By Indu Gupta:
Feminism is a dirty word for some. And why wouldn’t it be? The limited discourse on humanities in the Indian education system, where concepts like feminism and the cosmopolitanism of Tagore are missing, but full course meals of nationalism and the revivalist Hindu tradition are served devoid of the explanation of the very word ‘Nation’ is exactly how prejudices are formed and intellectual growth stopped.
Defending your nation, being a nationalist is so praiseworthy in our country because our education taught us to accept it. But at the same time, raising slogans and taking those late night strolls are not acceptable for a girl because, somewhere, over the years, the discourse on a woman’s rights remained incomplete and, maybe, took the wrong road.
In a post-colonial country like ours, where freedom was won with continuous struggle culminating in our demand for Poorna Swaraj – complete freedom and sovereignty, we know what the price of freedom is and hence the glory we associate with it. But it seems the same is not true for the discourse on rights. There is no glory in being a feminist and receiving the tag of a ‘ghar-todu’ woman.
From the likes of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who was boycotted by his own mother for raising his voice against sati; Jyotibha Phule, who raised his voice against the prevalent caste system and the position of women and widows to Pandita Ramabai, Kamla Bhasin and the Ela Bhatt of SEWA, their activism is something we as a society should be thankful for. It led to change and upward social mobility but it wasn’t without the struggle against the status quo-ists and orthodox elements of the society that somehow miss the big picture and the big questions.
We’ve come all the way from the Age of Consent Act of 1891 when the legal age for a girl to marry was ‘raised’ from 10 to 12 to a society where a girl could type this article on her iPhone unmarried at the age of 22. Where the constitution gives us rights on par with men. When the pay we demand is on par with men. Then where are we still wrong? Why the cases of groping, sexual abuse and rape? Why the stigma?
We’re wrong in our heads. Because our education is wrong. We’re wrong in our concepts of raising men and women; in publishing those Mills & Boons, where the girl is lovable but needs protection and hence the tough guy.
Simone de Beauvoir wasn’t wrong when she pointed out the difference between sex and gender which we so conveniently ignore: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Sex is biological, gender is socially constructed – with its owns set of dos and don’ts.
Call me wrong. But I think we’ve just reached our 1857, our first war of independence. Today, when we’re fighting against female foeticide, our right to live, to not be raped on the way back from a movie, Poorna Swaraj still seems like a long way to go.
Featured image for representation only. Credit: Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.