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On Breaking Patriarchal Structures, Women Through The Ages, And The Need To Move Forward

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By Anju Anna John:

What do Ramayana, Mahabharata, the medieval age and the post-Independent India have in common? Glaring examples of patriarchy and violence against women!

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In an ideal world, we would not have to work on the status of women, independent of that of men. However, in the patriarchal society that we live in today, the status of a woman has generally been lower than her male counterpart, and to a very large extent, the degree of this has varied through the ages.

This makes it even more important for us to understand the historical context of where these values and practices stem from. In my research, I chanced upon the term ‘Historicism’ which essentially deals with the explanation or evaluation by employing the aid of history with the belief that this historical knowledge is significant in human affairs. And that was when Sita came in mind.

Tales of Dharma: Of Ramayana and Mahabharata
The Ramayana and the Mahabharata – which are set in 7000 BC and 5000 BC respectively, are replete with examples of the ‘ideal woman’ like Sita, Draupadi, Ahilya and Mandodari. Sita is the epitome of forgiveness, strength, patience and purity. Some believe that the suffering she endured was because she overstepped the Lakshman-rekha. Taken in today’s context, this would be an ideal reasoning put forward by the patriarchal society in order to make women toe the line. Draupadi on her part was the fiery, strong-willed woman who was rewarded with humiliation when the Kauravas tried to disrobe her. It is not uncommon even in today’s society, that when a woman speaks up against injustice and violence, men humiliate her in order to shut her down. Before the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 it wasn’t uncommon in rape cases for the accused to cite the victim’s previous sexual experience to signify consent. Mandodari – the wife of Ravana – is a character whose fate resonates among many women even today who are forced to respect and honour their husbands despite their transgressions. Ahilya, the wife of Sage Gautama is the embodiment of forbearance; a woman who quietly bears the brunt for the wrongs of others.

Dictating the Scriptures: The Good, Bad and Ugly of the Vedic Age
The Vedic age was known for the verses from Rigveda which promote education of women, and speak of marriage as something only mature women enter into. Moreover, according to Manusmriti, women seem to have been accorded some liberty in choosing their future spouses. Men and women enjoyed equal status. However, the Vedic period brought about the caste system and women in various castes faced their own set of discriminations.

Displaced Notions: Of Purdah and Sati
By the medieval period, the status of women was on the decline. It was during this period that the purdah was introduced into the Indian society. This period was not just about restrictions. There were a number of practices like child marriage, Sati and jauhar that gained prominence. At that point in time, these practices were followed in order to prevent girls and women from being ravished by conquering armies during invasions. Although these practices started off with good intentions, they seem to have overstayed their welcome.

Against the Odds: Women in the Struggle for Independence
Things started to change for the better during the British Rule with many reformers who stepped up and tried to better the lives of women. The independence struggle also brought an influx of women into the limelight. One of the first women to put up a fight against the British was Rani Lakshmibhai. Later, there were many more who joined the struggle for independence; for the first time, women were working alongside men to bring about a change.

Towards Equality and Justice
Following independence, they tell me that women now have equal rights (Article 14) that are protected by the Constitution of the land. The Constitution also protects against discrimination (Article 15) and guarantees equal opportunity (Article 16). However, these fundamentals could only be realised with the aid of specific legislations. Some of the greatest developments in the legislative realm to improve the status of women happened in the 1970s. The Mathura Rape Case brought about an amendment to the Criminal Law that made custodial rape a punishable offence. The Maternity Benefits Act of 1961 helped to actualise the fundamental right of equal opportunity.

Other laws like the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005, the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act of 1994 are some of the many that have been brought into force to help improve the status of women in society. However, problems like dowry, domestic violence, gender biased sex selection which prescribe to patriarchal notions, are still there. The child sex ratio, currently stands at 918 girls.

Therefore, maybe the need of the hour is to ensure that there is a proper mechanism to implement these laws and to monitor them, because there is no point in bringing in newer legislations to improve the status of women, if the subjects of these laws are unable to assert their rights. As the world progresses from Sita and Draupadi, to the women who are standing up for their rights today, we need to progress as well, both in terms of our mindsets and practices. For the patriarchal structure to be broken, the society definitely needs a lot more ‘moving forward’, from our side.

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  1. Babar

    It is the patriarchy which has turned women into gold diggers. Women always marry men richer than them. Women have the option to work, men don’t. A man has been reduced to an ATM, driver, porter, and dildo. Women can spend their entire life on a man’s money, file a false case of dowry and get lacs in settlement, get alimony for the rest of their life, and usurp half of a man’s property after a divorce worth crores. The patriarchy allows women to commit legal terrorism. Is it surprising that a man in India commits suicide every 6 minutes, courtesy of draconian Indian laws of rape, dowry, domestic violence, marriage, and the patriarchy.

    1. Dakksh

      Do you not have anything new to say? You always copy these same responses and post them everywhere. For once I would like to see you talk relevant so we can award you with appropriate response.

  2. Babar

    Every since the commencement of the feminist agenda, divorce rates have shot through the roof. Below are comments from feminist leaders, revealing the motive of the feminist movement:

    In order to raise children with equality, we must take them away from families and communally raise them. – Dr. Mary Jo Bane, feminist and assistant professor of education at Wellesley College and associate director of the school’s Center for Research on Woman.

    Women, like men, should not have to bear children. The destruction of the biological family, never envisioned by Freud, will allow the emergence of new women and men, different from any people who have previously existed. – Alison Jagger, Political Philosophies of Women Liberation: Feminism and Philosophy (Totowa, NJ: Littlefield, Adams & Co. 1977).

    No woman should be authorized to stay at home and raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. – Simone de Beauvoir, Sex, Society, and the Female Dilemma Saturday Review, June 14, 1975, p.18

    Marriage has existed for the benefit of men; and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women. We must work to destroy it. The end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women. Therefore it is important for us to encourage women to leave their husbands and not to live individually with men. – The Declaration of Feminism, November 1971.

    The nuclear family must be destroyed, and people must find better ways of living together. – Linda Gordon, Function of the Family, Women: A Journal of Liberation, Fall, 1969.

    We can’t destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage. – Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful, 1970, p.537.

  3. Smriti

    Well written. We have so many laws that we are clueless on which one to use!!! Assuming we get awareness and assert our rights, the legal system takes us for a ride. It’s not just about the duration for justice to be meted, but the man does everything he could to cover it as a sham, instead of trying to find a solution. For instance, people like Babar who commented here. If we pay attention to the comment, it’s as if money is everything for a women. Sir, if we go by the human evolution, selfishness is generally an attribute of a man. I heard someone say that if man didn’t have feelings for woman, he would have annihilated the woman race. Man is a seeker – be it of knowledge, money, fame or power. When he exercises too much power on the woman, she gets tired of giving in and hence revolts for her rights, basic rights of being human. We are contented if every man treats every woman like a human being, just like his mother, father, sister, brother or any other male friend. We don’t need any special privileges or laws. We just want better treatment and respect as an individual. If not us, at least our daughters would hope for such a society. How can we do it?

  4. smriti thakur

    What you say about Devadasi Tradition? Is it still prevalent in Indian Tradition?

  5. Amlan

    Well written Mam, we definetly need to put an end to this Patriarchy and replace it with a gender equal system of family and society.

    But, there is an issue in the ‘Why should we care’ section. Its sounds hypocritical calling 2 child family ‘Discriminatory’.From this they seem to re-emphasise the sick idea that having atleast one son is important and that family with both 2 girl child is incomplete and that they should go for the third child hoping for a ‘son’. I think this idea is rediculous and conformist to the unjust patriarchy….

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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