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Kamla Bhasin

Kamla Bhasin – ‘Roots of Patriarchy’

Savitribai Phule

Excerpts from a talk given by Kamla Bhasin on 2nd January 2016 at Khula Manch, Rashtra Seva Dal Campus, Pune, organised by Abhivyakti. Transcribed by Shilpi Das

…The second objective for which I am here today is to pay tributes to Savitribai Phule and to salute her. Savitribhai Phule in such a young age engaged herself in her work and was titanic in stature and importance. We are marching forward and progressing because we have been trained by her teachings and you are extremely fortunate because you are the residents of her city and you are carrying forward her teachings. She has worked on education. First of all she educated herself and then educated others and what was that education all about? … Nowadays schools and factories are synonymous and what are these schools teaching? What I feel personally is all the flaws present in this world - be it corruption, pollution, dowry, determination of sex of children and various other sins are committed by educated people. If by educating oneself one indulges in sinful activities then education becomes the other name of futility. The education that they talked about is the education that liberates us. Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye (Knowledge liberates). So in the memory of Savitribhai Phule and Jyotiba Phule here I wish to recite a poem I wrote in Hindi, some years ago. This poem defines in a way, what education should be for girls and women. The English translation has been done by me.

A father asks his daughter:
Study? Why should you study?
I have sons aplenty who can study.
Girl, why should you study?

For my dreams to take flight, I must study
Knowledge brings new light, so I must study
For the battles I must fight, I must study
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To fight men’s violence, I must study
To end my silence, I must study
To challenge patriarchy I must study
To demolish all hierarchy, I must study.
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To mould a faith I can trust, I must study
To make laws that are just, I must study
To sweep centuries of dust, I must study
To challenge what I must, I must study
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To know right from wrong, I must study.
To find a voice that is strong, I must study
To write feminist songs I must study
To make a world where girls belong, I must study.
Because I am a girl, I must study.

I had written this for literacy. I had written three slogans for literacy. Literacy means three Rs - Reading, Writing and (A)rithmetic. I wrote that I want to study so that I may study life, I am learning to write so that I may write my own fate, I am learning arithmetic (calculations) so that I may do the proper calculation of the rights I ought to enjoy. The world is always geared up to impose duties, but understanding and enjoying one’s rights is also necessary. …  So friends, I have come here to learn. … I have been asked to say something on Patriarchy and where its roots are located, what is its height, breadth, to what extent it is deeply seated in each and all of us. Today, even after forty years of feminist activism I often feel the presence of latent patriarchy in my heart, in our language, vocabulary, music. No matter how much we try to evacuate patriarchy, its roots are still found in all of us. …

Pitrisatta, patriarchy, pidarshahi, pitritantra in Bengali is an ancient word. In anthropology this word has been exhaustively used but today its meaning has undergone a change. Today it is no more pitritantra, it is purushtantra, male-domination. It is omnipresent, everyone is eligible to exhibit this power and practise patriarchy. Five boys travelling by bus can practise it or a boy in a lift at Goa can practise it. So pitritantra actually means purushtantra. It is a social system like casteism, racism-- a deadly oppressive social system. Alike all other social systems pitrisatta has two important agents:

Firstly, it is a structure which is visible. In most countries, most parliamentarians are male, most corporate leaders are male, and ninety-nine percent religious leaders are male; so, this is a structure. Because we are human beings, mere structure does not serve the purpose. Judgemental aptitude is bestowed upon us and it is installed in our respective hard disks and we start following the instructions of the structure; this ideology is being disseminated continuously in a regular manner. … In advertisements and songs: Tumhi meray mandir/ Tumhi meri puja/ Tumhi devta ho, You keep on playing this song throughout the day, repeat it so much so that it gets seated deeply in the mind so that one may internalise the status and the position of a man and a woman. This is an invisible practice, an ideology, which, like air affects every one of us and we inhale it and get accustomed to it, with the sense of satisfaction that this is the sole way of survival.

… I am not a big feminist but feministlet, - a small feminist. My books like Gender Basics are written in simple and lucid language, and most of them are question-answer based. My five books on Patriarchy, Gender, Feminism, and Masculinity have been translated into, approximately thirty Asian languages. Anyone can translate my books and use them for education, not for profit. My definition of copyright is right to copy because what I believe is that capitalist society by branding books as intellectual property has damaged our society. Which feminist has not heard the name of Savitribhai Phule, or who was not inspired by Mirabai? It is only when we draw inspiration from all these stalwarts that we form the basic concepts in our minds. So my work is not the work of Kamla Bhasin alone.

The definition of Patriarchy that I have written is an amalgamation of what has been propagated by various scholars and it says that Patriarchy is a social system. This does not mean that one’s father or one’s husband is evil by nature, but he himself is a victim of this social system. All of us, irrespective of gender, imbibe patriarchy by drinking the waters of the same well. So it is a social system. In this social system males are regarded as superior. Why and how are men superior? Because, men say so. No one bothers to ask for the proof of their superiority.  Might is right. …

Secondly, since men have more control over resources, the decision-making process lies in their hands.

Thirdly, they influence and control ideologies—this is the most dreadful of all three ways. They construct the religious ideology, economic ideology. It is mainly men who write our Constitutions. It is they who determine when we should sleep and wake up, where we should go and where not to go. It is they who have the sole control and influence on ideologies. This is Patriarchy.

Fourthly, unfortunately it is not that Patriarchy is followed and practised only by men but we women also support it wholeheartedly, and it is we who make it more powerful. Women are assigned the duty of injecting patriarchal rules in the minds of children. Therefore, we build with our own hands a society that is hostile to women. It is known that every year about fifty thousand girl children are killed. Who kills them? The family itself. If this is not genocide then what is it? If this is not gynocide then what is it? How many times has this issue been raised and discussed in the Parliament and strikes and movements have been organised and we came across chakka jam? … Only women activists are vocal about this. It seems to me as if only the daughters of Hindustan actively participate in women’s movement. … The issues of Patriarchy, gender have been compartmentalised and reduced to be discussed only in the ladies’ club because Gender and Patriarchy are not seen as men’s issues.

So, Patriarchy is followed by men as well as women. Friends, every aspect of women’s lives is controlled by Patriarchy. Our reproductive power, what age we should get married, family planning, which contraceptive we should use, how many children we may have—everything will be determined by the Parliament of our country, where 90% members are men. The time of begetting a child is also controlled by Patriarchy. Nature has bestowed upon women the reproductive power but women have no control upon her own reproductive power… Whenever one is born without taking his or her consent a particular religion is thrust upon the person. All the religions all over the world are patriarchal by nature.

Next is Education. Education was under the grips of religion, and women were strictly debarred from the education system. Two or three years ago I read that at Harvard University admission of female students was introduced two hundred and thirty years after men students got admission. Education has also been patriarchal. We have been told that women and Sudras are not eligible to listen to the Vedas and if one hears, hot mercury should be poured in his or her ears.  

Legal institutions share a very close relationship with religions, they are also patriarchal. Economic institutions, political institutions, state organisations-- bureaucracy, police, army are all patriarchal. Media—by men, of men, for men, is also patriarchal and about ten to twelve years ago I have incorporated NGOs in this list. Most of the NGOs are largely patriarchal, excepting a few. Only few NGOs are women-oriented. So had the roots of Patriarchy been limited within the boundary of family it could have been dealt with. Families like those of Savitribhai and Jyotiba Phule, in which husbands are partners not owners, women could escape patriarchy. But once we move out of our respective families, education, religion, panchayats put patriarchal controls on us. We have no place where we can find solace. Patriarchy is a vast, tightly-knit net, for women and men, although most men do not realise it because of the power and privileges patriarchy gives them.

My next point is, in Patriarchy, violence against women is not an accident, it is not by chance, it is structural in nature, and it is systemic. If one wants to uphold Patriarchy, violence is mandatory. If Sudras and Dalits are to be oppressed, without violence the oppressive mechanism will never work out. How can one subject poverty-stricken multitude to oppression without violence? Every unjust system, based on inequality is controlled and regulated by violence. Patriarchy also, is regulated by all kinds of violenc. According to the UN out of every three women, one woman is subjected to violence. …

The Indian Government figures say that in India forty percent pati parameshwars beat their wives, but the studies by the International Centre for Research on Women conclude that fifty to sixty percent husbands do violence. This means, in the eyes of the judicial system, over 50% dharmpatis are criminals. Globally 35 percent women face domestic violence. So, it is not only Indian women who are suffering from the malady of patriarchy but women and girls all over the world are suffering from its ill effects.

My next point is, the most dreadful of all: the close links between religion and patriarchy. In the ancient religions Mother Nature and the feminine principle were worshipped. Those religions were not patriarchal in nature. But modern religions which are historically only four to five thousand years old, are all patriarchal—Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity—each one of them. None of these religions is prepared to accept a woman as their leader. A woman can become neither Pope nor Shankaracharya nor Dalai Lama. … The very language of religion is masculine. God is He. If God is He, He is God. If God is male, male is God. Since it is very challenging to challenge and question religion, we just conform to it and perform fasts to beget sons or keep away from doing the last rites of pur parents along with our brothers.

Most of our cultural traditions are patriarchal. We address our husbands as pati, in Bengali swami, in Oriya swami, in Urdu shauhar, khawind, in English husband. It is this very word from where animal husbandry is derived. Husband means controller, domesticator. None of these words denote equality. If from early in the morning one utters the word pati several times, that he is our malik, logically in this binary the person on the other end is ghulam. My Constitution says that as an Indian citizen I cannot have an owner or maalik but our language and customs continue this hierarchy. 

During the last rites of my mother, we sisters joined our brothers to perform the rites. The Panditji tried to stop us, but when I said if he did not want us daughters to participate he could leave without his 500 rupees. He stayed and let us do it. Similarly a male cousin of mine told me that the arthi or the bier of my mother could not leave from a daughter’s home, hence we could take my mother’s body to his house and from there take it to the cremation ground. I was of course horrified to hear this. I told him that for three years she was living with us in my marital home, which is also not liked in our community. I asked him why he did not come at that time and took her to his place to look after her.

Actually friends, when we challenged patriarchal traditions by me also carrying my mother’s arthi or bier and performing her last rites, a handful of people criticised me but ninety percent applauded me. Why do we blame others? It is we who do not dare, who are afraid to challenge either out of fear or because we believe in these patriarchal customs.

So Friends, I believe that a cultural revolution is of utmost importance today. Laws and Bills are definitely necessary, but they alone can neither transform nor bring changes in our homes and communities. We need new “dils” or hearts, along with new “bills” and laws.

Patriarchy is closely linked to caste, class and race also. These hierarchical systems need patriarchy for their survival. If caste system is to be kept alive and active women have to be subjugated. Hence our feminist struggle is and has to be against all these unjust systems.

In today’s world Capitalist Patriarchy is creating havoc. Often I feel that had our enemy been just religion we could have eradicated it. Patriarchy is being perpetuated today by Capitalism, Globalisation, Corporatisation, Privatisation. The titanic power that Capitalistic Patriarchy possesses is astonishing. Pornography and Child pornography are both a billion dollar industry. Pornography turns a woman to a mere object and a man into a devil. Today cosmetics are also a billion dollar industry. By applying Fair and Lovely South Asians want to turn fairer. South Asian men are also being fooled by Fair and Handsome.  The toy industry is also perpetuating gender stereotypes by providing Barbie dolls for girls and Guns for boys. Just have a look at the names of IPL teams—Delhi “Daredevils”, Kochi “Tuskers”. What is the suffix added to Pune?—Warriors. Then there are Rajasthan “Royals”, Punjab Kings. This shows how violent and undemocratic we are. Sports are spreading virulent masculinity and terrible gender stereotypes of both men and women. IPL has brought those fair ladies from their respective countries, clothed them in minimum attire just to make them dance at every match. And our boys and men are jumping like monkeys seeing the cheerleaders dancing. Where are we heading towards? In wrestling matches also minimally-attired ladies march before the players with flags in their hands. This is Modern Culture. This is Modernity. Those of us who were born during the time of Partition never thought that after the introduction of education and development such things would happen. We used to think that when people would learn to read and write and television would make its entry in each and every household everything would be set right… It means that Patriarchy cannot be eradicated if the present economic paradigm exists.

Friends, the next question is from where did Patriarchy emerge and why. Some people of course believe that patriarchy is natural, biological, something created by God. There are claims that Adam was created first and from one of his spare ribs Eve was created. Can you imagine? Educated people who have read Science, on Sundays assert that Eve was created from Adam’s spare rib? It is believed that the very day human beings were created, patriarchy was created. However, there are others like us who believe that for millions of years human beings lived without inequalities and hierarchies of caste class, religion and gender. It was only after private property emerged, that patriarchy, caste and class divisions and hierarchies were created. Because we human beings created these inequalities, we can remove them, if we all decide to do so.

… If I contemplate deeply and spiritually then Friends, I feel that Patriarchy is harming men, too, spiritually… Let me clarify myself. If Patriarchy controls and stereotypes girls and women, it does the same to boys and men. Boys are not allowed to cry. Little boys are afraid of darkness but their fathers force them to go out because they are boys. Boys are subjected to emotional castration. They are not allowed to be in touch with their emotions. A boy wants to be a poet or a musician, but his father has a grocery shop and he forces his son to sell grocery, to run the family business, to act according to his own will. The boy is fourteen years old, well-mannered he is not at all aggressive, but his peers pressurise him to smoke, or tease girls. If he refuses to do these ugly things, he is mocked and called a girl. Boys are encouraged to do all sorts of badtameezi. Films are made with names like Badtameez, Dabang, Don, and they all glorify badtameezi,  dabangipan. The result of all this is that boys and men are becoming violent, criminals, dominating.

Patriarchy has given many privileges to men. They constitute only fifty percent of humanity but ninety percent are seated in the Parliament, ninety-nine percent are seated as Judges in the Supreme Court, about eighty percent are controlling other positions of power and privilege. However, look at the other side of the picture. Men are 50 percent of humanity, but hundred percent rapists are men, ninety-nine percent terrorists are men, more than ninety-five percent suicide-bombers are men, criminals are men, drug-addicts are men, drunkards are men. In USA every week a boy or a man picks up a gun, goes to a school or a mall and kills ten people. I believe no boy or man is born violent. Our patriarchal societies or we make them violent, insensitive, dominating.

As a woman I cannot imagine how a man can rape a woman or can get pleasure by forcibly touching her breasts. Such men are mentally sick and they need treatment. Such men need to be kept at home and not girls and women.

I believe that dominant aggressive masculinity is behind the main problems that exist in the world today; wars, terrorism or destruction of Mother Nature or communal violence or domestic violence. Love of Power is the sole reason behind these. Bush loves his own power, Pati devata loves to exert his own power, Brahmin loves to exert his own power, a strong woman loves to exert her power.

Yes, we women can also become masculine, because masculinity is not biological. A man can also become feminine; he can become compassionate like Lord Buddha. … This is not biological. We are teaching men to subjugate women, but women are not willing to be subjugated. This is why in some countries fifty percent marriages are turning into divorces. In India also this percentage will keep on rising… A Malik or a Boss is acceptable in offices but not in homes. In home what is desirable is a partner. Our daughters do not want pati, they do not want malik, what they want is jeevansathi who joins them to cook and look after children, who treats them as equals.

Friends, boys and men have to realize how patriarchy is dehumanising and brutalising them. They need to join the struggle against patriarchy.

The opposite of patriarchy is NOT matriarchy; it is equality. The fight for gender equality is not between men and women; it is between two ways of thinking or ideologies. One ideology says patriarchy is better. The other says equality is better. Each one of us has to decide where we stand. I urge all of us to defend our Constitution and work for equality, rights, freedom and justice for all.



Charanjeet Kaur

Nirendranath Chakraborty - In Discussion with Aju Mukhopadhayay
Rajni Tilak - In Conversation with Anjali Singh

Charanjeet Kaur – “The Partitioning of the Sub-Continental Mind”
Dilip Jhaveri – ‘Voices from Persia and Ireland’
Kamla Bhasin – ‘Roots of Patriarchy’

Aditya Kumar Panda – ‘Determinants of Translation’
Kamayani Kumar – ‘Mediating Partition narratives through Visual Culture’
Madhvi Lata – ‘Girish Karnad’s “Naga-Mandala’
Rachana Pandey – ‘Men in Theatrical Performance’

Book Reviews
Ananya Sarkar – ‘Halfway Up A Hill’
Jaydeep Sarangi – ‘At the Crossroads of Culture and Literature’
KV Raghupathi – ‘My Friendship with Yoga
Lakshmi Kannan – ‘Encounters with People and the Angels of Hope’
Pratibha Kumari Singh – ‘A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi’
Revathi Raj Iyer – ‘In Other Words’
Srinivas Reddy – ‘Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling’
Sunaina Jain – ‘The Tree with a Thousand Apples’
Usha Kishore – ‘The Ending of Arrogance: Ksemendra’s Darpa Dalana’

Ambika Ananth – ‘Editorial Note’
Ashfaqh Hasan
BR Nagpal
Jim Wungramyao Kasom
Leena Sharma
Malcolm Carvalho
Md Ziaul Haque
Nitya Swaruba
Nuggehalli Pankaja
Prem Kumar
Madhabi Das (Trans. Subhasree Chatterjee)
Sunaina Jain
Ubaidullah Pandit

U Atreya Sarma – ‘Editorial Musings’
Ashok Patwari – ‘Padma’
Bodhisatwa Ray – ‘Kway Teow’
Chaganti Nagaraja Rao – ‘The Donor of Books’
Jindagi Kumari – ‘On the path of duty’
Lopa Mukherjee – ‘Through the lens of a camera’
Niyantha Shekar – ‘Shiva Park’
Rajarshi Banerjee – ‘The Mannequin’
Revathi Raj Iyer – ‘Tempest’
Sharath Suryan – ‘1800 Seconds’
Sridhar V – ‘Simply Baffling’

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