i. The LGBT movement in the United States was able to thrive because of the social conditions in that country.
The heterosexuality of the Stonewall Riots accepted a moral and legal framework predicated on individual freedoms. The homophobia it rose against, and which the LGBT movement in the United States continues to combat, then, is an individualised prejudice at odds with the stated and even actual values of the ruling class of the United States. Parts of Indian society accept the framework of individual rights. Parts oppose it quite violently. In order for our arguments to make any sense, the whole, or at least the majority, must accept it.
The Indian LGBT movement assumes either that such an framework is universally accepted, or that the ideal of LGBT rights and freedoms can be accepted without a drive towards human rights and freedoms The LGBT movement, then, aims to assert its own rights and equality without challenging any of the aspects of power which have made themselves enemies of freedom and equality. This is among the cardinal mistakes committed by the movement. Indian society in general does not even condone love marriages. Why should it make an exception for gay love marriages?
The answer is that it will not, and this is compatible with the American experience. Freedom for LGBT people, or pretty much anybody, has never come without confronting power, in India or the United States or anywhere.
I have found the present-day mechanisms of caste to be not well-understood by many progressive activists. It is true, as progressive activists assert, that there is a great deal of fluidity in professional and economic status among the upper castes, although even this fluidity is not absolute. This is more or less in accordance with orthodox Hinduism, which has always considered the domains of the lower castes to be rightly penetrable by all castes above them. So to understand the occupational fluidity of many members of the upper castes as a modern phenomenon may not be fully accurate. To take this as a sign of some sort of historical breakdown of the caste system is therefore wishful thinking.
Even the most fervent caste deniers will admit that endogamy remains a part of Indian culture. Endogamy has long been identified as the means by which caste perpetuates itself. The matrimonial system them, the prevalence of arranged marriages in India?—?about 95% according to all statistics I’ve seen?—?is a system which exists to perpetuate the caste system, and the freedom of the LGBT community is one of the many, many sacrifices it makes on this altar.
The movement’s other mistakes are the de-centring of caste, and the understanding of heterosexuality as a trait innate to individuals rather than as a compulsory social arrangement which, although it contains elements of choice, is never without coercion. This is in theory as well as in practice.
The compulsory social arrangement is not just heterosexuality, but a very specific kind of heterosexual matrimony rooted in caste-based obligation. This arrangement is harmful to all, and in particular women. LGBT people are not unique in this regard. Since individual preference is not the basis of Indian heterosexuality either in theory or practice, the compulsion towards heterosexuality can not be problematised through the argument that same-sex partnerships are in better accordance with individual preference. Unless the societal structures which serve as the true basis for compulsory heterosexuality are problematised, we we would have to argue that same-sex partnerships are better suited to maintain the caste system, and they simply are not.
Heterosexual marriage is an economic arrangement before it is a social arrangement. It can be said nigh-universally that a heterosexual marriage grants a man access to the labour of his wife, and that that labour consists of household responsibilities, child-rearing, child-carrying, sex, household labour, and many other tasks. I assume that the reader is familiar with, and sympathetic to, the argument that marriage presents a labour imbalance to the detriment of the wife.
Since heterosexual marriage is an economic arrangement, it follows that different kinds of heterosexual marriages will beget different kinds of economic arrangements. The American ideal of heterosexual marriage is one of mutual desire irrespective of economic or other background, and this is largely compatible with cultural ideals such as class mobility and individual freedom which are prevalent in American society. The acceptance of the premise of equal rights and and individual freedoms is emphasised in many “canonical” works of western storytelling, such as Romeo and Juliet as well as many Disney movies, which emphasise the social harm caused by familial infringement of an individual’s freedom to choose his or her partner. This re-enforces the social mores around which an American-style capitalist society can be structured. The American economic system is not fundamentally threatened by widows, divorce, dating, marriages across demographics, or, indeed, same-sex relationships, because the American system merely needs a steady flow of workers. According to institutional American capitalism, these workers can be of any demographic. The American capitalist can feel free to mix and match worker to work at their leisure.¹
By contrast, virtually nobody puts up a pretence other than that most Indian marriages have an element of coercion to them, and this coercion is considered necessary for social good and/or ultimately beneficial for the individuals involved. The prevalence of this perception is ultimately at odds with an agenda of LGBT liberation. Unlike the American system, the Indian system is very much threatened by widows, divorce, dating, love marriage, womens’ agency, marriage across demographics, and indeed, same-sex relationships. As Ambedkar wrote in Castes in India: Their Mechanisms, Genesis, and Development, the restrictions placed on women serve the purpose of maintaining demographic “balance”. This is especially visible in the fascist anxiety over inter-religious marriages, and it is not hard to find caste supremacist facebook groups which will say the same thing explicitly.
Since we in the LGBT movement, ideally, accept same-sex desire as the basis for same-sex partnership, it means we already accept ideological premises which are not held by many of the country’s structures of power, for the precise reasoning that they threaten a social rupture through which that same power can be problematised. If we remain ignorant to that fact, it is to our own detriment. We must confront power because its ideals are at radical odds with our own, and it is the ideals that power holds which are made to reflect themselves in social reality, as they have been for 3,500 years.
ii. India’s polarised consumer and producer societies are derivitives of the caste system.
In order to confront power, it is necessary to understand the form it takes, and therefore, it is necessary to understand the ways in which caste forms our society. Many people think of caste as a simple system of labour separation. You are born into a profession, and you remain bound to it for life, above certain other castes and below certain others. It is my understanding that this model predominates, with certain caveats, in much of the country. However, among the upper castes in urban areas, it is considered that the ability to change one’s profession constitutes a breakdown in the formal structure of caste-as-such. We have already discussed why this is incorrect.
Aspects of caste other than the separation of labour must be understood in order to understand the role of caste in the global capitalist economy. Like everything else in the world, caste has undergone changes with the spread of global capitalism. This is not the first such reformulation caste has gone through in its 3,500 year history, and need not necessarily be the final form it takes before its annihilation. We should be careful in considering the current historical moment to be exceptional. It is the most important moment to us not for its exceptionality, but for its currency.
Global capitalism has carved the world up into consumer and producer societies. Many ideological differences between the bourgeois political parties of the capitalist first world countries can be understood as a struggle between different factions of the bourgeois class regarding whether they need more producers or more consumers. Parties on the parliamentary right seek to eliminate workplace protections and environmental protections, to decrease the minimum wage, to lower taxes on corporate profits, to destroy social services, social security, and the social safety net, and to otherwise antagonise civil society. The parliamentary right of the first world aims to create an easily exploitable work force, which can be underpaid and under-provided for, because, having less money, they will be more desperate to sell their labour for a wage.
The parliamentary “left”, on the other hand, aims to create a capable consumer middle class. They want the middle class to have more money, more protections, and more free time, in order to create a market which is actually capable of buying goods. Rather than antagonising civil society, it seeks to co-opt the civil society. A middle class civil society which seeks to increase its own consumer power is quite compatible with the aims of the parliamentary “left”.
It is certainly exceptionally rare for a society to be either pure producers or pure consumers. Most countries contain a mix of both ideologies. But in India, the caste system has allowed a more-or-less pure consumer society to coexist in the same country as a more-or-less pure producer society. India has a relatively wealthy and prosperous middle class, consisting of an educated urban elite with an income exceeding those of rural Indians and poorer urban Indians by orders of magnitude. India also has an enormous underclass, consisting of some of the most easily exploited labour on Earth. It is this underclass which powers industrial production the world over, not just working in sweatshops but also providing for the comfort of the middle class, and it is for this reason that poverty is maintained. The promises of the ruling class for an economic mass uplift are a lie. India’s continued economic dominance relies on its position as a global industrial hub, and this can only be maintained through exploiting labour more effectively than anyone else. It is for this reason that the ruling classes of India are deeply invested in maintaining the caste system exactly as it is; increased mobility means decreased exploitability. It is for the same reason that global industry are invested in maintaining the same; global capitalism is completely unsustainable without the kind of exploitation allowed by the caste system.
Crucially, for our purposes, it should be understood that the means of caste enforcement differ significantly between the consumer and producer classes. In many rural areas, this enforcement is often obvious; anyone leaving their ancestral profession or even abandoning certain caste rituals faces overt physical violence through lynch mobs, riots, hate crimes, discrimination, social boycott, etc. Rural India is to remain a producer society, and so the important part is that no section of rural Indian society challenge and power above it.
But for the urban, savarna, middle class, the primary mode of caste enforcement is the immediate and extended family, who mandate adherence to certain caste rituals such as compulsory endogamous heterosexual matrimony upon the completion of study.
Violence against children by family members is almost never problematised, even in egregious circumstances which would be considered unacceptable in other countries, such as battery, assault, forced marriage, other forms of sexual violence, and murder. Other means, which are also used against LGBT people in western societies with some level of social acceptability, such as the withdrawal of financial support and the use of emotional blackmail, often religious in nature, are also used. A loss of family support leaves one more vulnerable to falling into poverty. The continued existence of Indian poverty, therefore, functions as a powerful enforcement mechanism for the caste-matrimonial system.
It is not necessarily that everyone and their mother is engaged in maintaining a system of brutal exploitation for the sake of doing so, although a number of very active far-right ideologues are in fact. From the perspective of the Indian middle class, pervasive presence and visibility of poverty in India serves to remind them of their own vulnerability. Although the middle class controls wealth superior to that of the underclass by orders of magnitude, there is yet a higher class than they, who control superior wealth on orders of greater magnitude. The ultimate deference of the Indian economy to this powerful superminority is more visible here than it is in most other parts of the world. It is therefore that the middle class, who after all are still exploited and still vulnerable, just to a lesser degree than the impoverished, sees their modest position within this economic hierarchy as one requiring maintenance and ideological justification.
The impoverished majority serve to the capitalist class the role that the publicly hung dissident served to the medieval tyrant. Middle class Indians are reminded that the only thing standing between them and poverty is the continued magnanimity of the capitalist class. This anxiety becomes greater with the continued breakdown, perceived or actual, of caste hierarchy. It is for this reason that significant sections of the upper castes continue to oppose reservations with the militancy they do. It is not so much to guarantee more seats for themselves (indeed the creation of more institutions of learning and more jobs would do much more to this end), but to deny class mobility in any form; by eliminating the class mobility that is asserted to exist in capitalist societies, one is able to more closely approximate the class stability which is asserted to have existed in Vedic times, protecting oneself and one’s family from the precarity engendered by this form of social progress. Social mobility is therefore opposed on principle.
But more crucial to this project than reservations is the continued assertion of caste, and therefore of womens’ subservience to men through the arrangement of marriages between the same.
iii. India’s “collectivism” is a market-based ideological structure.
It is commonly acknowledged that Indian society is deeply fragmented. There are many groups here which have little to do with each other. An exploration of what exactly this means for our purposes necessitates an analysis of the oft-romanticised “collectivist culture” that exists in India. It requires a comparative study of the ideologies of the Indian state and the Indian governments, because indeed these have conflicted quite strongly for the duration of India’s post-independence history. As I delve into this explanation, it should be remembered that this fragmentation, and therefore the sharp division between producers and consumers, is precisely the social structure that heterosexuality in India exists to preserve. Communal agitation by political parties seeks only to exploit this fragmentation; it is not what creates it in the first place.
In truth, India’s “collectivism” is only a step above American rugged individualism. What the two structures have in common is that both aim for a form of atomised uplift that does not confront power. The Indian press often valorises the seemingly superhuman achievements of the impoverished: the man who digs a tunnel through a mountain with a hammer and chisel over the course of decades, the man who plants tens of thousands of trees over the course of his life. The character of these men is commendable to be sure. But with the use of modern technology, these feats could be accomplished over the course of a few weeks. The correct reaction is not to marvel at their tenacity, but to ask why it was necessary; why was it so that literally digging through a mountain with a hammer and chisel was a less insurmountable task than gaining the modest amount of wealth required to procure more dedicated machinery?
We are told that India is “developing”, and this does seem to be true from stories like the above, of people over the course of decades and generations improving life for their families, their villages, their castes, but at the same time it is not concealed that the multinational corporations active in India continue to accumulate wealth at a speed that is simply not comparable. In India, the uneven rate of “development” is legitimised through the ideology of collectivism, just as surely as the ideology of individualism in the American example. Maybe even moreso. MNCs are in fact collective entities, while in the United States, the legal premise that they are individuals has proven problematic and subject to legal challenge.
Indian collectivism is not any less cutthroat than American individualism, either. In fact, it may be in some ways moreso, as the fragmented groupings extant in Indian society often bear quite a bit of malice towards each other. While American market cruelty comes from a zero-sum, free market ideology; impersonal, regrettable, but regrettable and at worst necessary, Indian market cruelty is based in animosity that is calculated, targeted, pre-emptive, honourable, and justified through what one or the other collective considers to be history.
So in Indian society it is no more foreign than in American society that someone should work to accumulate wealth for themselves without sharing it with the society as a whole. For all the talk of collectivism versus individuality, the two ideals achieve identical material ends. Wealth is therefore legitimised through these functionally identical discourses. The right of wealth and power to accumulate is never challenged; an implicit equivalency is drawn between capitalist hyperaccumulation and the lifelong dream of the impoverished to purchase a bicycle.
Indian “collectivism” has the additional disadvantage of mandating dependence on these collective structures. The folly of this is, of course, that these collectives are not voluntary associations of equals but rather structures which exclude the most vulnerable as a step towards creating a closed-off space to the benefit of the people at the top of these collectives’ hierarchies, who can manipulate those beneath them with a far magnified level of social and institutional legitimacy.
This is why parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, and in-laws are able to pressure heterosexual matrimony as effectively as they do: because they are left in these positions of authority by the complete unwillingness of any segment of society, governmental or otherwise, to confront them or offer alternatives.
This is the social principle which has allowed for the policies of the Congress, but also other parties, which favour or target one or a few groups for some form of aid. Sometimes termed “minority appeasement” by some of the more conspiratorially-minded, this is in reality a charity ideology based in upper-caste benevolence, which allows the parties to make minority groups dependent on them. This does not challenge power, and it does not sacrifice power, but re-enforces power from another angle, making the poor into “willing” participants in it. This creates a further disincentive to end the poverty of the poor, as if there were not enough already.
We must avoid replicating this dynamic in our own activism by leaning too heavily on identity rather than ideology. We must not build an identity or form a new collective but rather a social movement based on confronting the conditions to which we consider it unacceptable that a person should be subject.
We must oppose the appointment of leavers. Rather we must build a nebulous movement and a culture of analysis, understanding, and resistance to caste, capital, and Dalit-Bahujan exploitability as a prerequisite to socio-economic change like that demanded by our movement. If we decide on our own accord to appoint a leader, then so be it. But one must not be appointed for us, especially not by the Congress or the BJP, which, as long as they exist, will stand opposed to our political aims.
iv. The Congress bears a great deal of blame in maintaining this status quo.
I have discussed the vote-banking techniques of the political parties. These are well-documented and oft-discussed. What is often pointed out is that these techniques allow the parties to stay in power through securing stable and reliable voting blocs. What is less often considered is that perhaps maintaining the fragmentary nature of Indian society is an end in and of itself. Why wouldn’t it be? Why would political bodies, one more or less intensely hegemonic and one more reactionary than even that, one with an ideology rooted in social conservatism and the other more reactionary still, entertain seriously the prospect of meaningful change in the fabric of Indian society?
The Congress has maintained since the 1880s that social reform is not within its mission. There was for a brief period a separate organisation called the Indian National Social Congress, which was to work with the Congress on issues of social reform, but by 1895 the antagonism between the Congress and its social reform wing had exacerbated to the extent that a faction within the Congress threatened to rebel and burn down the pandal if it was used by the social reformers. The social conservatives therefore won a decisive victory within the Congress and etched into its foundational ideology a militant opposition to all social progress.
Throughout its history, the Congress has opposed social reform measures of all kinds, and has delegated representative authority for differing social groups within India to reactionary bodies, such as the Hindu Mahasaba, to which it delegated the “question of untouchability” in the following resolution, dated May 1923:
‘’Resolved that while some improvement has been effected in the treatment of the so-called Untouchables in response of the policy of the Congress, this Committee is conscious that much work remained yet to be done in this respect and in as much as this question of untouchability concerns the Hindu community particularly, it requests the All-India Hindu Mahasabha also to take up this matter and to make strenuous efforts to remove this evil from amidst the Hindu Community.”
How can it be that untouchability was simplified to a matter of “social reform”? The only conclusion one can come to is that when Congress says “social reform”, it does not mean social reform. Issues of caste and untouchability are economic in nature. They create easily exploitable sources of labour. What the Congress means when it says “social reform” is that it opposes radical changes in economic relations. It has therefore much invested in maintaining Dalit-Bahujan exploitability as the primary class antagonism in India; the country’s industrial production is, after all, predicated on it. It is therefore by design that social progress has been impeded in the 70 years since the transfer of power.
This is not at odds with the ruling classes in other countries, who themselves often hold back economic and social progress; the example comes to mind of America’s oil barons who have stifled development of green energy for decades.
Therefore, the primary enforcers of social reaction in India are not the state but other social forces, like the Hindu Mahasaba, which are not democratically accountable. The family. The lynch mob. The Sangh Parivar. The employer. The qazi. Monsanto. Occasionally, they are endowed with some legitimacy by the government and elevated into semi-democratic bodies, as with the gram panchayat, but as a whole, the Congress defends, legitimises, and secures reactionary social bodies rather than creating them or initiating change within them.
v. Despite occasional lip service, the BJP is in all real ways an even worse version of the Congress.
The people have varying levels of gnawing consciousness of the Congress’s role in the preservation of India’s fossilised social customs. The BJP is skilful in utilising the language of social progress, and the apparent progressiveness of certain members or supporters on certain issues has filled many with a false and empty hope. This is a common and intentional tactic of fascist parties, who, after all, are even less bound by the truth than normal politicians. But it is made easier by the Congress’s opposition to social progress, which is far more visible to many than the BJP’s.
The BJP rose to power not by challenging the Congress’s ideology, but by presenting itself as better exemplifying the values of the Congress. The Congress might be a Hindu nationalist body, but they are not as Hindu nor as nationalist as the BJP. The Congress might pursue developmental policies, but they cannot do so with the efficiency of the “Gujarat model”. Exacerbation of communal tensions is a complaint that can be issued against the Congress in fairness, but only liars and fools can claim that it’s a social issue the BJP has sought to do anything to improve. Under BJP rule, lynch mobs have come to rule the rural areas of the country with more overt impunity than ever before.
This differs from Congress’s tactics only in its brutality, or perhaps in the visibility of its brutality. The lynch mobs under BJP rule are better organised and greater in number than they were under Congress rule, and they have been legitimised?—?they are now entrusted to enforce the laws of the state, such as the ban on sale of cattle for slaughter, as well as of social conventions such as marriage and untouchability.
Congress and the BJP, therefore, are two sides of the same coin, though the latter is clearly worse. The BJP draws on ideology that was very much present before it. The ideological difference between the two lies in whether the shroud of democratic legitimacy which conceals the reactionary bodies to whom they delegate the bulk of their social policy should be made of fine cotton or gossamer.
vi. The LGBT movement in India has relied on conservative arguments.
Significantly narrowed as it is, the political terrain has left few arguments open to the LGBT community. The movement’s self-imposed loyalty to brahminical domination has left it even narrower still. This is unfortunate, as India’s body of social movements which have challenged the social norms of the family is greater than any other country with which I am familiar. But what all these movements have had in common is that they have challenged the inseparable structures of caste and patriarchal domination. And it is here where the LGBT movement in India reveals its unfortunate, conservative character.
Section 377 does something akin to galvanising the LGBT community to work towards social change. To be sure, Section 377 is an atrocity. It is unconstitutional and at odds with the founding values of the country. I am well aware, and in full agreement, that it must be disposed of. But how and why we argue that it must be disposed of matters.
It is deeply unfortunate that virtually the only argument I have seen put forward against Section 377 is that it was instituted by the British. It was instituted in many other countries which were under British rule in that time period, and has been repealed in many of them, including the UK, so goes the argument. I see two major issues with this argument, which show it to be at odds with the aim of social progress.
The first is that it is a conservative argument, which seeks to restore India to a pristine, pre-colonial period, uncorrupted by British rule. The mythification and exceptionalisation of British rule is a cornerstone of Congress’s ideology; despite its social conservatism, the Congress can still portray itself as a revolutionary body which opposes the ever-hegemonic British Imperialism. This British Imperialism has left India in an eternal toil, a struggling, suffering, tragic India that even after 50, 70, 100 years cannot exorcise its demons of corruption, poverty, hunger, and caste.
I make no apologies for the crimes committed under British rule. However, the claim must be evaluated in terms of what it accomplishes, politically, in the present day. To whose legend is it crucial to have been that pre-Colonial India was a Utopian land of plenty? Even if not untrue, (for indeed the line between plenty and dearth is subjective, and the Colonial period certainly left India with more of the latter,) the argument can be discarded as irrelevant for our purposes. It need not be that our liberation comes at the cost of further entrenching the Congress’s mythology. For the same mythology of India as quintessential sufferer washes the hands of the Congress for maintaining this suffering for 65 years, and this perception of historical plenty, I think we will find, is not shared by many of those who have always been deprived of India’s so-called “national wealth” by the brutalities of the caste system.
The second issue is that it is disingenuous if not untrue. While it is the British who first penned Section 377, it is also the British who first penned the Indian Criminal Code. If the argument against Section 377 is that it was penned by the British, then this argument is equally powerful for the abolition of the entire Indian Criminal Code. But the Indian Criminal Code has seen many revisions in the post-Independence period. India has much agency in its contents and can make alterations as it wishes.
In course of fact, it is not that the British maintain some sort of stranglehold over the minds or legislation of the Indian people. The attribution of this superhuman power to the British, or the West, or what have you, works against us more often than it works for us; if the agency of an Indian in resisting the effects of psychic colonisation can be questioned, who is to say that our ideas are not an effect just as much? Are we to maintain a constant back-and-forth with the forces of social conservatism over who is more pure and Indian, who is less brainwashed by a psychic Westward pull? Few other segments in India balk at all to align themselves with western figures as ideologically diverse as Marx and Hitler, so where is the shame in saying that we do in fact draw much of our ideological inspiration from studies of the West, as Ambedkar did before us? Our personal experience remains the ultimate authority.
By denying this, we create an environment that is no less exclusive, and in some ways much moreso, than that created by the most virulent Hindu nationalists. All of these complaints and more apply to the persistent attempts of LGBT Hindus to find supportive content in works of Hindu mythology.
There have in fact been attempts to repeal Section 377. They have been impeded not by the British or by the West, but by power as it actually exists, wielded as it is by powerful Indians. On the contrary, the LGBT movements of Europe, especially its anti-capitalist and anti-fascist components, may prove to be valuable allies, if we are successful in pushing them further left and further east. We cannot agree with the fascist analysis that there is some insurmountable essential difference between the West and the East. Cultural exchange may be among our greatest strengths.
But even the repeal of Section 377, even governmental recognition of same-sex marriage, will not in themselves challenge the structures of caste and power which stand in the way of our visions of liberation. They are not social life. Our deliverance cannot come from the state, unless the state can be made to represent our interests.
We need not worry. 377 will be repealed nigh-inevitably if our greater principles are accepted in general society.
A secondary strategic concern is that organising around Section 377 is simply not all that motivating. Nobody has been persecuted under Section 377 in some time. The family does not quote Section 377 while it is arranging marriages. Our enemies are the forces of social reaction, and they are not motivated by Section 377. Even repealing this law will do very little to improve life for us, and so in limiting political action to a repeal of Section 377 we narrow our field of vision so that we cannot see our more important concerns.
Indian women (and to a lesser extent, men) have struggled individually to convince their parents and grandparents to adopt more progressive attitudes to marriage. However, even in the diaspora this is usually of limited efficacy, and Indian women who are successful in avoiding an arranged marriage are usually able to do so only because of the wider cultural sanction of individual rights, and, by extension, their individual rights, present in their adopted societies. We must create that cultural sanction here in India. It is more important for us to create that cultural sanction than it is to oppose some line in some lawbook. This is how we can challenge the power of the families to begin with.
vii. Beware of Mr. Gandhi.
Before I enter into analysis of whether the state can in fact represent our interests, I issue a series of further warnings. We have watched as the slow pace of social progress has driven members of the LGBT community into the hands of the RSSBJP. We have watched as the social conservatism of the movement has allowed some of our members some small degree of “tolerance” in Hinduism?—?in the truest, ugliest sense of “tolerance”, in the sense of a conditional license to be, absent true social inclusion. Indian civic life is full of false friends like these. Due to the radicality of the analysis and actions I propose, I consider it of the utmost importance to avoid our co-optation by both conservative social forces as well as the parliamentary left, and I consider it necessary that we foreground the same in deciding our path forward.
Gandhi represents potentially the biggest hurdle in any young social movement. He has been constituted as an icon which dictates the form a social movement should take, much to the benefit of the power he helped to consolidate. He left us with many social institutions which have made themselves our enemy. And in our context particularly, his tactics would be intensely self-defeating.
I have established that the Congress is second only to the BJP as our most virulent foe. The Congress, for most of India’s history, has established itself as a representative authority of India. It has formed an India as a closed-off collective for its own benefit. The cultural legitimacy which it claims in so doing is exemplified by Mohandas Gandhi, who is treated as the Father of the Nation in much the same vein as America’s George Washington. But Americans in pursuit of social progress recognise George Washington as a political figure: as a wealthy slave-owning colonist whose interests in creating the state were far from apolitical, and who accomplished much with which a person might rightly disagree. This is despite that George Washington is held up by all members of the American mainstream civil society as an exemplar; it is easy for the establishment to extol him, as Washington was not associated with a political party and in fact warned against the formation of political parties.
Mr. Gandhi does not have this advantage. Mr. Gandhi was a member of Congress through and through; if anyone is inseparable from the Congress, it is Mr. Gandhi. But to many people, almost as much now as when he was alive, Mr. Gandhi is an apolitical Mahatma who is inseparable from India. This does much to legitimise the Congress as the authentic Voice of India, for the hand of the Congress joins the body of India at Gandhi’s elbow. He did not lead the resistance, he led Congress’s monopolisation of it.
It is for this reason that visible sections of the BJP aim to legitimise Godse; moreso than the ideological differences between Godse and Mr. Gandhi (a conflict on which the BJP, to be clear, do come down on the side of Godse), the continued ideological hegemony of the Congress is threatening to a party such as the BJP which, despite its seizure of power, still bears a heavy burden of proof of its own legitimacy.
It might seem that in our opposition to the RSSBJP, it would do us well to defend Mr. Gandhi from our common enemy. It is true that in a politics of inclusion there can be no room for ideologies like that of Godse. But in fact, many of the criticisms one might rightly have of Mr. Gandhi can be leveraged against the RSSBJP in even more seriousness. A politics of inclusion has scarcely more room for Mr. Gandhi, who fought for his entire life to disenfranchise black South Africans, Anglo-Indians, SCSTs, and all religious minorities in India other than Muslims and Sikhs. If we are serious about challenging the ideologies of exclusion which form an undercurrent to all aspects of Indian civic life, we must challenge Mr. Gandhi’s authority.
Crucially, it is important to mention that Gandhi remained for his entire life a passionate, devoted, sincere supporter of the caste system. Much can be ascertained about the attitude of the Congress towards caste by analysing the views, stated and enacted (and Gandhi’s words and deeds did conflict often), of the man who led it for some 30 years.
I leave the man’s many flaws up for debate and discussion by the writers of the future and the past; what is important is that we politicise him as a historical figure, we in turn problematise his politics, and we hold neither his ideas nor the cartoon-like misrepresentations of them championed by the Congress as inviolable. It would be particularly disastrous if we were to replicate his mistakes, actual or legendary, in building our culture of resistance, and we must avoid personality cults like his; Gandhi was not Gandhi but just one man out of many who resisted British rule. A gay Gandhi is not coming, and it would be a disaster if he did.
In particular, strict adherence to Gandhian nonviolence as is championed in the West would be the greatest detriment to any social movement. Gandhian nonviolence applies to resistance movements, and not oppressive hegemons. This is ultimately rooted in Manusmriti, which does not consider violence to be a violation of caste purity if it’s done “in the course of the duties of” upper caste Hindus; violence is thus made in Manusmriti, as well as in Gandhian “thought”, the exclusive domain of the ruling class: The Brahmin but not the Dalit, the father but not the daughter. But our aim is not to appeal to power to utilise its dominance over us in a different way. It is valuable to convince our oppressors to treat us better on their own accord, and can afford us valuable space, but doing so does not challenge their power. A nice oppressor is preferable to a brutal oppressor, but it’s not why we’re here. Our aim is to reshape society so that none hold power over others, and it’s self-defeating to wait until we get permission.
Mr. Gandhi represents an extremely weak and verifiably false tenet of Congress’s ideology. This weakness is one which, unless we exploit it, is just as easy a hole for the fascists to sneak through as it is for us; fascist icons such as Bose and Godse present opportunities for the far Right. But if our aim is to combat a politics of exclusion, then the fascists, historical and contemporary, lie in our line of fire, and this calls perhaps for a shotgun rather than a rifle.
viii. Summary so far
In the first world, industrialisation was accompanied by bourgeois revolutions which heralded change in legislative and social values. The feudal social order was overthrown in its entirety, and the adoption of a new legal framework was adopted, in the courts as well as in the minds of the people, which was rooted in individual rights and freedoms. Social order more or less conformed to these new values. It is in this context that the LGBT movement was formed in the West: individual rights and freedoms are commonly accepted there, and it is more compatible with these values to embrace a wide variety of sexual and gender expression.
There is much that has been done in India to affect the adoption of these bourgeois values, probably most notably the adoption of our Constitution, and radical segments of society do accept these arguments. The state infrastructure, however, more-or-less progressive though it is, has consistently remained in the hands of reactionary governments. This revolution in social values, which is a prerequisite of the acceptance of the LGBT movement, remains, therefore, incomplete. Society remains instead wed to the values of the caste system. While the function of the value systems in Western countries is to provide social sanction for capitalist liberal democracy and to destroy any remaining vestiges of the feudalist ideologies they replaced, the function of Indian values is to provide social sanction for the continuation of the caste system, and the revolution to change this fact remains as yet incomplete.
Values such as those held in the American mainstream are typically described as “western values” by detractors, at odds with India’s “collectivist culture”, however, I have demonstrated that this “collectivist culture” is hardly preferable to so-called “western individualism”. I describe them instead as “bourgeois values”; suited to capitalist modes of production and distribution.
I find myself in agreement with the Maoists’ analysis that the adoption of bourgeois values would be a progressive step for Indian society, especially if they are implemented by the underclasses. Notably, the Indian capitalist class tends to oppose the adoption of these values. There is no way forward in their implementation if the underclasses, along with segments of the middle class, who correctly see that they have more to lose from their maintenance than their annihilation, will not implement them.
This is because Indian society as it is allows for an intense level of segregation and antagonism between its different segments. Dalit-Bahujan poverty is a central advantage of this segregation and antagonism so far as the capitalist class is concerned; it maintains extreme levels of exploitability in the Indian underclass. Caste serves as ideological justification for why the social positions of some are so secure while the bulk of the country lives in such extreme want, and its continued maintenance is a social reaction to the precarity of the middle class in a capitalist society as compared to the relative stability of the caste hierarchy. The observance of caste ritual, therefore, plays a central part in the maintenance of Dalit-Bahujan exploitability, upon which India’s economic growth quite openly rests.
Most crucially for our purposes, among these caste rituals is the compulsion towards heterosexual matrimony upon the completion of study. Caste and heterosexual matrimony in India are inseparable. Caste cannot continue to be without the compulsion towards heterosexual matrimony, and heterosexual matrimony remains in itself a powerful argument for the maintenance of caste. Women, themselves considered to be an economic commodity, can prove a powerful financial incentive in securing the loyalty of social reaction in India and and everywhere. An example of this can be seen in the American alt-right. The “Mens’ Rights Activists” and the “incels”, although arising more or less spontaneously, have found themselves natural allies of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
The LGBT movement in India has aggressively isolated itself from India’s history of radical figures who have challenged the structures of caste and family. It has instead led itself into conservative arguments and alignment with forces of social reaction, against whom these radical figures have invariably found themselves to be in conflict. The arguments have centred on legal reform, though the role of the state in maintaining our oppression is nearly insignificant, and in finding “representation” or social sanction within some Hindu text. But we must support LGBT Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, SCSTOBCs, and Atheists, not because the Vedas tell us to, not because we are moved emotionally by the artistic depictions on the walls of some Hindu temple, but because we must; because our doing so is consistent with our value system, which must be to all of us like a spellbook to a wizard, a lawbook to a judge, or the Bible to a Pastor. We must greet every day and every challenge with our values in our hand, clad, metaphorically, in full combat robes.
ix. If we have not yet reached the limits of what can be accomplished in the electoral political framework, we are bound to soon.
Because our oppression does not come from a mere lack of recognition by the state, our struggle cannot be purely based in its legal frameworks. Since our goal is not to assert LGBT identity but rather to challenge power, particularly that of the caste-matrimonial system, it can be noted that we share a common struggle with many of India’s historical revolutionaries. Though it cannot exactly be said that Periyar or Ambedkar championed homo-, bi-, or transsexuality, it can certainly be said that they challenged the caste-matrimonial system, and in this sense we have more in common with them than with the BJP’s gay supporters and should never hesitate to say and act accordingly. We inherit the historical legacy of anti-caste thinkers and movements, and we reject the legacy of gay reactionaries.
Popular struggle has abolished sati, infant widowhood, and the devdasi system. The Self-Respect movement championed marriages across caste lines based in self-respect and called for the abolition of marriage altogether. Ambedkar burned Manusmriti, from which comes the mandate for heterosexual matrimony upon completion of study, which is more or less still observed among the upper castes today. He documented historical anti-caste struggle, and left us, nigh-miraculously, with a constitution based in the values of individual rights and freedoms. This constitution can be the greatest argument for LGBT rights and freedoms in the country if the state machinery can be effectively reclaimed from the forces of social reaction.
Of course two possibilities present themselves to us; one is that this machinery can be reclaimed and one is that it cannot. The 2019 election represents potentially a major turning point in Indian history. A BJP victory could represent the effective end of the Constitution and of Indian democracy. Whispers abound of a civil war potentiality, but a civil war requires an effective, visionary, armed resistance which I find to be lacking in Indian civil society. A BJP victory is the nightmare scenario; continued accelerated plunder in the best case and a fascist green-light in the worst. In the event of a BJP victory, it is necessary for our organisations and affinity groups to have the capability to weather a fascist dictatorship as well as the reactionary bodies to which the state delegates its social policy. The question becomes, as perhaps it always should have been, how do we ensure that each and every one of us survive?
A Congress victory, on the other hand, presents somewhat more opportunity. Though Congress is our most virulent of foes, their victory will have a comparatively moderating effect on the forces of social reaction. They will take office with more supporters and more detractors than in recent history; a relatively weak Congress government will inherit the havock wrought by the BJP over its term, but its ideological hegemony will be somewhat weakened; it will be understood by the Congress as well as the people that their re-election is no sure matter. We should not expect a miracle. It will still be a government antagonistic to our aims. As a fossilised social structure, it will aim, unsuccessfully, to change the times to suit itself rather than change itself to suit the times. But it will be a party susceptible to public pressure as never before in Indian history. This is especially so the more powerful a civic life we manage to cultivate, and the more effective we are in problematising its mythology.
It will be a brief window of opportunity, however. An opposition requires a positive vision and an excited voter base. If Congress comes to power in 2019 it will be by virtue of not being the BJP?—?a strategy which has not panned out for it in state elections. But the 2024 election may prove that anyone excited by Congress’s vision of openly Brahminical neoliberalism will be moreso by the BJP. Five more years of Congress will lead to a confirmation of the disillusionment that most people have with them. Therefore, we have until 2024 at the latest to present a viable alternative to the Hindu nationalist project. Whether that will be AAP, CPM, BSP, or some other group entirely is a matter on which we must achieve consensus sooner rather than later.
It may do us well to consider which policies we support in the mean time?—?the adoption of a uniform civil code, as championed by some Muslims, would allow for a decreased role of religious conservatives and fascists in family law, and an increased role for the Constitution. The creation and expansion of a social safety net would weaken the reliance of our community on their often-reactionary families, and would do much to weaken the social boycott as a weapon. However, we should not expect any electoral party to truly represent us, because each of them, in their own way, is antithetical towards our long-term goals. Although the goals of the state are deeply sympathetic, the governments have consistently shown to limit its effectiveness, and as I see it, we are unlikely to be able to salvage it in time.
All of this is necessary only for the sake of preventing the establishment of a Hindu rashtra. If we were dealing with normal political parties, I would say to Hell with electoral politics. In normal circumstances, it would be more important to pressure the government than to decide who is to be our opposition. We are not in normal circumstances, and so we must do everything possible to prevent a fascist takeover.
I conclude by saying that electoral politics should not constitute the bulk of our efforts, or else we run the risk of having our struggle co-opted by parties on the parliamentary left. If this happens, our consumers will be pitted against our producers, and the primary antagonism of Indian society will be re-iterated. This will prevent true liberation, as it always has, time and time again, through all of Indian history.
x. Direct action presents us with the opportunity to create alternative social structures which can constitute a genuine resistance.
We should not constrict ourselves to certain tactics, because the caste system does not. The caste-matrimonial system is quite often a life-or-death matter, especially, but not exclusively, for women. Those who resist it in even piecemeal ways often face social boycott or worse. So it is important that our movement have the resources to support those on the front lines. We must make it known to all?—?both the resistance and the social reaction?—?that we will house, protect, feed, and defend, on a moment’s notice if need be, any who resist the patriarchal structures. We should not restrict ourselves to members of the LGBT community but rather we should include those in danger due to the caste-matrimonial system. This means widows, divorcees, those in inter-caste or inter-religious marriages, those in love marriages, those who simply do not want to be married, and more. The caste-matrimonial system is a threat to all, and it is best that as many people as possible be involved in dismantling it.
Although we should prioritise women, we should make no distinction between a member of the LGBT community and any of our comrades, because this system cuts across all layers of society. Our struggle is not based in identity, but in ideology. We should not build an LGBT movement, but a movement against compulsory heterosexual matrimony which understands that this is vital for both LGBT liberation and caste annihilation.
I have stated that it is necessary to build, on our own, the cultural sanction which can support women in resisting the caste-matrimonial system. This we must do by enabling women in establishing financial and psychological independence for themselves. This is of crucial necessity to our movement, and all resources should be redirected immediately in its direction. There is a cultural, psychological component as well as a material, financial component, and it is here that I elaborate on how we can build both.
It is of the utmost importance that we create social spaces of resistance. Cafés, libraries, facebook groups, drop-in spaces, squats, laundromats, social centres, shelters, self-defense classes?—?all the better if they have attics or basements in which to house, arm, and/or protect ourselves.
We can expand these spaces gradually as they exert their influence on the surrounding area. As hubs of cultural production, they can be used to create zones which provide an alternative to the fascist and conservative discourses which dominate Indian civic life. And by the same token we must not let the fascists have a presence at all within these spaces. We have to ban right-wing ideologues and racists from our facebook groups. We have to kick them out of our physical spaces. It’s not because they’re bad people, although many of them are, and it’s not because we dislike them on a personal basis, although many of us do, but the reason why we kick them out is because they conflict with our aims of creating living, vibrant social space. Fascism in India is the ideology of maintaining everything that keeps social space dead and fragmented. And for that reason, they need to feel unwelcome and afraid. Life should be very hard for fascists. At the very least, we can make it incrementally less easy. We can ensure that they will be in for an argument or even a fight if they begin to preach their ideology. We can tear down their extremely poorly guarded advertisements, or cover them with posters and communiqués of our own production
This is not to create “safe spaces” like some kind of university identity club. Every movement needs space and resources, including ours. We need areas where our activities will have social sanction. We need to constantly be in the process of expanding and defending these spaces, first rooms, then buildings, then streets, then blocks, then neighbourhoods, ideologically and if need be physically, from the forces of social reaction, including, if it comes down to it, the state. Only with the fascist disruption eliminated can we begin to form new ideas, new discourses, new understandings, and new forms of struggle. It’s because fascism doesn’t spread from the strength of its ideas, but through spreading terror among vulnerable people. A space that is not fascist-free is a Muslim-free space, a Christian-free space, a Dalit-free space, and, everywhere except in our idiotic, suicidal “movement” spaces, an LGBT-free space. Our aim must be to make all of us less vulnerable and less segregated. This can only be done by ensuring our spaces become and remain fascist-free, and this can happen by creating a value system at such wild odds with those of the fascists that we can’t coexist.
We use these spaces as open centres of learning?—?we will need an intense knowledge of our own values, history, and ideology. This knowledge will not come just from books but from open exchange with each other. I have found late-night confessions from friends and even acquaintances have stricken me much more viscerally than anything written in a book.
Women in particular need to break the great silence around our mandated acquiescence to systems of heterosexual domination. The hopelessness and isolation created by the great silence is the most unnecessary barrier to our liberation. It can be removed in fifteen minutes.
We will need these forms of knowledge as well in order to cure the parts of us which are still enmeshed in reactionary ideology. We have all internalised values of the social systems in which we have grown up. We can leave the country and flee them, but we will encounter further social reaction to internalise in the same manner. The only thing that can truly free us from the parts of ourselves which still believe is collective struggle against reaction?—?not in the dystopian sense in which the term “collective” is so often invoked, but in the sense of understanding ourselves as aspirant free people, the producers together with the consumers in a mutual drive towards self-abolition. There can be no modesty or understatement of it. We demand nothing more and nothing less than mutuality, equality, and full control of the democratic machinery of our society, whether that machinery be the state or something better.
This is the only way to dissolve our learned helplessness, guilt, and sense of obligation towards the systems that have constrained and oppressed us for our entire lives. It is very easy to doubt oneself. It is less so to doubt one’s years of accumulated knowledge, validation, and bonds arisen from struggle rather than blood.
We need to deconstruct the ideologies, the systems, the slogans, the abuse?—?we have to call it abuse, even if it is very common, because if we believe our values to be true, then we believe also that violation of them is an abuse, and so we cannot make excuses for it?—?that we have endured, regardless of if it came from the structure of the state, the temple, the family, the media, or some other social force. Why do we valorise India’s “collectivist culture”? Why is Gandhi on every piece of money? Why is our families’ “honour” more important than our freedom, even sometimes our lives? Direct action means independent thought. It means we ask questions and think for ourselves and realise on our own terms, a little more every day, that we are not free.
We need to entertain ideas like abstention, gap years, and part-time enrolment, so that we have time for movement-building. Education is a great tool of social uplift, and if used properly, it can be a great tool to build effectiveness in social struggle. But at the same time it is a tool of social control; a sort of containment zone for revolutionary struggle.
True, some people are full-time enrolled out of financial necessity. But others are enrolled full-time in order to accommodate the soul-crushing expectations of others, so that their personal development is impeded and they do not develop the sort of revolutionary consciousness against these social customs, which are again rooted basically in Manusmriti, and can grow up unable to resist the pressure against other caste-based customs, like matrimony and child-rearing, so that they can have more and more pure babies who will carry on the caste. Those of us who can afford to dedicate ourselves to cultivating this consciousness in ourselves and in those who cannot should strongly consider doing so.
Those of us who have managed to access and achieve our educations must not be stingy in sharing our knowledge. Every wall of every city and village should be plastered with communiqués, ideology, and analysis. The whole of society are potential allies in this form of uplift, and so our knowledge must be shared with the whole of society.
The importance of international solidarity should not be understated either. The Hindutva ideologues have never hesitated in spreading their abominable ideology across the entire globe, and neither should we.
It is important also that men not view their contributions to this struggle as an act of altruism towards women. The acts must be taken out of tactical necessity, in the acknowledgement that we struggle against systems of oppression that are held in common. The same goes of the upper castes and classes; who must fight not to free the lower castes and the underclass but because freeing themselves can only be accomplished by freeing each other. Our international solidarians must fight not because because they want to help us, but because the economic dominance of their countries’ capitalist classes over them is reliant on our capitalist classes’ dominance of us?—?and because the “national bourgeoisie” is increasingly mythical anyway, especially in India; the capitalist class does not know borders in the same way we do.
xi. This is the start of a conversation rather than a complete plan of action.
I have not endeavoured to present the full range of tactics that may be utilised by the social movement I describe. I have described it as necessarily nebulous and quite possibly leaderless. This lends itself to a high degree of unpredictability. But of utmost priority to any social movement is to gain space and infrastructure and collect, and widely disperse, information. It is necessary that we begin these initiatives sooner rather than later; as an ideological movement, we have the potential to be a crucial part of the ongoing anti-fascist struggle, and to survive the same, but we must begin now rather than suspending the same conservative arguments in an apolitical limbo. Through creating and expanding fascist-free zones, we begin a mass movement which can oppose the politics of the RSSBJP and prevent, or mitigate the effects of, a fascist takeover.
Those of us who are uneducated on anti-caste struggle must learn quickly. To that end, I have provided a woefully incomplete bibliography for further reading. All copyrighted material linked to therein has, to my knowledge, been released to the public domain by or with the permission of the rights-holder. It should not be regarded as complete. The literature on the topic is vast, and I myself am by no means an authority in this struggle.
By foregrounding a constitutional framework, we are allying ourselves with a societal anchor. This is of strategic necessity. It is not an end in and of itself. The constitutional framework has shown itself to be very slow and of dubious effectiveness in affecting social change. Ambedkar himself wanted to burn the Constitution because it became a tool of the Congress. It may fall to us to continue his praxis as per his wishes, but we cannot do so in the current circumstances, because our movement is yet immature. Although the India it sought to create remains yet unfounded, the constitution for now remains a bulwark between us and uncontested fascist rule. A principled opposition to dams does not mean we immediately blow up all dams without precautionary measures. Similarly, we defend the Constitution until we have a superior means of achieving its aims, to which we are sympathetic.
In the meantime, we will continue our existence, as we always have in every country, in an ever-expanding network of reclaimed cultural space. In so doing, we build the power to create greater and greater rupture and revolt in the social fabric. It is through these ruptures that we can create the necessary social change.
¹ In the American context, there does exist a force of principled opposition to womens’ freedom, and in particular to inter-racial marriage. This motivates much far-right violence. But the important thing is that this far-right violence seeks to re-establish societal norms which rely on the formal, de jure subjugation of women; it does not aim to preserve society as it currently exists but rather to radically change it.
Annihilation of Caste – Should be considered required reading not just in India but everywhere. One of the most important speeches ever written on political philosophy.
Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis, and Development – A detailed explanation of the oppression of women as the constitutive pillar of the caste system. Read this in order to understand the relationship between the two in greater detail.
What Congress and Gandhi have Done to the Untouchables – Required reading for any intelligent discussion whatsoever of the legacy of Gandhi and the Congress.
Caste in Indian History – A short read which provides crucial insight into some of the less-understood aspects of the caste system.
Why Does He Do That? – Written on the subject of child abuse for an American audience, a comparative study between it and the Indian experience could be an essay, or perhaps a book, all on its own. Nonetheless, it is the best text I know of for problematising child abuse in any context.
Some Reflections on Separatism and Power – An essay written in the 1980s regarding lesbian separatism in the United Staes, I include it here less for its relevance to lesbian history than for its dissection of the mechanisms of male power in a liberal bourgeois society. It should be understood that lesbian separatism in the United States was not an identity-based movement but that it was rather rooted in the intentional choice of women to combat male power over themselves.
Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence – Another very important text to me, which comes from a scarcely-repentant focus on the American Lesbian Feminist movement
We Are An Image From The Future – This book is a collection of writings on a series of riots which took place in Greece over December 2008. (It should be noted that in Greece, the term “riot” refers to a protest with property destruction, rather than a pogrom consisting of violence targeted at communities.) In time I intend to write in greater detail on the influence of these riots in Greek society and the incredibly positive influence they had. For now, though, this collection contains much insight into anarchist methods of organising.
The Unquiet Dead – It is tremendously important to understand the rise of fascism in Europe, because the RSSBJP is inseparable from the European fascist organisations which have inspired and materially supported it. To that end, the author of this text has done the world a great service in documenting, in meticulous detail, the rise of fascism, and the anarchist responses thereto, in several countries and social settings.
Anarchists’ Self-organised Social Movement in Athens, during the Financial/ Social Crisis – A valuable look into one particular squat in Athens. While I intend to go into more detail regarding what to do with reclaimed social space in a future essay, I am aware I have laid out very little detail here, and so texts like this one and Image From The Future are provided in a sincere attempt to bridge this shortcoming.
There are other texts which I cannot link to here, because within my own records they are not properly attributed. I encourage especially, however, for the reader to do independent research on the Self-Respect Movement, which challenged the caste-matrimonial system with incredible specificity, as well as on the links between the RSS and European fascist leaders.
by Vivyan Sarlas
Source – Medium