls who were five years of age, or younger.
For his fight against sati, or the organised murder of women ‘sanctified’ by Brahmanical texts and custom, Roy was trolled mercilessly by conservatives.
His carriage was attacked by mobs on the streets of Calcutta. For some time, he had to be protected by police from hooligans rented by powerful conservatives. In 1829, four years before Roy’s death, Governor General William Bentinck abolished sati.
Kadambini Ganguly Was Labeled a Prostitute
In 1883, Kadambini Ganguly (nee Bose) and Chandramukhi Basu became India’s and the British Empire’s first women university graduates. That year Kadambini married Dwarakanath Ganguly, Brahmo pioneer and reformist. With Dwarakanath’s support Kadambini graduated as a doctor from the Bengal Medical College.
This drove upper-caste Bengali society apoplectic. Among other things, Kadambini was labelled a ‘prostitute.’
Dwarakanath fought each slander in court and with a recommendation from Florence Nightingale, Kadambini sailed for Britain to specialise. She returned in the 1890s, with multiple degrees from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin, south Asia’s first western-trained woman doctor.
She was no political wallflower: in 1889 she was one of six women at Congress’ fifth session; in 1906, she organised a womens’ conference to protest the previous year’s partition of Bengal and was president of a meeting to express solidarity with Gandhi’s satyagraha in Transvaal, South Africa.
Pandita Ramabai’s Unforgiving Gaze on Hindu Society
Around the same time, Ramabai Dongre, who was given the title of Pandita Saraswati by Calcutta University for her mastery of Sanskrit texts, turned her unforgiving gaze on Hindu society. Born to a Brahmin home in 1853, she converted to Christianity in Britain in the 1880s. She travelled in the US, talking and writing her best-known book, ‘The High-Caste Hindu Woman’ in 1888.
Ramabai wrote, “…a man is liable to be born 8,4,00,000 times before he can become a Brahman …It is, therefore necessary for every person of other castes to be careful not to transgress the law by any imprudent act.”
She points out that Vashishta writes, “There is no place for a man (in Heaven) who is destitute of male offspring…. If unfortunately a wife happens to have all daughters and no son, Manu authorises the husband of such a woman to supersede her with another in the 11th year of their marriage.”
She concludes, “In no other country is the mother so laden with care and anxiety on the approach of childbirth as in India.”
‘Hindus Continue to Sin Religiously’
I wonder what Ramabai would have made of the skin-thin ‘modernity’ of folks like Mohandas Pai, former honcho of Infosys, now a cheerleader of Modi’s BJP and a valiant super troll.
We believed caste abuses would die with affirmative action, universal adult voting and a narrowing of the upper-lower caste wealth gap. But in a 2015 paper in ‘The Journal of Comparative Economics’, Smriti Sharma of the Delhi School of Economics finds the opposite is true.
Crunching district-wise numbers on upper-caste violence against Dalits and tribals, compared to their spending power between 2001-2010, Sharma finds that violent crimes committed by upper-castes against them increased when upper-caste wealth and spending dipped closer to SC-ST levels.
Violence decreased in intensity when SC-ST incomes stagnated and upper caste spending soared, widening the gap.
Ramabai wrote, “A humorous author has said, with some truth, that ‘the Hindus even sin religiously.’” It’s not funny, 210 years on.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached @AbheekBarman. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.) )
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