In November, the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey came under unprecedented vitriolic attack from a large section of Indian Twitterites after him holding a poster with “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy” inscribed on it became viral on the microblogging platform. A feminist journalist, Anna MM Vetticad posted a picture of herself with other prominent journalists like Barkha Dutt, Nilanjana Roy, other feminist activists and Twitter’s Amrita Tripathi and Vijaya Gadde, after meeting Jack Dorsey in Twitter’s India office on 18 November. Dorsey is seen at the centre of the photo holding the banner that sparked an outrage on the platform. The controversy started when Twitter India retweeted the photograph tweeted by Anna MM Vetticad.
While Vetticad, who tweets as @annavetticad tweeted: “During Twitter CEO @jack’s visit here, he & Twitter’s Legal head @vijaya took part in a round table with some of us women journalists, activists, writers & @TwitterIndia’s @amritat to discuss the Twitter experience in India. A very insightful, no-words-minced conversation”
During Twitter CEO @jack‘s visit here, he & Twitter’s Legal head @vijaya took part in a round table with some of us women journalists, activists, writers & @TwitterIndia‘s @amritat to discuss the Twitter experience in India. A very insightful, no-words-minced conversation 😊 pic.twitter.com/LqtJQEABgV
— Anna MM Vetticad (@annavetticad) 18 November 2018
The Twitter India handle retweeted it on 19 November, saying: “Recently we hosted a closed door discussion with a group of women journalists and change makers from India to better understand their experience using Twitter. One of the participants, a Dalit activist, shared her personal experiences and gifted a poster to Jack.”
Recently we hosted a closed door discussion with a group of women journalists and change makers from India to better understand their experience using Twitter. One of the participants, a Dalit activist, shared her personal experiences and gifted a poster to Jack. https://t.co/96gd3XmFgK
— Twitter India (@TwitterIndia) 19 November 2018
Until this time the upper-caste, elite and upper-middle-class urban Indians haven’t noticed what was in the picture, but only when they read that a Dalit activist met the Twitter CEO and gave him a poster, they started lambasting the very platform where they have built an ecosystem that has sustained their hatred-filled propaganda, vitriolic bush telegraph campaigns and polarisation of communities through fake news generation.
Irrespective of their political differences, a host of upper-caste men, and to some extent – women too, plunged into the fray to accuse Jack Dorsey of promoting enmity between communities. They said that nothing like ‘Brahminical patriarchy’ exists in India and by calling out ‘Brahminical patriarchy’, Jack Dorsey has endorsed something akin to Anti-Semitism in Europe and America. From politicians of India’s two major parties, the BJP and the Congress, Hindutva-affiliated journalists, serving police officers, to the troll brigade of the Hindutva camp joined hands to protest against Dorsey and Twitter.
A serving IPS officer, who is an ardent supporter of the Hindutva fascist lobby on social media, by blatantly misusing his power and position to safeguard his own casteist prejudices, even threatened Jack Dorsey of filing a criminal suit against him for holding that picture, which, according to the officer, could fuel riots at the time of election.
Do you realise that this picture has potential of causing communal riots at a time when several States are going to Assembly Elections in India. Even now an apology is not offered. Actually its a fit case for registration of a criminal case for attempt to destablise the nation.
— संदीप मित्तल,IPS🇮🇳 (@smittal_ips) November 20, 2018
Many said that they’re ‘Brahmin’ by birth but they ‘don’t recognise’ the caste system, which again, ironically, is an oxymoron, as the Brahmin identity is a caste identity and when someone recognise themselves as Brahmin, they very well recognise, consciously or unconsciously, the very caste system where the Brahmins are perched at the pinnacle.
The feral mob outrage against the Twitter CEO forced the social media platform to explain a clarification that Jack Dorsey or Twitter doesn’t endorse the views of the Dalit feminists but they have just heard their side of the story. Twitter tried to douse the fire as India is one of its biggest markets and moreover, the Indian celebrities, including the political brass, spend a lot of money in promoting themselves online, apart from the Indian corporate houses who are already paying a lot of money to promote their business using Twitter.
This massive outrage of the upper-caste men, and to some extent – many women as well, became a story for the country’s media and the concept of ‘Brahminical Patriarchy’ was renounced by even the liberal democrats who would bash the RSS on each occasion. Congress leaders, the suavest and erudite among them, too denounced the concept of ‘Brahminical Patriarchy’ and blurred any difference between themselves and the BJP on the matter. This whole chaotic scenario gave rise to three unanswered yet very important questions for us to find the answers of.
First Question: Why did the outrage happen over Dorsey holding the placard at the first place when according to the protesters there is nothing called ‘Brahminical Patriarchy’?
The Hindu caste system is the most notorious form of oppression of one section of the society by another on the basis of their birth. The economic relations of feudalism has created such a super-structure, where laborious work needs to be done by those at the lower strata of the caste hierarchy, i.e. the backward castes – Shudras, or by the Dalits and tribal people, who are outside the caste system.
Under this Varnashrama system, the labour of the lower caste Shudras and the ostracised, out-caste Dalits are appropriated by the upper-caste blocks. The Dalit, tribal or backward caste people have absolutely no or very minimal access to ownership of resources, including means of production in a largely semi-feudal production system.
When it boils down to women, the caste system, which is a quite rock-solid superstructure of India’s semi-feudal production relation, becomes an exploitative system that not only exploits their labour alike that of men, it also exploits women sexually and tramples upon their freedom. Taking their caste privilege, the upper-caste men have always exploited the women of Dalit, tribal, minority and backward caste communities.
The Brahminical caste system is itself a misogynist system that opposes gender equality, is extremely homo and transphobic and despise any idea of sexual freedom. The patriarchal nature of the Brahminical system is derived from the feudal ownership of resources. Thus, as the ownership passes through patriarchal lineage, the male heir is considered superior in comparison to the female child, which results into the discriminatory treatment meted out to the girl child. This discrimination gives rise to high female foeticide and it is also a reason why inhuman practices like Sati and widow banishing once took place in this system.
There are two types of supporters of the feudal Brahminical system in the country now. Firstly, there are the rural patriarchal upper-caste gentry who, despite being 20 per cent of the rural population, own more than 60 per cent of the agricultural land and thereby enjoy a position of power and stature in the villages.
These are men who have a strong interest in enslaving women; they are the ones who promote the culture of rape and ‘honour killing’ to save ‘caste purity’ or family ‘honour’. To save their patriarchal ‘honour’ and titles, these men would never mind killing their own girl children.
Secondly, there are the men in the cities, who despite having severed the umbilical cord that tied them to their feudal, patriarchal roots, still derive a great socio-economic privilege due to their caste position.
Almost all top positions of decision-making in trade, commerce, manufacturing, government, defence, politics, media, service industry, etc. are filled by upper-caste Hindu men and few women. Their caste privilege allows them to overlook and in some cases, endorse, the caste oppression prevalent in the lives of the Dalits, tribal people, backward castes, minority communities.
Their privilege helps them to access education and thus get the best of the employment opportunities available, while the Dalits, tribal people, the backward castes and minorities struggle to even get the basic education from a system that is biased against them.
These two sections of upper-caste Hindu men oppose the destruction of Brahminical patriarchal supremacy because this very system entitles them to the privileges they enjoy and also helps them to retain control over the women of their caste and exploit the labour of the Dalits, tribal people, backward castes, minority communities.
Any talk of casteless society, social justice and equality threatens the very social fabric the upper-caste rulers have woven for a long time, it threatens the privileged position these men enjoy in the society and also threatens their ability to exploit the labour of the Dalits, tribal people, backward castes, minority communities- which eventually boils down to a threat to their very existence.
Historically, the caste system preserved itself throughout the tumultuous history of the Indian subcontinent. Even the British colonial rule didn’t wipe out the system, rather restructured it according to its convenience alike Indian feudalism.
With limited reforms, the British colonial rulers, in association with their Indian comprador lackeys, tried to give a ‘human’ shell to the Brahminical feudal autocracy and helped the Brahmins in forming the ‘Hindu’ community by clubbing the different compartmentalised factions of the Sanatana Brahmin Dharma into the ‘greater Hindu society’, which was used by the Brahmins to extend their hegemony over the majority of the population and establish themselves, despite being a minuscule part of the total population of all castes clubbed together, as the chieftain of the newly-founded Hindu community.
Now that the Brahminical feudal system was officially set by the British colonial rulers to consolidate their exploitation and plunder of Indian resources and labour, the system itself required a buttressing to prevent its fall to popular rebellion or the growth of a distorted version of capitalism- comprador capitalism in India. Even today, this Brahminical feudal system receives support from the global monopoly and finance capital that controls the Indian economy.
Thus, when these advocates and apologists of the Brahminical feudal order, both of whom are perched on privileged seats in the society due to their Brahminical feudal roots, see any attempt by the opponents of the caste system influence the imperialist camp or their appendages with any complaint or criticism of the Brahminical feudal hegemony in India, then they simply can’t hold their barrels.
Their collective outburst against Jack Dorsey, their threats and abuses are a sign that the Brahminical fascism, feudalism and patriarchy are thriving in India and exploiting the labouring classes and castes using the feudal privileges. It means that these people, cutting across their political loyalty, are keen to preserve the very exploitative system that sucks the blood of the majority of the Indian poor, men and women who belong to Dalits, tribal people, backward castes, minority communities.
They signal their utter inability to absorb an iota of opposition against the predatory caste system promoted by the ideology of Brahminism, which they market as a very ‘tolerant, liberal and spiritual’ religion on earth. Thus, when anyone, who can influence global perception about the Brahminical religion and caste system, tries to communicate anything negative or critical of the caste system and its tyranny, the Brahminical upper-caste men and their mentally colonised women folk frantically oppose them. This is exactly what happened to Jack Dorsey and Twitter India.
The second important question is why did Twitter back-off from holding its position against the tyrannical oppression of Brahminical patriarchy?
Twitter as a global corporation is susceptible to market conditions and it’s in India to do business and mint profit. When the majority of one of its largest user bases in the world will get angry over the company’s approach, then it becomes imperative for the company to do the course correction, even if it means endorsing anything predatory.
Jack Dorsey or the Twitter India team are neither social revolutionaries nor feminists. They are a corporate entity and their reason of meeting the activists was much of business than any real interest in learning about their stories. Twitter simply wants to project itself as an organisation that cares for ‘causes’, without actually supporting any, which is quintessential of the corporate interference in activism.
When Jack Dorsey and Twitter India realised that the Brahminical upper-caste men, who are majority of its India users due to their special socio-economic privilege, aren’t going to let this issue go, scared of losing users and thereby the revenue it earns from user advertisement, Twitter had to retreat with extreme caution and clarify that it doesn’t necessarily endorse the views manifested in the poster.
Global monopoly and finance capital, which control Indian comprador and bureaucratic capital as well, can’t dare to disturb the caste system and its base- the feudal production relation due to its own business interests. Foreign corporations like Twitter, which sells its advertisement solutions to Indian corporate houses, can’t lecture the Indian upper-caste elites and urban middle-class over the ‘immoral’ caste system and as the Twitter CEO showed a subtle endorsement of the Dalit feminist cause, hence he had to face the wrath of those who form the core of his Indian client base. It wasn’t wise for Twitter, which runs itself on the basis of numbers and not quality, to irk those important people and hence it surrendered to the Brahminical cacophony.
The third and the most important question is whether Brahminical fascism can be smashed in isolation from the greater struggle against feudalism, comprador capitalism and global monopoly and finance capital?
It’s imperative to understand that the Brahminical fascism and patriarchy are byproducts of the semi-feudal production relation that exists in Indian agrarian sector, which employs the majority of the population even till this date despite losing out to the total contribution to the national GDP. The agriculture sector is dominated by semi-feudalism and it’s the very base of the Brahminical caste system and ostracisation.
Unless there is a serious effort to uproot the semi-feudal production relation and give the majority of the Indian peasantry- the poor and the landless peasantry- the ownership of the means of production, i.e. the land and farming equipment, the Brahminical system will thrive. The caste system will survive until the feudal system is uprooted and the feudal landholding pattern, which gives the higher caste groups the sanctity to exploit the labour of the lower castes, is radically changed in favour of the exploited poor and landless peasants, who majorly belong to the marginalised Dalit, tribal, OBC or minority communities.
Smash Brahminical patriarchy as a slogan may sound quite appealing to feminist activists, but smashing this ‘Brahminical’ form of patriarchy would need the uprooting of the base of the caste-based exploitation and patriarchy- which lies in the feudal production relations and its ally, the comprador and bureaucratic capitalism that promote the Brahminical hegemony in Indian cities and villages. Without dealing with the very task of transforming the society through a revolutionary struggle, the women can’t be freed from the clutches of the Brahminical fascism and patriarchy.
The myopia of the liberal feminist movement only views the problem of patriarchal oppression in India, especially on Dalit women, in isolation from the bigger picture of an economic base that promotes this predatory system and exploitation of women. Unless the Dalit women’s struggle is connected with the struggle to uproot feudalism and the feudal classes, who are mostly from the dominant Brahminical caste groups, the liberation of the women can’t be realised.
It’s imperative that the Brahminical patriarchy is fought in the larger picture, in unison with the struggle for a democratic transformation of the Indian society at the grassroots by overthrowing the semi-colonial and semi-feudal system and establishing a people’s democratic society in its place, where gender and social equality will be realised through the process of establishing economic equality or socialism. Except for this goal, all other avenues of women’s liberation end up in the lap of capitalism and feudalism, the very patrons of ‘Brahminical patriarchy’.