Rosalyn D'Mello: Smokescreen wars in a fascist era

Published: Nov 18, 2016, 08:36 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello |

Government has fashioned a disaster it can no longer contain, whose effects can no longer be mitigated, it’s implications are unforgivable

A bank employee counts the bundles of old Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes received at cash counter at a Punjab National Bank branch in Chennai. Pic/PTI
A bank employee counts the bundles of old Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes received at cash counter at a Punjab National Bank branch in Chennai. Pic/PTI

Post-apocalyptic — that’s how this past week has felt. Each hour interminably long, every minute measured by one’s pace in a queue, every small purchase impressing worry lines on frustrated faces. The poor and the working class continue to suffer in relative silence, almost too complacently, with moralistic fervour, while the disgustingly rich have been let off the hook for not honouring their loans — a slap in the face and stab in the heart for the thousands of farmers who have committed suicide because of the stubborn lack of respite from the very same banking system. For the first time ever over my five-day stay, I found my native state of Goa enveloped in a relentless blanket of evening smog, besides garbage lying unclaimed on the edges of highways, and wayside lakes and ponds infiltrated by plastic waste. I welcomed the supermoon as it appeared uncertainly over a hazy sky. I should have felt elated by its magnetic lure. But like most of the world, I am still mourning Leonard Cohen’s death, and the absence of someone to serenade our state of erotic despair, make poetry out of the weight of our sinking lives.

Over drinks last night at an affordable bar in Kurla, I happened to unload some of this despair on to one of my dearest friends, Devika. “I’m beginning to feel marginal,” I said. “Like I’m unable to fit in with the way the world has decided to function.” Everything has been feeling topsy-turvy, as if the centre of gravity was no longer relevant. D said something wonderful about being emotionally detached from the consequences of one’s activism. The trick is to do your best, do as much as you can, and then surrender, let go. She has managed a Zen-like attitude towards Trump’s victory. I cannot allow myself to forget that an unqualified bigot was chosen over a woman with over three decades of governing experience. Now, more than ever, I am glad at my decision to not mother any offspring. I cannot imagine bringing a child into a world that has suddenly positioned itself outside of my understanding. I cannot imagine having to instill in any child that life is simply unfair, and that misogyny has not just been re-institutionalised, it has been validated, as has the politics of hatred and repression.

The apathetic execution of the demonetisation decree must come as a brutal rapping on all privileged doors. So many who have been inconvenienced are able to justify and rationalise their lot, saying the government must surely know what it’s doing. It’s obvious that it doesn’t, that it has fashioned a disaster it can no longer contain, whose effects can no longer be mitigated. The war on the so-called black money is a smokescreen. Despite my critical attitude towards my government, I too initially welcomed the move as bold and concrete, but the lack of foresight about the implications and the deep inconvenience it has caused is unforgivable. That none of us are questioning whether it is even legal for the government to decide how much of our own money we can withdraw per day is alarming. Critics of the move still form a minority; the majority staking claims to exercising their patriotic duties, doing their bit for the country.

It is plainly obvious that once again the government did not think of women as citizens. Reports abound of the level of disenfranchisement that women of various classes have had to suffer; women with no identity papers who managed to save money without their husbands’ knowledge, to pay for their children’s education, to put food on the table. Sadly, in our country, women do not constitute an economically powerful category, and so our interests continue to be treated with the indignity of an afterthought.

I have no solutions to offer, no reprieve to speak of, no cautious optimism to share. I am still confused about the contents of this absurdist nightmare I seem to have woken up to. But I know that as women, our redemption can only be in recuperating our strengths, building our reserves of empathy so we can go beyond class and caste and encompass within our struggle the rights of women who have never known any form of privilege. I’m not suggesting that our resistance must be gendered, but we must look out for our kind, because history has proven how little patriarchy has accomplished in terms of women’s economic, social, political and personal rights.

This is an Emergency. All the symptoms have been present for a while, but they are slowly assuming more significance. Make no mistake, we are living in a fascist era, and it won’t help any of us to be in denial of this fact. We have no option but to resist and oppose. It is time for us to gather our anger and turn it into a force field.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to

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