Writer, activist and translator Meena Kandasamy was in the city to participate in the Chandigarh Literature Festival. She opens up to Sowmya S about feminism, caste annihilation and reservation in India. Excerpts…
What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism is the struggle for ensuring that women are treated as equals. It is not just about women, but also about creating a world of equality: a world that rejects casteism, communal hatred, racism and capitalism, because not just women, but no human being can be free or be treated equally under these oppressive structures. Feminism is the struggle to create an equal world.
Most self-proclaimed, young feminists today seem to think that feminism is men-bashing. This can especially be seen on the social media very often. Your take on this?
I do not have trouble with anyone being a ‘self-proclaimed’ feminist, because unless you call yourself a feminist, who is going to do that for you? It’s self identification and it is essential. I also do not think that feminists perceive feminism as a short-hand for male-bashing. That’s quite contrary to what feminism is meant to represent. I just think that there is so much propaganda out there to discredit feminism and the voices of women that it reduces everything that women say into something that is patently anti-male. I refuse to buy into it and I refuse to propagate this vicious idea. Feminism is about treating everyone equally and fighting for everyone’s rights. How can we hate one half of the humanity and call ourselves feminists? It just does not work that way. In fact, it is by being sympathetic to men and pointing out to them how they are also victims of patriarchy that we can take feminism forward and make it an inclusive struggle.
What are your views on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s recent comment on pay raise for women?
It was a childish statement. One has to study the entire IT industry to look at how it has dealt an unfair deal to women; how they have been edged out of computer science and how they are only occupying the lower rung except for a couple of token women at the top. I reject Nadella’s good karma theory. It is not about women demanding higher wages alone. We are living in a world where we have wage struggles on various fronts. In Seattle, for instance, the Socialist Alternative, led by the Indiaborn Kshama Sawant, has managed to win a $15/hour minimum wage. We have a wage struggle in Maruti Suzuki, that had to fight brutal state repression and criminalisation. The struggle is going on. So, if we look at it broadly, it encompasses and concerns everyone.
Do you believe that it is essential to follow the reservation policy in education and employment even today?
Yes. If we are worried about our nation and if we really want holistic development, we should fight for the reservation policy to be implemented in letter and spirit. No nation can progress if half the population is left behind. At the same time, reservation must be extended beyond the purview of caste to benefit LGBT and other marginalised groups. A lot of young people buy into the anxiety that reservation will deprive them of a future. They should be educated about the horrors of caste and why reservation policy is a redressal mechanism.
How did your book The Gypsy Goddess, based on the Keezhvenmani massacre in Tamil Nadu, create an impact on the lives of the victims of the massacre? Did the readers, who previously might have had no idea about the massacre, extend help to the villagers?
The Kilvenmani massacre took place in 1968. The massacre, the judicial process, it’s failure, the people’s organised resistance—they have all played out to a finale in the 1980s. My book came at a time where the landscape had changed vastly. I did not write the book to secure justice for the victims—they have already obtained a closure for their struggle through their own organised and uncompromising resistance. The book is about conveying the fact that when the working class take to the path of struggle, they will succeed.