Excerpts from a talk given by Kamla Bhasin

Excerpts from a talk given by Kamla Bhasin

Kamla Bhasin; Shilpi Das


How Far the Roots of Patriarchy go…!


Excerpts from a talk given by Kamla Bhasin on 2nd January 2016  at Khula Manch, Rashtra Seva Dal Campus, Pune, organised by Abhivyakti. Transcribed by Shilpi Das


…The second objective for which I am here today is to paytributes to Savitribai Phule and to salute her. Savitribhai Phule in such a young age engaged herself in her workand was titanic in stature and importance. We are marchingforward and progressing because we have been trained by her teachings and you are extremely fortunate because you are the residents of her city and you are carrying forward her teachings. She has worked on education. First of all she educated herself and then educated others and what was that education all about? … Nowadays schools and factories are synonymous and what are these schools teaching? What I feel personally is all the flaws present in this world – be it corruption, pollution, dowry, determination of sex of children and various other sins are committed by educated people. If by educating oneself one indulges in sinful activities then education becomes the other name of futility. The education that they talked about is the education that liberates us.Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye (Knowledge liberates). So in the memory of Savitribhai Phule and Jyotiba Phule here I wish to recite a poem I wrote in Hindi, some years ago. This poem defines in a way, what education should be for girls and women. The English translation has been done by me.


A father asks his daughter:

Study? Why should you study?

I have sons aplenty who can study.

Girl, why should you study?


For my dreams to take flight, I must study

Knowledge brings new light, so I must study

For the battles I must fight, I must study

Because I am a girl, I must study.


To fight men’s violence, I must study

To end my silence, I must study

To challenge patriarchy I must study

To demolish all hierarchy, I must study.

Because I am a girl, I must study.


To mould a faith I can trust, I must study

To make laws that are just, I must study

To sweep centuries of dust, I must study

To challenge what I must, I must study

Because I am a girl, I must study.


To know right from wrong, I must study.

To find a voice that is strong, I must study

To write feminist songs I must study

To make a world where girls belong, I must study.

Because I am a girl, I must study.


I had written this for literacy. I had written three slogans for literacy. Literacy means three Rs- Reading, Writing and (A)rithmetic. I wrote that I want to study so that I may study life, I am learning to write so that I may write my own fate, I am learning arithmetic (calculations) so that I may do the proper calculation of the rights I ought to enjoy. The world is always geared up to impose duties, but understanding and enjoying one’s rights is also necessary. …  So friends, I have come here to learn. … I have been asked to say something on Patriarchy and where its roots are located, what is its height, breadth, to what extent it is deeply seated in each and all of us. Today, even after forty years of feminist activism I oftenfeel the presence of latent patriarchy in my heart, in our language, vocabulary, music. No matter how much we try to evacuate patriarchy, its roots are still found in all of us. …


Pitrisatta, patriarchy, pidarshahipitritantra in Bengali is an ancient word. In anthropology this word has been exhaustively used but today its meaning has undergone a change. Today it is no more pitritantra, it is purushtantra, male-domination. It is omnipresent, everyone is eligible to exhibit this power and practise patriarchy. Five boys travelling by bus can practise it or a boy in a lift at Goa can practise it. So pitritantra actually means purushtantra. It is a social system like casteism, racism– a deadly oppressive social system. Alike all other social systems pitrisattahas two important agents:


Firstly, it is a structure which is visible. In most countries, most parliamentarians are male, most corporate leaders are male, and ninety-nine percent religious leaders are male; so, this is a structure. Because we are human beings, mere structure doesnot serve the purpose. Judgemental aptitude is bestowed upon us and it is installed in our respective hard disks and we start following the instructions of the structure; this ideology is being disseminated continuously in a regular manner. … In advertisements and songs: Tumhi meri mandir/ Tumhi meri puja/ Tumhi meri bloody devta ho. You keep on playing this song throughout the day,repeat it so much so that it gets seated deeply in the mind so that one may internalise the status and the position of a man and a woman. This is an invisible practice, an ideology, which, like air affects every one of us and we inhale it and get accustomed to it, with the sense of satisfaction that this is the sole way of survival.


… I am not a feminist but feministlet, – a minor feminist. My booklets likeGender Basics (primarily a book of school standard), are written in simple and lucid language, but they are not available. Gender Basics has been translated into, approximately, twenty-five to thirty languages. The book that I have written on patriarchy has a small terminology. This is absolutely not my concept. My definition of copyright is right to copy because what I believe is that capitalist society by branding books as intellectual property has damaged our society. Which feminist has not heard the name of Savitribhai Phule, who was inspired by Mirabai? It is only when we draw inspiration from all these stalwarts that we form the basic concepts in our minds. So my work is not the work of Kamla Bhasin alone. The definition of Patriarchy that I have written is an amalgamation of what has been propagated by various scholars and it says that Patriarchy is a social system. This does not mean that one’s father or one’s husband is evil by nature, but he himself is a victim of this social system. All of us, irrespective of  gender have fallen sick by drinking the waters of the same well. So it is a social system. In this social system males are regarded as superior. Who has referred to them as superior? They themselves. No one bothers to ask for the proof of this system. There is no proof available. Might is power. …


For example, [Society]locates the dignity and self-respect of women in the vagina. When a woman gets raped, it is said that society has been stigmatised by this incident. Who has placed the dignity of the society in the vagina? We have never placed your society there. On getting raped one’s respect get robbed off. But we have not put our respect and prestige there. Respect is embedded in one’s character, personality and not in one portion of one’s body. We donot lose our respect on getting raped. It is the rapist who loses  self-respect and it is he who should lose his self-esteem, and not the victim. So, patriarchy, by definition regards males as the superior most. According to Patriarchy, males hold control in three aspects – resources—economic, social, and political—in all kinds of resources men have more control.


Secondly, since males can exert more control on resources, the decision-making process lies in their hands.


Thirdly, they influence and control judgemental aptitude, concepts, ideologies the most—this is the most dreadful of all three ways. They construct the religious ideology, economic ideology. It is they who write our Constitution. It is they who determine when we should sleep and wake up, where we should go and where not to go. It is they who have the sole control and influence on ideologies. This is Patriarchy.


Fourthly, unfortunately it is not that Patriarchy is followed and practised only by men but we women also support it wholeheartedly, and it is we who make it more powerful. Women are assigned the duty of injecting patriarchal rules in the minds of children. Therefore, we build with our own hands a society that is hostile to women. It is known that every year about fifty thousand girl children are killed. Who kills them? The family itself. If this is not genocide then what is it? If this is not gynocide then what is it? How many times has this issue been raised and discussed in the Parliament and strikes and movements has been organised and we came across chakka jam? … Only female activists are vocal about this. It seems to me as if only the daughters of Hindustan actively participate in women’s movement. … The issues of Patriarchy, gender have been compartmentalised and reduced to be discussed only in the ladies’ club because Gender and Patriarchy are not men’s cup of tea; only females are the sole proprietors of Gender and Patriarchy. So, Patriarchy is followed by men as well as women. Friends, every tiniest aspect of women’s lives are controlled by Patriarchy. Our reproductive power, what age we should get married, family planning, which contraceptive we should use (contraceptives have to be consumed only by females and its deadly consequence ie cancer is ought to be suffered by us and it is an woman who has to endure bleeding after consuming contraceptive pills), how many children we may have—everything will be determined by the Parliament of our country. It is the Parliament of India and China who determines whether we will have one child or two. The time of begetting a child is also controlled by Patriarchy. Nature has bestowed upon women the reproductive power but women have no control upon her own reproductive power. … Patriarchy needs two types of sexualities. On one hand, it covers the sexuality of one’s wife, daughter and sister by making them put on silk dupatta, and on the other hand it lays bare other ladies. So, Patriarchy needs these two types of sexualities.


… Whenever one is born without taking his or her consent a particular religion is thrust upon the person. All the religions all over the world are patriarchal by nature.


Next is Education. Education was under the grips of religion, and women were strictly debarred from the education system. Two or three years ago I was reading something on education. While reading I came across that at Harvard University admission of female students was introduced two hundred and thirty years later since the commencement of the admission of male students. This has happened at Harvard University and we are all poor fellows compared to them. They are our respected Maai Baap. IfMaai Baap was subjected to such an unfair discrimination and inequality, we can reckon what may happen to its children, the Indians. Education is patriarchal by nature. We have been told that women and Sudras are not eligible to listen to the Vedas and if one hears one will be put to death by pouring hot mercury in his or her ears. So this is the power play of Education. …


Legal institutions share a very close relationship with religions, they are also patriarchal. Economic institutions, political institutions, state organisations– bureaucracy, police, armyare all patriarchal. Media—by men, of men, for men, isalso patriarchal and about ten to twelve years ago I have incorporated NGOs in this list. Most of the NGOs are largely patriarchal, excepting a few. Only few NGOs are women-oriented. So had the roots of Patriarchy been limited within the boundary of family it could have been dealt with. If we assume that families where Savitribhai Phule belonged to where both the husband and wife are partners, we get saved. But once we move out of our respective families, education, religion, panchayats grab our hands. We have no place where we can find solace. Patriarchy possesses a tightly-knit net.


My next point is, in Patriarchy, violence against women is not an accident, it is not by chance, it is structural in nature, and it is systemic. If one wants to uphold Patriarchy, violence is mandatory. If Sudras and Dalits are to be oppressed, without violence the oppressive mechanism will never work out. How can one subject poverty-stricken multitude to oppression without violence? Every unjust system, based on inequality is controlled and regulated by violence. Patriarchy also, is regulated by all kinds of violence; all sorts of violent activities are incurred upon women. UN says among three women every one woman endures violence. …


The Indian Government says that in Hindustanforty percentpatiparameshwars beat their wives but the International Centre for Research on Women says that it is not forty percent butfifty percent to sixty percent patiparameshwars beat their wives, which means in the eyes of the judicial system and not in my eyes, our dharmpatis are criminalsthirty-five percent to forty-five percent is the global figure. So it is not only we are suffering from the malady of patriarchy but people all over the world are suffering from its ill effects.

My next point is, the most dreadful of all: religion and patriarchy. In the ancient religions women were worshipped and nature was worshipped Those religions were not patriarchal in nature. But modern religions which are only four thousand or five thousand years old are all patriarchal—Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity—each one of them. None of these religions is prepared to accept a woman as their leader. A woman can become neither Pope nor Shankaracharya nor Dalai Lama. … The very language of religion is masculine in gender. God is He. If God is He, He is God. If God is male, male is God. Since it is very challenging to challenge and question religion, we conform to it and silently fast on the occasion of karvachaut. We keep mum and ask our brothers to perform the last rites of our parents.


Most of our cultural traditions are patriarchal. We address our husbands as pati, in Bengaliswami, in Oriya swami, in Urdushohar, khamind, in English husband. It is this very word from where animal husbandry is derived. Husband means controller, domesticator. In none of these words there is equivalence. If from early in the morning one utters the word pati several times, that he is our malik, logically in this binary the person on the other end is gulam. My Constitution says that I cannot have a malik but my words, customs, rituals approve it.


During the last rites of my mother, we sisters also went there. Panditjiprohibited us from performing the last rites and I asked him to get away. ThePanditji feeling awkward said, “No Madam. This is not an issue at all. You carry on with your job.” All that he wants is Rupees five hundred and you can make him do anything you want. The only religion they follow is money and he went away silently. My brother was out of station and my cousin brother came to my place and advised that arthi cannot be taken from one’s daughter’s home and his maternal aunt’s body might be taken to his home and her arthi should be taken from there. I told him that since three years she was residing in my home and asked him why he did not come at that time and her to his place. I asserted that I was capable enough to look after her. My community follows that if one drinks a glass of water in one’s daughter’s in-laws’ house one gets eternally damned. She stayed in my place for three years and I was not her first choice.She used to stay at Delhi in my brother’s home. I advised her to stay at my home for I was foresighted enough to know what would happen. Within fifteen days I received a call from my brother telling me that it is not working out. On the sixteenth day I received a call from my mother telling me the same. I asked her to come to my place. So she came to my place, stayed there and expired there. Truly speaking, while the performance of her last rites we faced no problem. I carried her arthi on my own shoulders. One or two persons criticised me but ninety percent applauded me. Why do we blame others? It is we ourselves who do these activities in the name of society, and what composes the society?—you and me constitute society.


So Friends, I believe that a cultural revolution is of utmost importance today. Go on watching the government and the laws. Laws and Bills can neither transform nor bring changes but new vibrant minds can prove to be effective. We need new “dils”and not new “bills”.Patriarchy shares proximity with caste, class and race and all types of religious communities. Caste system cannot work without Patriarchy. If caste system is to be kept alive and active women are to be subjugated…. In today’s world our greatest enemy is Capitalist Patriarchy. Often I feel that had our enemy been just religion we could have eradicated it, gradually it could have been erased away but the emergence of this new religions of Capitalism, Globalisation, Corporatisation, Privatisation. The titanic power that Capitalistic Patriarchy possesses is astonishing. Pornography and Child pornography are both a one billion dollar industry each. Pornography turns a woman to a mere object and a man into a devil. Today cosmeticsis also a one billion dollar industry. By applying Fair and LovelySouth Asians want to turn fairer. Males are also subjectedto ullu banaoing and we are making ourselves fools. Fair and Handsome is nothing but ullu banaoing. If we have a look at the data we will come to know that they are now running a one billion dollar industry by making us ullus. Toys—Barbie dolls for girls and Guns for boys, Superman, Spiderman, Salman-– all are walking in the same direction.The most prominent figure of sports—IPL. Just have a look at the names of those teams—Delhi “Daredevils”, Kochi “Tuskers”. What is the suffix added to Pune?—Warriors. Alas! Look at your own faces Pune “Warriors”. All of them possess violent names. Rajasthan “Royals”, Punjab Kings (bloody) XI– What non-sense?Not even an iota of democracy is present in our hearts, either Raja or Maharaja or violent name—Tuskers. Can you imagine a team calling itself “Tuskers”? How shameless they are!IPL has brought those fair ladies from their respective countries, clothed them in minimum attire just to make them dance at every match. And the other idiots are jumping like monkeys seeing the cheerleaders dancing. Where are we heading towards? In wrestling matches also minimally-attired ladies march before the players with flags in their hands. This is  Modern Culture. This is Modernity. Those of us who were born during the time of Partition never thought that after the introduction of education these things would happen. We never thought that this would be called Enlightenment, this would be called Modern that the elite class would thrust this uponus. We used to think that when people would learn to read and write and television would make its entry in each and every household everything would be set right… It means that Patriarchy cannot be eradicated if this paradigm of Economy exists. Within forty years my hairs turned white in identifying them against whom I must wage war.I cannot understand how much I have purified and how many I have harmed.


Friends what comes next is from where did Patriarchy emerge and why. Few believe that this is natural, biological, something created by God. Patriarchy claims that Adam was created first and from one of his spare ribs Eve was created. Can you imagine? Educated people who have read Science, on Sundays assert that Eve was created from Adam’s spare rib. It is believed that the very day Man was born Patriarchy took birth on that very day. ….  Patriarchy has emerged three to five thousand years ago. How old Patriarchy is can be determined by the evolution of Private Property. If we relate Private Property with Patriarchy we will agree that Patriarchy is a self-constructed malady and if it has been made by us, if we want, if we try, we can terminate it, we are not passive. Patriarchy is more dreadful because caste is also embedded in it. Presence of Patriarchy is mandatory in order to keep casteism active.Our Constitution had intervened here and said that each and every individual must enjoy equality irrespective of Man or Woman, Brahmin or SudraHindu or Musalman.


… If I contemplate deeply and spiritually then Friends, I feel that Patriarchy is harming men, too, spiritually… Let me clarify myself. If Patriarchy stops women, it also stops men. Boys are not allowed to weep. …The poor fellow aged only four is scared of darkness. His father is compelling to go toa dark place but he is reluctant to go and in turn his father stops him, slaps him, reprimanding him that since he is a boy he is not supposed to be scared of darkness. He wants to say, “I do not feel confident”. But he cannot say that. He is subjected to emotional castration. He is unable to feel his own emotions. He wants to be a poet. He wants to be a musician. But his father has a grocery shop and so the father wants his son to sell daal, to run the family business, to act according to his own will. The boy is fourteen years old, well-mannered he is, not at all aggressive in nature, his peers asks him to smoke and he says that he doesnot like to smoke. His friends tease him mock him enquiring if he is a boy or a girl and compel him to smoke. They ask him if he has ever teased a girl and he replies negatively. they mock him again and ask if he is a boy or a girl. He is made to do all sorts of badtameezi. Films are made “badtameez dil badtameez dil maane na maane na”. One must be taken to police station it will take just one minute to teach him a lesson, just one minute. Dabang, Don, Badtameez—glorifying badtameezi,glorifying dabangipaan, glorifying every filthy thing.


What is the result? Patriarchy has given men so manyprivileges, men constitute only fifty percent of humanity but ninety percent are seated in the Parliament, ninety-nine percent are seated as Judges in the Supreme Court, ninety nine percent are seated in some other places of the world and perhaps because of these privileges they are unable to think that they constitute just fifty percent. Hundred percent rapists are men, ninety-nine percent terrorists are men, more thanninety-five percent suicide-bombers are men, criminals are men, drug-addicts are men, drunkards are men— what is this happening? In America every week a boy aged twelve, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen or twenty raise guns in their hands and kill ten to fifteen people. What do you feel that they are like this since their birth? No, the error does not lie in their births. It is the patriarchal factory that transforms them. Think of that man who can rape a woman. A man belonging to one particular religion can rape a woman belonging to some other religion. Think about his psychology, he hates that woman, he hates that religion. In Vietnam War American soldiers desolated their own offspring in the laps of the Vietnamese women, Pakistani soldiers would leave theirprogeny in the laps of the Bangladeshi women…


I believe that dominant aggressive masculinity is the only reason for the problems that persists in the world today. Be it terrorism or war or economic destruction of Mother Nature or communal violence or domestic violence, love of Power is the sole reason behind these. Bush loves his own power, Pati devata loves to exert his own power, Brahmin loves to exert his own power,a strong woman loves to exert power. We can also become masculine, it is not biological. A man can also become feminine; he can become compassionate like Lord Buddha. … This is not biological. It is we who are rendering to it a biological identity. We are teaching men to subjugate women. But today’s women are not learning to be subjugated. So what is happening? In foreign countries fifty percent marriages are turning into divorces. In Hindustan also this percentage will keep on rising… A Malik or a Boss is acceptable in offices but not in home. In home what is desirable is a partner. So today our daughters do not want pati, they do not want malik, what they want is jeevansathi who can cook, who can take care of children. Today you want us to hold a job as well as look after the household. What do you expect? Do you want us to die for you? So we refuse. I have written after this poem after Nirbhaya:


Daughters are becoming airlike

Girls are becoming airlike

They enjoy wandering with undaunted spirit

They disapprove to be stopped with no reason

Girls are becoming like pigeons

They enjoy flying alike pigeon

Girls are becoming like pigeons

They enjoy flying alike pigeon

They refuse their wings to be slashed

And girls are becoming like Sun

They love shining

Girls are becoming like Sun

They love shining

They disapprove being shrouded by cloud

Girls are becoming like Mountains

They love living with head held high

They are in no way ready to bow down their head.


If girls groom themselves in such a way then what would happen to the boys? They have to change themselves. And what is the antonym of Patriarchy? Equality. And Friends I believe that the struggle for equality of men and women is not a struggle against men and women. Had it been a war between men and women Jyotiba Phule would not have fought for us.… Therefore there exists no animosity between men and women. This is a war against the legal system for legal rights. Patriarchy is often sustained and maintained by women and Feminism by many men. What I want to say to men is that Patriarchy is destroying you, too. Have a look at it and join hands with us, march with us, engage yourselves in this struggle against Patriarchy.