Casteism in the age of #hate: Twitter’s CEO sides with Brahminical patriarchy

Vizhinjam in Kerala, India, circa November 2014. Two Christian Dalit in the small fishing village Vizhinjam.

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter (otherwise known as cyberbullying in 280 characters), has found himself at the centre of a social media storm in India. In a conference held by women activists, Dorsey held a poster to the camera with the message ‘Smash Brahminical Patriarchy’ emblazoned on it.

He holds the poster low, an awkward smile on his lips. The image has invited a lot of furore – mostly on Twitter, ironically – with this slogan being likened to antisemitism and hate speech. I find the widespread criticism especially curious, because everything about his posture seems to suggest that his concern about caste or the patriarchy is as tokenistic as most dialogue about caste reality in India.

Crimes against Dalits in India have risen 746% in the last decade. In the seminal work Dalit Women Speak Out, 54.8% of the women interviewed had faced sexual assault, as a means of reigning control over their caste position. This year, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, two couples marrying out of their respective castes were brutally murdered in what is called ‘honour killing’. Each of these incidents of violence, (including murder over cow slaughter), is explicit caste domination. Brahmins, at the pinnacle of the caste hierarchy, control education, law, social policy, economic reforms – and even movements of subversion like #MeToo. Recently, Twitter India was taken by the storm of women reporting incidents of violation by men in prominent positions. To galvanize ‘womanly support’, some women decided to hold a #MeToo conference in a posh Mumbai locale. It was not until Divya Kandukuri, who runs @everydaycasteism, called them (and thus far, the movement) out on its classism and casteism, that it even struck women leading the #MeToo India campaign that the movement was in any way exclusive.

For the upper castes, caste occupies a strange duality. On one hand, it is excluded from everyday conversations, because it is seen as looking to the past; or a “rural reality”, if that. On the other hand, caste violence is committed every day, knowingly. Terms of caste identity are used as slurs. Beef-eating (a cultural practice of certain groups of Dalits and Muslims) is grounds for murder. Dalit women like 30-year-old law student, Jisha (who was raped and murdered in 2016) sleep with a sickle under the bed, haunted by the interstices of caste womanhood: twice as likely to be attacked, and twice less likely to be heard. And then of course, there is the site most rife with Brahminical, upper-caste atrocity (read: patriarchy), marriage.

For B.R. Ambedkar, marriage and caste have clear links: he writes that caste, as a system based on ‘purity’, considers that the Dalit is impure. Within the Hindu tradition, marriage, as a ‘sacred’ act, retains this ‘purity’ by ensuring that Hindus only marry within their respective caste, also known as endogamy. Implicitly, B.R. Ambedkar argues, demolishing the institute of endogamy means demolishing caste. If inter-caste weddings were the normative, then this legacy of ‘purity’ maintenance would cease, and caste definitions would begin to erase. But what upholds this patriarchal narrative is what Dorsey half-heartedly held up on a poster: Brahminical patriarchy.

Kandukuri writes that: “Endogamy is the essence of Brahminism, meaning, marriage within same castes, where the decision of whom to marry, is made by a Brahmin man.” This is a literal truth: in traditional Hindu arranged marriages, the Brahmin pandit played matchmaker, finding a potential groom or bride from the same caste. A Brahmin also officiates the wedding, as though his role sanctions the marriage not only between the two parties, but by the social system of caste overall. After examining this sort of control, the offended narratives being spun around the “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy” slogan should strike one as incredulous at best, downright ignorant at worst. Worse, the photograph being targeted is almost ironic in its composition: a white man, barely holding up a narrative against violence, getting photographed surrounded by the women he claims to have heard.

Perhaps the greatest testament to Brahminical control is that Jack Dorsey and Twitter India actually apologized for the photograph, saying it is “not reflective of their views”. Unwittingly, Twitter revealed what it has been trying to brush aside all along: it is no impartial or self-aware platform, but simply another forum for caste violence to perpetuate in.

Ironically, this apology came after the prominent Dalit activist (and co-creator of the poster Dorsey held), Tenmozhi Soundarajan pointed out: “when #Dalitwomen raise our voice on twitter we continue to be harassed for speaking our truth.”

 

I would like to note that I am not a Dalit woman, and the position I occupy personally and socially has been built on the backs of Dalit women’s labour and pain. This article is meant as an expression of allyship and solidarity. To that end, I have tried to present the views of the Dalit activists that have formulated mine. I am deeply apologetic that I am the one to write here about this incident, but the apparent alternative was to not have anything about it at all, on this forum. In case you have any criticism to offer, please mail me at 666793@soas.ac.uk. I promise to listen.

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