Asiya Islam https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/16936/all cached version 08/02/2019 22:07:42 en The myth of the Indian ‘New Middle Class’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/asiya-islam/myth-of-indian-new-middle-class <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Families in Modi’s India are caught in a spiral of working class conditions in jobs pretending to be middle class, with their requirement for degrees and skills training. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34609554.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34609554.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alain Berset, president of the Swiss Confederation, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23, 2018. Xu Jinquan/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>At the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed by a big turnout at the plenary session and introduced by WEF founder, Klaus Schwab, as the leader of a country that is the <a href="https://livestream.com/accounts/1909571/events/7959969/videos/169093788/player?autoPlay=false&amp;mute=false&amp;width=&amp;height=">“bright image of dynamism, of optimism”</a>. For his part, Modi spoke of a vision of shared future that overcomes the fault lines of inequality, poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunities. </p> <p>Ahead of the visit, Modi encouraged the presentation of India as the centre of attraction for the entire world. Closely on the heels of Modi’s platforming of India as a rising global force, NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India, ironically headed by Modi) published a report on <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/india-facing-problem-of-severe-under-employment-says-niti/article19570289.ece">severe underemployment in the country</a>, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2017 published findings on the <a href="https://www.dailyo.in/politics/modi-demographic-dividend-aser-education-slap-davos-skill-india-rte/story/1/21919.html">failures of various programmes for education and vocational training of Indian youth</a>, and the World Bank released data showing that <a href="http://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/oxfam-india-wealth-report-income-inequality-richests-poor/story/268541.html">the richest 1% in India now own 73% of its wealth</a>. In short, not the best prospects for India. </p> <p>Modi, on the other hand, <a href="http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-pm-modi-interview-with-zee-news-top-10-key-takeaways-2576913">continues to insist</a>, “If someone opens a 'pakoda' [fried snacks] shop in front of your office, does that not count as employment? The person's daily earning of Rs 200 will never come into any books or accounts. The truth is massive people are being employed.”&nbsp; PM Modi’s celebration of informal and precarious work as gainful employment is <a href="https://thewire.in/216400/no-prime-minister-earning-rs-200-a-day-selling-pakodas-employment/">rightly being criticised</a>. But what of the much-touted formal jobs generated as a result of encouraging foreign direct investment and privatisation post-1990? </p> <h2><strong><em>Pakoda</em></strong><strong> employment</strong></h2> <p>Unfortunately, the conditions of <em>pakoda </em>employment – informal, underpaid and precarious employment – are not limited to selling snacks and <em>chai </em>on the street side. As much as Modi would like to insist on India’s growth story, these conditions characterise the majority of employment in the country, including formal employment in services, the biggest sector of the Indian economy and the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.in/malvinder-mohan-singh/the-rise-of-the-services-sector-is-redefining-india-s-growth-nar_a_21445764/">fastest growing</a> service sector in the world. </p> <p>The numbers that demonstrate the success of the deregulation of the Indian economy – high GDP growth rate, increasing per capita income, rapid growth of services – carefully mask the exploitation and everyday struggles of common people, even those <em>privileged </em>enough to be employed. </p> <p>The idea that privatisation and foreign investment in the market has led to a surge of employment opportunities for the youth, <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/fast-food-chains-in-india-cultivate-untapped-workforce-women-1482674401">particularly</a><a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/fast-food-chains-in-india-cultivate-untapped-workforce-women-1482674401"> women</a>, is popular (because if there are any bastions of women’s empowerment, they’re American multi-nationals, right?!) Perhaps the popularity of this idea is not so surprising. Dressed smartly in uniforms, young professional women in the gleaming malls and cafes of Indian cities may give an impression of upward mobility. But the smiles, the English greetings, and the lattes cover up conditions that are not so dissimilar from the informal self-employment that Modi speaks of as gainful employment.</p> <p>This hidden-away reality became obvious as I conducted research with young women workers in cafes and malls in affluent South Delhi in 2017. On an average, these young women earn Rs.8000 (USD 125) per month; income that their families heavily rely upon for everyday living expenses. To earn this salary, all of them work overtime, which they are never compensated for, often seven days a week, rather than their contractual 6 days a week. And even if calculated for just 25 days of work per month, their wages do not meet the minimum wage for the state of Delhi. </p> <h2><strong>Trapped</strong></h2> <p>Early in 2017, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/aap-govts-minimum-wages-too-little-and-inadequate-delhi-high-court/articleshow/58646166.cms">increased the minimum wage</a> by approximately one-third to Rs.13,350 (USD 210), Rs.14,968 (USD 235), and Rs.16,182 (USD 254) for unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled workers respectively. Commenting on the employers’ plea against this move, the Delhi High Court noted – “Is it possible to sustain an individual on Rs 13,000? Average cost of commute for an individual per day is around Rs 100 which comes to Rs 3,000 in a month. Where do you eat? One has to eat. That would also cost Rs 50 per day. The amount of Rs 13,000 is too little. It's inadequate.” </p> <p>These workers’ emotional labour, which is far from acknowledged, hides their utter physical exhaustion, which is often made visible on the swollen feet that have to get a night’s rest before starting all over again the next day. The limits of their earnings are made manifest in their inability to use the metro because the maximum fare has now been increased to Rs.60 (USD 1), in the impossibility of getting their degree certificates because they still haven’t paid the full fees, and in their negotiations with landlords for leeway in payment of rent on their Rs.5000 (USD 78) per month one-bedroom flats. And these are conditions that these workers cannot think of escaping since alternatives are few and far in between. </p> <p>As the <a href="https://scroll.in/article/815500/is-this-even-legal-what-is-modi-is-doing-in-a-reliance-jio-ad-ask-twitter-users">Prime Minister’s image appears on Reliance Jio advertisements</a> across the country offering low cost data services, young people get access to smartphones and 4G sims, but not to good quality education, housing, or infrastructure. Much as we’d like to believe, and the government would like us to believe, that these one-off purchases are signs of an upwardly mobile new middle class, reality counters this presumption. They are, rather, families caught in a spiral of working class conditions in jobs pretending to be middle class with their requirement for degrees and skills training. </p> <h2><strong>Formal employment </strong></h2> <p>The government’s investment in employability training for youth is not matched by the creation of secure and fairly paid work. Many complain about being trained in computers and English speaking at low-cost government centres or NGOs, only to end up in work that does not require these skills at all. As one of my research respondents put it, “They ask for education, BA, MA…but they’re not willing to spend the money, that’s the government. They put suits and ties on workers but if you ask them, you find out how bad their financial situations are.” </p> <p>It is then no surprise that these young women, as well as men in their families, express a desire for ‘government jobs’, even preparing to sit exams while working seven days a week. <a href="http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reviews-essays/india-struggle-knowledge/2">In 2015, 2.5 million people applied for 600 Class IV government jobs in the state of Uttar Pradesh</a>. The cry for government jobs may be dismissed as a historical affliction or just nostalgia but it is actually indicative of the lack of secure employment that can offer stability. A Class IV government job (lowest category of permanent employment) would pay twice the salary that my research respondents currently earn, with nothing to say of access to job security, provident fund, and pension. </p> <p>While informal employment is often considered to be the problem marring India (and rightly so), we also need to pay more attention to the conditions of formal employment that the country is generating and hopes to generate more of in the future. It needs to be reiterated that the underpayment, exploitation, and precariousness that young women workers have described characterise jobs that are actually on the better end of the employment situation in the country. These jobs would be categorised as formal, regular, salaried employment but the experience is far removed from that categorisation. </p> <p>As underemployment and exploitation pervade the vast majority of employment opportunities in the country, including in emerging gleaming globalised urban spaces, one needs to ask – what kind of economic and social future are we looking towards? The need for sustainable, secure, and fairly paid work is urgent. Rather than touting informal and poorly paid formal work as gainful employment, the government needs to consider India’s longterm social and economic prospects for the disgruntled majority of its population.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/8390775831_d072dd62a2_b.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/8390775831_d072dd62a2_b.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Employees operate the telephones at the Touch Solutions Ltd call centre in New Delhi. Flickr/©ILO/Benoit Marquet. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia India Civil society Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics Asiya Islam Mon, 12 Feb 2018 10:56:41 +0000 Asiya Islam 116068 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Táhirih unveiled: poet, theologian and revolutionary https://www.opendemocracy.net/asiya-islam-naim-bro-khomasi/tahirih <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Táhirih – an important figure in Persian history – helps us imagine a more diverse feminism and a more progressive Middle East. Her legacy is not limited to Bahá’ís but belongs to all of us.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>&nbsp;</strong><em>"Just let me paint my flashing eyes&nbsp;with&nbsp;black, </em></p><p><em>and I&nbsp;would turn&nbsp;the&nbsp;day&nbsp;as&nbsp;dark&nbsp;as&nbsp;hell". </em>- Táhirih.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/TahirihillustrationbyIvanLloyd-crop.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/TahirihillustrationbyIvanLloyd-crop.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tahirih. Illustration by Ivan Lloyd in Tahirih – “A Poetic Vision” (Desert Rose Publishing). </span></span></span></p><p>Around the same time as the 1848 <a href="https://youtu.be/OFtkVKu9usk">Seneca Falls Convention</a>, commonly seen as the first chapter of the women’s movement in the West, several thousands of miles away, in Iran, a lone woman was creating ripples.</p> <p>Eighty one Babis – the precursors of present-day Bahá’ís – were gathered in the village of <a href="https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8r22d22q">Badasht</a> after their leader, the Bab, had been captured by the king. The emerging religious movement needed to decide what to do next and define the identity of the movement in a moment of crisis. One of the leaders in Badasht,<span> Táhirih - </span>a poet, theologian, and the only woman among the 81 Babis – advocated for a definitive break from Islam.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/Badasht, Effie Baker 1930.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/501857/Badasht, Effie Baker 1930.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Badasht, 1930. Photo: Effie Baker </span></span></span></p> <p>One day <span>Táhirih</span> appeared adorned and unveiled in an all-male gathering. As she entered, all stood “aghast before this sudden and most unexpected apparition,” narrated witness <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/67803260">Abu Turab</a>, as beholding “her face unveiled was to them inconceivable.” Abu Turab then goes on to describe a man who “was so gravely shaken that he cut his throat with his own hands. Covered with blood and shrieking with excitement, he fled away from the face of Táhirih.”</p> <p>While to Bahá’ís this episode represents the point of break with Islam, Táhirih – also known as Qurrat al-'Ayn or Fatimah Baraghani – remains relatively unknown in mainstream feminism. People like University of Virginia professor <a href="https://youtu.be/OFtkVKu9usk">Farzaneh Milani</a>, however, think that Badasht should be seen as “the beginning of women’s movement” in the Middle East.</p> <p>Born in Qazvin in the mid-1810s into a family of high clerics, Táhirih did not stake any claims to feminism. But her journey indeed gives us the opportunity to trace an alternative history of modern feminism, one that is deeply tied to its Middle Eastern roots. This differs from the usual picture showing the West as the source of all good or all evil, and other cultures as receiving vessels.</p> <p>What made Táhirih and the Babi movement revolutionary comes down to their progressive understanding of history. They believed that God’s will unveils from time to time, according to culture and context. Religion is relative, not absolute, and, most crucially, time moves forward. This matters because conceptions of time and social change are <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/190822268">intertwined</a>.</p> <p>To <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/8387300">Mangol Bayat</a>, an independent Iranian scholar, the Babi’s progressive conception of history goes back to twelfth century Ismailis of Alamut, who thought that the Qur’an’s inner truth would unfold progressively. <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/18256692">Abbas Amanat</a>, a Yale history professor, traces this philosophy’s roots back to sixteenth century Persian theosophers, especially Mulla Sadra and his students.</p> <p>Independently of this philosophy’s exact lineage, we known that by the nineteenth century Babis were extending its implications to the social realm. Religious revelations, they thought, produce not only humanity’s spiritual but also material evolution. And no one made the logical implications of this idea clearer than <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/18256692">Tahirih</a>. “And day after day,” she wrote in 1845, “the cycle of the universe is in progress… and there is no suspension in His emanation.”</p> <p>Most religious traditions have important female figures. What makes Táhirih remarkable is that she did not play the roles of a good daughter, wife, or mother – at least in the traditional sense. Deeming herself a bigger place in the world, Tahirih left her husband and children in order to spread the word of what she thought as a new age.</p> <p>In a letter to her husband, she <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/43475242">wrote</a>: “If your desire had really been to be a faithful mate and companion to me, you would have hastened to meet me in Karbila … Three years have lapsed since our separation. Neither in this world nor in the next can I ever be associated with you. I have cast you out of my life forever.”</p> <p>Our hero left her native Qazvin for Najaf, Baghdad, Karbila, then went back to Qazvin, and finally travelled through Tehran and Mazandaran. According to <a href="https://youtu.be/OFtkVKu9usk">Farzaneh Milani</a>, freedom of movement represents one of Táhirih's most meaningful struggles in a time when women were expected to stay at home.</p> <p>As Táhirih moved from place to place and her following grew, she started challenging senior clerics to public debates – an arena where she could hardly be beaten. “No ranting shaykh rules from his pulpit throne,” she sentenced in a <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/55098467">poem</a>. “No sham, no pious fraud, no priest commands!... Good riddance! We are done with folly’s show!” </p> <p>Not surprisingly, people in power vilified her. In his chronicles, a royal court historian named <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/24429138">Sepehr</a> accused Táhirih of dressing like a “peacock of paradise” and letting her male followers “come to her throne and kiss those lips of hers which put to shame the ruby of Ramman, and rub their faces against her breasts, which chagrined the pomegranates of the garden.” Sepehr – who was not exactly a restrained writer – also alleged that Tahirih recommended the marriage of one woman to nine men.</p> <p>The mix of hate and fascination that Táhirih produced among her enemies apparently reached the Shah of Iran, who – some sources indicate – asked for the poet’s hand in marriage. “… I’ll walk the beggar’s path – though bad – it’s mine,” she wrote in a <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/55098467">poem</a>, presumably as a response. “It’s Alexander’s road that you pursue. Ride past my camp, on your road to nowhere. May you have all you wish, for it’s your due”.</p> <p>Badasht was not the first time Táhirih unveiled in public. During the first day of Muharram of 1845, she attended a gathering in the city of Karbila unveiled and wearing bright colours, not black as is customary during the month of mourning for Shia Muslims. When the word spread, a mob attacked her house and the governor put her under arrest. A Babi troubled with Táhirih’s radical views <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/18256692">wrote</a> a letter to the Bab saying: “…this woman has exceeded the limits and abrogated the shari’a that we inherited from our fathers and grandfathers.” </p> <p>Why would she be so disruptive? To Táhirih, it seems, unveiling served as shock therapy, a way of attacking prevailing norms, generating intense emotions, and mobilising other Babis to action. Her unapologetic deliberate radicalness in appearing unveiled in public can be read as a form of protest that only she, as the sole woman among several men, had access to. At the time, Babis were trying to figure out their relation to Islam and decide whether Shari’a still applied. Táhirih’s public unveiling was a dramatic sentence saying no.</p> <p>And her strategy seems to have worked. The Babi who wrote the accusatory letter received a response from the Bab himself, which was read before 70 of his followers in the Kazimayn district of Baghdad. It <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/18256692">said</a>: “Do not dispute al-Tahira in her command for she is aware of the circumstances of the cause and there is nothing for you but submission to her since it is not destined for you to realize the truth of her status.”</p> <p>Among the followers of the Bab, Mulla Husayn and especially Quddus are often considered as the most prominent leaders. We would like to argue that, in fact, Táhirih was equally, if not the most, influential individual in shaping the overall direction of the Babi movement once the Bab was put under arrest.</p> <p>In the days after Táhirih’s unveiling in Badasht, some participants renounced their faith. But according to <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/67803260">Nabil</a> – the most famous chronicler of early Babi history – those who stayed, “witnessed the most revolutionary changes in the life and habits of the assembled followers of the Bab. Their manner of worship underwent a sudden and fundamental transformation. The prayers and ceremonials by which those devout worshippers had been disciplined were irrevocably discarded.”</p> <p>Táhirih herself refused to assume a secondary role within the movement. At one point, Nabil <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/67803260">says</a>, she called Quddus “a pupil whom the Bab has sent me to edify and instruct.” “By all accounts,” states Columbia University professor <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/709594643">Hamid Dabashi</a>, “[Tahirih] was the Lenin of this ‘Marxism,’ the chief theorist and leader of revolutionary action.”</p> <p>Táhirih helps us imagine a more diverse feminism and a more progressive Middle East,&nbsp;not the one&nbsp;the media sells us. Her legacy is not limited to Bahá’ís but belongs to all of us. Revisiting figures like Tahirih helps us appreciate the plurality of ways in which women have changed history.</p> <p>Two years after Badasht, Táhirih was arrested and taken to Tehran. On separate accounts, the <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/67803260">son</a> of the mayor and an <a href="http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/844230981">Austrian physician</a> – both eye witnesses – described her death during a wave of repression that <a href="http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/martyrs-babi-babi">took the lives</a> of thousands of Babis. On a&nbsp;night in August 1852, government guards forced Táhirih from the place she was arrested and took her to a field just outside Tehran. In her mid-thirties, she was strangled to death – with her own veil, as she requested. Her body was pushed into a hollow well and rocks were thrown on top of it.</p> <p>It is for us to take one by one the rocks&nbsp;out of&nbsp;that&nbsp;well.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/karima-bennoune-deniz-kandiyoti/your-fatwa-does-not-apply-here">Your fatwa does not apply here</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/sukhwant-dhaliwal-chitra-nagarajan-rashmi-varma/feminist-dissent-why-new-journal-on-gender-and-">Feminist Dissent: why a new journal on gender and fundamentalism?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/ruby-johnson-devi-leiper-o%27malley/young-feminists-resisting-tide-of-fundamentalisms">Young feminists: resisting the tide of fundamentalisms</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/shirin-ebadi/shirin-ebadi-who-defines-islam">Shirin Ebadi: who defines Islam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/marion-bowman/bringing-radicalism-of-seneca-falls-into-21st-century">Bringing the radicalism of Seneca Falls into the 21st century</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/meredith-tax/fundamentalism-and-education">Fundamentalism and education</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/deepa-shankaran/right-to-have-rights-resisting-fundamentalist-orders">The right to have rights: resisting fundamentalist orders</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Iran </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Iran Culture Equality 50.50 Frontline voices against fundamentalism 50.50 Women's Movement Building 50.50 Gender Politics Religion 50.50 Contesting Patriarchy 50.50 Editor's Pick women and power gender justice fundamentalisms feminism 50.50 newsletter Asiya Islam Naim Bro Khomasi Mon, 24 Oct 2016 06:45:33 +0000 Naim Bro Khomasi and Asiya Islam 106152 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Where do women belong in Indian cities? https://www.opendemocracy.net/where-do-women-belong-in-indian-cities <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>While men can be seen hanging around, women are expected to have a purpose for being outdoors. This question must be addressed.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/16111076627_833977ab14_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/16111076627_833977ab14_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A woman sits in front of her shop near Aligarh. Evonne/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Every time I go back to Aligarh, my hometown in India, I see a new eating spot. McDonald’s, KFC, Domino’s and Café Coffee Day are very recent additions to the city. Aligarh, pretty much like Oxford and Cambridge, is primarily a university city although it is also known for lock making and some handicrafts. When I went to the Women’s College, Aligarh Muslim University for my Bachelor’s almost a decade ago, I hung out mostly at the canteens in the college and university and went for lunch to local restaurants. The big city offerings of coffee, fried chicken and burgers were not around then (the closest we got to international cuisine was spicy chowmein which was probably more Indian than Chinese); those were the temptations of Delhi, the metropolis nearest to us.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-right">The question of women in public spaces in urban India has been looming large for a few years now.</span></p><p>On reflection, this transition from the local South Indian to American fried chicken in a small Indian city is symptomatic of wider economic, social and political changes in the country. With the country adopting neoliberal policies in the 1990s, the landscape of India changed – rapid urbanisation was touted as ‘success’ of neoliberalism. As the government projects the development of <a href="http://www.smartcitiesprojects.com">100 smart cities</a> in India by 2020 (incidentally, Aligarh is on that list), it is worth thinking about who belongs in these ‘world-class’ urban areas of the country.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>The question of women in public spaces in urban India has been looming large for a few years now, particularly since the infamous gang rape of a young student in Delhi in December 2012. The brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Pandey was largely seen in the international media as a rupture in the narrative of India’s development and global economy – a country where women are not safe to go to the cinema couldn’t claim to be modern.</p><h2>Public access</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/6563165177_76276846b4_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/6563165177_76276846b4_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aligarh town. Minha Khan/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>This issue of access to public spaces quickly became one of women’s safety – a formulation that the academics Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade find problematic. They argue for women’s right to risk and access in the city in their book ‘Why Loiter’. They encourage women to ‘loiter’ – while men can be seen hanging around in public spaces, women are expected (and restricted through the expectation) to have a purpose for accessing the same public spaces. The associated campaign </span><a href="https://www.facebook.com/Why-Loiter-193556873988115/?fref=ts">‘Why Loiter’</a><span> has been receiving photos from women trying out purposeless loitering to reclaim their right to public spaces.</span></p><p><span><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">While men can be seen hanging around in public spaces, women are expected to have a purpose for accessing the same public spaces.&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p>In Aligarh, while women frequent CCD, Domino’s and KFC, they are not commonly found in the <em>dhabas </em>lining Shamshad Market or in Café de Phoos, spots which are popular with men students in the university. In all my years in Aligarh, I had only heard and watched men spending their leisure time drinking <em>chai</em>, eating <em>parathas</em> and debating at these places. So, when a few of us decided to go out ‘loitering’ in Aligarh, it was obvious that our target would be the street side <em>dhabas</em> and cafes on the campus rather than the new coffee and burger joints.</p><h2>Sense of freedom</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/4049845141_bfb2e0e3ed_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/557324/4049845141_bfb2e0e3ed_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aligarh Train Station. Minha Khan/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This situation is not so dissimilar to bigger cities and metropolises in India where plenty of women will be seen in shopping malls and cafes but frowned upon if seen hanging out in a neighbourhood corner. This invisibility of women from ‘local’ places (the borders are of course permeable and present an interesting study in themselves) might seem to be contradictory to women’s increased presence in shopping malls, cafes and restaurants but I would argue that the two go hand in hand. While the new spaces of consumption – malls, cafes, restaurants – pose as spaces of freedom and permissibility for women, they create segregations along class lines. There are only certain women – middle and upper class women – who are able to fully access these spaces, excluding the majority of women living in India’s cities, making it apparent that India’s world-class cities belong to those with economic power.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">India’s world-class cities belong to those with economic power.</span></p> <p>This exclusionary sense of freedom offered to women in Indian cities – the neoliberal ‘choice’ – is dangerous and needs to be challenged through reclaiming public spaces that still remain out of bounds for majority of women. Going a step further, the issue of equal access for women needs to conceive of spaces as not just physical but also temporal – most women who have lived in university hostels in India will know that while not all public spaces are out of reach, certain times of the day definitely are. The campaign <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pinjratod/?fref=ts">Pinjra Tod</a> (Break the Hostel Locks) is challenging the sexist ‘curfew’ hours imposed on women’s hostels, criticising universities for infantilising women. Campaigns like this need to spread to claim equal access to physical and temporal spaces for <em>all </em>women in India. In Aligarh, I’d rather claim my right to enjoy a <em>paratha</em> at Café de Phoos rather than sip the neoliberal dream at Café Coffee Day.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia openIndia Asiya Islam Fri, 26 Feb 2016 15:51:06 +0000 Asiya Islam 100124 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Asiya Islam https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/asiya-islam <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Asiya Islam </div> </div> </div> <p>Asiya Islam is a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge where she is doing a PhD in Sociology. Her research explores the formations of class and gender in urban India. Follow her on twitter @asiyaislam.</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Asiya Islam works in equality and diversity at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She holds a Masters degree in gender, media and culture and is working to build a career in feminist journalism. </div> </div> </div> Asiya Islam Thu, 05 Jun 2014 08:08:32 +0000 Asiya Islam 83450 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Racism vs racial prejudice: on the normalisation of (un)conscious bias https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/asiya-islam/racism-vs-racial-prejudice-on-normalisation-of-unconscious-bias <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There is a danger with the latest figures on racial prejudice in Britain that we understate the scope and nature of prejudice. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Last week was almost all bad news for progressive Britain – the right wing anti-immigrant <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/michael-skey/tales-of-one-city-london-superdiversity-and-paradox-of-belonging">UKIP made gains in local and European Parliament elections</a> and the latest <a href="http://www.natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/british-social-attitudes/">British Social Attitudes survey by NatCen</a> revealed that racial prejudice is on the rise in Britain with 30% of the respondents self-declaring to be “very or a little racially prejudiced”. The NatCen graph charting the change in racial prejudice in Britain is interesting – 30 years ago, as many as 36% of the respondents said they are racially prejudiced, the proportion then fell to its lowest to 25% in 2000 and 2001, rose again in 2010 to 37% (the highest recorded levels) and now stands at 30%. </p> <p>During the last three decades, a lot has happened that could have influenced these responses – the flow of immigrants and the rise of Tories in the 1980s, the fall of the Twin Towers in 2001, the recession which started out in 2009, the golden glow of multicultural Britain during the 2012 Olympics and so on. While it’s not statistically possible to establish causation between these factors and the responses, it is nevertheless interesting to examine more carefully the question asked in the NatCen survey and the related discourse on diversity.</p> <p>Although the Guardian proclaimed <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/may/27/-sp-racism-on-rise-in-britain">“Racism on rise in Britain”</a> in a front page splash after obtaining these statistics from NatCen, and other publications followed suit, it is important to note that the question put to the respondents of the British Social Attitudes survey was – “Would you describe yourself as very prejudiced/a little prejudiced against people of other races?” The results have combined the “very prejudiced” and the “a little prejudiced” categories. More importantly, the question was not – “Would you describe yourself as very or a little racist?” or even “Would you think it justifiable to discriminate against people of other races?” </p> <p>This distinction is significant in the context of the increased focus on ‘unconscious bias’, particularly in workplaces. The <a href="http://www.ecu.ac.uk/">Equality Challenge Unit</a> defines ‘unconscious bias’ as “a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.” </p> <p>The underlying idea behind the concept of unconscious bias is that all of us are biased and acknowledging and checking our biases is useful to avoid discrimination. Although a helpful idea, it has, to a certain extent, played a role in normalising bias. We have landed in a situation where “I’m not racist, I have black friends,” seems to have been replaced by “Of course, I’m prejudiced against people of other races. Who isn’t?” or “I don’t dislike black people, I just prefer white people.” This forms the crux of the difference between racial prejudice and racism and, similarly, <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/05/22/unconscious_bias_study_sexism_and_racism_in_america_is_a_product_of_favoritism.html">gender prejudice and sexism</a>.</p> <p>Google’s first diversity report, released earlier today, revealed that of the company’s employees, only 30% are women and 2% are black. Further, only 21% of leadership positions are held by women. Tina Nunno, a vice-president and fellow at Gartner – a research firm which recently released a report on women in technology – <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/29/google-diversity-women-black-people">said</a>, “I don’t believe this bias towards men is conscious. Most people simply don’t say they don’t want to work with a woman, it’s just that on some unconscious level there’s a detrimental lean in the direction of men.” And she is partly right – we probably would have had a very low proportion of respondents self-declaring to be racists. After all, admission of unconscious bias carries a lot less weight as compared to declaration of racism. But whether such bias is ‘unconscious’, which we are not aware of, is debatable. And so is the implication that racism is on the rise based on claims of ‘racial prejudice’.</p> <p>The argument is not so much that these 30% people who are racially prejudiced may not be racist but that <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/28/racism-is-still-with-us-lying-britain-survey-racial">racism is much more</a> than just one third of the population admitting their (un)conscious bias. Racism is only 2% of Google’s employees and only 0.4% of UK’s professors being black. It is also the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24902389">higher likelihood of black and Asian people being stopped and searched</a> by the police and of young black men being unemployed as compared to their white counterparts. Yet, we’ve arrived in a place where <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/18/racism-more-than-old-white-men-using-n-word">we’d rather assign blame to individuals</a> – look at these 30%, mostly old white men involved in manual labour, most probably never been to university, being so outrageously racist – than acknowledge institutional and systematic racism. </p> <p>And, although the idea of checking one’s unconscious bias started out with the right intention, it has become reduced to a similar individualist approach whereby the process of acknowledging one’s bias is an adequate corrective measure. This risk has carried through to the NatCen British Social Attitudes Survey – it is quite likely that those who claimed to be very or a little racially prejudiced will jump out of their skins if branded racists or even perpetrators of racism. (Even <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2014/may/19/nigel-farage-ukip-racist-video">Nigel Farage says he and his party are not racist</a>.) Their response, in all likelihood, is more indicative of “Yes, I’m biased, so what?” attitude. This is not to say that prejudice based on race is not racism – of course it is – but let’s not forget it’s a lot more than numbers scattered across the country. </p><p><em><strong><br /></strong></em></p><p><em><strong><span>Liked this piece? Please donate to OurKingdom </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>here </span></a><span>to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.</span></strong></em></p> uk uk Asiya Islam Sun, 01 Jun 2014 23:11:11 +0000 Asiya Islam 83263 at https://www.opendemocracy.net