The Greatest Genocide in History (Part III): The Way Ahead

6 05 2008


In the past two weeks, this column has tried to understand why is it that China and South Asia (historical India) account for a 92 million out of the 100 million “missing women” of the world. Patriarchy is common to all historical societies yet it is the civilisations of these two regions which have developed this ghastly tradition and not others. While the reasons may be numerous, it seems that there was something common in particular forms of feudal culture which developed in these two civilisations which have promoted this particularly vicious and murderous form of patriarchy.

This column had argued that both Confucianism in China and the various forms of social stratification influenced by the Caste system in South Asia were unique feudal social forms which had easily adapted themselves to capitalist economic relations. In fact, it was precisely among those social groups which were integrating most with the capitalist world, that ideologies of “tradition”, “indigenous culture” and “religious purity” (all code words for feudal mentalités and ideologies) were growing fastest. At least, this is the experience of South Asia. It is difficult to ascertain the situation in China but there is a clear revival of Confucian ideas in Chinese society which parallels the revival of capitalist relations.

Both Confucianism and the South Asian feudal form made sons the ideological centre of the family and social order. Without sons, families would not only dissolve in the material sense (in that there would be no one to pass on the property to) but would also lapse spiritually into a sort of limbo since the spirits of the dead needed to be constantly placated by sons in their prayers. While the material importance of male heirs to continue private property in both feudalism and early capitalism was a universal phenomenon which gave strength to patriarchy, in these two Asian civilisations, the moral – spiritual importance given to sons made them semi-divine and reduced women to sub-human levels.

As these two civilisations have encountered and adopted capitalism as a system to organise their economic world, they have continued to use their extant feudal social stratification with its ideologies of loyalty, obedience and lack of free-will to organise society. These feudal ideologies lead to the continuation and spread of a feudal mentalité. This mentalité has at its core the idea of inequity, dependence and filial piety, the exact opposites of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – the slogans of modern emancipation. These ideals are seen as a moral beacon for people to live a good life and compete for political loyalty and social acceptance with the morality of modern emancipation. Inequity, dependence and filial piety provide excellent tools to discipline working people to the needs of their employers and to the authority of their Governments. It also continuously divides working people into primordial identities and weakens their political unity. In these, and many other ways, this feudal mentalité provides a strong ideological foundation for capitalism in these countries.

But when this feudal mentalité is mixed with capitalist economic relations, it leads to an erosion of the supportive and protective features of feudal social relations. While feudal mentalité has inequity, dependence and filial piety at its core, it also provides sustenance and support to those who live in its fold. But capitalist economic relations dissolve the supportive and protective aspects of feudal relations, whether it is between humans or between humans and nature. Only the repressive and regressive aspects of inequity, dependence and filial piety remain.

For example, the feudal form of marriage remains intact in both South Asia and China as it provides both a source of capital accumulation for the groom’s family as well as provides it with a life-long supply of unpaid domestic labour and the tools of biological reproduction. Dowry (a feudal form of property transfer) gets transformed into a capital accumulation strategy by the groom’s family. This form of capital accumulation would be called “primitive accumulation” by Marxists and is similar to what the pirates and colonial plunderers used to do in the 17th century. Those forms and practices of feudal marriage are valorised and strengthened which provide economic gain to the grooms family and thus give feudal patriarchy a particularly sharp and inhuman edge in its contemporary, capitalistic avatar. It is instructive that in both India and China (as well as much of Asia and the Arab world) the feudal form of family continues and thrives under colonial, semi-colonial and capitalist contexts.

The feudal mentalité already predisposes people to view all those who are non-elite, non-male in sub-human categories since this mentalité is based on inequity, dependence and filial piety. When the market economies’ need to accumulate capital is interwoven with this mentalité, it turns all those who are categorised non-elite, non-male as mere instruments of capital accumulation. It converts them into veritable “animals with tongue” (the famous Aristotelian categorisation of farm animals as “animals without tongue” for cattle and horses and “animals with tongue” for human slaves) for the feudal-in-mentalité-but-capitalist-in-currency man.

It is for this reason that millions of parents view their girl child as a pure (mere?) economic liability and not as a human being. It is also for this reason that many of the successful schemes to counter femicide are based on such pure economic reasoning. In India the Central and State Governments have come up with myriad schemes which give economic incentives to parents for keeping their girl child alive. Often the amount promised in such schemes is also calculated, quite unabashedly, to equalise the purported monetary loss that the family would suffer due to the presence of the girl child. Alternatively, many schemes threaten disincentives which would negate the economic gain the family would make by doing away with the loss-making girl child. Even the awareness generating publicity campaigns stress on the economic benefits of keeping the girl alive in the modern economy. In all these cases, the government and policy makers are acknowledging, albeit indirectly, that girls and women are nothing more than economic units for their families.

The interesting, and tragic, aspect of mentalities is that it provides such a complete and closed world-view (what philosophers term Weltanschauung) that even its actual victims are psychologically comfortable viewing the world in its terms and acting on the basis of its moral codes. Therefore the inexplicable acts of mothers killing their daughter’s and aborting female foetuses; and mother-in-laws inflicting the very same injuries they suffered on their daughter-in-laws.

It appears that unless this specific feudal mentalité and its culture is attacked and destroyed it would be difficult to end this continuing genocide of women. An interesting vindication of this position comes from China, where in the period of the unfortunately organised “Cultural Revolution” the sex ratio jumped in favour of women, only to fall again, equally drastically, with the beginning of the capitalist restoration in the 1990s. It is impermissible to return to the barbarity of China’s “Cultural Revolution” but its basic premise – of an all out attack on feudal mentalité and its cultures – is correct and we today need democratic methods of organising a similar “Cultural Revolution”.

Before I close this article, I would like to point out that in this fight against feudal mentalité and its cultural expressions, women will find lower caste men, ethnic minorities and tribals to be their natural allies. A political praxis which does not naturally lead to an alliance of women, lower castes, minorities and tribals, is prima facie, a wrong political praxis since their enemy is the same. It is also important to remember that victory in this battle is equally crucial for elite men who are otherwise incapable of breaking out of their golden cages merely through their armchair pursuits of drawing room chatter and high theory.


~ ~ ~

This article was published in my weekly column in The Post dated 7th May, 2008.

~ ~ ~

Post script:

A google search would show hundreds of thousands of internet resources and news reports on the killing of women. I am here linking a newsreport from today’s Times of India which illustrates the argument I have given above.

“Things have changed and improved a bit. We do have girls around now,” Inder Singh says, while admitting that baby girls are killed even today in the village. ” Kya karein? [what to do?] A good match for a girl means lots of money for her dowry.”

Read the entire report here

A good blog with lots of news reports and documents relating to femicide in India.





12 responses

25 01 2009
Prashanth Perumal

Patriarchy, whether one likes it or not, feminist hullaballoo or not, will always be the order of the day. Theory of force dictates societal order, even in the so-called rest of the world where patriarchy doesn’t exist, allegedly. 😛

25 01 2009

there is a very simple solution to that…castration!

25 01 2009

and feminists did not invent that solution!

25 01 2009
Prashanth Perumal

Lol, very funny solution dude 😀

27 01 2009
Aniket Alam

Now I am losing you Prashanth!

After tons of verbiage on profit motive and the rational man on other posts, you state “Theory of force dictates societal order

So which is it? Force or profit? and I thought your “real capitalism” was about a market where there was no force?

I seriously think you will serve yourself better by reading more and shooting your mouth less.

27 01 2009
Prashanth Perumal

Oh ya Aniket, castration must sound a better idea to you!

28 01 2009
Prashanth Perumal

“So which is it? Force or profit? and I thought your “real capitalism” was about a market where there was no force?”

Initiation of force on ANYONE is against neo-liberal ideas. And when I say force dictates societal order it’s a fact with all societies till now. That’s why the physically stronger sex has been able to maintain patriarchy. I just stated it, I don’t understand how you could make your imagination run wild and utter all nonsense!

“I seriously think you will serve yourself better by reading more and shooting your mouth less.”

You need to use your brain cells, whether it’s economic calculation or comprehending what people say. Keep your emotions in the luggage.

7 04 2009
Ujithra Ponniah

Thank you, for this comprehensive analysis. It is evident that India and China continue to exist as semi-feudal and semi-capitalist countries. No sustainable solutions can be coined without breaking away from feudal modes of production and by extension feudal mindsets.

Though, I partly agree with your suggestion of an alliance between ‘women, lower castes, minorities and tribals’ being essential, I do not know if the time is ripe enough for it to materialise.

1 04 2011

Prashanth appears to have been taken in by a theory of neo-liberalism which presents deeply conservative ideas in liberal gloss. Hence his strange combination of libertarian beliefs and authoritarian ontology. Very familiar in the US ideological scene. Which of course raises interesting questions about how to trace authoritarian ideas in global modernity. But back to reading this three parter!

1 04 2011
Kajal Basu

Well and thoroughly argued, Aniket. The mere thought of femicide is haunting. It would have been more informative, though, had you provided references and datelines for all your data (e.g. 100 million missing women in how many years, the name of the study that suggests what seems to me to be a ballpark figure, the authors of the study, etc). It does seem to me, too, that Africa as a whole has been given a pass, perhaps understandably, because well-documented population statistics there are harder to come by than the census findings in China and South Asia. Where I do disagree with you rather vehemently – and you will find an echo of my disagreement among nondenominational women’s issues activists – is in the political necessity of bracketing together “women, lower castes, minorities and tribals” in a single actionable forum. Their “enemy” – and by this I assume you mean “patriarchy” and not “men” – is not “the same”; the “enemy” also not only exists but wields massive clout among the “lower castes” and “minorities”.

14 04 2011
Aniket Alam

Rohit Chopra had also asked on Facebook:

“Hi Aniket, we’ve been discussing your excellent article at home. Gitanjali wanted to raise one issue regarding female agency in South Asia. In the American context, feminists argue that women have right to abortion as a matter of control over their bodies. In other words women have the right to assert their agency in making reproductive choices that are political and ethical. What if in the South Asian context, a woman chooses to abort a female fetus of her own choice? Do we assume that South Asian women lack agency to make reproductive choices by definition because of social structures, patriarchy, ideology in South Asia? I know this is a complex issue and not disagreeing with most of what you say, but would be interested in your response.”

14 04 2011
Aniket Alam

John Game: Don’t waste your time on Prashanth

Kajal Basu: I have not discussed much of Africa (or Latin America) because in most of these countries the sex ratio is fairly high (as in more women to men). There are exceptions but not enough to form a pattern, expect for North (Saharan) Africa which I did include in my frame.

As for the references, this was actually the unedited text of a weekly column which I used to write for a Pakistani English daily in 2007-2008 (thanks to Mehmal Sarfraz). That is also the reason the article is in three parts since each week I could only publish 1200 and less words (and already each part was getting longer than that). Therefore no references; but most of the information I have taken comes from a handful of easily accessible books and some internet resources like the UN population forecasts.

On one point you have misunderstood me. I am not identifying patriarchy as the common enemy. It clearly is not, as you have also said. I am pointing to, what I loosely term “feudal mentalite in the age of capital” to be the common enemy. My main concern is to find out why the region historically known as India and the region of China have such historically low sex ratio. Patriarchy is common all over the world. What is it about only these two “civilisational zones” that they foster this killing of women? That is the question I am asking and to me it appeared that the particular manner in which these two regions transformed their economy into capitalism while retaining their pre-capitalist feudal social structures and mentalities was the key. Hope that answers your question….

Rohit Chopra: This is surely a very difficult question and like most others, I have despaired to come to any clean answer. However, my position would be that if the exercise of any “right” is used to cause harm to others, to deepen prejudice and/or discrimination then we do need “reasonable” restrictions on that right. It goes for things like right to freedom of expression, right to movement, etc so why not the right to reproductive choices. The problem comes up since here the victim is not yet a person, unless we term a foetus in the first trimester a person. However, the outcomes of the excecise of this right is clearly bad and therefore there needs to be restriction on it. In those contexts where such exercise of this right does not lead to this outcome, we may not need these restrictions. For example, it is now well documented that south asian families in the west use sex-determination to abort only female foetuses. Can we leave it only at “choice of the woman” or maybe we need to transcend it. The fact that the debate, such as it is, in north America is confined to the question of whether a woman has full rights over her body and reproduction or not maybe a symptom of the political impoverishment of that region. This question does not really resonate with the same tone here, or so I think.

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