Tuesday, July 21, 2020

How the People Power brought down a Dictator in Sudan

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Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, former President of Sudan | Source: DefenseImagery.mil via Wikimedia

Africa has witnessed many transformative events in the past decade. Among these, a people-led movement in Sudan that has overthrown a dictator in 2019 will undoubtedly take the cake.

The country has been under the ironclad rule of General Omar al-Bashir for over 30 years. The regime which came in power after a military coup in 1989, used strong arm tactics to control a nation of the diverse group of people. Furthermore, the 30 years long repressive military rule had overpowered every institution that promoted the cause of human rights. It also empowered the conservative Islamic leadership that had put harsh restrictions on women.

The regime of Omar al-Bashir was fiercely opposed by the Western countries while Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were its heavyweight backers. It had to grapple with people led movements throughout its existence which also included a full blown insurgency movement in Darfur region. However it was able to put down any challenge through brutal force.  

The people's movement to overthrow General Omar al-Bashir started in December of 2018 had such inclusiveness which was not witnessed in the earlier movements. It was powered by all the classes and ethnicities in posh as well as the poorest of neighbourhoods. Some adrenaline-fuelled women leaders encouraged other women to participate in the protests which not only increased the diversity of the people fighting for the nation but also helped to keep the movement non-violent. It also had the youth power which was yearning for a better future for them and their country.

The mobilization of millions of citizens on the streets forced the government to block the internet throughout the country for weeks. With online communication difficult to make, the protestors started using old ways to mobilise, such as megaphones, graffiti all over the streets and crowd-pulling events like a community service day. This included clearing trash areas in clothing that promoted their movement saying: ‘We will build what we are dreaming of.’

The protesters demanding civilian rule were met by violence which caused death and injury, many of which were caused by gunshot wounds. However people didn't relent and continued to protest. Huge protests were organised to correspond with the 30th anniversary of the coup that helped bring Bashir to power.  The nation was ready to make people’s revolution happen and was ready to pay the cost.

After the relentless protest, General Omer Al Bashir, who ruled with the backing of the military, was finally overthrown by the military in April 2019. However the people were not ready to accept another military ruler  to replace the earlier one. So the people's movement continued till the military leadership relented to disband the Transitional Military Council and in its place an eleven-member Sovereign Council was constituted in November 2019.

The Sovereign Council, made up of the  six civilians and five military representatives, is mandated to rule Sudan and conduct a free & fair election in the next three years. Amongst the civilian council members nominated by the protest movement, there is a woman and a journalist. This in itself is a great step forward for the long oppressed citizens of Sudan.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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