With the Utlou incident and many incidences preceding it, this article comes at a time in when the public opinions are divided into two simple views: One, that the MeiraPaibis are wrong, it is an encroachment of freedom, and hence an outburst against this “old outdated institution”. Two, which was that what the young women did at the party, was the public defecation of social moralities and that the society must be defended against this defecation.
But it is my not so humble attempt to complicate this simplicity and create a third opinion different in totality and in opposition to both; in the hope of more such different multitude of opinions. It comes out of the concern that we have been stupefied by “English education”. We as a society push for raising the educational standards through “English” or “Western” education, but have that only led us to promotion of public and social stupidity and promotion of more obscurity in our judgements? Has our version of the English education failed in creating any critical thinking? Have we just become willing slaves of modernity? These are a few questions this writing intends to touch on.
I choose to engage with the “feminists” of Manipur first, because for some miraculous reasons western education has blessed them with this word called “feminism”, although very literally not the concepts, ideals, the principles or the debates on the variants of feminism. The incident at Utlou led to one side of the public opinions that converged at the denouncement of the MeiraPaibis. And from some magic done by the status of being an English educated man or woman or gay or lesbian or trans or whatever, they seem to champion the cause of feminism, explicitly or covertly, directly or indirectly; and it became cries of the “feminists”. The cries echoed fascinating pretentious ideas of a just social order but with rather convincing taglines like “Stop Mob Justice”, “personal freedom is at stake”, “what is wrong with women drinking?”, etc and etc and so on and so fold.
I would call this the “de-colonial feminism”, and this form of feminism is about practicing an indigenous feminism. In contrast to the ideas of equating anything to do with modernity and being liberally tolerant as feminism, it seeks to look at the ideals of modernity and modernisation from a critical and apprehensive lens. No doubt we live in the age of globalisation, and that sooner or later we will have to be a society embracing modernisation. But de-colonial thinking does not equate modernity with modernisation. Modernity is the political and cultural system that came from Europe first through British colonialism directly, persisted through economic policies adopted by the Indian government, and continues through globalisation by selling the western culture through films and advertisements. Modernity then sells us “ways to live our lives”, of “economic aspirations” of a “city and modern lifestyle” without actual modernisation. Modernisation is not about adopting cultural values that support the buying of more finished foreign products but it is about bringing in “new technological infrastructures”, in educational institutions, in health, in constructions, of giving up of old inefficient ways of producing in a society; of the knowledge capacity built up to learn the new technical knowhows. Examples are China, Korea, Japan that did not embrace modernity, but embraced modernisation. They did not go on the western cultural path to globalisation and dropped their culture, but embraced modern technologies and the knowhow of generating those technologies. But what modernity does is only produce a lifestyle that creates buyers of the new lifestyle, and hence the cafes, and rave parties and music festivals. While we look at ourselves and realise we don’t have any technological knowhows to actually build any of the products we are so eager in using as a part of modern lifestyle.
What modernity also does is conceal the deep patriarchy that persists in our society through pretentious new cultural practices like creating equal sites of access like the cafes, music festivals which was not possible in the old culture. This new culture makes it seem like now that since women can wear jeans it is changingor now that women are promoted to be more English educated it is more liberating. But this English education it promotes is education only up to a point where she can be a faithful consumer of this new culture. Because this new culture needs everyone to aspire for the western lifestyle and in order to do that access to the global network of communications like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Satellite TV, etc is needed; and English education makes the access easier and faster. We can concede, these global networks can give connectedness and can be liberating and useful, but one other thing it also does is promote a western lifestyle, it is evident from the contents of advertisements as a testament. But the point being that the English education we currently have does not enable us to develop a critical faculty of the mind to question the lifestyles being sold but only furthers it. Modernity is least interested in is breaking patriarchy, it is only interested in making us consumers and the party at Utlou was a celebration of this modern consumerism and not feminism.
This is when I come in defence of the MeiraPaibis. For centuries, the economic system that compliments this modernity has caused so much wars and exploitation. The west itself that we so much aspire to be has had their fair share of problems of patriarchy. The illusion created by this modernity has given access to women the lifestyles equally enjoyed by man, of drinking, of partying, of more social lives. But it has never given equal pay, never solved sexual discrimination, rape, equal participation in politics. If we are to say this problem persists everywhere and it is universal, I am sorry but that is not feminism but patriarchy in guise of feminism. The “English educated feminists” even with their access to western and global critiques of modernity has blatantly embraced modernity as the site of liberating feminist politics. But on the contrary modernity creates uncritical and passive consumers of western lifestyle not active agents of political struggle. Feminism and the fight against patriarchy will certainly persist there too by it’s a hole deeper than the feudal patriarchy and conservative cultures that reign over us. The patriarchal relations in the old conservative culture are more explicit and identifiable, like curfew after dark for young women, which makes it easier for us to actually set more concrete political objectives in the fight against patriarchy like ending this curfew.The liberating force lies then not in modernity, but the mechanism of resistance the “uneducated” women have for ages built up while English educated modern “feminists” are busy on Facebook and Cafes.
The progressive forces in the west has been trying to organise women for more than three centuries and it has not been able to come up with an institution as organised and based on a voluntary principle as the “MeiraPaibis”. But my defence rests here on the existence of the institution itself not the objectives it has; the ability for women to organise a collective and the potential it holds in shaping politics, and we have seen that it can overturn political order like in Nupi Lal. But what differentiates the Nupi Lal from the Utlou incident or restaurant drives is the political objectives set out by the institution of MeiraPaibis. And despite having this immense collective weapon called the institution of “MeiraPaibis” if we are unable to challenge patriarchy, but instead further patriarchal practices like the looking at, of drinking women as “whores”, where are you English educated Sahebs and Mem Saheb? With your access to the world you can set the objectives right. Your denouncement of MeiraPaibis is not your call but the force of modernity speaking through your mouth and trying to dismantle an institution that can fight patriarchy in feudal and in modern forms. Come over to this side, we already have the mechanisms to fight patriarchy, you are giving it away to the men; the sites of modernity is no greener pasture for changing the social order we so much yearn. It has nothing but English manures!
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