Monday, March 04, 2013

All About 'Sensible Sensuality'

Sangeeta Singh: How does your feminism differ from feminism in the West? Since you also talk about writing the body isn’t it the same as ecriture feminism of the French feminists?

Sarojini Sahoo: For me, feminism is not a gender problem or any confrontational attack on male hegemony so it is quite different from that of Virginia Woolf or Judith Butler. I accept feminism as a total entity of female-hood, which is completely separate from the man’s world.
To me, femininity (rather than feminism) has a wonderful power. In our de-gendered times, a really feminine woman is a joy to behold and you can love and unleash your own unique yet universal femininity. We are here for gender sensitivity to proclaim the differences between men and woman with a kind of pretence that we are all the same. Too many women have been de-feminized by society. To be feminine is to know how to pay attention to detail and people; to have people skills; and to know how to connect to and work well with others. There will be particular times and situations within which you'll want to be more in touch and in tune with your femininity than others. Being able to choose is a great privilege and skill.
I think ‘femininity’ is the proper word to replace ‘feminism,’ because the latter has lost its significance and identity due to its extensive involvement with radical politics. Femininity comes from the original Latin word ‘femina’ which means ‘female’ or ‘women’ and certainly the word creates debatable identical characteristics. It separates the female mass from a masculine world with reference to gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, nurturance, deference, self-abasement, and succorance. And patriarchy also sets the group alien from them in their traditional milieu.
There are many more differences in theories among scientists, anthropologists, and psychologist regarding the nature and behavior of the female mass. Biologists believe the role of our hormones, particularly sex hormones, and the structure of our chromosomes are responsible for such a dichotomy in gender, though some queer theorists and other postmodernists, however, have rejected the sex (biology) / gender (culture) dichotomy as a “dangerous simplification.” Psychology, often influenced by patriarchy, categorizes women as different from the masculine world in certain behavioral, emotional and logical areas. Social anthropologists deny the concept of biology or psychology which keeps women aside from the masculine world. Simone De Beauvoir’s saying “one is not born a woman, but becomes one” impressed social anthropologists so much that they create a different theory of feminine socialization.
In my essays, I have constantly tried to analyze the ‘truth,’ as related by biologists and anthropologists. What I think true to my sense and sensibility, I have expressed without any hesitation.

Sangeeta : Don’t you think ecriture feminism limits the writing style of women writers? Doesn’t’ it become prescriptive?

Sarojini.: I don’t consider myself as a conformist because I consider myself more a writer and as a writer, I think I am always a genderless entity. In my opinion, a writer should not have any gender. But still, patriarchal society has prevailed; is there any possibility to have a genderless society?

Sangeeta : What would you like to say about doubly marginalized women like the tribal women, widows in ashrams, or women from lower castes and poor women who have to deal with the daily grind of survival and humiliation? They are deprived of the basic human rights. Do they have time to think about sexual liberation when other issues of survival are more important to them?

Sarojini: A Dalit or tribal woman not only struggles for her lower economic status, but she has to live with a high risk of gender-based violence. At the household level, incest, rape and domestic violence continue to hinder women’s development across India. Forty percent of all sexual abuse cases in India are incest, and 94% of the incest cases had a known member of the household as the perpetrator. Dowry related deaths, domestic violence, gang rape of lower caste women by upper caste men, and physical violence by the police towards tribal women all contribute to women’s insecurity in India. The class and caste structure inadvertently put poor women from lower class and tribal communities at the most risk of violence. Class and caste divisions also create grave challenges to poor, lower caste, and tribal women in accessing justice and retribution as victims and survivors of violence. So, sexual factors have a significant role in women’s life as their economic condition and so I argue for two types of liberation for women. One is economical and other is sexual.

Sangeeta : How does a woman’s sexuality play a major role in the understanding of feminism in India?

Sarojini: In marital life in India and many other countries around the world, a woman has no sexual rights. She cannot express her desires and even she is not supposed to enjoy sex as it is told in the Hindu code that a wife is needed only for giving birth to a ‘male child.’ Expressing her own desire for sex or talking freely about orgasm to even one’s own husband may also be termed as a chasteless and debasing activity for a woman.
Though the Women and Child Development Ministry (WCD) and the National Commission for Women (NCW) have advised the government to amend the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the 1872 Indian Evidence Act to recognize new categories of sexual assault by redefining rape to include sexual assault (including domestic sexual assault) of any form in its definition, still, most married woman are facing such marital rapes in their daily lives.
But talk about these ‘dicey’ topics by a woman is considered vulgar. Also, nobody thinks it proper to ask a woman before subjecting her to the killing of her fetus yet now, in some parts of India, ‘honor killings’ are granted if a woman steps out of bounds — by choosing her own husband, by flirting in public, or by seeking divorce from an abusive partner — she has brought dishonor to her family. Yet all these matters are related to a woman’s body and still, that woman has no right to make any of her own decisions.
In total, we can see the term ‘sex’ and ‘female sexuality’ has been totally misinterpreted in the discourse of Western feminism. Sexuality is not only a bodily matter and it does not limit itself to only sexual behavior and sexual activities, though they are a major factor. And most of the real meaning of female sexuality relatively termed with her body as well mind.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

All About ‘The Dark Abode’

Sangeeta Singh: You have used the Uma Shakti Myth in your novel The Dark Abode. Some scholars might blame you for promoting the Hindu religion and marginalizing women who don't follow Hinduism.

Sarojini Sahoo: Religion and mythology are two different fixations. Religion is the broader term: besides mythological aspects, it includes aspects of ritual, morality, theology, and mystical experience. A given mythology is almost always associated with certain symbolic representation of ideas or philosophy of a ‘group’. It is very interesting to note that though Mesopotamian, Greek and Hindu civilizations, religions and cultures existed in different parts of the world and were separated by great distances and time, but there are some amazing similarities between their fables and myths. The concept of goddess always lies with sexuality and we find great similarities in all the myths of goddesses in worldwide. In Sumer, the goddess was known as Inanna, and in Babylon and Assyria, was known as Ishtar. She was Aphrodite for the Greeks. The Egyptians called her Hathor, Quaddesha and Aset. To the Phoenicians, she was Astarte. To the Hebrews, she was Ashtoreth and Ashera. And to the Philistines, she was Atergatis. So, the concept of Uma is universal idea/ philosophy of sexuality in all other cultures.

Sangeeta: The foreword of the novel opens with metta, mudita, upekks” Pali words that mean love, joy, to see within; Are these words symbolic of the theme underlying your narrative?

Sarojini: In Chapter 2 of TDA, Kuki told Safiq, “What is the point of living like a caterpillar, or leading a life of unbridled enjoyment of female flesh without any emotions or attachments? Do you think I have been attracted towards you in anticipation of physical pleasure? I wish I was aware of all this from the beginning.”
Here ‘Caterpillar ‘is a symbol of ‘sex hunger’ and Kuki wants to raise her from mire of sex to celestial expansion. You could mark that the total novel is the description of slow process how a perverted person who enjoyed 52 fair sexes could raise himself to a perfect self in love.

Sangeeta: Why have you brought the “historical background” to the foreground towards the end of the novel , since the novel deals with “personal story” of Kuki and Safiq, History remains in the background throughout, then why a sudden reversal towards the end?

Sarojini:The ‘historical background’ has not been brought at the end only. You could mark the starting of novel is from a ‘historical back ground’ where the partition, the Kashmir problem and Indo-Pak relations ship or Hindu-Muslim hatred scenarios in Kuki’s nostalgia occupy a major portion.
The novel also delves into the relationship between the ‘state’ and the ‘individual’ and comes to the conclusion that ‘the state’ represents the moods and wishes of a ruler and hence, ‘the state’ actually becomes a form of ‘an individual’. So, the ‘personal story’ of Kuki and Safiq actually represents the story of a subcontinent.
Reviewing TDA, Bangladeshi eminent writer Selina Hossain writes,” The course of life of two different citizens of two States does not give any other solution than waiting. How the State obstructs and suppresses the individual freedom has been shown in the version of Safiq, the painter. When he writes letter to Kuki in pseudonym, she understands that ‘It is a ploy to hide his identity from the Military Junta.’

Sangeeta: Macro level of politics has been mentioned only fleetingly in the last chapters, you have tried to include all forces that regulate the destiny of a personal relation be it tradition, macro level politics, economic forces, political and geographical wars, religious and ethnical non tolerance and even terrorism. Was your intention to highlight the forces against which all human beings are pitted?

Sarojini: Your observations are very correct. That is why Kuki could realize Virginia Woolf’s sayings: “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”

Sangeeta: The character of Safiq has been left in shrouds of mystery in the end. Is it deliberate? How do you account for it?

Sarojini: I am sometimes doubtful if all the imaginary situations I have used in my fictions are mine. Sometimes the imaginary is "running by itself" and the content is not typically what I would imagine out of my own desires. I suspect something mystic with writings can be real. To suppress such communication is something I am unsure of, because the characters of my fictions want to live their lives by their own will, because they want to heal their wounds, and how can I deny such a positive force? Perhaps it is the ‘Safiq’s will’ which would make him imperceptible at the end.

Sangeeta: What is the relevance of the collage presentation of the rather erotic sketches by Ed Baker in the novel? Do they convey something you could not write as explicitly as a woman writer? How do you connect the sketches with the narrative?

Sarojini: I think mine is the expression of female sexuality in fiction or text form and Baker tries to represent the same idea through art form. In my original Odia (Oriya) novel there are also similar sketches drawn by Dr. Dinanath Pathi, the Secretary General of Lalit Kala Akademi.

- See more at: