Call for Accountability in Feminist Circles

The authors of this statement are a collective group of Dalit, Adivasi, Vimukta, Bahujan people, as well as dominant savarna people, some of whom are queer, trans* and/or disabled. It is important for us to acknowledge that people from dominant savarna communities have historically oppressed marginalised groups and continue to do so at present. In composing this statement, we centered the voices of those among us with marginalised identities.

Trigger Warning: This statement contains details of very trans*-negative descriptions of trans* persons, particularly in paragraphs five and six. We request trans* persons to read this statement with care.

On May 3, 2021, the NGO Sangat: A Feminist Network (founded by Kamla Bhasin) organized a workshop titled “Artivism 101: Sangat’s Creative Workshop”, in which Bhasin spoke about gender, patriarchy and feminism. Clips from this video were circulated on social media, evoking much outrage in feminist circles for its transphobic and exclusionary nature. This is a joint statement written by feminists who condemn and reject Bhasin’s exclusionary ideas about feminism.

Although this statement is a response to Bhasin, her views are part of a larger problem. So we take this opportunity to raise some additional concerns in the hope of initiating a sustainable dialogue. While feminism in India is by no means one single movement, a particular kind of feminism is often assumed to be the dominant form practised by cisgender, heterosexual, Dwija- Savarna women (referred to as “dominant” women hereafter) who have become its public face in India. These individuals are often part of and head urban and rural NGOs, which wield much power within feminist activist circles. The issues we raise are not individual but deeply systemic and speak to ongoing disagreements between feminists from different social locations and movements.

In the video, Bhasin claims, “Feminism agar hai toh patriarchy ke khilaaf hai, phir transgender hai, falana hai, ecological woh alag hai (If there is a feminism, it is against patriarchy. And then there is transgender, ecological etc. which is different)”. She further says “gender, feminism and patriarchy are limited to male, female and gender,’’ where gender for her is limited to the “socio-cultural definition of a girl and a boy, a man and a woman. It doesn’t mean caste, it doesn’t mean race.” This suggests the creation of a hierarchy of issues in the feminist movement where Bhasin places caste, ethnic, class and trans* identities as secondary in the struggle against patriarchy.

We argue that this idea centers the concerns of only dominant women. By framing these dominant groups of women as the ‘true’ and ‘authentic’ subjects of feminism, it does deep disservice and extends harm to people on the margins, doing very little to decenter prevailing power structures. Positioning the concerns of dominant women as representative of feminism, makes it accessible only to an elite minority at the cost of most others.

The naming and practice of feminism in such ways are not only outdated and gender essentialist, but are also violently exclusive of the rich histories of Dalit, Adivasi, Vimukta, Bahujan, queer (and explicitly trans*), labour rights movements, and disability rights movements in India upon whose labour our feminist movements and ideas of liberation have been built. They also curiously omit transnational discourses led by Black and Indigenous feminists among others. We maintain that no feminism can be built upon the subordination and dehumanisation of any communities, especially groups that have been historically marginalised. In fact, revolutionary intersectional feminisms should center the voices of the most marginalised.

There is an urgent need to acknowledge that trans* and other gender non-conforming persons often face discrimination and violence from cisgender and heterosexual feminists. In speaking of a non-binary person attending the workshop Bhasin notes, “Us bichare ko na toh mestruating hua, bahut hi incomplete body leke aaya (That poor person had not experienced menstruation, and brought a very incomplete body)”. She further makes disparaging comments about their body saying, “Breast ke chote chote nishaan toh hain lekin useless hain (They have small marks in the place of their breasts but they are useless).”

Here Bhasin holds that menstruation is what completes a woman, thereby implying that trans*, intersex, and other gender non-conforming persons are somehow ‘incomplete’ people while erasing their right to self-determine their gender identities. This line of thought also harms cis women who experience menstrual complications and reinforces patriarchal thinking which reduces them to reproducers. For decades, various feminist discourses have challenged the social construction of sex and gender as ‘natural’ binaries. To repeat these false understandings now as a feminist is not only reductive and ableist but also regressive. In this way, Bhasin’s narrative contributes to patriarchal violence by positioning these women as somehow “less than.” Furthermore, making public observations about bodies and in particular sexual organs is generally the kind of reduction/denial of personhood in which patriarchy specializes.

Bhasin further trivializes trans* and gender non-conforming realities by reducing them to a mere language issue that people need to learn to speak and adapt. She adds, “Agar aap transgender par kar rahe ho toh har ek ko wohi bhasha bolni hai, zaroori nahi hai. (If you’re working on trans issues, it’s not necessary that everyone has to speak the same language as you.)”. Such thinking is extremely reductive and can excuse transphobia by arguing that not everyone can work on everything. The struggles of trans* and gender non-conforming people are not only of language, clothing or pronouns. They are made up of complex intersections of power and violence in a cis-normative world which affects their access to respect, dignity, human rights, healthcare, employment, legal rights, political representation, physical and mental health needs and much more. Overall, an analysis like Bhasin’s misses how all of these complexities — of language and material resources, cannot be seen as separate.

There are several other violent inconsistencies and erasures that Bhasin makes in the video for which there isn’t enough space here to elaborate. However, if this video is any indication of where the dominant feminist movement in India is at today, then its flagbearers need to take a long and hard look at themselves. This is also a result of equating feminism with NGOisation in the past decades that has created an ecosystem where dominant women hold the reins of mainstream feminist discussions and leadership. The ability to dismiss entire sections of the population as Bhasin has done here, is to wield immense power bestowed by their socio-cultural capital and to operate with a similar kind of impunity as the very patriarchy they claim to oppose.

Plural feminisms have always existed, they are constantly evolving and are grounded in varying principles and solidarities. Dominant feminists have for a long time erased and invisibilized them. All feminisms must always hold the room to make mistakes, to apologise sincerely, and to learn — that we cannot simply name ourselves feminists based on our pasts but become feminists over and over again each day through our actions. Feminism is a practice. More importantly, feminist ethics requires acknowledging harm and practicing accountability. It also requires that the very communities upon whose labour our movements are built — Dalit, Adivasi, Vimukta and Bahujan communities; trans*, intersex, non-binary and gender non-confirming people; sex workers; labourers; educators; and more — are allowed to claim feminist spaces, to speak and to lead.

Feminist labour is inherently a labour of love. It is rooted in our bonds and who we acknowledge as community. Bhasin’s words, which are representative of many in cisgender savarna feminist spaces alienate and depopulate our feminist communities. Along with perpetuating harm upon marginalised identities, such behaviour deprives us of building meaningful solidarities and the chance to evolve collectively.

This video isn’t the first instance where Bhasin’s transphobic and exclusionary views have been pointed out. In the past, there have been repeated attempts to engage her in discussions about them but they haven’t been taken seriously. We would also like to reiterate that this is not just a single instance concerning an individual but a common problem that has been noted by several persons in dominant feminist spaces. By calling for accountability we hope to initiate dialogue as opposed to cancelling such persons from dominant communities.

We write this statement to hold any Indian feminist with these regressive views accountable, and to specifically counter widespread claims that Bhasin’s own legacy in the Indian Women’s Movement excludes her from being held accountable. We write as well to ensure that those harmed by these narratives know that we will not be silent in the face of injustice.


In solidarity:

1. Riddhima Sharma

2. Akanksha Singh

3. Samira Nadkarni

4. Niharika Pandit

5. Nolina S. Minj

6. Sai Bourothu

7. Bhani Rachel Bali

8. Jo Krishnakumar

9. Nikita Sonavane

10. Disha Wadekar

11. Amalina K Dave

12. Raj Mariwala

13. Akansha

14. Vaishnavi

15. Noor Enayat

16. Safvana khalid

17. Pooja V Nair

18. Mabel Mirza

19. Antra Khurana

20. Shruti Chakravarty

21. Brahmi Chakravorty

22. Abhiti

23. Diana Thomas

24. Vihaan Vee

25. Somaya Gupta

26. Mrittika Biswas

27. Radhika Gajjala

28. Anuradha Banerji

29. Anam M.

30. Astha

31. Christy Nag

32. Bhumika Sahani

33. Sanjana Chettri

34. Chand

35. Rahi Soren

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37. Salwa Kazi

38. Yashnashree

39. Sahiti Kachroo

40. Ruby Hembrom

41. Sam

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43. Tejaswi Subramanian

44. Nazia Ahmed

45. Ridhima Sharma

46. Soumya Jayanti

47. Asmi Khushi

48. Neeka Manjula

49. Akanksha Mehta

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444. shivani taneja

445. Shreshtha Sant

446. Ajitha G S

447. Aditi

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450. SRI VAMSI MATTA

451. Neeraj K

452. Apeksha Priyadarshini

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711. Farah

712. Annapurna Garimella

713. Rupali Samuel

714. Khushi Singh Rathore

715. Bhanupriya Rao

716. Rajshree Rajmohan

717. Amrita

718. Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi

719. Shreya Munoth

720. Aravind S

721. Shalini Nair

722. Anushka Shahdadpuri

723. Ghazal Khanna

724. Poorna R

725. Sailesh P R

726. Deekshitha B

727. Shruti Ambast

728. Shewli Kumar

729. Pritha

730. Sharanya

731. Sulochana

732. Dr Shalini Sihe

733. Meenakshi Gandotra

734. Ira

735. Moulshri Mohan

736. Gatha

737. Ashwini

738. Kesang Thakur

739. Subramanya Hegde

740. Vidya V Babu

741. Radhika Govindrajan

742. Shivangi Sharma

743. Kripa

744. Neetika Vishwanath

745. AKRITI LAKRA

746. Ayesha Lari

747. Czaee

748. Deeksha Sharma

749. S. Shakthi

750. Jessica Hinchy

751. Aiman Khan

752. Snigdha Sony

753. Sonaksha

754. Ananya Saha

755. Reshma Mathew

756. Sriyan

757. Sowmya Ganesh

758. Shaktee

759. Anushree Samant

760. Ahalya Ganesh

761. Ragamalika K

762. Abhigna Arigala

763. Masooma Ranalvi

764. Purbasha Panda

765. Akriti Mehta

766. Nirupama K S

767. Neelanjana

768. Kirthana R

769. Manjari Sahay

770. Rukmini Sen

771. Enoch Soans

772. Priyangee

773. Sanika Dhakephalkar

774. Kavya

775. Brindaa

776. Ishanavi Bajpai

777. Tapati Chowdhury

778. Nandini Manjunath

779. Sahana Afreen

780. Aayush Rathi

781. Tanya

782. Arpita Phukan Biswas

783. Archanaa Seker

784. Preeti Raghunath

785. Rishita Nandagiri

786. Soumya Saxena

787. Centre for Queer & Transgender Studies

788. Amrita Sengupta

789. Sruti

790. Cynthia Stephen

791. Aabha Muralidharan

792. Meghana Rao

793. Soumya Mathew

794. Rewa Marathe

795. Mrudula Boss

796. Naveen Bagalkot

797. Swati Arora

798. Jitendra Kurra

799. Swati Arora

800. Ranjana Dave

801. Sohel

802. Purnima Ramanujan

803. Nivedita Saksena

804. Aditi Singh

805. Nishtha Gupta

806. Indira Pathak

807. Tanya Rana

808. Alok

809. harshiv

810. Vijayalakshmi Harish

811. Dr. Gayatri Kotbagi

812. Palak Sarkar

813. Garima Kaur

814. Sonali Dhanpal

815. Manavi Atri

816. Karthika Sanjay

817. Swetha Shankar

818. Sheela sridhar

819. Anushka Menon

820. Nadika N

821. Priyansha Jain

822. Anusha Bhat

823. Anushree Jairath

824. Saloni Tehri

825. Debarati Sarkar

826. Prakriti

827. Jyotika Tomar

828. Maisnam Arnapal

829. Paroma Mukherjee

830. Oishani Sengupta

831. Nalini Menon

832. Neel (she/her)

833. Anjali Hans

834. Kanika M

835. A P Sreehari

836. Bijoy Mathew

837. Shalin Joss

838. Daksh Walia

839. Muthusamy Rajaguru

840. Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju

841. Shaifila

842. Chinmayee Panda

843. Smriti Nevatia

844. Shraddha Dubey

845. Mridu Markan

846. Chintan Girish Modi

847. Ayesha Vemuri

848. Lydia Prabha

849. Oishorjyo

850. Kamakshi

851. Srishti Sood

852. Anushree

853. Q (Srivatsan)

854. Neha Saigal

855. Sugandha Rao

856. Alaka Kavallur

857. Geet

858. Radha Paudel

859. Anupa Regmi

860. Salina

861. Sakshi Rai

862. Pratiti Deb

863. Shambhavi Singh

864. Deya

865. Nipunika Thakur

866. Madhur Bharatiya

867. Lakshita Bhagat

868. Laxmi

869. Rony J Koonthanam

870. Nandhana P

871. MRIDULA

872. Nisha Abdulla

873. Bhargavi Dilipkumar

874. Piyusha Vir

875. Akanksha Sharma

876. Sudha N

877. winnu daniel das

878. Nilabja

879. Anvita Thapliyal

880. Hannah

881. Arpita Das

882. Amogha Reddappa

883. Kausumi Saha

884. U Rag

885. Himani

886. Reha Malik

887. Meghna Mandal

888. Ritika Bhatia

889. Tanvi Krishnakumar

890. Evlyn

891. Dipshikha Vaishnav

892. Kalpana Kannabiran

893. Devalina

894. Kabir hosangadi

895. V Geetha

896. tanya

897. Anshika

898. Debarati Das

899. Doel Rakshit

900. Ashitabh Misra

901. Prateek Kumar Gautam

902. Ishita Sharma

903. Tanvi Kanchan

904. Bhagya Raj Rathod

905. Alpha Toppo

906. Sahil

907. Isha Shandilya

908. Dennis Lallienzuol

909. Pritha Chakrabarti

910. Nadia N

911. Meenakshi Yadav

912. Sunetra

913. Ravali

914. Apoorva Katpatal

915. Aparna Joshi

916. Anish Gawande

917. Vidisha Saini

918. Sravanthi Dasari

919. Hitha Sanghi

920. Rutuja Deshmukh

921. Debomita Mukherjee

922. Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen

923. Nimisha Agarwal

924. Sameera

925. Aditya Vikram Shrivastava

926. Payal Dhar

927. Tara Harneez

928. YASIR SAEED ALVI

929. Neha Mathews

930. Deepti

931. Aditi pinto

932. Bipasha C

933. Esther Moraes

934. Shweta Ghosh

935. Sajana J

936. Shruti Patrick

937. neeti (aganiké)

938. Tuhina Roy

939. Kalyani Monteiro Jayasankar

940. Durgesh Solanki

941. Anjali Monteiro

942. KP Jayasankar

943. Rithika Joanne Fernandez

944. Aditi

945. PRIYANSHU SINGH

946. Aswathy B Surendran

947. Vidushi

948. Tarini

949. Uma Nair

950. Anusha

951. Priyasha

952. Sayantani

953. Zarah

954. Rini Dasgupta

955. Arzoo Garg

956. Lotika Singha

957. Rahat Sanghvi

958. Aanchal Chittalipi

959. Kamalkoli Majumdar

960. Deeksha Tiwari

961. Soma Basu

962. Tom Thomas

963. Barshana Basu

964. Somya Dhuliya

965. Aiman

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