The Muse

The sheer variety of symbols and artefacts in use across the ages and geographies does not necessarily point to a multitude of assumptions and values from which they spring. The study of mythology and folklore then, is a reverse approach to anthropology. This blog is dedicated to my favourite symbols, tales and artefacts - both ancient and contemporary.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Debate 2: Round - X - Ishita

Read previous round here. Table of Contents here.

Kumar Alok,
If I may, here's what I understand your entire critique to be:
  1. Feminism is a purely western ideology, and not an all-encompassing philosophy that believes in or works towards achieving gender equality because it is a rights based approach and a pro-woman stance, which is grounded in the assumption of an 'independent individual'.
  2. Because of the above reasons (and more), Indian visionaries who worked for the welfare of women in India cannot be classified as feminists.
  3. Dehumanization doesn't exist (and cannot exist) - it is a fiction that is propagated (if not created) by human rights activists, and feminists, in order to further their agenda (whatever that may be).
With that out of the way, let me address the critique.
1.  Logic is a branch of mathematics, i.e. it's a tool. Transposition (or any other logical operation) can neither create nor destroy information - it merely presents the various equivalent forms of the given information. If the transposed statement seems to be lacking information - it is only because the original statement didn't have much info to begin with. 'All Men are mortals' is a useless and redundant statement in a universe where all organisms and phenomena are mortal.
2. Before we proceed, a word on what rights and duties mean.
I refer you to W. N. Hohfeld's seminal analysis of these fundamental jural concepts, which is the basis of modern jurisprudence. Relevant conclusions:

a. The first thing to know about rights and duties is that they are FUNCTIONALLY INSEPARABLE. They are like Action and Reaction in Newton's 3rd law of motion - they are equal, opposite, and are exerted by and on different bodies. 

If you fail in your duties, the FIRST negatively affected party will always be somebody else. Any repercussions on you due to your failure to perform your duties is always secondary and enforced by somebody else (a court of law, or a vengeful aggrieved party, etc.)
e.g.  If you fail in your duties to take care of and respect your elderly parents, they are the ones who'll pay for it. They're the ones deprived of care and honour. You clearly never had any use for their blessings and emotional support in the first place, so you lose nothing.

It is also futile to talk about 'rights based' or 'duty based' approaches to anything - they are one and the same. It does not matter if you define crime as transgression of duty or violation of rights, the plaintiff will be the same person - but never the same as the defendant.

b. The only exception to this would the concept of a purely moral duty. A purely moral duty is based on the concept that no one has any rights (or the ability to defend them) - only the capability to perform duties, and that transgression of said duties affects the transgressor ALONE, by injuring his/her conscience. Moral systems linked to organized religion such as 'Karma' or 'Judgement Day' tend to escalate the injury to conscience into allegedly higher personal punishments. The problems with a purely moral duty based approach are that
  1. It is based on a lie. As proved above, regardless of injury to conscience (or higher personal punishment), it is always a second party who is first and foremost negatively affected.
  2. It removes from society the power to hold the transgressors accountable, and deprives the aggrieved of justice.
  3. This is a textbook definition of an individualistic approach.
It will be interesting to note that there is no concept of rights that is analogous to a purely moral duty. A right is always a legal concept, and always correlated with a duty. A social contract emphasizing on rights can only be sustained in a scenario where everybody performs their duties.

c. The jural concept of Privilege is defined as a lack of duties on one's part. Some privileges are legal e.g. I'm not required to respect an (armed and dangerous) enemy soldier's right to life. I have the privilege (license) to kill. Like rights, legal privileges also come at a price. The license to kill has to be earned through training and loyalty, and may be used only when authorized or in extreme circumstances.

The question here is of unearned and illegal privileges. These are privileges obtained due to non-performance of duty. Ancient Vedic culture is built around Brahmin and Male (unearned) privilege. Go ahead and read the Manusmriti. You are certainly capable of evaluating evidences for yourself. You may also read this text The Philosophy of Hinduism. It was written by the Father of the Indian Constitution.

d. The Hohfeldian definition and analysis of the eight jural concepts is based on the assumption that all humans are fundamentally and undeniably interdependent. It acknowledges the fact that humans have the capability, both individually and in a group, to deny or violate the rights of other individuals and groups. It also acknowledges that the dehumanized and oppressed individuals and groups have the power to fight back for their rights.

e. Essentially, if we call any right inalienable, we are not saying that they CAN'T be violated. We're declaring that denial  or violation of that right is 'unnatural' i.e. violates natural justice, and is 'inhuman' i.e. denies the humanity of the person whose inalienable right was violated.
When we declare something a human right (as opposed to say an animal right), we're not saying that possession of that right MAKES a person human. We're saying that a person has that right BECAUSE they're human. We're saying that Denial of human rights to some person is the same as Denial of that person's humanity, i.e. dehumanization.

The right to be recognized as a legal person is one such inalienable human right.  (see again Art. 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Even incompetents, i.e. children, the comatose, the mentally incapacitated, the unborn, etc. are not denied legal personality - their legal personality is exercised indirectly through their legal guardians.

3. Pointwise answer to your conclusions about the transposition of legal and natural personality

a. Explained above, humans have the ability to deny personhood
b. Communist or despot-ruled states need not be lawless. The difference between democracy and other political systems lies in the investiture of power and the ease of change of leadership, not in their ability to govern well and enact and enforce good legislation. Case in point: Rwanda - dictatorship and a successful model of gender equality
c. Of course it can. It is ultimately a question of 'Who will guard the guards?'.
As explained above, dehumanized people can and did fight for their rights. The citizens of India rose against the British Indian Government, as did other colonies. We didn't exactly fight a legal battle… See Civil Disobedience Movement.
d. Not a possible conclusion. See the above answers.
e.  and f.  Explained above, incompetents are not denied legal personality.

Your alleged implications do not exist.  Q.E.D.

4. Dehumanization is not just about treating people as property. As you have pointed out, property may have monetary value, and be indispensable for survival. Dehumanization is treating people worse than property
Apart from the legal definition of dehumanization as violation and denial of inalienable human rights, it is associated with objectification. This article by Martha Nussbaum, current Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, defines objectification of persons as an action which entails one or more of the following:
  • Instrumentality (using someone as a tool for another's purposes);
  • Commodification (by denial of autonomy and agency);
  • Fungibility (treating someone as if interchangeable with another of his/her category);
  • Violability (not respecting their boundaries, treating damage to their person as permissible);
  • Disposability
5. Criticisms against feminism

a. An indoctrinating ideology
As previously explained, Feminism doesn't pretend to see (or show) anything false. It is based on the stone cold reality of the worldwide inferior and despicable status of women. It traces this phenomenon to its underlying causes and tries to reverse it.

b. Originated in the West - not true, and not a valid criticism.
Feminism is about gender equality. Gender inequality is a worldwide phenomenon and must not be reduced to an East v. West debate.
Besides, as I've explained repeatedly, the philosophy that women should be socially, politically and economically equal to men isn't of western origin. As for the activism, a Western origin doesn't preclude a movement from adapting itself to Eastern outlooks.

c. Rights based approach - debunked above, all approaches are equally rights and duty based.

d. Pro-woman stance
It appears that some good people are confused about how a gender-biased approach can lead to gender equality. I have three answers:
  1.  We live in a world which is in a state of gender imbalance and inequality. Here the ONLY approach to restore balance and equality is to boost the oppressed gender, until equality has been achieved. And there's no doubt about which is the oppressed gender.
  2. Pro-woman is not anti-man. Restoring rights to women does not take away rights from men, it takes away the unearned and illegal privileges hitherto held by men. Again, the restoration of women's rights and removal of these unearned and illegal male privileges is the ONLY approach to gender equality.
  3. Even if you include the LGBTQIA rights into the equation, you'll find that Feminism has (at least in the West) quickly evolved to include the LGBTQIA community in its fight for gender equality.
e. Not validated by Hindu scripture - Are. You. Serious?
Can any 'scripture' truly be the source and repository of all knowledge?  It is a bigoted and frankly ridiculous excuse for dismissing any philosophy.

f. "such texts place a heavy emphasis on character and a sense of right and wrong to qualify one as a human being" - and feminism does not?
The whole concept of inalienable rights revolves around humans having the basic decency to accept other human beings as fellow humans. All legal rights are ultimately tied to ethics and morality, and that's why they are called 'rights'. Feminism is after all a part of the larger human rights movement.

g. Western feminist activism is 'distinctly grounded in the assumption of an "independent individual"' - Er… No.
Western society places a high premium on 'individual achievement'. This is not to say that it does not recognize or devalues 'interdependency'. If anything, they have a better sense of collectivism than anyone in the planet. You can read about it Swami Vivekananda's epistles where he praises the social systems in the USA. Or look at how all the Scandinavian and other highly developed European countries are also highly unionised. Or see how modern jurisprudence is organized.
There are societies who actually do not put a premium on 'individual achievement'. Ancient Vedic culture wasn't one of them. Modern Hinduism certainly isn't. The Varnashrama dharma is all about the (Brahmin and Male) individual's achievement of Moksha. As explained above, the law of Karma is also essentially individualistic. So this criticism is both false and moot.

Simply put, Misogyny and Misandry are the extreme opposites, feminism stands squarely in the middle. So yes, every talk of gender equality IS feminist.

6. Regarding Swami Dayanand Saraswati. A few basic facts.
a. Swamiji was a reformer. A radical reformer, in fact. The crux and origin of his reforms was the notion that all non-Vedic scripture is a deceitful construct promoted by people with vested interests - namely the higher castes and men.
Basically, he figured out that the non-Vedic scriptures were wrong (and the Vedas were ineffable) because they denied people their basic humanity (and the Vedas didn't). He wasn't following scripture, he was following basic humanity and ethics.
b. He did not even spare the very Vedas which he considered ineffable - he rejected the Upanishads and Jyotisha (Astrology), one of the six Vedangas, and considered the 'eyes' of the Vedas. His most revolutionary reform was to make the Vedas accessible to Women and people of the lower castes. This is in direct contravention of the Manusmriti and the Varnashrama Dharma. The latter is undeniably Vedic in origin.
Essentially, he was a kite that rose against the wind, not with it.
b. Swamiji rejected the notion of hereditary caste based and male privileges. He worked actively to provide women the rights denied to them by 'corrupted Hinduism'. Clearly, a pro-woman stance and a 'rights based' approach.

All these evidences prove that Swami Dayanand Saraswati was very clearly a feminist. And he wasn't the only one.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Winter has Ended

It's been a long time since I've written anything. 2012 may not have brought the apocalypse to this earth, but it was a pretty apocalyptic year for me. And it's not like I haven't written anything in this time - I even published a short note on the occasion of Shivaratri 2013.

2013 was a great year for me. What with the Kumbh Mela, and my entry into ONGC (henceforth to be referred as the COMPANY) and the beginning of my 4 month training (mostly) in Dehradun, I've learnt so much, done so much, met so many new and awesome people.

I wrote a lot of poetry in Dehradun and Rishikesh. I spent my free time in Cambay reading up on subjects such as Origami, the Philosophy of Hinduism, Hindutva v. Hinduism (Thank you, NaMo), The Varnashrama Dharma, and Feminism and Skepticism.

But what ultimately compelled me to break my silence (apart from a steady job and proper internet access) was a Facebook debate between an academic and myself, sparked by the tweets of one Madhu Kishwar.

While the author of the tweet has subsequently gone on record saying she wasn't talking about rape at all (and I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt), it did spark the debate that it did.

More on the debate in the next post.