The “Ex-tension” of Borders A Crucial Step in Subaltern Politics
Despite the fact that online space is exceedingly vulnerable to abuse, it still provides room for subaltern politics that has an emancipatory purpose. When class, caste and gender clearly define the politics of location as true of the Indian context, the “ex-tension”13 of borders becomes imperative for subaltern liberative praxis.
According to a study by the National Association of Software and Service Companies, the proportion of male internet users to females in the year 2000 was 77: 23.14 However, this scenario has changed considerably over the last decade as there have been many initiatives on the part of the Government and private agencies to initiate rural women in computer literacy.15 ICT interventions are employed as well to empower women and to sensitize men on the issue of gender-based violence, female foeticide and other health concerns like reduction of infant and maternal mortality, and prevention of communicable and sexually-transmitted diseases.
There is a growing interest in computer-based technologies among the young, particularly girls in India. In a study of female students of computer science in India, Roli Varma observes that female students selected computer science as their major based on a pragmatic assessment of the field, namely: strong possibilities for future employment; high pay scale; the ubiquitous presence of computers in occupational settings; the ability of the student to be on the cutting edge of modern technology; a field requiring mental strength rather than physical strength; and working indoors on a desk rather than outside in the field.16 Cyberspace is fast becoming, as Gillian Young observes, “a new frontier in transcending in significant senses, many of the physical constraints of and boundaries between the traditional settings.”17
In the Indian context, the liberative potential of the internet is experienced more by women who belong to the middle class. My dissertation has pointed out clearly that the major sufferers of spatial politics are women from middle-class, caste-inscribed communities who are more controlled in their mobility than the poorer Dalit women.18 Even though Dalit women in India suffer triple exploitation in the name of caste, class and gender, they have greater physical mobility as this becomes an essential criterion for their survival.
Having a certain background of education, the internet gives middle-class women the opportunity for border “ex-tension” and border-crossing, without leaving the physical confines of their sociocultural boundaries, and without being noticed. The possibility of these ex-tensions becomes a crucial factor for overcoming the hegemonic controls that persist in their lives and for attaining a certain amount of autonomy.19
The pace with which the tidal wave of mobile phone usage has swept across India bridging the class divide, however, makes an interesting case about ground-breaking possibilities in subaltern politics. Entry into the world of mobile phones—which is becoming increasingly common even in the poor and rural sectors of India—has changed the profile of Indian women rightly defined as the “third subaltern,” enabling them to claim visibility and agency in the bargain. This being the case, there is a bigger probability that the suppressed voices of Indian women would be heard with greater power and clarity from the windows of cyberspace, all the more if it can become a launching pad for subaltern politics. In this space, the “personal” becomes “political” in its wider applications and the spatial freedom that cyberspace gives can actually or potentially change women’s lifeworld.20 This is evident in the case of the Narakkal sisters where cross-border advocacy through cyberspace helped evolve a collective critical consciousness in the context of patriarchal manipulations faced by many Indian women, particularly women in the Church.