The Politics of Disco

We have all rocked out to Mithun Chakraborty’s “I am a disco dancer” at some point in our lives but a few of us realise what it meant to be a part of the Disco movement – and I use the word ‘movement’ understanding fully the gravity of the word. The disco culture is more than just flamboyant clothes and groovy music; it was an outlet for the marginalised sections of the society. Discotheques emerged as a place where the African American, Latinos, homosexuals and ‘hipster’ heterosexuals could come together and interact without restrictions.

In the US, due to the Prohibition in the 1930’s the nightclub scene went underground and only resurfaced with the coming of swing and jazz. By the 70s, the night scene had been commandeered by disco. It soon became a symbol of freedom for the oppressed masses. It was a place for men and women alike to come, sing, dance, drink and enjoy their night. It became a sacred zone free from discrimination that women (as a newly emerging workforce), gay, Hispanic and African Americans faced in other spheres of their lives. Disco was freeing, empowering and perhaps the first place where differences were not just tolerated, but celebrated. It gave us the first openly gay pop star – Sylvester “the disco queen” and gave drag queens and cross dressers like The Cockettes and The Disquotays a safe place to express themselves. Disco was the embodiment of the message of love, free spiritedness and unrestricted, unabashed sexuality. With songs like the catchy “love to love you baby” it brought female sexuality in the public sphere as something to be proud of and women could go out, unchaperoned and dance the night away to jazz, funk and latin music.

The decline of disco is just as politically charged as its rise was. The Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey park in Chicago (1979) which saw predominantly white American men destroying piles of vinyl on a baseball pitch betrayed not just anti-disco sentiments but homophobic subtext and a distaste for the growing sexual and racial liberation that Disco was partly responsible for and while this night is widely regarded as ‘the night disco died’, anyone who has heard any pop music in the past three decades would agree that the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars have kept the essence and message of Disco alive.

– Abhilasha Kaul, First Year.


Sudan Female Activists Amidst the Ongoing Conflict

Sudan has been occupied with violent battle for the majority of its presence. In 2003, it rose up out of a 21-year inward armed clash between the Sudanese Government and non-state actors in the South which is said to have taken a toll on the lives of 1.5 million individuals. A report highlighted by the Human Rights Watch in March, 2016 archives the mistreatment experienced by female activists because of Sudan’s security powers. The investigation highlighted that rape, violence and arbitrary detention have become common weapons against women.

In more than 85 interviews, specialists found that every one of the ladies had encountered some type of sexual orientation based brutality executed by the State as a consequence of their work. By and large, in Sudan, the legislature is focusing on women more than men. A great deal of laws and a considerable measure of enactments have been drafted since this government came in, [targeting] ladies, [restricting their] dress, and even their movability and work. The report additionally points out frequent violation like rape and sexual brutality, mental and verbal misuse, with numerous interviewees stating that they had likewise been subjected to self-assertive detainment.

Talking on the arrival of the report, numerous female activists were vocal about how they were confined in 2012 and cross examined. They depicted how the police scrutinized their ethics as a result of their activism. If you are a female in Sudan and go out to protest on the road, it implies that you are an awful lady or an awful young lady. Security forces allegedly lesson women about how they are apparently crossing the lines by mingling politics and sexual violence together.

The activists have said that there have additionally been different examples where the nation’s media had been utilized to influence social shame against women involved in activism. Indeed, even state-controlled daily papers have additionally referred to female society activists as “lesbians and prostitutes” for participating in demonstrations.The badgering does not stop with verbal misuse and intimidation. Female activists are generally threatened with how their ‘daughters will be raped’ and that they will be assaulted directly before them (female activists).

Here, the whole idea I believe, becomes problematic. It’s not only in the context of Sudan, but a larger problem with ‘women’ as a (gender), how easy it is for society to tag a woman as a ‘prostitute’ simply because she’s vocal about her opinion. It’s something absurd for the society to accept a woman who is raising her voice beyond the roles prescribed by the society. Of the ladies met by Human Rights Watch, none had conveyed their cases to the court and the culprits of the affirmed wrongdoings are yet to be explored or indicted. Thus, a significant number of the activists have fled the nation, dreading further brutality and intimidation.

Be that as it may, others are discovering approaches to push forward with their work. For instance numerous activists are concentrating on preparing ladies on how to stay safe despite the fact that their lives are under constant threat. The case of Sudan clearly highlights how state concerns are macro logical. The pressures of ongoing conflict are routinely invoked to explain the trivialization of human life. All of this raises a number of questions – what happens when the state actively uses derogatory terms like ‘’prostitutes’’? Can we call this a case of defamation? And lastly, does the state really have the power to label people so straightforwardly?

– Riya Gupta, Second Year.

Terror on the Web

The discourse on terrorism was widely ignored up until the 1990s. It gained international attention only after the events of 11th September 2001. It has over the years become one of the principal security threats of the 21st century. Today, under conditions of globalization, non-state actors, in this case terrorist groups have gained important advantages over states. The current threat posed by the ISIS suggests that terrorism will continue to shape global politics in significant ways. Globalization is built on and depends on the proliferation of computers and microelectronic technologies which helps people to communicate with each other simultaneously and on real time. The ISIS uses modern technology to recruit people from all over the world and the use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) has been particularly important in this case. The internet is a valuable tool for spreading propaganda, relaying messages and motivating people and has been used by the ISIS to its fullest potential.

Social media provides a great platform for terrorist organizations like the ISIS to amplify its messages. The ISIS uses platforms like Facebook and Twitter to organize, communicate and build a sense of community. It also enables them to raise their prestige among other older terror groups. It also helps them cooperate and coordinate between its own troops and allows them to administer the territories under its control. ISIS constantly uses hashtags like the #AllEyesonISIS Twitter campaign while taking over the Iraqi city of Mosul to spread fear amongst people. The advantage of such a strategy is twofold. First: it allows them to instill a sense of inevitability and sheer terror amongst the people of the cities it’s going to take over thereby crippling them psychologically even before the actual attack is carried out. This argument can be exemplified by the mere fact that a militia of less than 2000 ISIS fighters managed to capture a city of 1.5 million during the seizing of the city of Mosul. The proportion of Iraqi soldiers to ISIS fighters being 15:1. Secondly: it points towards the ingenious use of digital marketing strategy. The use of hashtags not only creates instant awareness but also enables users to generate buzz. Once the hashtag becomes a trend, it instantly starts appearing on all social media platforms leading to a drastic increase in visibility and thereby, disseminating the required message which in this case would be terror. This terror can almost be equated to the psychological fear that an actual physical terror attack can invoke in people.

The ISIS uses a number of tactics to reach out to people like choreographed videos, mass executions, civic forum boards, secure messaging and hashtag hijacking. It also uses documentaries and online magazines, press releases and Q&A sessions. All of this goes on to suggest that the ISIS is an organization which is very well structured and follows the model which has worked for leading online figures and brands. We can say from this that the ISIS functions like any other company with a great emphasis on aggressive marketing strategies. It uses advertising techniques like any other brand and actively engages with people through social media.

Terrorist websites also use the imagery and symbols of victimization and empowerment to spread their message. These depictions are useful in arousing the emotions of supporters and potential supporters (Lewis 2005). The ISIS is known to lure people through videos which mimic popular video game themes like ‘’Grand Theft Auto’’, ‘’Call of Duty’’ as well as television shows such as ‘’Homeland’’, ‘’Person of Interest’’ and so on. This not only strikes a chord with young, dissatisfied individuals but also lures them into the world of terrorism by promising them the same kind of experience which they see on the screen. It also possesses a high level of cinematographic sophistication which enables them to produce videos which has the exact same quality as that of American movies. This is known as ‘’Hollywood Visual Style’’ as coined by experts Cori Dauber and Mark Robinson. The fact that the ISIS exhibits such nuanced skills of video and movie-making possesses a unique and altogether new challenge to groups which are trying to combat terrorism. Most of the videos are also devoid of religious imagery or anything related to Islam. One of the possible explanations could be that the ISIS does not want potential targets to feel like they are joining the organization for something as personal or primordial as religion. Rather, these videos cater to the ‘’thrill-seeking’’ aspect of human behavior and perhaps the fact that one gets to be a part of something much larger than oneself.

The ISIS has come up with novel ways of exploiting the internet and possesses an enormous risk which is unique in a number of ways. The means used by the ISIS can be classified as a form of semantic attack which largely relies on distributing wrong information. The use of social media serves two very basic purposes of the ISIS. It is cost effective and caters to a global audience. The ISIS has also proved that it is extremely proficient at using new technology by coming up with innovative hashtags and applications which can be easily downloaded from the internet. It also has a large number of skilled professionals who have a sound knowledge of social media strategies.
Governments and social media platforms are constantly grappling with questions of surveillance and censorship when it comes down to counterterrorism tactics. Mass deletion of accounts by websites like Twitter raises questions of whether these platforms are impinging upon the rights of the people to freedom of speech and expression. Thus, while the debate rages on about how much regulation is required to contain the current threat posed by the ISIS, it also becomes imperative that social media platforms come up with more pro-active and innovative strategies which would help in making these forums a safer space for online users.

– Shruti Das, Second Year.

From Prejudice to Pride

India’s foray into a democratic system of governance and its commitment to social justice might make one question whether or not the caste system really exists today. However, social and political scientist Rajni Kothari has stated that the existence of the caste system is unquestionable. The question, hence, should be what form the caste system has taken in the recent years and not whether it exists at all. Killing and maiming each other in the name of religion has been glaringly visible, but the question of contemporary caste based discrimination has been largely unseen by the public eye. The suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD student in the Hyderabad Central University, shows how the ancient system still exists with similar intensity, perhaps more so because of the legitimacy accorded by educational and other public institutions. The caste system has evolved and continues to thrive in even well meaning people’s minds.

Proponents of caste based hierarchy have evolved from something on the lines of “Don’t eat from your friend’s tiffin, “God knows what jati they belong to” to “People of our caste group are known for their intelligence”; from prejudice against other castes to pride belonging to a certain community. If people do not follow untouchability and dine with everyone, they believe they are free from all prejudice. But in all probability, they would still identify themselves as belonging to a certain community and be proud of it. The Indian constitution, while deeming untouchability or any other caste based prejudice illegal, is silent about caste based associations. Social movements by the underprivileged classes in the 1970s and 80s resulted in the creation of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservation and the formation of caste based associations. The resulting diversification of the social backgrounds of people in various organizations has led to an ideological backlash by some members of dominant communities, who have since then renewed their efforts to isolate and discriminate against all kinds of cultural minorities. The institutional structures created by both the dominant and discriminated communities are what marks the present era from the past.

Another significant case in point is the phenomenon of arranged marriage. Around 5% of marriages that happen in India are inter-caste; the rest perpetuate their own caste systems and the norms unique to them. One look at matrimonial columns would confirm my statement. People mostly seek grooms or brides from their own caste. In some cases, they would mention ‘caste no bar’ but would still add ‘SC/ST please excuse’. Recently, the mother of a Mumbai-based gay rights activist had put an ad saying ‘groom wanted’ for her son. In spite of having crossed a significant ideological barrier, the ad did not fail to mention that she would prefer an ‘Iyer’ (a sub caste of Tamil Brahmins) groom. [The Hindu, 30th May 2015]

Some people have protested against Brahmin domination, equating the caste system to something in the lines of white vs. black racist debate- a powerful Brahmin versus the oppressed rest. One of the famous proponents of this view was EVR Periyar. Dipankar Gupta has written that there is no objective hierarchy of which caste is to be placed where in the caste system. Here, one must remember that the fourfold varna is different from caste. Also, he states that caste is not to be confused with race, citing the following example: ‘While blacks were despised, they were not considered polluting. Imagine the horror that would be aroused in the home of a traditional privileged caste in India at the very suggestion of an untouchable cook in the kitchen. Thus, while racism at its height might consider blacks to be despicable, it did not regard them as polluting.’ [Dipankar Gupta; Caste, Race and politics] He also critiques the unilinear narrative of Brahmin vs. Non Brahmin by pointing out that various regions of India have had dominating and oppressed castes, for example- jats are against gujars- together they are against urban castes; kolis are against patidars; thevars oppress pallars or the devendrakula vellalas; the vanniyars torment adi dravidas.

It is imperative that we recognize the newer, hidden forms of caste based structural violence to understand how, or if at all, we are progressing as a society.

– Sambhavi Ganesh, Second Year.

Talk with Dr. Nikita Satov

The Political Science Department of Lady Shri Ram College for Women in association with Global Youth organized a talk by Dr. Nikita Setov, Deputy Dean for Academic Affairs, Department of Political Science, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow on 30th January, 2016. He spoke about how the international political arena has remained under US hegemony for decade now. What he suggested instead was a power structure with divided leadership. He was unable to elaborate on how this was to be achieved, as he conceded that no superpower can be expected to willingly share its power.
On the other hand he felt that India, Russia and China could possibly counter US hegemony by aligning their forces. What has repeatedly come in the way of such an alliance is the fact that nations in the international arena strive to protect their national interest before their international relations.

He reiterated that it is the cultural sphere where citizens of India and Russia feel a divide and that had to be worked on. He commended the Indian PM Narendra Modi’s efforts at promoting Indian Culture worldwide. He stated that while Russia and India both work to protect national interests, the difference lies in the methods adopted. While Russia was prone to using hard military power, India used its soft or rather “smart” power.

On issues of current relevance, he remarked that the threat of the ISIS needed to be taken seriously all over the world. The world’s view of global terrorism needs to expand, terrorism in West and Central Africa are issues that don’t even come up when we refer to “Global” terrorism. As for the ISIS, he remarked that it was not just a West Asian problem. Central Asian countries, India and even Russia have significant Muslim populations that would become susceptible to the spread of extremism if it is not tackled with directly. He called himself a political realist and hoped that the intelligence agencies of these countries would be able to work together to defend their borders from terrorism.
All that is required, he claimed, was that countries learn to balance national interest and international relations.

– Zohra Abdullah, First Year (College Magazine).

Talk with Mr. Nikhil Dey

The Political Science Association of Lady Shri Ram College organized a talk with the famous Right to Information Act activist Nikhil Dey on 29th October 2015. Mr. Dey spoke about the importance of RTI and its role in empowering citizens. He linked the RTI struggle to the feminist movement and helped students realise how each of their voices count. The session was very interactive and informative and brought to our attention many pertinent issues that neither the government nor the society at large talks about.

Mr. Dey started his lecture with the famous feminist slogan ‘the personal is the political’. Politics unfolds itself in various forms and manifestations in our daily lives. We all as individuals are political beings. From the simple act of voting to conforming to a certain idea of an ideal male or a female are all political acts. Moreover, according to Mr. Dey since all individuals are deeply political the onus to change all that is wrong with our society also lies with each one of us. Mr. Dey is part of the Mazdor Kisan Shakti Sangthan which played a pivotal role in the struggle for RTI. The movement started out with the demand for minimum wages for farmers but soon grew into a much large struggle for transparency and accountability.

The RTI bill was passed on 12th October 2005 which means this October the Right to Information Act will complete ten years of its existence. According to official statistics 8-10 million people every year file an RTI but according to Dey the actual number is much larger. This Act gave citizens the right to ask the government why are people dying of hunger and why basic facilities like education, employment, sanitation etcetera are not extended to those who need them the most. Mr. Dey compelled students to question the idea of a ‘shining India’ and look at the larger social, political and economic inequities prevailing in society.Students also saw a short documentary based on a girls’ school in Rajasthan where all students had come out on the streets to demand for more number of teachers and demanded that the government must soon address their concern. The talk was concluded with a small question and answer round.

Mr. Dey talked about how we need to stop deeming ourselves as powerless individuals and take things in our control by holding the government accountable. He urged all students to question the prevailing notion of development and argued that true development would come when all citizens of this country realise that the nation belongs to them and not to a mere bunch of capitalists. The most fundamental message that students took home with them was that a revolution starts with a single person. Power lies with each one of us we just need to claim it.

– Pritha Bhattacharya, First Year (College Magazine).