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Beti Bachao, Roti Banwao: Promoting Misogyny In The Name Of Women Empowerment

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On January 22, 2015, PM Narendra Modi launched the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” campaign to spread awareness and to improve welfare services and resources that are meant to save and empower girls. India, as a nation along with China and Africa, has a long, sad history of misogyny. Girls are killed either before or after birth. Everyone wants a wife, girlfriend, mother but the idea of raising a daughter is still a matter of pain for many who are harboured by malevolent misogyny.

And, one day while going through my FB feed, I came across this ad painted on a wall in Haryana. This ad shows everything that is wrong in terms of benevolent misogyny propagated within the society. The ad features a young girl making rotis and the title says, “Kaise khaoge unke haath ki rotiya, jab paida hone nahi doge betiyan.” The translation says, “How will you eat rotis made by their hands when you won’t let daughters be born.” Basically, a daughter’s life is worth only for the sake of traditional stereotypical gender roles.

There has been an outrage on Twitter where many called BS. This ad shows everything wrong in terms of “save girl child campaign” and human rights. It shows a little girl making rotis and the vibe we get after seeing the look her face is more of an S.O.S call. A girl of her age should be in school. Also, the picture could also be seen as a depiction of child labour. And it is ludicrous of the ad makers to make such a statement.

Female foeticide and infanticide, while there is a large section headed by the right-wing denying the existence of the same, should be treated as a social issue. Here a specific gender is targeted due to the existence of socially constructed discrimination against it, in this case, women. One of the factors is limiting women’s role as “roti makers” or “paraya dhan” while sons are seen as assets who bring value to a home.

India is a masculine country with almost all states having a skewed gender ratio (except Kerala and Pondicherry). One of the major factors behind the same is the dowry system where a massive amount has to be paid to the groom after which women may (or may not) get the respect she deserves in her marital home. Apart from that, girls leave their parents’ home while sons are expected to look after the parents and ‘carry on the lineage’.

With laws and campaigns backing traditional roles that are otherwise discriminatory against women, is looking after her parents a matter of “social” fight for women?

Are they the only factors? 

How often do we think about women’s participation in social, political, cultural, economic sectors of the country? Even if women do, how often do we talk about the necessity of the same?

There is a quote from a prominent feminist Malayalam movie named How Old Are You (2014) (also remade into Tamil as “36 Vayadhinile”) where the character played by Manju Warrier confronts her sexist husband, for opposing her ambitions, saying, “Out of 14 Prime Ministers only one is a woman. Out of 15 Presidents, only one is a woman. Why? Is it because women are incapable or is it because somebody is bringing an end to her ambitions? Who decides the expiry date of a woman’s dream?” We can apply this in real life as we are living among those who propagate the scenario shown in the ad, limiting a woman’s role as roti makers.

India ranks 20th in terms of representation of women in politics. Apart from an occasional outrage, politicians have done enough damage to women’s safety issues on public platforms. Statistics in 2017 revealed that the percentage of women entrepreneurs in India is less, with just 14%. Only 13% of farmlands are owned by women. And apart from Kerala Nair families, properties went to the sons in the family until 2005 Property Act. In most families, daughter’s “property” is the dowry given to her husband’s family and then her home is her husband’s home, while sons are given father’s property. Majority of school and college dropouts are girls. As per a report in the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights, across India, 39.4% girls aged 15-18 years drop out of school and college, and out of that 65% drop out not to do earning jobs but to do household chores, child-marriage or to engage in begging. Under Hindu Marriage Act 1956, in a majority of places, girl are married before the age of 18. A girl can get the marriage annulled only if she was married off before attaining the age of 15 and she challenges the marriage before turning 18. Muslim personal law is not codified and therefore, child marriage is prominent.

As per data in 2017, the literacy rate among women in only 65% and only 5% have the ability to choose their husbands. In the world ranking, India is at the 120th place when it comes to having women in the working sector, although it excludes women’s role in the agricultural sector. Most women are forced to or expected to leave their jobs after marriage or after giving birth. Women’s right to work or sharing domestic responsibilities is still a matter of both debate and scrutiny in most sections. Art, literacy and pop culture have done enough damage with the objectification of women and with a massive difference between male and female representation. Also, misogyny within the society is real when a mob threatens a woman in real life over a fictional character on the basis of honour. The viewer’s preferences are understood when a scenario which involves the mass suicide of women, to avoid rape, gets more views and lauding as opposed to a woman who saved girls from slavery.

Sexual violence against women and girls is still used as a tool to control and oppress women’s autonomy in the name of safety. How can you expect justice in that field when people’s representative endorses child marriage in the name of “girls’ safety“?

So, to whoever painted that mural ad, it is short of salt water poured over the wounds, which is big and painful if you look at the sex ratio and backing data. If you can’t fight misogyny, the least you could do is not feed it further. Instead, feed hungry girls with not only rotis but with education, motivation and support.

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