Drawing a sharp contrast between her years as an activist in the 1970s women’s movement in India, writer and publisher Urvashi Butalia said that modern-day protests are perceived as a threat to the state, whereas in previous governments legislative dialogue was possible. “That illusion [of dialogue with power] is completely shattered. Power doesn’t care. You can sit in Shaheen Bagh and protest forever, it doesn’t matter… The question of security has become a big one. In India and the world, the citizen has become the state’s enemy. It’s like the state is at war with its citizens,” she said, adding, “When we were young feminists, thousands of us could go up to the Houses of Parliament in Delhi. And then 10 women [would] take the delegation across… They could meet any minister and talk to them, and they would listen whether they do anything or not.”
Butalia was in conversation with British journalist Bee Rowlatt, American Australian historian Clare Wright, and Norwegian writer Marta Breen, on day two of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2024.
Breen spoke of the importance of examining world politics with a “feminist lens”. Mentioning a Financial Times study about young women leaning towards progressive politics and men towards conservatism, she argued, “[… right-wing governments] appeal to a certain thing in men … who feel they have lost something they were entitled to, something that their fathers had. For example, full control over the women in the house. So they are targeted by this political wave.”
Butalia added, “It’s much more to do with the model of masculinity that our leaders are perpetrating across the world. That’s what it really is.”
Wright mentioned a paradox in Australian feminist movements, saying, “Australia became the first country in the world where women won full political equality with men… the right to vote and the right to stand for parliament… but that piece of legislation which gave women those rights actively disenfranchised First Nations people, including women, and nobody fought for them.”
Rowlatt wrapped up by invoking Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are different from my own.”