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Feminism movement- helping or hurting Bharatiya women?

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Feminism and dismantling patriarchy are buzzwords now. The modern man/woman is all about it. They talk about being a feminist and smashing the patriarchy. Articles are written, conferences are organised, special programs and advertisements are on television and there are celebrations on women’s day all over the world, Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

Yes. What does being a feminist entail ? 

Well, according to social media, it involves adding the word Feminist to your social media handles, wearing t-shirts with images and/or slogans, sharing content of women’s empowerment and giving speeches. All these are signs that you are a “Woke Intellectual”. But do these really contribute to the upliftment of women? The answer is a big NO.

Well, they spread the message that women should take control of their lives. What is wrong with doing these ?

Nothing. Which also happens to be what they really do for women. Sure, it makes the concept of women’s empowerment visible and popular, but that doesn’t translate into action in reality. Saying something and wishing for it does not bring change and progress. For example, a person in a remote village will not send their girl child to school just because they watched a tv program or because someone wore a t-shirt. They will consider it if there is a school not too far from their home, has basic infrastructure, good faculty and safe environment, transport facility etc.  What is needed is more action. Sadly what is seen on social media is just empty rhetoric. 

Is there no misogyny here in our country? 

It is a fact that there is misogyny in the world and our country is no exception. Most women would agree that they have been discriminated because of their gender. Still, more and more women get education and are entering the workforce every year.  Feminism movement was needed in the west because women had less rights than men there. Women were denied voting rights, reproductive rights, property rights, equality in pay. Women in the developed countries like UK and USA had to struggle for decades since 1850s even to get the right to vote in 1920s. But the Constitution of India guarantees these rights.

But we are told that women in India do not have equal rights. What rights does our constitution give women?

Women’s suffrage – After becoming a Republic in 1950, full voting rights were given to women. 

Equality in Pay- The Equal Remuneration Act 1976 and Equality Act of 2010 are laws passed for equality in pay.

Reproductive rights – Under Article 21, reproductive rights are a part of personal liberty (as stated by The Puttaswamy judgement).

Maternity leave –  Maternity amendment bill of 2017 increased the maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks – the third highest in the world.

Equal Opportunities – Very few companies deny job opportunities to women based on their gender. But they can be fought and won. 

Women in armed forces – In February 2019, the government granted a permanent commission to women officers in eight streams of the Army, in addition to the JAG (Judge Advocate General) and AEC(Army Education Corps) which was granted earlier in 2008.

What about sexual harassment and domestic abuse?

Crimes against women, harassment in workplace, domestic abuse are real problems in our society that no one can deny. As witnessed by the #Me too movement, this is a worldwide problem and needs solutions at various levels. The 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)Act – popularly known as POSH Act provides protection to all workers in public and private sectors. This could be health, sports, education or government institutions, any place visited by the employee during employment, even transportation.  The informal sector which domestic workers are a part of, are also included in this Act.

Domestic abuse –  Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 and Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act 2005 all deal with domestic abuse and violence against women.

The problems women face are not because of lack of laws because laws alone will not change the behaviour of people. Many cases of sexual harassment go unreported because of stigma, embarrassment, fear of losing their job and lack of awareness and confidence in the system. 

The other side of the problem – misuse of laws

Without being dismissive about the problems faced by women, we need to acknowledge that there is also another side of the problem, where women use these laws to settle personal scores and/or gain fame. 

Some examples of men suffering due the misuse of these laws by women for personal gain.

In May 2020, a teenage girl went on social media without any proof to accuse a 17 year old boy Manav of raping her two years ago. The boy denied the allegation but was threatened and shamed. Unable to prove his innocence, he committed suicide. The girl, who comes to know of this, shows no remorse but instead comments that he was weak.

In 2016, a publisher alleged on Facebook that a OLA driver had threatened to slit her throat which led to his arrest. He lost his job due to the complaint. A Tamil writer who came to know about this took an interest to find out what had happened. Turns out that she had a spat with the driver and got off the cab but refused to pay him. The writer wrote about this on social media, and collected money to help the driver. No one else bothered to find out the driver’s side of the story. 

In another instance, a sitting member of parliament threatens a man with sexual harassment for hitting a dog. The man can be heard pleading with her to listen to him and that he tried to shoo the dog away because it tried to bite him and his child. Only in the case of Manav, a case has been filed by the parent. It is a sad fact that there is no law for men when they face any kind of abuse by women. 

These incidents show that there are women who do it for revenge or fame. This is reverse oppression in the name of feminism, which only makes matters worse for real victims of harassment and domestic abuse. Misuse and abuse of these laws will only create an atmosphere where men and women constantly mistrust each other and their motives. This is no way to create a safe and sane environment for women.

Men who behave badly should be called out, shunned and punished accordingly but women need to be held accountable for their actions too. This selective shaming will only deepen the chasm in the long run.  Whining, hating men and victim mentality will not help accomplish anything. Equality does not mean freedom from responsibility.

So we don’t need a feminist movement in our country because some women misuse these laws ? What is the solution ?

The feminism movement from the west is not suitable for Bharat because the concept of woman as a lesser being in not part of Indic ethos.  We are a nation that has hundreds of Devis/Goddesses. There are millions of people who have a Kula Devi, a feminine family deity. Women have been able to select a husband in the past. Bharatiya history shows that women were allowed to, even encouraged to study, work and perform.

Our civilisation has a long history of women in positions of power like Ahilyabai Holkar, Rani Mangammal, Rani Rudrama Devi, Abbakka Rani, Maharani Tarabai, Rani Durgavati, Kittur Chennamma, Bibi Sahib Kaur, Onake Obavva, Velu Nachiyar and the well known Rani Laxmi Bhai of Jhansi. They all came from different regions of Bharat. How was it possible if men had thought women couldn’t rule ? Restrictions of freedom for women that came later might have more to do with iconoclasm of non-indic faiths by outsiders during colonisation.

In post independence Bharat, there are scores of women who excel in their field be it science, education, research, arts and politics. This has been possible through their hard work, support from the family and changes in society like education and job opportunities. For example, recently, 20-year-old Shirisha from Ganeshpally village and V Bharathi, a native of Mahabubabad district, went to court and have become the first linewomen by cracking the Junior Lineman recruitment examination conducted by the TSSPDCL (Telangana Southern Power Distribution Corporation Limited). 

The solution to toxic masculinity is not toxic feminism. Dehumanising men will do nothing to solve the problems of women. Instead of adopting the western idea of feminism which is based on confrontation and othering of men, we should look for ways that are inclusive. 

A positive approach towards equality without alienating men will help to a greater extent than any number of laws for women’s safety and empowerment. It can be achieved by educating and creating awareness, having systems in place to deal with harassment and enforcing them. There should be steps to ensure education for girls and guidance to help create entrepreneurs. Successful women should be encouraged and promoted by giving them more visibility which will inspire others. 

Bharathiya culture and history has more female icons than the west does. They are the embodiment of what women should strive to become. A Guru like Mata Amritanandamayi, who is contributing to the society through humanitarian work, education, healthcare and disaster relief is not the product of western feminism. Her power does not come from institutions or by fighting the patriarchy.  It comes from inner strength. compassion, selfless service and hard work. The day women realise their inner Shakthi is when they become truly free. 

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