Stop me if you’ve heard this one. There is a patriarchal household where the boys and men don’t cook and the kitchen has been determined to be the domain of women. But then, into this world comes a boy who decides to do the dishes or to belo a roti one day.
The result? He becomes a star!
Parents and uncles and aunties and grandmas all get together to exclaim how wonderful the boy is for doing some haath bataana and helping out his mother and sisters. And while all this happens, the girls and women who have been doing the bulk of the work like always get overshadowed by the boy who did a fraction of what they do on just one occasion.
My point is that those with privilege don’t have to do much to be seen as heroes. Even the bare minimum of effort on their part can cause entire communities and their efforts to become invisible.
A single “woke” upper caste man making a single speech about the need for equality can cause an entire anti-caste movement being fought for by Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi (DBA) community to be hijacked. The man may then proceed to make an entire career based on this and be hailed as an anti-caste warrior. The same goes for any privilege equation.
It is not uncommon to see Hindus being praised for being anti-fascist, or men being praised for being feminist. The only thing this achieves is that it keeps the privileged as a part of the discourse. Heads they win, tails everyone else loses. Members of the privileged communities become both the destroyer and the protector.
Of late, I have become somewhat suspicious of anti-caste warriors who belong to dominant castes and men who have made a name for themselves as feminists. I am not suggesting they are all disreputable people with bad intentions. What I am saying is that visibility is an aspect of privilege we don’t often speak about.
For millennia, entire ways of life have remained invisible because of the inordinate amount of cultural space the privileged occupy. It is time the privileged took a backseat consciously. It is time they willingly embraced invisibility, at least in areas where their privilege is bound to grant them more visibility. If awareness is what we want to spread, we can do that through our stories, our conduct, the environments we get to create in our homes and workplaces.
As far as actual activism for equality goes however, we cannot proceed under the assumption that our ability to be seen and paid attention to is not a privilege.