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HomeNationalThe misuse of Kali as a Western-style feminist symbol is an injustice...
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The misuse of Kali as a Western-style feminist symbol is an injustice to post-colonial India MPNRC News

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Recently, a controversy has erupted over a poster of a film depicting Hindu Goddess Kali as a smoker and an LGBTQ rights activist. The film was supposed to be screened at a Canadian government-sponsored film festival, but protests by members of the Hindu community prompted the Indian government to diplomatically register its concerns, which led to the screening being postponed and an apology. Putting such an image aside, Trinamool Congress MP and spokesperson Mahua Moitra fueled the fire, saying there was no need to argue because for her, Kali is a “meat-eating, alcohol-drinking” goddess. This has led to another round of controversy, but Moitra sought unity from Congress MP Shashi Tharoor instead, and his party immediately distanced itself from his statement. While the ‘Freedom of Speech’ on the quality of the debate is being debated by authoritarians banning seekers from imitating Islamists, the biggest issue that has gone wrong is the misuse of Kali by Westerners for their own ends.

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This is not the first time that the Hindu deity Kali has been portrayed in an insulting manner. In 2008, Hollywood actress Heidi Klum got the wrath of millions of Hindus around the world by wearing a black costume for a Halloween party. In 2012, an American brewery protested by naming their latest alcoholic drink after Kali. While Kali is being commercially exploited to create brand value by celebrities and brands, the abuse of Kali from the West, especially by feminists, has been highlighted by the latest controversy.

Often the Instagram pages of feminist groups share images with black sexual overtones where she smokes, drinks or engages in behaviors that are appropriate for a “capable woman”.

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The portrayal of Kali as a feminist symbol in the Western style is seriously problematic. Western feminism is reactionary. The first wave of feminism came in the 19th and early 20th centuries where women sought to reverse the legal inequalities that existed against them, especially with regard to voting rights. The second wave of feminism focuses on cultural inequality, gender roles and norms, and the status of women in society as it unfolded in the 1960s and 1980s. The third wave since 1990 has focused on the globalization of reproductive rights and feminist discourse. Most importantly, they began to talk about interrelationships where all women’s overlapping identities in terms of race, ethnicity, class, religion, and sexual orientation were included.

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What is common to all waves of feminism, including intersectional feminism, which is the current mystery, is the empowerment of women by breaking the rules. Western feminism works on the basic assumption that this is the world of men where women have to claim their place and rights and in order to do so, it is most important to break the current rules and create shock values. Intersectional feminism is where feminism relies on both abusive behavior and discourse to draw attention to LGBTQ activists for their cause. This is where he has applied the bud.

Kali’s image as a smoker with an LGBTQ poster was intended to create shock value. But it was extremely unjust and cruel to Western feminism to impose on Indians, especially Hindu women. Advocates of interdepartmental feminism have empowered everyone but this portrayal of Kali is more insulting than any benefit.

In the Hindu scheme of the universe, Kali is not a rule breaker. She is a creator and destroyer, herself a rule maker for whom the three gods – the creator of Brahma, Vishnu and the destroyer Shiva – pray for themselves. You cannot enable Kali. She is the one who is empowering the three main deities of the Hindu faith. By portraying Kali as a rebel and rule breaker in the male world, Westerners are underestimating and undermining her real potential as the creator of the universe which is against the feminist cause of the principle of women’s empowerment.

Unlike Western feminism, Indian feminism is stronger because it recognizes the role of women as a creator. Not only Kali but there are many other goddesses who set the rules in their own domain with full authority and control – like Saraswati in the realm of knowledge and Lakshmi for wealth. This is very different from the Western context where women have to be rule-breakers, opponents and push-value generators in order to listen effectively. Therefore, the depiction of Kali in many posters on Instagram abuses Kali from the original context as a rule-breaking woman.

It is even more unfair to look at the history of India as a wounded civilization. It had been in the colony for 200 years and its culture had been misinterpreted by the colonial power to effectively subdue the natives. Such a reprehensible portrayal of Kali re-ignites these wounds and requires a strong Indian voice to resist them.

The author holds a PhD in International Relations from the Department of International Relations at the University of South Asia. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the role of this publication.

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