This is not just about Brahmin women. This is not just about patriarchy. This is about everyone who has participated in the upholding of caste hegemony – as perpetrators and as observers. In some way or the other, most Indians believe in brahminical patriarchy – a term used by feminists to denote how hierarchies of caste and gender interact to determine India’s social order.
There is already a huge body of work out there that can help clarify the difference between patriarchy pertaining to brahmin communities and patriarchy that is brahminical in nature. The poster that Jack Dorsey, the CEO of twitter is seen holding in this photograph, refers to the latter. The term Brahminical is largely, if not entirely, ascribed to casteist behaviour that stem from the belief in brahmin supremacy, or in other words, caste. This means that in India, where caste operates as the fundamental social system, most patriarchal beliefs and practices are brahminical.
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) November 18, 2018
While it is true that some patriarchal practices may be largely true of only brahmin communities, such as menstrual exclusion, these aren’t the only examples of brahminical patriarchy. Honour killings – the murdering of inter-caste couples/Dalit men is essentially brahminical patriarchy at work, although no individual brahmins are typically involved. Honor killings happen because people believe in caste purity – a concept defined by Hindu texts and followed by all those that believe in caste.
Caste-based sexual violence against Dalit women is also an example of brahminical patriarchy. Within the caste system, Dalit women’s bodies aren’t considered sacred vis-à-vis savarna women. The concept of purity and pollution allows for the violation and exploitation of Dalit women. In 2017, a 32-year old Dalit woman from Rajasthan committed suicide after being raped by two of her neighbors. Earlier this year, a disabled Dalit woman was raped in Andhra Pradesh. More recently, Rajalakshmi, a 13-year old Dalit girl was decapitated by an upper caste man in Tamilnadu. A simple online search is likely to throw up several more stories of violence against Dalit women. Yet, according to data available from India’s ministry of Home affairs, the conviction rate for rape against Dalit women stands at 29%. How can such violence go unchecked if not for brahminical patriarchy – and the impunity that it offers, especially to upper caste men.
Dorsey did the right thing. In fact, I’d like to believe that he stood in solidarity with all women, and especially with Dalit women.
Dorsey did the right thing. In fact, I’d like to believe that he stood in solidarity with all women, and especially with Dalit women. When I saw the photograph for the first time, I was thrilled – a Dalit woman was standing next to the CEO of Twitter and he was holding a poster that was created by another Dalit woman. It felt like our voices were finally being heard, and in a way that could create actual, measurable impact.
And this is precisely why social media platforms deserve appreciation. Over the past few years, Twitter has given Dalit women a space to express themselves and our activists a way to report caste-based crimes. This is critical, especially because mainstream media is not easily accessible to a lot of us. We don’t come with the same kind of social capital as savarna writers do, making it extremely difficult to find editors that’d publish us readily.
But as pointed out during the closed-door meeting at Twitter, caste-based abuse is also very much a part of the online Dalit experience. Dalit women are frequent victims of casteist slurs and caste-based slut shaming. As a Christian Dalit, I have been called a rice bag convert (and worse) many times by right-wing and casteist trolls.
Although I have not been on it for too long, I have contemplated deactivating my twitter profile. The only reason I haven’t done that is because doing so would mean that I give up an available, accessible space, which I could continue to use, to tell my story and that of my sisters. My ancestors weren’t allowed to tell theirs.
In this context, Twitter India’s and Vijaya Gadde’s apology towards Dorsey’s holding of the poster is disappointing. Would twitter have maintained an impartial, neutral stand if the poster had said, ‘Smash White Supremacy’? And if indeed they had, would they have gotten away with it, given the readiness with which liberals (including the Indian kind) condemn racism?
It is not a statement from Twitter or our CEO, but a tangible reflection of our company’s efforts to see, hear, and understand all sides of important public conversations that happen on our service around the world.
— Twitter India (@TwitterIndia) November 19, 2018
I’m very sorry for this. It’s not relective of our views. We took a private photo with a gift just given to us – we should have been more thoughtful. Twitter strives to be an impartial platform for all. We failed to do that here & we must do better to serve our customers in India
— Vijaya Gadde (@vijaya) November 19, 2018
Why this double standard when it comes to caste? How can there be so much ignorance and indifference towards how caste operates in India and elsewhere? Dalits are being killed and raped every single day, and caste is the primary reason. It is a system that believes in brahmin supremacy and it ensures that only the most privileged sit in positions of power. How can a social network company that has access to so much information globally, go so wrong in knowing which is an oppressed minority and which is not?
In the west, companies have taken a visible stand against racism and white supremacy. In September 2018, Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick would be one of the athletes to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the brand’s slogan. Despite the backlash that followed after their controversial ad, Nike did not back down. Dorsey himself attended the Ferguson protests in 2014. That same year Twitter painted #BlackLivesMatter on a wall at its San Francisco office Headquarters.
At a time like this, Twitter India’s cop out apology is a shame – a missed opportunity. A stand against caste and brahminism would have made a huge difference to the online Dalit community and #Dalittwitter, which is small at the moment but emerging.
Brahmin- and baniya-dominated Indian corporates need to do better. Twitter India should have done better. After all, aren’t the darkest places in hell reserved for those that maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis?
Christina Thomas Dhanaraj is a Dalit woman from Chennai, India. She is a consultant for women and minority-led initiatives focusing on social justice, self-determination, and collaborative models of scholarship. She is currently an advisor at #dalitwomefight and #Smashboard, and was the co-founder of #dalithistorymonth. She tweets @caselchris1.