‘Chup Chudail’ to ‘Awful Fathers’: Devdutt Pattnaik’s Definition of Feminists is Giving us a Headache

Devdutt Pattanaik | Image credit: Facebook

Devdutt Pattanaik | Image credit: Facebook

Devdutt Pattanaik is the author of ‘Myth = Mithya’ and ‘Sita: An Illustrated Retelling’ and is a known author, illustrator, speaker, and expert in Hindu mythology and its feminist interpretations.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: September 22, 2020, 5:56 PM IST


The year 2020 seems to have been the undoing of many writers. First, it was the globally beloved author of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling, whose transphobic comments alienated a large section of her LGBTQIA fans and others alike. And now, it seems the curtains are coming down for yet another popular author, this time in India.

Devdutt Pattanaik, who has long been known for his historically revisionist and often audacious interpretations of Indian mythology and religion, wears a number of illustrious caps – historian, author, and speaker on mythology, religion and feminism. The author of ‘Myth = Mithya’ and ‘Sita: An Illustrated Retelling’ has also made a name for himself in a rather less honourable category – sexism.

For a man who has written extensively on feminism and its expressions and roots in Indian mythology, customs and culture, Pattanaik has time and again expressed some appallingly misguided and confused views on feminism.

Why are we suddenly talking about Pattanaik’s penchant with feminism (or misinterpretations of it)? On Monday, the famed author took to Twitter to write this: “Feminists = we love men if they behave as we tell them to behave. Hindutva = we love Muslims if they behave as we tell them to behave. Socialists = we love Entrepreneurs if they behave as we tell them to behave.”

Before getting further on with Pattanaik’s definition of feminism, here’s a small refresher: feminism is neither a religion nor is it a business. Broadly speaking, feminism is a system of beliefs and structures that include economic, social and political aspects, that consider men and women as equals. It debunks the universal notion that men are superior to women. But it does not claim that women are superior to men either.

Pattanaik, however, seems to be going by a different definition of feminism. Or so his barrage of recent posts would suggest. He recently cited the example of a Johari Window, a psychological self-assessment tool, to express the similarity between feminists and supporters of other hard-lining philosophies and systems.

This is not the first time that the author has tried to use women and feminism to criticise religious orthodoxy and disparities by using extremely senseless examples. Check out this tweet from August, for instance, where he compared Hindu women to Muslim women and the discrimination they face on the basis of their religion. In 2018, he accused feminists of choosing battles of convenience. “Many women who claim to be feminists and anti patriarchal are just hungry politicians who will use their gender as lever for power. But if you call them out they will call you Savarna misogynist,” he had tweeted.

Without at all going into the (de)merits of Pattanaik’s arguments, here’s why we think his tweets do not count as constructive criticism of feminism but a misunderstood mockery of it.

Feminism is not based on the common belief in a deity, book or mythology as the supreme source of life and death. Feminism does not wage wars in the name of unseen forces scriptures. In fact, far-right philosophies like Hindutva, Islamic extremism, conservative Christianity and Jewism are all known to be rather anti-feminist in their views, which is why many feminists are also opposed to right-wing narratives. Pattanaik himself has written extensively on how all religions are inherently sexist and patriarchal.

His ‘structural’ comparison of feminism to religious extremism is not the only time that Pattanaik has revealed himself to be the misogynist that he is now seemingly is. He once shut up a woman arguing with him on social media as “Chup Chudail”. In another instance, he trash-talked about a Twitter user’s mother after the former questioned his views of Harappan history.

We can compile many more such instances of Pattanaik’s sexist comments and observations. But for someone who bases much of his career as an academic on the deconstruction of feminism and women, his disregard for feminists (and women) seems rather hypocritical and patriarchal to say the least.

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