“There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses.”
Michel Foucault – The History of Sexuality 1: An Introduction
The first time I was asked to attend a workshop on “gender”, I have to admit, the very concept seemed absurd to me. Why would an entire group of people gather to discuss something so inane, so ridiculously basic that its most common occurrence was on sign-up forms and college applications? Something that constitutes perhaps a second’s worth of time to think about – or even to not think of at all – when filling up a document that would serve the mundane purpose sitting on someone’s desk?
Looking back, perhaps what strikes me the most is this very non-existence of the need to even think about gender in my life. I would urge you to ask yourself the same question. Does your gender have anything to do with how less, or how much, you’ve had to think about it in the first place?
What happens when something so seemingly meaningless starts becoming the primary reason for someone’s progress, or the lack of it? More importantly, is this even possible? Was there a whole section of discourse missing on my end, a reason why something that played absolutely no role in my life (or so I thought) is a matter of grave discussion outside of my immediate environment?
There is, perhaps, no deduction to be made from this question apart from the blaringly obvious one: gender didn’t matter to me because it didn’t hinder my growth in any way. The power dynamic in play – power being the word I most closely associate with gender – was hardly visible because I was not at a deficit of receiving it. Multiply this phenomenon by about 10 million and you may reach the current situation in Delhi.
Perhaps the primary reason we do not see this dynamic in play is because these equations of power are so deeply entrenched in our daily existence that we are unable to get a sense of them unless we break them down to the smallest of things – cultural practices, religious practices, family traditions – or, simplifying it further, the language that becomes a significant part of any region, more specifically the slurs.
A quick look at the construction of slurs in Hindi will clearly reveal the role this gender dynamic plays in something as simple as conversation. And it is these very nuances that, on a more macro city level, translate into what we refer to as the culture of gendered dominance, a sub-part of which would be something we are all remotely (or intimately, depending on various factors, mainly gender) familiar with, especially if we live in the national capital – the much-debated Rape Culture.
Many would argue that the very idea of a “rape culture” is an over-simplistic view of the situation, and that it puts one gender in “bad light” in contrast to the others in the spectrum; and, in a way, many would be right (albeit for misinformed reasons).
If we look at rape culture as a “primal” need for one gender to force itself on other genders for no specific reason, then yes, we are talking about a gross oversimplification of the matter and we may as well drop the whole discourse.
However, if we place this idea of rape culture in the power dynamic we have been discussing since the beginning of this article, if we place every relationship – with friend or foe, lover or stranger – in the context of power, we begin to identify the different equations of power in each of these relationships.
These equations of power stem from many things – our gender and the societal context for it being the central pieces of the puzzle. Placed then, in the context of a city like Delhi, notorious for its aggression, we suddenly have the same context for gender-based violence expanded to a more macro perspective that looks at the “culture” of sexual assault not as a meaningless exercise for a twisted sense of sexual gratification, but a structural and systematic claim for power entrenched deep in the culture and practices of the city.
The thing about power is that it is fluid – constantly flowing back and forth (currently in a systematically biased manner that benefits some more than the rest). But changing this is possible.
It is, perhaps, this view of the flawed system that gives me a sustained sense of hope and purpose, a renewed belief in efforts to curtail that which may not always be extremely visible, a shift in the power equation, popularly known as “changing mindsets”.
Perhaps it is my belief in the possibility of lasting systemic change, essentially a decentralised process of widespread “we’ve had enough” that led to the conceptualisation of a campaign like GotStared.At; an example of the assertion of which could be seen through the mass protests that transpired after 16th December 2012.
One could argue that the protests died down and took any possibility of “change” with them, but I would still like to point out that a mere decade ago, such a mass gathering was simply inconceivable. Yet, it happened. Perhaps our role in this may seem insignificant, but taking a stand in our own lives against this horrendous form of violence is an excellent place to start. Now, more than ever, it is time we broke this silence on matters that made us uncomfortable and start the change from ourselves. That’s the only kind that sustains, anyway.
Dhruv Arora is a gender rights activist, a social media activism practitioner, and the founder of the GotStared.At campaign against sexual harassment. He strongly believes in energising and using social media as a powerful agent of social change and engagement.