The Politics of Gender: Trends in India

Posted on August 30, 2010 in Politics

By Ashutosh Singh:

In 1870, Queen Victoria wrote to Sir Theodore Martin complaining about “this mad, wicked folly of ‘Woman’s rights’. Of, course she didn’t need any sort of protection that the acknowledgement of women’s right might offer. Even at the age of eighty, in 1899, she could write to A.J.Balfour, “We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat, they do not exist.” That, however, is not the way most people’s lives go – reduced and defeated as they frequently are by adversities. And within each community, nationality and class, the burden of hardship often falls disproportionately on women.

Amartya Sen

There is something very appealing in the idea that an exact analogy of the Victorian era can be drawn in modern India where the perennial concept of woman empowerment is being sought to be solved by means of defective but efficient mechanism of affirmative action. Replace queen Victoria by Indira Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi or Pratibha Patil for that matter and it will become difficult for you to imagine medieval England without thinking about modern India. Only thing marking a stark difference between the two is hue and cry made over women’s reservation bill. How much will it change the landscapes in the concerned area is still in the realms of speculation but the thing which remains unrefutedly stern is the stiff resistance this bill faces from several quarters. Key proponents of this protest movement, ironically, are the ones who are the product of the similar movement once waged against the elitist bigotry of brahminical hegemony. Have they created a self-sustaining and self-justifying universe which contains all their questions and answers and the mere notion of Gender equality shakes this universe to the core by asking questions that fall outside their purview, that they are so adamantly opposed to this bill or is it because the question itself is wrong or at least, is being framed in a wrong manner?

History usually takes a skewed look at things especially in matters that are politically hot enough to compel male politicians to vow to swallow poison if a bill about women’s reservation goes through in the parliament. This politician in question is Sharad Yadav and this wall of resistance is called socialist block. Those raised in romanticized version of Indian form of socialism may find this resistance intriguing because it refuses to provide solace to those fed up with masculine chauvinism displayed by forces inextricably linked with highly consumerist society that fats and feeds on crony capitalism. It is evident in the advertisements, it is evident in the statements made by the statesmen and yes, it is evident in the way a woman behaves with another woman. Consistent with these facts is a grim reality that privatization has not been able to curb the menace of gender biases prevalent in the society. It has glamorized that by commodifying woman. A man who is all set to drink a curvaceous girl closed in a bottle of Vodka may well be an embodiment of creative orgasm for some but for some, it is the creativity raised to a plane where outraging one’s modesty becomes a sight to watch with callous fun and disgraceful impunity. Like eunuchs who lift their skirts to display their deformed genitals, these people show their ugly face by lifting the intellectual veil of their greed, both sexual as well as monetary.

It is from such vultures, these socialists claim that they are trying to save Indian women. Being a man is not an inevitability to be counted among such vultures. Women coming from pristine aristocracy can be a reason for the fall of lesser woman. Queen Victoria, as mentioned in the beginning of the article comes across as one. Almost every women parliamentarian has managed to make it through on account of being someone’s wife, bahu or beti. One need not be a rocket scientist to decipher the repercussions of having such people on top. How else does one explain the dismal condition of Indian woman despite having a woman prime minister for more than a decade and a super prime minister for nearly a decade now. This feudal mentality has made a comeback with panache in the decision taken by HRD ministry’s proposed list of brand ambassadors for its adult literacy programme.These four esteemed ladies are Neeta Ambani, Supriya Sule, Kanimozhi and Priyanka Vadra.How shameless. Are these decisions an indication of what these rustic socialist politicians are trying to make us aware of? This may not necessarily be, what Britishers call, open and shut case. Socialist Behemoth Lalu Prasad yadav had, by installing Rabri Devi as chief minister, done something that still reverberates in the chronicles of the conscience of millions. Same goes for other Yadavs and Karunanidhis who run political party as their personal fiefdom. Are they male chauvinist inside masquerading as savior of women?

That brings us to the next aspect of the debate whether question itself is wrong and no such thing as gender equality exists. Different roles have been assigned to each Gender and they should abide by that. Conservative school of thought has long been mulling over institutionalizing this superficially innocuous argument of compartmentalization of roles through various apparatus, beauty pageants being one of them. Noted Indian feminist Madhu Kishwar had waged a crusade against such events which, according to her, were means to achieve the same end that are achieved through direct molestation. Politics of gaze is assumed to be the worst kind of politics played by vital emotions surrounding the idea of superior sexuality. But, doesn’t it defeat the very purpose of being born as fairer sex (should we refer to other gender as unfairer sex?), say supporters of feminine movement, a movement that is aimed at countering the feminist movement,which,according to them is about converting females into males. Mentally if not physically. Small wonder that huge proportion of male population supports this view. The problem with feminist argument is that it tends to think of human beings as born as clean slate. Raise boys and girls as same and they will be. They are not willing to face the fact that men and women are biologically different. Any process of changing the direction of politics of nature is doomed to fail. A toy company conducted a research to figure out what kind of toys kids aged five or less prefer. There was a stark difference along the lines of gender in preferences. Is it a gross generalization? Or seeds of solution lie in it?

No debate can ever be complete without looking at the economic aspects, all the more so in the times we live in. Gender equality can be no exception, for sure. The experiment conducted by IIMK will take some time to bear fruit but our assumption of ascertaining its positivity can be screened through the prism of several such experiments conducted across the globe. Mohammed Yunus, founder of the concept of Grameen Bank says that success of this concept is a mere reflection of unleashing of female power. They don’t squander the money in gambling and alcohol which most males do, quite frequently. Success of Panchayti Raj in India can also be explained through the same trajectory of feminine efficiency. There is a huge “but” here that promises to shatter all these notions and is quite frequently found in the books of those social commentators who opine that there are two universe of females divided by millions of light years. On the one extreme are the ones whose self esteem leaks through the cracks appearing on face accompanied by aging, on the other are the ones for whom aging is the crack visible on their life that was marked the day they survived an attempt of elimination in their mother’s womb. Those belonging to former class can have Botox to reduce those cracks, they are said to be manipulative in climbing the unethical ladder of success, alleged to have used their body as bribe. In a nut shell, unscrupulous. Is their any truth in aforementioned points or they are mere rumours floated by male bigots such as David davidar, former president of Penguin Canada, accused of sexually harassing his female subordinate. Truth, as always, seems to be falling in the grey area in between. Such women do command some power and power, as the saying goes, corrupts. Whereas, women on the other extreme are devoid of any such powers or luxuries. They are designed to play mother earth whose fate is to bear all the hardships one can imagine and remain silent in the process. Or do they? If huge number of women’s participation in naxalite movement is any indication, then time is ripe for us to do the thinking in a radically different manner.

These are uncomfortable questions to answer but answer to which will supposedly pave the way for a society far better than the one we have now. The design of answer keeps nagging all of us. Is empowerment all about freedom? But what does this freedom mean? Is it conflated with the desire for great skin and perfect body? If this is about modernity then does this modernity gets signified through a cosmetic change in looks? For a male, this transformation is a thing of pleasure. For him, it merely means a shift from unfathomable enigma to a nicely toned body up there for grab. Irony inherent in the process, is that, in a time, when women appear to be driven by a burning and unflinching desire to make something of their lives, all the modes of popular representation seem to be working on external and they, sadly,seem to be falling in the trap. Remember, self-hate is the powerful motivation that moves the markets. Think of Sarah Palin and you have all the answers.



2-Excerpts from Mother Pious Lady by Santosh Desai

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz and a student of IIM Kozhikode.