Why Location Matters? The Political Significance of Cyberspace
The liberative significance of cyberspace in the formulation of The Narakkal Episode becomes starkly evident when set against the backdrop of Kerala patriarchy and within the framework of gender relations in Kerala’s Syrian Christian community. Kerala has drawn international attention for the highest Human Development Index in India, the progressive status of women being an essential factor of this developmental model. The pro-woman sex-ratio, advanced literacy rates, the negative birth rate resulting in a very positive population control in the State, and the high life expectancy of Kerala women are taken to be decisive factors in this development discourse. All the same, many theorists analyzing the situation of women in Kerala point to the “gender paradox,” a latent contradiction observed in those ranking high on human development indices, yet being low in claiming their agency as persons.5 Even though women enjoy high literacy and better health care facilities in Kerala, the prevalent culture of protection, control and domestication, tend to deprive them of their autonomy and active involvement in the public space. Kerala women experience strong restrictions on their mobility due to caste prescriptions that define women’s identity. “Decent” women are not expected to be in the public space except in the accompaniment of their husbands.6
Caste-inscribed controls on women’s mobility have direct implications on their effective agency as women’s interests become more absorbed by domestic concerns. Women themselves tend to shy away from the public gaze in order to steer clear of unruly remarks and labeling. This reflects the Foucaldian notion of “panopticon” where the internalization of the socio-religious system of surveillance and policing of one’s own behavior becomes a necessary criterion for respectable survival. It is within this context that access to cyberspace provides a “space of one’s own” beyond the confines of a socioculturally defined public space.
Since the sisters of the Narakkal community belong to the Catholic Syrian Christian community—one of the three rites of the Catholic Church in India—in addition to being colored by the “gender paradox” of the wider Kerala framework, their lives are also conditioned by “brahminical patriarchy” and its stringent controls on women’s mobility.7 In this context, for the sisters of the Narakkal community, having access to the Net meant a breakthrough of constraints in order to make their voices heard to a much wider world.