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The Privileges Of Being A Hindu, Upper Caste And Elite Class, Male In India

By Advocate Dr Shalu Nigam

10 February, 2016

When Peggy McIntosh[1] referred to the term `White Male Privilege’ she describes conditions that systematically `overempower certain groups’ and `confers dominance, gives permission to control, because of one’s race or sex’, in a Western society. These privileges according to her are unjust and unearned. She stated that, "I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group". Similarly, in a conservative, patriarchal, stratified, casteist, hierarchical, unequal modern Indian society, the undeserved `Male Privileges’ besides the unwarranted advantage of being a `Hindu’ hailing from an `Upper Caste’ and `Elite Class’ plays a significant role in defining the social status of a person which accordingly confers him the voice, the dominant position, the decision making authority and the power to exercise control over others. These socially sanctioned prerogatives conferred to a person operate together to legitimize his superior and authoritative position, on the basis of which he may tend to subjugate others including poor, women, minorities and those from lower caste or deprived classes. Also, a particular episode of violence that occurs because of such unbalanced power equation is often seen in its micro context without realizing the undesirable systemic macro-structure in which it happens. McIntosh in her paper argued that in `the same way men are not taught to acknowledge the ways in which they enjoy the benefits of being a male, similarly whites are conferred with privileges that they are taught not to recognize’. Likewise, in the present Indian society, these systematic structured unearned privileges of being a Hindu, a male, hailing from an upper caste and an elite class operate unjustifiably, invisibly and visibly, knowingly or unknowingly, where those privileged are neither taught to recognize the plight of `others’ nor the prerogatives conferred to them. These matrixes of privileges are inter-related, interconnected, intersecting, interlocked and operates together in a manner to reiterates, and strengthens the structures of oppression. Thus, patriarchy, religious hegemony, casteism and wealth inequalities, all operate together to reinforce the culture of domination in an unconscious and invisible manner though the Constitution of India as well as the legal system is premised on the principles of equality, substantive equality and social justice. This essay looks at these systemic oppressions or the set of privileges which are structural, inbuilt, institutional and often remain hidden or unnoticed and unrecognized in social, political or legal debates relating to marginalization of subaltern groups. It is accordingly suggested to recognize, acknowledge and work around these privileges in order to comprehend the unarticulated darkness surrounding it and to gain a holistic perception of the prevalent structural and systemic exploitation with the aim to reconstruct the egalitarian society where social structure is free from conditions that favours a few at the cost of majority of `Others’.

Hierarchies, Inequalities and Hidden Privileges

The systemic structural oppression fuelled by the hegemony of patriarchy, casteism, religion and economic forces are interlocking and intersecting and work together to oppress marginalized people, is not new in a stratified Indian society. Historically, the nation has a record of being ruled by the kings, the nobles and the aristocrats, mostly feudal males[2], who were accorded with authority and power to govern, thus creating two distinct categories of people – the ruler and the ruled, the kings and their subjects or the privileged and the masses. This divide was further augmented by the British rulers who segregated the society not only on the basis of religion as `Hindu oppressors’ and `Muslim outsiders’ but also on the basis of the social status, as elite and the poor, dominant and the underprivileged, landlords or land owners and the landless peasants, the so called civilized, elegant, educated and superior and those who could not fit in the category of the cultured or could not adopt as per Western, imperial, colonial notions. The foreign rulers replaced feudal lords and aristocratic nobles with elite, English speaking, bureaucratic and technocratic establishment and thus played a significant role in making of a dominant, elite, Hindu, upper caste, educated, male dominated, urban society that is different and apart from the rest of rural, illiterate, poor, women, minorities, backward and others thus separating India along many lines and divisions.

Though with expanding education, social mobility could have increased and societal barriers could have been evaded, however, this has not happened because Maculay’s system of education was not designed to create independent thinking adults rather it was intended to create a breed of slaves who could serve their colonial masters. After, India gained independence, this elite dominant group retained its supremacy, while emulating the set of prejudices and chauvinistic attitude as depicted by their foreign masters and followed the ominous colonial agenda by considering itself as a representative of millions of Indians across the country. The liberal western ideology practically could not influence the working of successive governments which came to power in independent India and alienated the masses further deepening the already entrenched inequalities while excluding millions who were further caught in a vicious circle of dealing with hunger, poverty or survival on day to day basis and failed to participate in process of governance or fulfill aspirations for social mobility.

In the modern, cosmopolitan India, inequalities, discrimination and hierarchies continue to operate together in a fragmented, stratified, multi-layered society to the benefit of particular groups who acquire unseen and unyielding power over the vulnerable `others’. Often, these systemic structural exploitations like patriarchy, caste apartheid, religious hegemony, capitalism and class based inequities operate in synchronization with each other through intersecting and interlocking mechanism to create an oppressive, exploitative social institutions and structures which marginalize and subjugate those who do not fit within this tyrannical system. Thus, casteism thrives on the pillars of patriarchy and religious hegemony and it is fuelled by the capitalism which propagates economic inequities in order to pushes its exploitative agenda. Similarly, patriarchy or capitalistic patriarchy in the modern world operates because of exploitative culture propagated by hegemonic casteist, religious and economic forces.

In order to maintain status quo and superiority of this exploitative system, violence is often used as a tool to oppress those dare to raise their voice besides instilling fear among those at receiving end. The culture, the media, the propaganda, the folklores, the rituals, the practices, the daily life style, the history, the language, the ideologies, all are manipulated to reinforce and reiterate the anarchy of these oppressive, exploitative paradigm in timeless and borderless manner making it an ubiquitous phenomenon. The Hindu, elite, upper caste and male dominant oppressive cultural codes and norms like dowry, son preference, lavish weddings, all are silently universalized and normalized and spread like evil monster adversely affecting even those communities who were earlier not practicing these. Thus, misogyny shows it virulent forms in many oppressive practices like female foeticide, honour killing, child marriage, rape, sexual harassments, assaults, coercion, beatings, bodily harm, murders before or after birth and strictures issued to control sexuality and reproduction among women to maintain social order. Often these forms of oppression are inflicted by the families, the communities and the state. Material deprivation and denial over use of economic and the political resources are the techniques that are being deployed to assert control and exclude women[3]. Even in situations of conflict, war or ideological battle, women’s bodies are used as systemic tool to intimidate the weak, establish superiority and assert power and domination[4]. State sanctioned violence to crush the spirit of insurgence. Often lower caste women are being raped by upper caste men, Muslim women are raped by Hindu men, tribal women are raped by non tribals to assert domination over the particular community. Torture and abuse of women in naxalite areas, sexual abuse and humiliation of women[5] while using apparatus of coercion or use of third degree torture techniques in prisons over vulnerable inmates[6], all happened on daily basis to assert dominance of one community over the other. And these violations are not only restricted along with these lines of social division but also reveal their dark nature when the state and business ally together to inflict injury to` others’ in order to grab control over natural resources. The business and the corporate are allowed to flourish in the manner while neglecting rights of masses as evident in the Bhopal Gas tragedy[7], struggles to protect Narmada and Niyamgiri or at various other places. Hence, all these situations taken together reflect the manner in which state sanctioned brutalities, religious sanctioned hostilities, culturally sanctioned viciousness, economically sanctioned vulnerabilities, politically sanctioned denials, intellectual exclusion, social alienation, emotional invalidation and physically sanctioned cruelties or humiliations operate collectively to establish superiority of those in power over those who are the vulnerable, the `others’ and the weak.

However, besides using the divisive tools of violence, inducing fear, instilling discrimination, perpetuating inequalities and hierarchies, this exploitative system also uses certain hidden weapons like granting privileges or unearned advantages to those who are the powerful in this oppressive paradigm. These privileges are like a matrix of general hypothetical postulations that confer invisible authority to some while denying these to others. According to McIntosh, “privileges entails something beyond a favoured state which is conferred by birth or luck” and may include a form of “systematic conditions to overpower certain groups”[8]. Therefore, in a patriarchal Indian society, male members enjoy privileged status within private as well as in public spaces on the basis of their sex. Similarly, in a casteist society, Brahmans are given undue advantages over others by the virtue of their birth in an upper caste family like rich avail special benefits in a capitalistic society on the basis of their ability to pay. Privileges often act to alienate and exclude people who are already on margins. The social system is build upon and works around the imaginary assumptions which govern the dominant cultural forms. McIntosh argued that, “Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress, and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit, in turn, upon people of color”. Similarly, in a stratified Indian society, being a Hindu, upper caste, elite class, male entails that one is granted with protection from hostility, violence or alienation. Also it arm them systemic dominance and immunity because of their background which `other’ members of community are deprived of as these `others’ feel `unconfident, uncomfortable, isolated and alienated’ within the oppressive system.

These hidden privileges or unearned advantages are the inherent benefits that a person gains from the systemic and structural biases that empower him and put others in an intrinsic unfavorable position. Often, these privileges operate in a subtle and hidden manner as compared to violent oppression, exploitation and discrimination. These prerogatives or rewards of being born in a particular community grant certain people social, economic and political advantages or entitlements and often operate institutionally in embedded and invisible forms. W.E. B. Du Bois in his seminal work `The Soul of Black Folk’ examined the consequences of racism and discrimination and argued that these lead to separate spheres of life, physical abuse, paternalism and economic disenfranchisement besides certain less visible consequences yet equally detrimental like angst, conflicted identity, self hate, self doubt, a lack of industriousness and self reliance. He wrote that the `psychological wages’ of being white enable poor white to feel superior as compared to poor black. Likewise, in an Indian society, the `psychological wages’ of being born as a rich, Hindu, upper caste, male entitles one to feel superior and thus at an advantageous position.

Legal scholar Ansley[9] while elucidating on the concept of white supremacy explained that, “By "white supremacy" I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings”. She further illustrated that “The class domination model has a "political face" in addition to its economic one. Its political aspect points out that white supremacy not only allow super-exploitation of blacks, but also blocks potential class-based action by splitting the working class. It is axiomatic that exploited classes divided against each other have less power compared to the relatively united exploiting classes. The constant reminder to whites that others are willing to work for less (because they are forced) makes minority workers into a helpful instrument of discipline to be used against their relatively privileged white counterparts”[10]. Similarly, in Indian situation, there exists a social, economic, political and cultural system that allows control of this privileged group over power and material resources as well as authority to determine ideologies that split exploited classes and thus operate to invisibly benefit those in command.

These systematic oblivious advantages often are unspoken of and operate in a vicious cycle where group members deny existence of the same and may work consciously or unconsciously to protect these special hidden `unearned privileges’ and unjustified advantages. Undue advantages to a particular segment of the society though are unjustified and unreasonable yet these become the part of collective psyche and are inherently internalized by both the parties – those who enjoy the benefits of the privileged position and those who do not. Thus, for an example, when women’s movement in India demanded reservation for seats in the parliament, most of the male legislators deployed clever tactics to oppose this claim. Also, the Supreme Court of India, dominated by all male judges, while adjudicating about the issue of appointment of judges failed to see that only a few women are being given the opportunity to be appointed as judges[11]. These are the clear example of the manner in which privileges operate in public spaces to protect the group from sharing its benefits with others. Thus, many of those who are powerful and privileged occupy the major positions as the policy makers and the implementers and therefore are concerned about protecting their own prerogatives rather than being anxious about the issues relating to `others’ or the masses. Similarly, in private sphere too, strict endogamy system is maintained while arranging marriages in order to avoid sharing prerogatives with others.

Privileges, Benefits and Entitlements

The benefits available to privileged include special concessions in terms of tools, significant positions, networks, relationships, opportunities, decision making powers, control over social, economic and political resources, control over determining, defining and shaping ideologies, policies, procedures and principles besides various other provisions of which members of other communities are denied and deprived of. In the words of McIntosh, “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks”[12]. McIntosh argued that systemic privilege entails dominance, confers power, grants license and permission to control though it may not add moral strength, traits or qualities of being survivors which the `Others’ who are at receiving end possess. While distinguishing between systemically unearned privilege and power with the earned strength she further describes that those who have unearned advantages by being the members of privileged group may appear as “foolish, ridiculous, infantile or dangerous”[13] in contrast to those who are not. In Indian scenario too, a handful enjoy unearned, illegitimate power and undue advantages rather than earned social, moral or legitimate strength possessed by millions others who are struggling to survive on daily basis. When Rudyard Kipling wrote “White Man’s Burden”, though it has been construed differently, however, rhetorically it is satirically interpreted to be opposing imperialism as a noble enterprise to colonize and rule other nations for the benefit of colonial people in terms to achieve Western aspirations and to improve and industrialize countries. Similarly, all such groups which are in position of power often see themselves as being superior while consider `Others’ as inferiors and in order to dominate and uphold their power do everything possible to negate and debase existence of others.

Privileges therefore entail much more deeper meaning than the individual act of cruelty, selfishness, atrocity or an episode of violence against the marginal communities. It is also a larger term which expands beyond the scope of discrimination and entails micro-aggression, insults, humiliations, invalidation or negation of individuality on day to day basis. This is because privileges are invisible and confers unseen power to certain groups just because they are the members of those communities. McIntosh illustrates that “disapproving of the system won’t be enough to change them. I was taught to think that racism could end if white individuals change their attitudes; many men think that sexism can be ended by individual changes in their daily behavior toward women. But a man’s sex provides an advantage for him whether or not he approves of the way dominance has been conferred on his group”. She explains that this is because the system of privilege is nurtured by “the myth of meritocracy and by the myth that democratic choices are available to all”. Thus in a country like India, where privileges operate in a ubiquitous but indiscernible manner, a section of society always is in a position to enjoy unseen unjust benefits in spite of existence of constitutional provision of equality which apparently and theoretically seems to have done away with discrimination on the grounds of sex, caste, class, religion or other situations[14]. However, whenever an episode of violence took place, it is seen in its micro-context without recognizing the role of systemic discriminatory structure in which it took place. Therefore, the Nirbhaya rape incident, hanging of two dalit girls or Rohit Vemula’s suicide, both are seen as episodic incidents rather than contextualizing these issues in the larger social context where patriarchy, fundamentalism, caste based discrimination, all intersect and correlate to provide fertile ground to suppress and subjugate those who are weak and vulnerable.

Often, these layers of denials are invisible in a systemic and ordered oppressive society in the manner of its structures and institutional arrangements. This is evident in the form of male member being given superior power within families as the head in a patriarchal society. In the public institutions like judiciary or Parliament, it is men who occupy almost all the top positions, in public places men control resources, make decisions and define or shape ideologies. Likewise, in a capitalistic economy it is the male, able bodied worker within a particular age group who is considered as a provider of resources and fits within the category of `worker’ therefore enjoys a privilege in terms of getting preference in employment. Also, in a geographical territory dominated by the Hindus, those professing this religion have been trying to maintain their hegemony using different tools to assert their superiority over those practicing other faiths and beliefs. Therefore, being born as a male in a Hindu upper caste family, a person may enjoy privilege like an easier access to temples and shrines which a Hindu upper caste female[15] or a Dalit male may not get as evident in the recent incidents. Rather, the concept of purity and pollution is utilized ingeniously to deprive women and dalits the access to public places. Thus those in power deployed clever strategies to deny and negate the existence of those who are not the part of it. Frequently, these prerogatives are imbibed within the society through the institutions like family, schools, workplaces, media, movies etc. through emphasizing pride and supremacy in being male, rich, hailing from upper caste or being a member of religious majority while considering others as inferior and therefore may be a target of humiliation or abuse. Hence, the elite dominant Indian class never bothers to address deeply entrenched socio-economic inequalities thus issues like poverty, hunger, malnutrition, farmers suicide, gender justice, caste atrocities, worker’s rights, dignity of labour, right to live with human dignity all are neglected by those in power.

Deeply internalized regressive hierarchical practices operate to determine and shape not only day to day practices and behavior but also this is evident in institutional practices, norms and attitudes. Therefore, when the accused in the Bhanwari Devi’s gang rape matter were acquitted because they were upper caste people who could not rape lower caste women is a live example of the manner in which privileges guide the mindset, attitude and dominate the decision making ability. Similarly, in the Mathura rape case the court acquitted the police men for raping a tribal girl Mathura on the pretext that the girl was habitual and she did not protested or in Rameeza Bee’s Rape case or more recently when a khap panchayat penalized two sisters to be raped and paraded naked because their brother eloped with a upper caste girl[16] reflects not only patriarchal biases but also the manner in which privileges operated deep down in the society stratified on the basis of sex, caste, class or religion. The privileges in fact act in an obnoxious manner where in the guise of modernity and secularism what is propagated is discriminatory humiliating practices for example those hired as maids or drivers are not respected or treated well in a society because they to the category of `others’[17].

Unearned and Undue Advantages of Being a Male in a Patriarchal Society

In a patriarchal society like India, men are positioned as superior beings. The celebrations on the birth of a son is a lively example of the manner in which male privilege operates whereas girl child is being killed before or after birth, rejected or abandoned thus resulting in a skewed sex ratio. Men enjoy undue advantages within the domain of household as being served best food, health, education and other such resources of which women are deprived of and also men enjoy more freedom and liberty as compared to women in the terms of formulating networks and relationships or even mobility. Restrictions are being placed on women, the sexuality and reproductive rights are controlled by the families, the communities and the socio-political institutions including the courts and the legislature. Paternalistic approach is used to confine women. The songs, the advertisements, the messages conveyed through media, business group, religious leaders, political personalities, all deploy the ideology of commodifying, objectifying and controlling women. Virginity and chastity of a woman is associated with her moral character. At the workplace, men enjoy privileges of accessing the opportunity to earn and are entitled to higher wages in comparison to women workers for similar work. Property share or family resources are often allowed to be carried forward through male lineage in spite of the fact that laws have been amended to ensure rights of daughters over family property as through Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005.

Often, these privileges exist not only within private domains of families but also in larger social arena and also the state is implicated in such behavior when it upholds male prerogative by passing lesser sentences in cases of crime against women or favouring the dominant notions while deciding civil cases. From work place to place of worship the privileges work in the hegemonic mischievous style in a structure that is against women as happens in TERI’s sexual harassment case[18] or in the matter where the law intern was harassed by the judge also reflect on biases and privileges that operate to undermine women. Within the free trade market economy, women are hardly treated as an agent with capabilities to make choices or negotiate their rightful entitlements either as a worker, a service provider or as a consumer. The cultural system that predominates in the society is marked by the emphasis on competition, objectivity and merit all of which are masculine traits. The manly behavior and attitude which emphasize on aggression, violence and ambition is prized over feminine values of intuition, feeling and subjectivity in general thus granting clear undue advantage to men. As Anne Jardim while commenting on glass ceiling in business because of which women are denied top positions commented, “The ceiling isn’t glass. It’s a very dense layer of men”[19]. Similarly, in Indian situation it may be said that it is a dense layer of men and masculinity which prevent women to be taken seriously in the public domain or at workplace. Often, women’s role as an intellectual contributor, as an artist or as a professional is negated. Frequently exploitative practices and thought processes are deployed deliberately, and at times, unintentionally to silence women’s voices, negate women’s subjectivities and sufferings and suppress women’s struggles. The laws, the constitutional provisions, policies, guidelines all are made and implemented in manner to deprive women of their rightful dues. Thus, while amending the law on the recommendations of Justice Verma committee constituted after Nirbhaya rape case, attempts are made to deprive women of their legitimate claims by not recognizing marital rape as crime[20]. Also the manner in which laws are implemented in the court rooms or outside clearly shows the manner in which legal rights are violated. Gender dynamics operate to see women as a lesser citizen, be a court room or a police station, university or a workplace, private or a public domain women’s existence is devalued[21].

Thus, when a woman is raped, these influential privileged people blame her for provoking and the solution they could point out therefore lies only in encaging women. In the name of safety, what is curtailed is women’s liberty by those who occupy privileged positions in the prevalent oppressive system. The religious and the political institutions attempt to push the ideology of control to dominate women’s bodies, their reproductive capacities, their daily life style, their sexuality, decision to marry, age at which they should marry, whom to marry, number of children they produce, the way they carry themselves, the manner to dress, so on and so forth using violence, deprivation, abuse, fear and other tools. The women who comply with such norms are glorified and awarded and those who rebel or fail to fit in the system are out casted. Moral policing to protect and promote ideology that is anti-people and anti-women is being promoted rather than social auditing to create gender just, poverty less, disease free and hunger free healthy society or swaraj or self governance based on the principles of equality, transparency and people’s participation. Male domination or patriarchy is preserved not only in the domestic sphere but also in public domain using inevitable rationalizations ranging from biological and psychological to social and evolutionary reasons. Justifications like lack of experience to religious rituals, traditional and conservative notion all are deployed to deny women their rightful dues. Mcintosh elaborates, “Virtually all men deny that male overeward alone can explain men’s centrality in all the inner sanctums of our most powerful institutions. Moreover, those few who will acknowledge that male privilege has over-empowered them usually end up doubting that we could dismantle this privilege systems. They may say that will work to improve the women’s status, in society or in the university, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s”[22]. Hence, in a country like India, refuting women’s claims to share power in panchayats[23] to Parliament all are justified to protect male prerogative.

The capitalist patriarchy further exploits women. Women employed on contractual basis in factories and industries are being exploited as they are being paid less wages and are compelled to work beyond prescribed hours in unhealthy hazardous work conditions and are prone to sexual harassment and abuse. Women employed in garment industries, in SEZs as unorganized labourers are often compelled to work overtime with limited wages and are deprived of protections available in terms of law or being a member of a trade union. Porn industry, cosmetic industry, marriage market, surrogacy trade and all similar business ventures manufacture oppression by profiting from women’s bodies. Trafficking, sexual or economic enslavement, selling of women and girls, all are techniques used to affirm male power and legitimacy. Women farmers and agricultural labourers suffer more disadvantages as compared to men in terms of availability of resources or absence of social security measures and so do tribal women are being harassed by the virtue of their birth and are deprived of advantages as their male counterpart. The privileges of being a male therefore operate in a tyrannical manner to subjugate and oppress women, their voices, their opinions, their subjectivities and their sufferings even if claims are made of attaining women’s equality and empowerment.

The Hinduization and the Majority Factor

Hinduism as being practiced over past few thousand years is different from the one that has been evolved later as the idea propagated by the Hindutava forces. While the former respects women and values the natural resources, the later do not. The modern Hinduism that has been designed a few thousand years back is more masculine, divisive, aggressive, violent and the one that is based on the principles of discrimination, division, fragmentation and institutionalization of hierarchies. Premised on the colonial ideology of divide and rule, it sees India as a Hindu nation and called it as Hindustan thus asserting its religious identity though the constitution visualizes India as a secular nation. Hindu community is therefore seen as a majority community that asserts it numerical superiority and thus those proclaiming themselves as the keepers of Hindu religion assert dominance through complex system of beliefs, behavior, practices, use of language and policies. The disruptive ideology is based on the concept of Hindu rashtra, jati and sanskriti, (Nation, caste, culture and civilization) fosters hostility while alienating and excluding many. Unscrupulous exploitation of religious sentiments to sow the seeds of hatred for the vested political interest is the main interest to promote communal based sectarian division. The ideology of communalism and fundamentalism has been advanced in the modern secular country to create a heterogeneous nation not on the basis of true religious spirit of harmony but on the basis of detestation and violence against `others’. The ideology and politics of Hindutava reproduces hierarchies and breed inequality where women are treated as slaves besides it considers caste as a basis of categorizing sects of Hindus. The reign is sanctioned to the upper caste Hindu male who is considered as superior by the virtue of his birth as a Brahmin.

The religion, as pushed today, thus accords certain special privileges to a Hindu, Brahmin male. A Hindu male is a preferred progeny and the society in the zeal of son preference allows families to kill daughters. Female foeticide, female infanticide and sex selection technologies are being used to favour the birth of the male child. The religious prerogatives are vested in a male as a carrier of family lineage besides holding him as a superior being who is ultimately responsible for salvation after death. The religion not only denies entry of women in temples and places of worship but also vest power in male priests and pujaris while maintaining the belief of purity and pollution. Female sadhvis are denied of many of the powers male sadhus are vested with and are merely seen as agents of patriarchy propagating values to relegate and subjugate the women rather than to work for women liberation. Women are considered as impure and unclean, more specifically the women in the fertile age group who should be seen as biologically superior because of their natural power to beget children are specifically demeaned and devalued as impure and unclean. Fertility is celebrated only when a woman bears sons and sacrifice girl child, the species of her own group, to prove her allegiance to the patriarchal religious forces. As a mother of sons, she is further forced to reiterate these conservative traditional rituals and practices as an agent of patriarchy which may include inflicting violence on her own daughters or daughter in laws. The patriarchy thus denies women not only their dignified human existence but also further subjugates and downgrades them to the extent of harming the species of their own kind. Khap panchayats, consisting or elderly males, dictating unreasonably to push its unjustified norms are several of the examples of manner in which local culture, religious practices and traditions operate to deny human existence to those who are not powerful.

The religious supremacy is weaved to create divide on the basis of caste thus putting Brahmin on the higher pedestal and Shudra at the lowest rung of the ladder. A man or a woman from the lower caste is thus mistreated, humiliated and subjected to violence besides s/he is compelled to face the cultural, moral and the social brutalities, inequalities and discriminations. Banning entry into places of worship to denial of taking water from the village pond, beating furiously over interacting with upper caste girls to denial of admission into educational institutions and other opportunities are all examples of divisive ideologies. The prerogative of religion further discriminates against men and women from religion other than that in majority in a given territorial realm. The violence resulted from banning beef to worshipping cows rather than respecting human beings, Muzzafar Nagar riots or Hashimpura Massacre, Dadri incident to killing of Prof Kalburgi, Mr Dhabolakar and Govind Panesera, Gujarat riots to Babri Masjid Demolition, inculcating hatred against neighbour countries on the grounds of religion to casting individuals practicing faith different than those of Hindus as terrorists, all are the ways in which religious supremacy is asserted by the fascist forces while reiterating communal rifts and striving to create hegemony of the religion.

Further, the Supreme Court in its recent judgement[24] while pronouncing its verdict regarding the application of Hindu Succession Act raised that, “it was pointed out that in spite of guarantee of Constitution, Muslim women are subjected to discrimination. There is no safeguard against arbitrary divorce and second marriage by her husband during currency of first marriage resulting in denial of security and dignity to her”. The court while quoting the decision in Javed v State of Haryana, argued that “a Bench of three judges observed that practices of polygamy is injurious to public morals and can be superseded by the state just as practice of sati”, and therefore suggested for filing a PIL on such issue overlooking the fact that Hindu law or any other personal law has its own biases and none of the personal laws grant high status to women. Rather, adultery, bigamy, dowry, violence against women are the common phenomenon and the Hindu law does not provide solution to the same, apart the Hindu law celebrates and allow for lavish wedding celebrations, dowry and in fact does not protect women at the time of divorce which Muslim law does[25]. Therefore, while pointing out the issues in Muslim Personal law relating to divorce, the court failed to overlook the problems that exist within the Hindu Personal laws and also could not realize the fact that merely amending the law applicable to one religion is not going to help unless the patriarchal, biased mindset it changed.

The Caste Domination: Asserting Supremacy of Brahamanism

The manner in which Hinduism is twisted, tweaked and mis-operated has created an institutional bias and segmented the society into various factions based on caste based divisions. The dented notions of morality, purity, pollution, hierarchical inequities all are damaging the culture and fabric of the country. Casteism is a doctrine that reiterates dominance and superiority of one caste over the other – Brahmins over Dalits, upper caste over lower caste and it extends beyond when the dominance is asserted by non tribals over tribals. Caste identities are reproduced and recreated within the social system and are defined by the birth of a person in a particular community. Such caste based biases breeds arrogance and hatred while fragmenting the community into groups and sub groups in a manner that mobility from one group to the other becomes extremely difficult even if one attempts to marry a person from a different caste. The recent suicide of Rohit Vemula in the campus of Hyderabad University and the political controversy surrounding it is a recent direct example of such humiliation based on casteist slur[26]. Just as male privilege operates to provide undue advantages to men, similarly, caste privilege works to provide unwarranted gains to those born in upper caste families. Undue hidden advantages on the basis of caste operate to negate the claims of those who hail from lower caste since ages, earlier in the form of untouchability and lately in the form of unjust humiliating treatment being meted to them in variety of ways. Besides caste based violence, atrocities or discrimination, the caste privileges operate silently to disallow dalits to opportunities to study or occupy top positions in employment private sector units. Such unjust approach prevents tribals to participate in events like sports or promote culture that foster local sport, handicraft, skills or similar such vocations that utilize local indigenous practices based on local knowledge.

The Economic and the Class Bias

Earlier with the feudalism, then with the beginning of capitalism, and now with the advent of globalization, neo-liberalization, privatization and corporatization, inequality is deepening in its virulent form. This neo liberal free trade economy is widening the gap between rich and the poor. Those rich are powerful, control the resources and define the mechanism in which the economy operates, on the basis of their capacity to pay. Redistribution of wealth is not seen as a solution to economic problems rather the feudal landlords in the agrarian economy and rich businesses in the neoliberal economy prevented social and economic reforms that could alleviate poverty or reduce inequalities thus liberating billion of people languishing in backwardness. The affirmative land reform, promoting agrarian economy, fostering indigenous people’s right to forests, redistribution of wealth and equal distribution of benefits of growth, all these were never thought of as achievable goals by successive governments rather what has been promoted is vested elite, feudal, corporate interest in accumulating wealth while depriving millions. The battle of Niyamgiri or Narmada Bachao Aandolan therefore reflects the manner in which the state and the corporate join hands against poor and work on anti-people agenda. The decision of court in the matter of Bhopal gas tragedy could not provide justice and various other decisions like that in case of Salman Khan, reveal the manner in which fairness operates within the given system.

The forces of modern education, urbanization or modernization have not defeated inequities rather the forces of capitalism and economic development have restructured and accentuated the social divisions. Thus in the anonymity of a city, which provides an opportunity to weaken the caste hierarchy, the wealth division flourishes to alienate those who are on margins. In fact, the capitalistic system is built on the basis of pre-existing entrenched inequities where discrimination continued in its deeper and darker form. The free market economy allow only those to succeed who already are in advantageous position because of their English speaking abilities and education or wealth to clout with those in power. In a city which perpetuate inequality and lack a sense of egalitarianism those in privileged position enjoy the benefits in terms of access to resources, employment, housing, health care, public services, positive response from law enforcement agencies among other which are defined and shaped on the basis of socio-economic status of a person. Economic entitlements determine relationships and legitimize inequalities.

The ideology of wealth accumulation through unscrupulous means while depriving the needy has been consciously promoted by powerful, in collusion with state, which is benefitted by keeping the masses illiterate and backward in order to gain undue advantages and reap the benefits. The debt driven economy based on material competition, loans, maximum exploitation of natural resources, while oppressing tribals and poor all to generate profit in terms of economic wealth is contributing to deepening inequalities in an already unequal segmented society. The neo-economy model not only further the capitalist patriarchy and feudal model in order to survive but also create a privileged class which is more concerned about self interested, career oriented generation which measures and financial success on the basis of material achievement and for the purpose may indulge in greedy selfish unethical behavior[27]. The privileged are those who are less altruistic and less empathetic. Often, in urban areas, public spaces are created to entertain only rich and elite sections of society. For instance, Malls are considered to be spaces earmarked for rich where poor and homeless are denied entry, also gated housing complexes and flat systems are created which are exclusive urban spaces meant for privileged class people who can afford to pay for luxurious lifestyle. Thus, existence of poor is negated. Development programmes are planned to eradicate poor rather than attacking on poverty. Social security measures and welfare provisions intending to help poor are being rolled back while subsidies are being given to corporate sector. Attempts are being made to grab agricultural land and forest with the aim to profit shareholders in big companies. Thus, the state is colluding with the rich and privileged to deny poor their rightful entitlements over social and economic resources.

Other Forms of Privileges

This concept of privilege also applies to other categories like being a heterosexual, married, able-bodied male in the productive age group which make such person powerful as he is seen as one capable of supporting others within the social system. The person born with disability therefore may be denied employment or other privileges as compared to a person who is not. Similarly, family dynasties operate to ascertain privileges and undue advantages to those who hail from a particular family. This is a common factor evident in most of the fields from politics to business families, from industry like film or media to others where the privileges becomes automatically available by the birth. Similarly, in each state of India, some or the other community consider itself more privileged as compared to others like Marathi Manoos in Maharashtra, Bhadralok in West Bengal, Business communities in Gujarat, and Jaats, Gujjars or Yadavs in other North Indian states, Tam Bram or Tamilian Brahmin elsewhere, so on and so forth assert their domination on the basis of being member of that particular community. This entangling web of unearned advantage of a group results in oppression of others is complex because each form of privilege based on class, caste, sex, religion, family or social background has its own repercussions which may adversely damage the social fabric, yet, when these factors run in parallel, in the institutionalized, systemic and embedded form these are seen as danger to integrity of the society.

Thus in a segregated, fragmented, divided Indian society, privileges exist though theoretically, the number of such people who are privileged are minuscule as compared to millions of those who are on the `other’ side and constitute the marginalized groups. However, there are situations when those who are `the others’ once gain power in a given situation may become part of the privileged group and may therefore act accordingly. Thus, there are a group of women who may choose to exploit and oppress other women because they may enjoy the benefits of patriarchal system. A dalit police constable may act oppressive against women, tribals or poor and a woman given the position of a bureaucrat may eventually end up making a policy unjust and against poor and tribals. Similarly, there may be a poor person who after acquiring wealth may choose to overlook the problems majority in the community face and likewise the reverberations echo in other marginalized communities too. The privileges therefore are internalized and inbuilt into the system and those who join the system acquire the same by the virtue of being a part of it.

Resistance to Privileges

To end this systemic dominance, McIntosh suggested that “individual acts can palliate, but cannot end these problems. To redesign social systems we need to first acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about inequality and inequity incomplete, protecting unearned advantages and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects”. Similarly, considering the Indian situation it may be said that often silence and denials surround the privilege confer dominance to different groups which they seek to protect knowingly or unknowingly. Thus many privileged men argue that system is equally oppressive to them or that affirmative policies or laws in place are misused or abused by women, dalits, tribals and other marginalized sections. Thus debates on equality therefore, at times, ignore the concept of substantive equality or social justice.

Further, the unchecked power or privileges granted to a few, are not helping those who possess these. As there are rich people who are not happy or contended, or men in order to be masculine and patriarchal need to behave aggressively and violently to prove and defend their masculinity. Similarly, the power granted to religion has not helped to achieve the goal of peace, or the concept of purity or pollution as propagated by the casteist society has not helped humanity in any manner. The need therefore is to recognize these systemic structural privileges organized ideologically and materially around religion caste, class, sex and social status. The struggles for resistance need to be accompanied by the recognition of privileges by those who are benefitted by it. However, there are people within both the groups – the privileged and the unprivileged, who are breaking these taboos rather than trying to fit in the given structure. Therefore, the so called feminists, though seen as men hating individuals are actually pointing out to misogynist society while holding patriarchy responsible for abuse, violence against women. Similarly, those fighting against the privileges of caste, class or religion are making attempts to visualize the systemic structures of oppression are vilified and disparaged by those who feel threatened and do not wish to share the power. Yet, the rules of unquestioning conformity to norms are being broken by those who are audacious, insolent and courageous who make responsible choice to cultivate the spirit of order and peace rather than confusion or chaos. As Maya Angelou in her famous work titled `Still I Rise’ wrote,

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

The author currently is practicing as an advocate in Delhi and is also working as an author, researcher and activist. She has written books, articles, notes on issues relating to Gender, Law, Rights and Governance. She may be contacted at shalu_nigam@rediffmail.com


[1] McIntosh Peggy (1986) White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies, Working Paper No.189, Wellesley College, Mass. Center for Research on Women, Presented at Virginia women’s Studies Association Conference, Available at http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED335262.pdf
[2] Though there are a few female icons like Rani Laxmi Bai, Razia Sultan, Rani Durgavati, Rani Padmini among others however, the history as twisted by male rulers is written in a manner to recognize these warrior women as daughters, wives, mothers or sisters rather than an independent being.
[3] Therefore, making an absurd policy that compel women to contest elections only if they have less than two children or have toilets in their home, is evident of policy of exclusion and results in blatant denial of entry of section of women in local politics.
[4] Gujarat riots is an example where Muslim women were raped by Hindu fundamentalists making women’s bodies as a war zone to inflict pain and torture
[5] By Army personnel as in North East or Jammu and Kashmir or rape of tribal women as in Chhattisgarh
[6] The case of Afzal Guru, GN Saibaba and many others are the evidences of the manner in which common people are implicated using custodial torture as a tool.
[7] Decades after the poisonous gas leak, people of Bhopal are still fighting to seek justice while the accused are enjoying immunity and are protected by not only the Indian state but also the US government.
[8] Peggy McIntosh (1990) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Available at http://ted.coe.wayne.edu/ele3600/mcintosh.html
[9] Ansley Frances Lee (1989) Stirring the Ashes: Race, Class and Future of Civil Rights Scholarship, Cornell Law Review, 74, 993 http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3431&context=clr
[10] Ibid p 1026
[11] Nigam Shalu (2015) Hail Patriarchy! Of Supreme Law and Elite Judges, Countercurrents, November 7, http://www.countercurrents.org/nigam071115.htm
[12] Peggy McIntosh (1990) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Available at http://ted.coe.wayne.edu/ele3600/mcintosh.html
[13] McIntosh supra n.1 p. 15
[14] For example calling Differently-abled as Divyang as being pronounced recently by the Prime Minister may not change situation on ground unless the differently-abled group gets equal opportunities in terms of employment, social security measures and other benefits
[15] Sabrimala temple case, Haji Ali Dargah, Shani Mandir and numerous other places of worship deny entry to women in temples and a few of such cases have been filed in the courts within India where women are demanding their right to worship
[16] The Indian Express (2015) Rape Those two Dalit Girls, UP Khap Panchayat Ordered Villagers, August 20, http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/Rape-Those-Two-Dalit-Girls-UP-Khap-Panchayat-Orders-Villagers/2015/08/20/article2984588.ece
[17] Nigam Shalu (2014) Outsourcing Love: Globalization, Care Economy, and its Impact on Social Relations Within Families, Countercurrent September 14 http://www.countercurrents.org/nigam140914.htm
[18] Talukdar Sreemoy (2016) Teri case: Take Gods to the Court, Let our Demigods carry on with Sexual Harassment, F. India January 28 http://www.firstpost.com/india/teri-case-take-gods-to-court-let-our-demigods-carry-on-with-sexual-harassment-2601968.html Also, Roy Sandip (2016) TERI promoting RK Pachauri send a chilling message About Power and Sexual Harassment, The Huffington Post, February 9, http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/02/09/rk-pachauri_n_9191564.html
[19] Henning Margaret and Jardim Anne (1977) The Managerial Women, Doubleday press
[20] Nigam Shalu (2015) The Social and Legal Paradox Relating to Marital Rape in India: Addressing Structural Inequalities, Countercurrents, June 30 http://www.countercurrents.org/nigam030615.htm
[21] Khairlanji massacre to Aruna Shaunbagh’s matter all are reflective of the manner in which crime against women are committed. Also see Datta Saurav (2014) India’s Court Condoned Dalit Atrocities, June 10, Aljazeera http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/06/india-courts-condone-dalit-rape-201461010327959421.html
[22] McIntosh supra n. 1, p.5
[23] Jaising Indira (2015) A Judgement on Democracy that is Frightening in its Implications, The Wire December 11, http://thewire.in/2015/12/11/the-supreme-courts-judgement-is-frightening-in-its-implicatons-17131/
[24] Prakash v Phulavati Civil Appeal No. 7217 of 2013 date of judgement October 16, 2015
[25] Muslim law has a provision for Khula, where wife can also initiate divorce and Meher, an amount to be given to wife by husband on pronouncement of Talaq which Hindu law does not provide for.
[26]Wankhede HS (2016) Caste! you are the monster!, The Roundtable, January 26 http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8454%3Acaste-you-are-the-monster&catid=119%3Afeature&Itemid=132
[27] Sample Ian (2012) Upper Class people are More Likely to Behave Selfishly, studies Suggest, The Guardian February 27 https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/feb/27/upper-class-people-behave-selfishly



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