Nazreen Fazal is Assistant Editor of the LSE Review of Books. Nazreen graduated from the University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus) with a degree in International Communication Studies with English Language and Literature. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Comparative Politics at the LSE. Nazreen blogs at Penguin Peeks and Brown in Britain.
Meena Kandasamy is a poet, writer and activist who deals with the questions of caste, language and feminism. She recently spoke at the LSE event ‘Gender and the Hindu Right’, organised by the LSE Gender Institute. LSE Review of Books Assistant Editor Nazreen Fazal talks to Meena about her writing, activism in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and her latest novel- The Gypsy Goddess. Recommended reading for those interested in issues revolving around gender and activism in India
What are your experiences as a female writer in India who identifies herself as a feminist? Do you face a lot of opposition against that – online or otherwise -when you meet people?
It is not the feminism bit that is problematic. What’s problematic for these people is the fact that you are also challenging Hindutva, the caste system, and with it all these so-called rules that they have used to put women in [their] place. Most of these rules are not just out of misogyny but arise from a religious or caste-based conditioning. So yes, it does make people angry.
Feminism for some reason has – at least within the section of men – become ‘Oh she hates men’. It is easily translated into that. When you say you are a feminist, you also have to clarify what exactly your feminism means, because sometimes feminism itself as a broad term is used to silence or justify what happens in, say, Afghanistan, with the drone strikes. But feminism is neither a corporate nor an imperialist project. Feminism is a grassroots project; it is a project of the people. As a feminist you need to be really clear on where you come in and where you come from. You have to define your own space but also let people know that they don’t really have a business in what you are critiquing.
Your latest novel, The Gypsy Goddess, is based on the true life Kilvenmani massacre, in which a group of 44 striking Dalit (untouchable) village labourers were murdered by a gang. It must have been painful writing about something this brutal and personal, since you yourself come from a particular caste; how did you get through the process?
My parents had an inter-caste marriage; my grandparents had an inter-caste marriage, so I’m one of the few people who come from inter-caste marriages over three generations. So I consider myself as more of a hybrid as opposed to belonging to any particular caste. The second thing about telling this kind of story is that the easy way for me would have been to write the story of people visiting the UK, studying in dorms, transiting between airports, falling in love with someone of another nationality- just a very urban, educated girl’s experience. But there is enough written about that already so I wanted to tell a story which for me was something that identified me with my roots in Tanjore (a city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu) and help me understand why a person like my father would so desperately want to escape from there.