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Reflections on Angela Davis’s Talk in Mumbai



(Public lecture at TISS and KC college, Mumbai)

Solidarity represents promise. There is a possibility to unite different peoples, communities across imperceptible borders in their struggles. This unity enables communities to point towards seemingly unrelated forms of oppression and subjugation, to “see” and understand the overarching structures that have rendered their existence invisible and precarious. Yet, one must be careful when attempting to draw these connections and be wary of making generalizations. The unique particularities of each form of subjugation and struggle must be accounted for. Nevertheless, we find the strongest expressions of empathy and resistance in solidarity.

“Knowledge gets produced in many different sites, the connections women prisoners have made between the sexual assault they have experienced in individual settings and the assault they experience in prison allows us to define the state as a perpetrator of sexual assault. We can no longer assume that sexual violence is simply something that happens because of individual proclivities towards misogyny or whatever. If we are interested in eradicating sexual violence, we can no longer assume that we simply send the perpetrators to prison. We have to deeply question the role of the state.

And I say this because I’m always a person who believes in imagining that which we really want even though we know we know we are probably not going to get it now. Because if we don’t talk about what we want, we will forget.

And so what might it mean to no longer have to consider the state as the most appropriate form of human community, how can we think beyond the state? Feminist methodological approaches allows for articulation of those things that are never brought together. One cannot think class separately from race, gender, and sexuality, just as one cannot think race as separate, it is this focus on what is often referred to as intersectionality. But these conjunctures are more complicated than simple intersections.

Feminist approaches influenced by efforts within social justice activism to bring together ideas, phenomenon, categories, and stories that have always been treated and conceptualized as separate from another have provided a radical impetus against casteism one hand and racism on the other. I do believe that feminist inflected transnational solidarities are going to be essential in this era especially if we are going to challenge the juggernaut of global capitalism”

The fiery resistance towards Hindutva and it’s casteist and communal attacks found it’s most powerful, breathtaking expression in the Dalit-Muslim unity that surfaced during the Una rally. Nearly a year ago, the very notion of Dalit-Muslim solidarity instilled great fear in the puppets of Hindutva towards Rohith Vemula and the Ambedkar Students Association. Vemula raised uncomfortable questions about Yakub Memon’s hanging and the nature of capital punishment. These questions deeply hurt the Islamophobic institutions that have relentlessly been working to show how such questions and resistance to authority harms greater “national” interests and is in all probability sponsored by Pakistan. We also witnessed expressions of solidarity across universities in different movements such as Occupy UGC, Stand with JNU, Justice for Rohith, Pinjra Tod, Justice for Najeeb, and more against docile university administrations and an indifferent Human & Resource Development ministry.

In retrospect, resistance towards an increasingly authoritarian regime that has an ideological parent in Hindutva is inevitable. In the same manner, the mainstream’s disinterest towards the solidarities forged by the marginalized is also inevitable. Consequently, it is easy to look away for these roaring voices remain situated at the margins of the privileged mainstream’s imagination. And it is difficult to resist exasperation at the thought of how such movements have panned out. In response to emerging Dalit Asmita Yatra in Gujarat, Modi proclaimed that 80% of all gau-rakshaks are fake and went on to say how state governments must investigate and file dossiers regarding self-proclaimed gau-rakshaks. He went on to request the people who feel like attacking Dalits to attack and shoot him instead of his Dalit “brothers”. Later, even as the protestors returned from Una, they were violently beaten up and hurt. The resolve and the will to never touch a cow carcass must continue to battle horrific instances of humiliation.

“I don’t think we should be as afraid of co-optation as we often are. When ideas taken up and issues get taken up in a broader framework, when those within the establishment begin using the language that we have developed, in a sense that recognizes that we’ve been successful, that we’ve established what we set out to do.

 Of course those in power will never take up the issues in the way we would like and so we have to always recognize our successes when our ideas are being co-opted but at the same time we have to learn how to move a step further.

 Our approach has to be how to radicalize. The work that we have been doing has made a difference but it is not our role to capitulate to the ways in which these issues are being discussed, that is to say in a conservative framework. The call for abolition points out that prisons cannot be reformed, we need to do more, we have to learn how to accelerate, and do whatever do to try and change peoples consciousness and make changes in the world.”

On November 8th, as Trump gave his address soon after Clinton receded, the air in my college canteen was overwhelmed with a sense of exasperation and confusion. The sense of shock and disappointment that haunted the space was a response to the result of an election that had taken place in a different continent. This is not to say that the election did not warrant a reaction but the last time the canteen reeked of such gloom and distress was in April 2015 as India lost the semi-finals to Australia in the World Cup.

The past year marked a worrisome rise of the global right. From Brexit to Trump to the National Front in France, the right has been able to appeal to people in a hegemonic fashion on the basis of weak rhetoric. The word of the year was post-truth: “appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored”.

We were all quite shocked by the consequence of the last election. Because just as we had grown comfortable with having a president as critical as we may have been of his policies, at least we had a president who garnered respect in the world for his intelligence and seriousness. This came after 8 years of do you remember George W Bush? And now we have a president elect who causes us to think much better of Bush, who would have ever thought that was possible, this election followed two terms of the first Black president in the history of the US, that term has been repeatedly used as if we will have a second and third and fourth and fifth. It was a major shock, but as I reflected on our responses to this reflection, some of you may know that people were reaping in the streets when Trump was elected. It was as if we were experiencing the end of the world despite the fact that we have also witnessed the emergence of new and vibrant youth movements over the last period . And I reflected on our response to the election of Nixon in 1968, and I didn’t remember it feeling like the end of the world. OF course it was terrible that Nixon was elected. But I don’t think that we imagined our political expression to be confined by electoral process.

And so there was promise elsewhere, there was promise in the solidarity that we experienced with people who were struggling for liberation in Africa, in Latin America, there was the Cuban revolution, there were those in Vietnam who were in the process of defeating (later on) the US invasion. It seems that this discussion about solidarities that bring us together across national borders is one that is even more important given the consequences of the last election.

So what do we do? I think that we continue to build and rebuild and consolidate community. We recognize that we will have to struggle over the coming period as we have never struggled before. After all, freedom is a constant struggle.


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