Solidarity and the Harvard Controversy

One of my cherished experiences of graduate school was finding a whole community of feminists to engage with. I remember being very excited about my feminist theory class, and finding that not only do these women understand my language, they can enrich it in so many different ways. None of my co-students were in sociology – they were in English Lit, Philosophy, Education, Political Science , Geography, Psychology, and so many others. None of us shared any interdisciplinary lens, and yet, by grappling with the most difficult of texts, we were able to construct our own language to talk to each other. We learned much about the theories of solidarity and the hard-won practice of it that winter.

 

As I moved through the different courses, I soon realized that this was not really an isolated incident – that themes of solidarity and difference are prominent not just in our personal/political relationships with each other, but also in the theoretical debates about the fundamentals of feminism. How do we recognize difference? How do we form relationships of solidarity with other feminists who are fundamentally different from ourselves? What of one’s privilege and power? How do we speak and represent another? These are still very important questions we are dealing with, as evidenced by the recent Harvard debates that exploded on Kafila (here, and here).

 

A friend wanted to know why there was such vitriol against an obviously well-intentioned move to understand problems – to build solidarity. And I remember writing to her and a few others about a few things that seemed self-evident to me, that according to another friend, ought to be made more explicit. I am reproducing the letter, with a few modifications:

 

I think the major problem about the statement that was released by the Harvard, at least for me, stemmed from two different sources. I’ll try to be brief about both of them.

 

The first is the Northern white privilege, that goes unnoticed, unacknowledged and is largely invisible to the North and South audiences . The thing that pisses us ( those of us who think of ourselves as the Southern feminists) no end is not only the manner in which White Northern feminists take over, but the fact that they rarely acknowledge the historical privileges that their voices have. When they are brought to the table, they are automatically heard. Their voices are always considered more ‘evolved’, more articulated, and often more authoritative. And feminists have been crying themselves hoarse for eons about why this practice, this pattern has to be deconstructed, how this has to be dismantled, and how these processes have to be dealt with more sensitivity by feminists themselves. I think, given this long history of engaging with power even within our own circles, we feel frustrated when someone, especially if they are feminist , comes along and ignores all of this. It feels like a slap in the face of all that effort we have made to understand, deconstruct, and deal with our privileged positions.

 

The second is the importance of self-reflexivity in feminism. It is perhaps the cornerstone of most feminist philosophical thought. We are taught that our views are the product of where we stand, with respect to the intersection of various multiple identities. So, if I am a Hindu non-Brahmin Middle-class Woman, then I must acknowledge the various biases, privileges, blind spots and opinions that come with that position. So, we are trained to engage with these positions and statements tentatively. We are not ‘holders’ of truth, we are not ‘definers’ of fact . We are trying to view the world from our own warped positions, feminism is the lens we view this world from, and that is our perspective. Our conclusions, when we draw them, have to have this element of self-critical engagement, and more importantly, self-reflexivity. It has often descended into excessive navel gazing. But the reason we do this as a method, as a practice is because we are aware how invisible privileges hurt all of us – we have to be aware of our ‘subject positions’ to understand the ‘dimension’ of truth that we are examining. And that ridiculous paragraph in the Harvard blog had nothing of this nuanced idea of solidarity. It is so self-congratulatory in its tone about the linkages of different forms of violence. . as if they are the first to have ever come up with the idea. I think it can piss off anybody, as far as I can tell.

 

I think what happened was because these debates are so internal in the feminist community that it can often go unvoiced in the diatribe against the Harvard post. I think it is important to voice why we are pissed off, not just for us, but also for the students of the Harvard community. They need to understand that because they are at the table, they automatically, by the power bestowed upon them, exclude others on that table. They have to ensure that those voices are heard, and that that system of exclusion is highlighted.

 

So, I get the vitriol, I get the sarcasm, and I get the anger. It comes from an old wound, yes. . .but it also comes from the disappointment of having to suffer a new one, once again.

 

Musings on Solid Waste Management in Bangalore

The last couple of months have given us so many unique experiences which we never thought we would have during the course of our Industrial Engineering & Management degree. Working on our project on understanding networks in solid waste management has been an eye opener on so many levels. We are slowly, but surely coming to terms with the complexity of the garbage issue at hand in Bangalore.

 

The complete process of waste management is a complex one involving multiple systems and sub-systems. Through our project we aim to apply concepts and tools of Industrial Engineering like Network Optimization, Supply Chain Management and Simulation Modeling to analyze ways improve the process and provide a more systematic approach to addressing the problem. Our primary area of work is the optimization of transportation network in solid waste management which includes push carts, collection autos and trucks. We also aim to create a problem statement of the garbage situation through our findings throughout the project.

 

The garbage problem in Bangalore has become more evident since the irregular functioning of the three main garbage landfills leading to pile up of garbage at various points mainly on roads and empty sites. The coordination and organization of this process is poor and leads to pile-up of garbage at these pick up points whose location is chosen without appropriate planning. There is no synchronization or time management in the movement of the collection vehicles till the secondary point, and also of the trucks from this point to the landfills. Through the course of the project so far, we have interacted with the various stakeholders associated with the problem. From the Pourakarmikas to the officials to residents, we have tried to view the problem from various perspectives. Through these interactions we have obtained quite a few interesting details and insights.

 

 

Garbage collection point
Garbage collection point

 

The basic process of collection consists of dood-to-door waste collection by the auto-rickshaws. The autos consist of 1 driver and 2-3 collectors. Once the auto-rickshaws are done collecting, they go to one of the truck’s pick-up points and load the waste into the trucks. The dry-leaves and other waste left on the roads are collected by the Pourakarmikas using push-carts and those too are loaded into the trucks at the pick-up points.

 

In our first field observation at ward 19 (Sanjaynagar), in a casual talk with the driver of the garbage auto, we were told that no instructions were given to the drivers on what route he should take to complete the area assigned to him. We followed the auto and accompanied the collectors through the process. The BBMP had laid out a directive stating the incorporation of waste segregation at every house (into wet and dry waste). Our presence gave them a sense of empowerment as the residents took the collectors’ pleas to segregate the waste (as instructed by their supervisors), more seriously with us going along with them. Most residents on the other hand found the exercise of segregation pointless as they assume that all kinds of waste were mixed eventually in the garbage truck/compactor.

 

In another such chat with the same garbage truck driver, he mentioned his inability to cover all points of collection on certain days. The reason being, the truck overloads well before they could cover 75% of garbage pick-up points, at times leaving a pile of foul garbage until the next day/ trip. We also found differences in the actual number of vehicles (auto-rickshaws, trucks and push-carts) assigned for Solid Waste Management (SWM) in Sanjaynagar ward and the data provided in the BBMP SWM monitoring file[1].

 

These are few of many details and instances we have observed and recorded through the course of our work in Sanjaynagar ward. We hope to understand the problem in a deeper sense in the days to come.

 

 

This article is written by Anuj N.K, Akhil Sukumaran, Nandhakumar S, Kunal Vinayakya and Prateek Sultania, final year students at M.S Ramaiah Institute of Technology studying Industrial Engineering and Management. 


[1] www.bbmp.gov.in

Feminism and Me – Introductory Note on the Series

A friend of mine, Vinay, told me the other day that I might be a fake Mallu or a fake Gult, but I am a true blue Feminist. For people who work and live with me, being a feminist is one of my primary identities. Most people have come to know, perhaps a little painfully, that I don’t let things go, especially when it comes to gender, sexism, patriarchy, harassment etc.  I can be the quintessential rabid feminist, and most of the time, I am proud of it. A lot of people have asked and will continue to ask of feminists: why are we so angry? My friend, Priyanka, said it best: Because we have reason to be.

 

An often-quoted fact about feminism that gets a lot of publicity, but very little understanding is that feminism as an ideology and practice is very diverse. We can have radical feminists, liberal feminists, ecofeminists, third-world feminists – we come in all shapes and sizes, and it is difficult to say that there is one feminism, and one type of feminist. People often state it, but rarely examine the implications of it. The most obvious consequence of this form of diversity is that if we take a bunch of feminists together, and put them in a room – we will hate abortion, we don’t mind abortion, we want to ban prostitution, we think prostitution should be made legal, we think porn is exploitative, we think porn can be made for women, we hate capital punishment, we want rapists to be hung . . . and it can go on and on. We are a lot of things, and we believe in a lot of things. And one of the most common things that we believe in is that we ought to have our own opinions on what feminism means to us. For us, one of the fundamental tenets of feminist thought is – we define it, we recreate it, we make meaning of it in our own lives. All of us who identify as feminist define, learn, re-learn, understand, disagree, grapple with the overarching principles, ideologies, and the grand narratives of feminism, and we use this engagement to examine the world around us.

 

So, this series – Feminism and me – is really about my personal and professional journey of what feminism means to me. It will be my attempt to articulate why I identify with feminism, not just as an ideology, but also as a lens, as a methodology, as a tool to understand social life, social problems, and the social world. In doing so, I want to be clear that I cannot speak for feminism, or feminists in general. I can only speak of my experiences with feminist thought, action, pedagogy, and methodology. So, this series will be primarily about my experiences as a feminist in social research.