Patriarchy at the ECC Conference?

On day one if the “Methodological Shifts” Seminar at ECC, Whitefield, Dr. Pothen rejected the tendency in Indian theology to replicate western systems and instead advocated that the “marginalised community provide the resources for Indian Christian thinking.” Which means, the thinking of Dalits/Women/Tribals will help us develop a more authentic and relevant Indian Christian Theology.

While this is an understandable assertion in a Theological Method seminar, it still remains an unclear statement. At least two questions arise: for instance, did Dr. Pothen believe that all thinking of Dalits and Women and Tribals was valid for constructing Theology in India? Or did he mean that only legitimate theological discussions by Tribals and Dalits and Women merit the stage for Indian Theological thinking? The latter is obviously problematic since who is to decide whether some theological discussions by marginalised groups is legitimate? The former is problematic because while a gut-instinct would mean that “all thinking” should be valid, it is almost impossible for non-marginalised to accept everything the marginalised have to say.

It was sad that in the conference not a single person raised this question (and I didn’t because of my vow to silence). Instead, the participants were all in praise of Dr. Pothen’s paper and commended his forward thinking!

Anyway, this could have been easily forgotten had it only been a one-off paper, but the next day, a woman, J, was speaking. She was the first insider (marginalised) spokesperson in the group; speaking as a women. Obviously she was given a gender-related discussion and her topic was on Indian women in the context of post-colonialism.

The paper was ok, nothing surprising, nothing too controversial. But the reactions by the participants were disturbing.

Prior to J’s paper, another man had presented the paper on postmodernity and its role for Indian theology. The previous day, even Dr. Pothen was pro postmodern and postcolonial thinking. The opening session, by Dr. Mani Chacko, promoted postmodern and postcolonial thinking. All these papers were commended, were accepted as positive and relevant statements.

But for J’s paper, suddenly the participants found problems in the methodology, the problems with patriarchy, a problem with postcolonialism for gender justice etc etc.

The first questioner, raised questions about the universality of patriarchy asserting that there were places in Africa and Philippines!!! Where Matriarchy existed. This was obviously to prove that we need not think of Patriarchy as universal, but more importantly, displayed a bias of discomfort of the universality of patriarchy (and also failed to understand how patriarchial systems can be evident in matriarchal societies as well).

The next questioner immediately discounted the postcolonial methodology and began to raise his voice in anger. Would he dare to raise his voice whether other senior male speakers were presenting?

Yet another questioner, who rarely spoke before this, started asking questions that supposedly called for an alternative methodology to postcolonialism. His questions displayed ignorance about postcolonialism, but his new-found confidence seemed to be gained after a perceived weaker presenter.

I think one of the worst tendencies in the discussion session was by one or participants who started making suggestions to improve the paper. What nerve! Did they dare to make paper-improvement suggestions to the senior colleagues whose papers were similar if not similarly weak? This to me was the clearest example of how a woman remained marginalised, even in the context of where she is supposedly to have power.

This brings me back to Dr. Pothen’s earlier assertion that we must listen to women, dalits, tribals. Yet instead of listening, we the participants had suggestions for improving the paper, for checking the methodology, for critique of perspectives. Instead of learning from the perspective, instead of listening, we wanted the woman to listen to us.

The contradiction is that either we should be critical of the previous sessions, where we should say we will not learn from Dalits/Women who do not correspond to right methodology. Or we should truly follow the call, and give them the platform and really practice what we preach. Let only women dalits and tribals speak. Whatever they say, whether right or wrong in our eyes, we look to learn. The teachers/the elite/the non-marginalised become the learners.

But instead, we still have women present the one-off compulsory session, and we remain critical of the woman’s voice, a bias that we hold on to from earlier. It is evident that we are not ready to listen. And till then, any talk about letting the marginalised speak, are words that remain in the clouds. And confirm the problems we try to overcome.