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Sumedha Sharma

Professor Nandini Dhar

Gender, Conflict and Narrative

29 March 2019

1. What is intersectionality? How does intersectionality as a category manifest itself in

the Indian context? Research an Indian advertisement, and analyse how it

represents intersectionality/ absence of intersectionality.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a black anti-racist feminist first introduced the term ‘intersectionality’ in

1989 in order to identify that the experiences of women of colour are largely a consequence of

the intersection of racism and sexism. The discrimination, marginalisation and the injustice that

they undergo cannot be understood by studying exploitation on the basis of race and gender

separately or as two different categories altogether. It is essential to acknowledge that two or

more forms of social identities of a person may intersect, for example, caste and gender, or

religion, sexuality and nationality, and form the basis for discrimination on multiple levels. Let

us take for instance, a Muslim woman living in Saudi Arabia who is a lesbian may face

discrimination on different levels. One, as a Saudi Arabian woman, she is under strict Male

Guardianship System which denies her sexual freedom, decision making powers, freedom of

movement and freedom of marriage. As a muslim woman, she is subject to islamophobia and

prejudice. And as a lesbian, she is denied her sexuality because the law of her country

criminalises homosexuality. As a result, the intersectionality of her gender, religion, sexuality and

nationality multiply her experiences with discrimination to manifold degrees. It is important to

note here that intersectionality is not a problem, but the discrimination is. Intersectionality is

simply a lens to look at problems of discrimination of people who carry numerous identities. It is
a phenomenon which pertains to the interconnectedness of these social identities.

India, popularly known for its vast diversity, carries a plethora of identities, some of which can

be categorized into language, region, caste, class, race, religion, belief system, gender and

sexuality. As a result, India serves as one of the best examples to study intersectionality.

However, simultaneously, certain communities face various forms of conflict that changes

everyday fabric of their lives because of the hierarchy that comes with intersectionality. Uma

Chakravarti, a feminist historian, in one of her interviews on ‘Brahmanical Patriarchy’

recollected seeing a photograph in a newspaper that was circulated during the anti-Mandal

agitation. In the photograph, she noticed women college students holding placards that read ‘We

don’t want unemployed husbands!’ The anti-Mandal agitation ensued as a result of the

government’s decision to reserve a quota for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), that include

castes which are educationally or socially disadvantaged and have undergone discrimination,

unlike the SC/STs who are considered untouchable along with other discriminations that they

face. This quota shall ensure them seats in the IAS, IPS, IFS and other Central Services, which

would bring down the proportion of the seats for the forward castes. With the placards, the

women upper caste students did not protest for themselves, but instead for their potential

husbands. The message on the placard expressed that these women would be unable to have

upper caste IAS husbands if most of these seats were occupied by the lower castes. Concurrently

it also revealed that they did not see OBCs and dalits as their potential husbands. This was a

result of an ordinance of endogamous marriage that women had internalised within themselves.

From this slogan, Chakravarti recognised the importance of the conjointness of caste and gender.

This instance can also be accounted to the manifestation of Brahmanical patriarchy, which

reproduces inequalities of caste and gender in a way that not only creates hierarchies and

intersectional oppressions between upper caste and lower caste and men and women but also
within women themselves. It is important to note here that caste and gender, although create a

variety of intersectional issues, they are not among a few. In the Indian context, gender violence

is another phenomenon that must be considered with class, caste, religion, region and sexuality.

As in the case of violence against women, rural uneducated women are relatively more prone to

violence than urban educated women; upper class working women are more likely to be safer

from sexual harassment during transport, as they can afford to hire taxis, take flights or drive cars

on their own to commute to places and avoid contact with toxic men; lower caste transwomen

are more likely to be stared and harassed in public space than lower caste heterosexual women.

The list may be never ending, but the point is that the significance of intersectionality cannot be

disregarded, as it is almost impractical to discourse on gender without reviewing other forms of

identities that together create structures of dominance and problematic narratives that do not fail

to reach the media in the form of reflection of the current society. Interestingly, the susceptibility

to violence and politics of sexual hierarchy were reversed in the case of Jyoti Singh gangrape. In

this case, the abused victims belonged to the educated urban middle class, while the perpetrators

of violence came from poor uneducated lower class backgrounds as immigrants of small villages

in different parts of the country who settled in shanty urban slums of Delhi.

To answer the second part of the question of how intersectionality is

represented/misrepresented/absent in Indian advertisements, it is important to first take into

account a few preliminary observations. First, that advertisements are created to target a specific

audience to sell a specific kind of lifestyle. In the contemporary Indian advertisements, it is very

common to see an upper or middle class lifestyle in which a product is advertised (or often times

not advertised!) with the help of a strong social message that acts as pathos to the audience. This

emotional appeal (may be devoid of logic) targets the audience so powerfully that the
advertisement manages to attract consumers very easily. Second, the actors in these

advertisements work in specific backgrounds to produce relatability with the targeted audience.

I shall look at two TV advertisements which are ‘Real Beauty by Dove’ and ‘Joyalukkas

Jewellery’. The first advertisement by Dove promotes the idea of ‘real beauty’ in its

advertisement. It starts off with a monologue that says “Isn’t it strange that in a country of six

hundred and thirty one million women, there is only one face of beauty, when there is so much

more to be admired?” As this monologue is delivered, the visual depicts a close-up of a fair

skinned woman in make-up and changes to showing a multiplicity of women in quick

succession. Dove claimed that these women did not belong to modeling or celebrity

backgrounds, but were ‘women from all walks of life’. These women are facing the camera and

are shown smiling or laughing. Towards the end, the advertisement shows all of these women

standing together as a group while the monologue enters saying “let’s break the rules of beauty”.

There are a number of things to observe in this advertisement. First, that this ad does manage to

show women of age, colour, north-eastern communities (as these are often marginalised) and

wearing different kinds of clothes. However, on a more detailed observation, it clearly fails in

showing true diversity. All women look as if they belong to forward classes (if not forward castes

necessarily). All women are physically abled. All women wear makeup. All women’s faces are in

healthy shape (not disfigured).

The first question that arises in my mind is that are dove products unisex? Dove does not

mention anywhere in its advertisements or its products that these products are only for women,

while all of its advertisements are female-centric. Does that make the products only suitable for

women? Why? This ad partially displays intersectionality as it leaves out a large proportion of

people, who are also a part of India and are also consumers. Additionally, a major element of

advertisements is glamour. This is why this advertisement also missed out women with
disfigurement and disability, as these people do not conform to the standards of glamour. Disable

people are intensely underrepresented in media, unless the product is only targeted for them. This

is due to the stigma and the otherization of these people. It is important to realise that this

community is as much a consumer as the non-disabled community. Looking at these findings, I

begin to question at the end of the advertisement with its closing monologue, that if it actually

broke the rules of beauty or simply reasserted the standards of beauty. Also, I did not seem to get

an idea of the product being advertised straightforwardly, but only a crooked social message.

The second advertisement that I shall be analysing is a jewellery advertisement by Joyalukkas. In

this advertisement, a bride is shown to be happily getting ready for her wedding day while in the

background her monologue expresses how she is a big fan of the popular Bollywood actor Kajol.

She wishes Kajol to be present at her wedding because it is apparently the ‘biggest day of her

life’ as she has found her potential husband. Kajol takes a surprise entry as she pauses speaking.

The bride turns, as her wheelchair shows, and faces Kajol. Kajol gifts her a necklace and then

accompanies her to the wedding ceremony as the advertisement ends.

My attention, primarily, was caught by the wheelchair, of course. This advertisement, although

showed an upper class upper caste seemingly Hindu wedding with a fair skinned protagonist, it

introduced disability with a sense of normalisation in the narrative. Throughout the ad, there was

no special focus given to the disability of the bride. Unlike the previous advertisement where

disability is completely omitted, this ad brings the idea that disabled persons are also a part of the

everyday life or the ‘normal’ sphere and they can as much occupy spaces in the media as the non

disabled can. The general narrative in the society is that disabled persons are incapable of

successful marital unions and that marriage as an institution has not been considered as an option

for them. This advertisement, thus creates an awareness and a platform for the integration of

disabled persons into mainstream society. The advertisement again favours the considerably
‘good-looking’, ‘glamorous’ and privileged member of the society, but the idea of introducing

disability into the conventional creates possibilities for change in representing intersectionality.

2. Using the character of the father in Manto’s short story “Khol Do” and the boys as your

springboard, write about Manto’s representation of masculinity.

The Partition of India and Pakistan still remains one of the deadliest incidents in the history of

the two nations. While it is deep rested in the memories of those who experienced it first hand, it

remains as a long chapter of a history book for those who did not experience the same. Partition

of India is much more than a milestone in the history. It is the horrific violence, abductions,

displacement and destruction which severely affected people on both sides of the border and still

holds trauma in the lives of its survivors. The massive human tragedy and the prevailing

repercussions has not only been captured by partition historians, but also some of the very

popular partition literaries in the form of short stories, novels, poems, and other non-fiction

categories of literature. Some of these writers are Khuswant Singh and Sa’adat Hasan Manto,

whose writings are enthusiastically discussed till date at literature festivals, panel discussions,

classroom lectures, and other similar platforms. For the purpose of this question, I shall elaborate

on the work of Sa’adat Hasan Manto and expand on the masculinity that Manto reproduces in his

short story ‘Khol Do!’, which is based on partition violence.

Pakistani-American historian Ayesha Jalal expressed in a panel discussion at the Jaipur Literature

Festival which took place in 2016, that Manto refused to be put into any category. He was a

fiercely independent writer whose stories embrace realism in extremely poignant manners. His

short story ‘Khol Do!’ represents a traumatic reality in the form of fiction that leaves the reader

heart wrenched and perturbed. It is a story where a father, Sirajuddin, is in search of his daughter,

Sakina, whom he does not remember losing. A group of young men promise to bring his
daughter back. However, months pass by and he gets no information of his daughter from those

men. One day, he notices a girl, who was found lying unconscious near the rail tracks, being

carried on a stretcher to the hospital. He later finds her to be his daughter. But just when the

doctor instructs to open the windows of the room by saying “open it!”, Sakina unties the knot of

her waistband of her salwar. Seeing Sakina move, Sirajuddin rejoices at the fact that she is alive.

It is important to note how Manto has reproduced and epitomized the politics of silence of the

partition trauma into weaving his stories. This story also implicitly conveys the trauma that

Sirajuddin, Sakina and the people around them undergo. Sirajuddin has turned out to be a round

character that Manto develops as his narrative builds on. He is a father and a husband in the story

who has lost his family members. This implies a number of conclusions. Firstly, in a

heteropatriarchal setting, he is the only male member of the family and hence the breadwinner,

the guardian and the provider of the family. As these identities are pressed onto him from a very

early age, his self-confidence has collapsed when he sees his wife dying in front of him and his

daughter gone missing while he is unconscious. The loss of his family has proved that he has

failed to fulfill his duties as a patriarchal husband and a father. His masculinity of a patriarch has

not been kept up to the mark. However, he still tries to recover it by taking active initiative to

find out his missing daughter. The fact that he is traumatized at the same time, makes his toxic

masculinity loose as he outrageously expresses his emotions when he yearns for Sakina and goes

around the crowd helplessly asking about her. His failure of being a patriarch disturbs and haunts

him. Simultaneously traumatised, he becomes helpless and is not able to go to any lengths to find

his daughter but only ends up depending on the young volunteer men who are said to have found

several members of people’s families. He is so disempowered that he is not able to think clearly

or make wise decisions as the memory of his wife’s death, the loss of his daughter and his

inability to connect the dots as to how all of this happened and when did he lose his
consciousness exasperates him. He is now a part of what is called as ‘suffering masculinity’, a

masculinity that is the result of surviving violence, tragedy and injustice.

The eight young volunteer men are, in contrast, flat characters in the story. Meaning, that their

behaviour remains uncomplicated and fairly uniform throughout the story. However, there are

actions performed by them which Manto has chosen to keep quiet about in the story in order to

bring gravity and effect to the fundamental dialogue by the doctor, ‘Open it!’. These eight young

volunteers promise Sirajuddin to find and bring his daughter back to him. As readers, we are not

aware who these volunteers are. There is an anxiety for their identities in the reader’s mind as

Manto chooses not to disclose it to them. In contrast to their flat characteristics, their masculinity

transforms in the course of the narrative. At first they are perceived as promising, protecting, and

solicitous characters. This again represents a hegemonic masculinity in the heteropatriarchal

context. Unlike Sirajuddin, these volunteers maintain their disposition of being patriarchs and

display a sense of hegemonic masculinity by showing their leadership and protective attitudes.

But a while later, when Sirajuddin asks them again about his daughter, they seem carefree and

casual about their responsibility. Between the change in these attitudes, the story indicates a

presence of violence that has happened with Sakina. There is an apprehension that these

volunteers have gangraped Sakina multiple times as is coherent by Sakina’s action of undoing

her salwar at the end of the story by just hearing the doctor’s instruction. Before the rape, there is

also a prediction that these volunteers have been perverted by Sirajuddin’s description of

Sakina’s beauty and therefore become sexually driven to find Sakina. This constitutes an

extremely toxic and violent masculinity. They see themselves to be in a powerful position than

Sirajuddin and attempt to misuse this power. This masculinity is somewhat similar to the

masculinity that the criminals in the Jyoti Singh gangrape case held. It is not only constructed by

the gendering during their upbringing, but, perhaps, also by the normalisation of violence against
women which is happening very frequently in this crisis situation. Dominance over female

sexuality is an internalised trait they carry. Sakina is an example of ideal femininity, with long

hair and fair skin. And since there is an appeal based on fair skin in society, it attracts these men

to rape Sakina. The submissiveness and the quietness of Sakina is seen as a relief and give these

men confidence to perpetuate sexual abuse against her. It is clear that these men see Sakina

vulnerable without her family members and hence they find opportunity in making use of the

situation. By this, it is understood that the society in the story sees women as someone who

cannot be alone and have to be protected by male guardianship wherever they go. An

independent woman is very peculiar to see for them. Therefore, there is this benevolent

patriarchy too, which outlines the situation for both Sirajuddin and the volunteers and causes

them to act how they do in the story.

References:

1. Dove Real Beauty Advertisement: https://www.dove.com/in/stories/campaigns/lets-

break-the-rules-of-beauty.html

2. Joyalukkas Jewellery Advertisement : https://youtu.be/Ru7jrXcGMq8