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Personal is Political: How personal experiences are interlinked with the socio-political structure

By Ankita Gupta

As Rahul Gandhi took to work in Delhi and Sonia Gandhi enjoyed a much-needed vacation in Goa, there was a huge media uproar. Tongues wagged and several people expressed marvel at this role reversal since Sonia has been known to skip holidays as Congress president while Rahul travelled abroad for annual vacations. The raging public interest demonstrates the fact that Personal is always Political in India.

Personal is political: A brief history

The phrase personal is political has been around for several years now. It has especially been used in the context of radical feminist movement. It laid emphasis on the fact that personal experiences are frequently moulded by the existing political structure.

The phrase was first coined in an uprising by Carol Hanisch, a radical feminist, in 1968. A revolution brewed against the oppressive, patriarchal and misogynistic ideologies prevalent in society. The Miss America Pageant was regarded as a symbolic paradigm of the anti-progressive attitude that plagued women. Hanisch and a group of feminist protestors disrupted the event shouting slogans like ‘Women’s Liberation’ and “No More Miss America!” Hanisch went on to publish an anthology, Notes From the Second Year: Women’s Liberation in 1970, where she used the term Personal is Political to describe how personal household experiences had a wider political dimension attached to it.

The idea was carried forward, which spoke of experiences being intersectional in nature. As ‘Personal is Political’ grew in magnitude, it espoused new proportions to the problem of representation. Issues of caste, creed, colour and sexuality were added to the list of experiences that had a political rationale. A new aspect of the slogan came to light, which emphasised that only the masses who experienced personal oppression could explain the politics behind it. The theory highlighted the importance of marginalised groups voicing their own opinions against the oppressive political structure that shaped their experiences.

An Indian interpretation of political figures

Political ideology has become one of the main constants for gauging personal identity in contemporary India. Rahul Gandhi, for example, was heavily criticised for watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, just hours after losing an election in Gujarat. His actions, like buying popcorn, were only human and yet, were blown out of proportion by the media following the narrow defeat. Bizarrely, his movie plans became the butt of jokes on prime-time television with the popular hashtag #AreYouSeriousRahul. His seriousness towards politics became a matter of debate. This intrusion into the political scion’s personal space goes on to show that an Indian political role model should preferably be an ascetic, one who has no personal ties and is devoted to the worldly good.

Celebrated historian, Ramachandra Guha rightly commented, “There is the strand in Indian politics, and culture generally, which says, if you are in public life, you must not have attachments and be committed totally to public work.” It is interesting to note that many of the leading political leaders in India agree to Guha and are sworn bachelors. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is an erudite example of this system, as he has abandoned both his wife and mother for the greater good.  

An Indian interpretation of the average man

The common man too has had to suffer from the consequences of the political vendetta against personal actions. Recently, in a Kafkaesque move by a private school in Thiruvananthapuram, a boy in the 12th standard was suspended for hugging a girl from the 11th standard in public. “Was the hug too long?“, the authorities inquired. Questions were raised on discipline, morality and social reputation. The parents had to appeal to the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights for help. In a surprising turn of events, the Kerala High Court upheld the suspension by the school. The children were saved when MP Shashi Tharoor intervened on their behalf with a promise that they would be allowed to sit for their exams this year.

In another appalling incident in Ghaziabad, a crazed mob led by extreme BJP leaders tried to upset a Hindu-Muslim wedding. The parents of the couple had to file charges of trespass and criminal intimidation against the mob to drive them away. The father of the bride spoke against the political harassment they had to face stating that the wedding was their private and personal affair and the mob had no right to intercede. “Humanity comes first, religion comes later,” he said.

A convergence with gender issues

The term Personal is Political has a broad intersectionality with gender issues in contemporary society. The Goods and Services Tax (GST), issued by the government on sanitary napkins, exemplifies this fact. Kruttika Susarla, a young comic artist has used the Personal is Political theme in the Delhi Comic Arts Festival. She illustrated how sanitary napkins, which are a personal problem for all women, have turned into a political issue, once the legislators decided that it was not necessary to make them cheaper and more accessible.

Other gender-based issues like domestic violence, marital rape and women representation continue to be regressed by the existing political system. The Indian Government does not even recognise marital rape as a criminal offence. In the aftermath of the #MeToo campaign, the close linkage between the personal and the political has been brought to light.

Carving a personal niche in a political world

Individual fortitude against the oppressive institutional structure has become a tough reality for the marginalised. Citizens have started to speak out against the political ideologies that target minorities. There is a wave of denouement against the ‘moral police’ that is using diplomacy as a weapon to propagate their own theories of intolerance. The common man has shown an inspiring resilience to fight against these forces of intolerance and pave a bridge between the personal and political. They are the heroes fighting for LGBT rights, gender equality and secular freedom.

Featured Image Credits: Flickr

This post first appeared on The Indian Economist | For The Curious Mind, please read the originial post: here

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Personal is Political: How personal experiences are interlinked with the socio-political structure


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