“Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshiping.”
- Hubert Reeves
We’d like to share a few vignettes with you. These are true stories about women that the authors know. Their real names have been changed to protect their identities. It has been a difficult journey to connect the dots, not to see the stories as atomized happenings built from particular contexts. As soon as we started linking the struggle of women here in India to the globalized context of corporate capitalism with its corollaries of extraction, patriarchy and cannibalism, an emerging thought-form started to show itself. It is the concept of wetiko, a word that comes from the Cree Nation, one of the First Peoples of North America. More on that later.
After spending almost a decade in an unhappy marriage, Nikita finds the courage to get out of the destructive relationship. When her family finds out, her father threatens to kill her. She attempts suicide—a move that she believes to be her only recourse. Although she is somehow saved after a close shave with death, her mother continues to insist that there must still be no question of a divorce. She cannot stray outside the cultural context of male-dependent marriage.
One day before her wedding, Roshni discovers the abusive side of the man she is planning to marry. She tells her father that she wants to call the wedding off. He gets furious and says he's already spent a fortune on the wedding preparations. He shouts the cold calculus of investment and invokes the cultural and social shame that would follow if she does not stay the course. And so she does. The outcome is predictably horrendous.
After years of convincing her parents (daring to do so because she had taken care to choose someone from the same caste), Kriti finally marries the man she loves. Dowry is also demanded by and given to the groom's family. Kriti accepts this, feeling that the man could not be rude to his parents by interfering with their way of things and saying no to a dowry. A month into the marriage, her spouse starts physically assaulting her and cutting off her contact with everyone outside the marriage. She works up the courage to tell her parents and talks of lodging a police complaint and leaving him. They call up the man and condemn his behavior, but forbid her from leaving the relationship. They say she chose the relationship, a contract was sealed, and she must now accept the consequences.
What is the common thread in all of these cases? Of course, the institution of marriage plays a central role. As do the cultural norms---familial expectations, caste requirements, national demands, the precepts of patriarchy and the hegemony of globalized capitalistic mores. The assumed subservience of women and the desirability of a patriarchal marital arrangement are taken as givens.
In all these cases, the women were economically independent. Some even had what is often a luxury in Indian society - the "freedom" of dating and choosing a man to marry as long as he didn't not belong to certain castes or religions. Yet, once they entered the institution of marriage, they were chained by its rules such that to try to break out would have been seen by their families as a violation of their "culture" and "honour", and the most egregious “failure”. The fear of this rupture in cultural norms dominated their minds so much that some were willing to kill their offspring, while others didn't seem to care about whether or how their daughters would live if forced to continue within the oppressive structure of their marriages.
Some will argue that these are distinctively Indian problems. That the violence against women is endemic to our culture. But if we step back far enough, it becomes clear that this stems from our violence against the ultimate female deity – Gaia herself.
Our separation from Nature started over 12,000 years ago with the advent of what Daniel Quinn calls “totalitarian agriculture”’ when we left the trusting bosom of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and built the first city-states through the mechanistic extraction of farming. Many hunter-gatherer tribes were matriarchal, as women brought in the majority of the food, and did so on a more consistent basis than their male-hunting counterparts.
Economic anthropologists tell us that the first buildings we created in the Fertile Crescent were granaries. Once we had a surplus of food to protect, the natural social extension was a militia to protect the food, and then of course, a hierarchy of nobles and priests to manage the managers. The Ziggurats of Ur and Babylon point to the genus of our current brand of capitalism, which is simply the logical continuation of the exploitation of Nature, accumulation by dispossession, the wholesale commodification of Life, the pillage of slavery and colonialism, the rationalistic duality of the Enlightenment, and the extractive heaving of our Earth to fuel the Industrial Revolution. Late-stage capitalism, or neoliberalism, as some prefer to call it, is the outcome of all of these historical forces.
These machinations of modernity have always required a contempt for the natural world. The scientific revolution of Bacon and Darwin, and the resulting speciesism corroborated our special place above Nature, and indeed above the feminine aspects of our own nature.
From the inception of the first Ziggurat, men were rewarded for their brutality, ruthlessness and sheer strength. Women were subjugated as weak and irrational commodities to be traded to the most tolerant bidder. This history is not particular to India. It is the history of our so-called civilization.
When the Cree Nation in what is now North America first came into contact with European colonialists, they thought the Europeans were consumed by wetiko, a mind-virus of cannibalism. The Sioux Nation perceived them in much the same light, referring to the newcomers as Wasichu or “”fat-takers.” It has been argued that this thought-form originated from our initial separation from Nature, or more accurately, our perceived separation. Like all memetic viruses, wetiko is communicable – it moves from one host to another, whether that is an entire culture or an individual, mutating to best serve the illusions of its host, driving it further onto the path of self-consumption until there is nothing left.
Instead of being loving parents, it is common for people to turn into masters who own their daughters and disown them at the first sign of disobedience. Looking at the stories of these women who are denied recognition and rights as independent human beings, and witnessing the condition of the Earth that is called our Mother, in this Anthropocene era where 200 species are going extinct every day, there is no doubt that the spirit of wetiko has been embodied into the globalized system, especially the Western democracies. Their spreading of the wetiko meme has taken the form of an invisible hand that’s dirven by, selfish rationalism, market fundamentalism and financial capitalism. It has resulted in the superiority of man over woman, calcifying cultures over empathetic adaptation, and cannibalism over Life itself.
Whatever we think Indian culture is, however autonomous and historically endowed, once we see the larger historical viewpoint, the constellational entanglements with the British Empire, imperialism, cultural genocide, and the imposition of wetiko values, we will see that Indian culture is just one configuration that was created through a set of male-dominated rules and the tumultuous compounds of historical accretions. In many ways, culture is just a collective delusion, a set of shared beliefs, expectations and role behaviors. We have a choice at this juncture in human history: to save our culture and kill our daughters, or to transcend our culture, and have women fully participate in the process of guiding our collective evolution to create the potential for a living planet once again.
First published in Intercontinental Cry, 24 Jan 2017. With Alnoor Ladha.