The fear of fundamentalisms

Open Democracy has set up a blog for women’s voices to be represented at the G8 summit, called ‘Open Summit: Women talk to the G8‘. They invited contributions (and are continuing to do so, for those who want to share); this was mine, cross-posted here.

Image courtesy Screen Sifar.

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My day (and sometimes night) job is working with police officers in India on issues of violence against women and children; I coordinate a UNICEF partnership with the Karnataka State Police. One of the most critical aspects of this work is, as Anindita so succinctly described elsewhere on this blog, analysing the impact of our socially entrenched gender-based norms. The lack of value for our girl children – and if they’re lucky, for the women they grow up to be – has meant that we have lost, in our female population, the size of a small to middling European country.

But this post is not about genderocide. It is about that and more. It is about asking our governments – particularly the all powerful G8 – that in this context of ‘terrorism’, of an almost universal culture of production and consumption around ‘fear’ and ‘mistrust’, they analyse honestly and courageously their own contributions to a growing set of fundamentalisms: economic, religious, cultural, social and sexual. Women (and children) are often hit hardest by these fundamentalisms.

Identities are complex; we acknowledge that readily but seem willing to sacrifice that complexity for simplified categorisations and easy classification. More than ever, our language of ‘us’ and ‘them’ divides us over and over again, in the conversations we have, the advertisements we watch, the TV series we devour. And our politicians, our priests, our ulemas, our leaders – those who claim to represent us in all our complexity – speak the language of divisions, of fissures, best of all.

A young Muslim friend of mine lives in Gujarat, India. She explores, every day, what it means to be a woman, a Muslim, a young person, an artist, in the maelstrom of fundamentalism that is the Gujarat of today. She struggles with what it means to be a citizen: either of this country or of the globalised world. What does citizenship mean if you live constantly in the shadow of fear? Not just the fear of physical abuse, but worse still, the violence attached to labels? For her, wearing the hijaab is both an act of courage and an unintended performance: she is just never quite sure of her audience or its response.

There is complexity in hate-mongering too. In India, as possibly elsewhere, it seems as though the language of ‘empowerment’ for women has been claimed and reconstructed to mean ‘power’ rather than ‘dignity’ or ‘equality’ or ‘pluralism’. Not all our women politicians are feminist, and not all our fundamentalists are male.

These are not only issues of government. But they are issues for governments; our states are contributing, in no small measure, to these voices of fundamentalisms, of alienation. And worse still: sometimes it is they who create the vocabulary.

6 thoughts on “The fear of fundamentalisms”

  1. Dear Alo,
    thanks for writing this.
    I have’nt yet fully analysed the imapct that being in Gujarat for the past two years has had on me.
    Thats a walk down the lane of another angst filled memory lane that I need to take one of these days.
    Here’s to survival, and to all the women who survived the violence(s) of 2002.
    If democracy is being talked about then ,in every way that means addressing their survival, and sustenance.

  2. “violence attached to labels” – liked that phrase. When someone says whats Indian culture, tolerance and coexistence would describe that the best. To some thats a synonym for cowardice. Take it or leave it, but that virtue of our society has kept it together despite the humongous disparities and diversity.

    Non inclusive growth, and populism+capitalism based democracy (instead of common sense and collective wisdom based) could eat into that virtue and I am only praying that doesn’t happen before our economic and social divides wither away.

  3. Hi Silkboard: Couldn’t agree with you more, though I would go a step beyond ‘tolerance’ – since sometimes I feel that word smacks of patronising smugness! – to say that the sub-continent has always had an extraordinary culture of pluralism and syncretic traditions.

    Even today, across so many parts of India, people of different faiths and cultures live together in breath-takingly generous ways. Unfortunately, it feels as though the more more privileged we get, the less generous we become. As you said, the less inclusive.

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