When inclusivity spills on to streets
Though I have prevailed over the modern-day affliction of FOMO, the women protesters at Shaheen Bagh with their warmth and energy are by all means, worth pining for
If there was one spectral emotion from whose lurking shadow I was able to un-entangle myself more easily last year, it's FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out. I had been introduced to the term's counter — JOMO, which replaces Fear with Joy and revelled in its subversive potential.
How much time and energy had I spent in illusive pursuits I believed were significant to me when really they weren't or were dreams of others I had adopted through either peer pressure or osmosis. So many art openings and private dinners I'd only attended because I felt some compulsion towards registering my presence there. I had bought into the notion that my being invited was a validation of my having arrived, of my being taken more seriously by the art community or the literary community.
I confess, I actively sought acceptance and a corollary sense of belonging. I reasoned with myself that I had earned my seat at every table within the worlds I wanted to inhabit, and then felt disappointed each time I received no invitation. Until finally, sometime last year, I was able to relinquish almost wholly the sway these notional tables had held in my imagination. I began investing instead in re-conceiving the form of the table, and how it could be incisive yet inclusive, accommodating of ideological diversities within the stable of feminist urgencies. I began cooking more intensely. I began collecting recipes. I began the process of feeding and learning to be fed, and I read more and more about love as a revolutionary act of kindness that stems from the self and yet extends beyond its boundaries.
All of this learning and thinking and feeling enabled my experience of the perfect New Year's Eve. I felt zero pressure to party, to do something, to post about what exciting thing I was doing on social media. I spent the evening drinking chamomile tea with my husband and my parents and reading Chayanika Shah's introduction to Zubaan's recently published edition of Sara Ahmed's Living a Feminist Life.
I've spoken before about Ahmed's proposition of the feminist killjoy as that subversive figure that no one wants to have at any dinner table, because she inevitable asks inconvenient questions and pokes holes in patriarchal discourse.
Shah paraphrases it eloquently in her introduction, "She questions and rants more than she needs to. She is never happy, she is perpetually angry. She upsets the peace at the dining table. Her continuous challenge of everything, at and around the table, is seen as a challenge to the happiness of the family meal. Gratitude is demanded for the fact that she had happy meals. Gratitude is a price to be paid in exchange of not challenging the peace..." Shah reminds us that this price is demanded by all tables in exchange for inclusion. Also, participating at tables, whether across them or around them, is frequently a negotiation with power. "The question, however, is: how do we make our tables, the ones that we make in our homes, in our organisations, in our collectives, feminist? And how do we interact at, around, and across them?"
The Muslim women of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi had been inadvertently answering many of those questions while I was reading Shah's invocation of them. As I lay in my bed in Goa, grateful for time with my ageing parents, anticipating upcoming months of hectic fieldwork, I felt an intense pang of FOMO. Mona sent me a picture of her mother accompanying her to the anti-CAA dharna at Shaheen Bagh and I longed, suddenly, to be with this, my other family, my activist family.
I longed to experience the energy and warmth of these housewives who had taken to the streets 18 days ago and have since decided to stay there, extending the parameters of their domestic realm. As a student of JNU, I encountered protests on a regular basis. I was even present at one a day before I left for New Delhi, where I spent a lot of time running from the police because I had a train to catch the next day. But the idea of these women hosting the protest by feeding not just fellow protesters and each other but also the figures of authority whose brutality they were protesting, of them running a community kitchen, accepting ingredients being brought by anyone expressing generosity made me want to weep with joy.
From all accounts, these women seem to have dismissed with the limited notion of the table entirely in lieu of radical inclusivity, irrespective of religion. They've taken their religiously specific concept of fasting (roza) and transformed into a revolutionary hunger strike, which isn't confined to the Gandhian ideal of withholding from eating for sustenance until a demand is met but extends to a community-centred breaking of the hunger-strike-fast.
Journalist Samrat Chakrabarti reports, "If the Shaheen Bagh stage has a bias, it is towards women and those, from academia and elsewhere, who can educate them not just on CAA-NRC-NPR, but also the freedom struggle, Ambedkar, Gandhi and the ideas that animate the preamble to the Constitution." The absence of a singular person becoming the face of the struggle is another unique advantage. "No one dares speak to the women directly. And without a leader, who do they approach?" writes Chakrabarti.
It would seem that the Muslim women of Shaheen Bagh have evolved a feminist prototype for contemporary protesting. My only selfish complaint is it's doing nothing to keep my FOMO under check.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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