Intersectional India

  ~ Harshita Mishra

The term intersectionality has only recently been imported into Indian academia but the notion of multiple identities co-constructing marginalities has been consistently discernible on the socio-economic and political canvas of India. Jotirao Phule argued that the Aryan invasion and its subsequent practices brought out gender and caste discriminations in three specific ways—child-marriage enforced widowhood and the sati system. While Phule spoke about dual marginalities, acknowledging the power differentials between men and women that caused the latter to be marginalized, he viewed caste and gender more as parallel categories of marginalities that shaped one’s socio-economic reality. Article 15(1) of the Constitution of India reads, “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”. In the interpretation of this provision, courts have placed emphasis on the word “only” to imply that only discrimination on a single ground is suspect under Article 15, thus excluding intersectional discrimination from its scope. 

While we are well-versed with the fact that women face sexism, many of us fail to realize that society is not made up of just one kind of woman. Transwomen exist, and they face transphobia. Disabled women face ableism and sexism. Dalit women face casteism and sexism. There are also women who are trans, disabled, and Dalit, who face a combination of transphobia, ableism, and casteism. For instance, the issue of gender and caste inequality has drawn considerable attention in the discourse of social exclusion in the state of Haryana. The complex relationship between these two culturally powerful identities in the context of violence and atrocities remains stubbornly in place.  Caste identities and gender play a crucial role in the development of praxis in the Indian context. Power structures reflect these social categories, closely followed by class hierarchies and access to due processes. The issue of how caste and class intersect with gender came up repeatedly as a pervasive and deep-rooted issue in how people saw gender inequity as an issue of social justice. Common examples included family and communal resistance to inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, how local gender politics in the Panchayats are typically cast in class/caste terms with patriarchal elites, and how caste differences result in gendered differences in treatment or harassment at work or in education. Intersectionality demands that we recognize the different systems of oppression and how each one of us is privileged by– and therefore profits from– these systems in different ways. It does this so that we do not get trapped into thinking of all oppressed groups as one homogeneous unit and liberation as a struggle that is the same for all.