Though it believed that the student community this day is very forward and unorthodoxed, what is still lacking is proper understanding of gender. Even they seem to be largely male chauvinistic. Gender stereotyping is rarely questioned. Gender issues are seldom discussed. Patriarchy is casually dealt with. Importance of gender sensitization is rarely felt. It is not true that only men oppress women. Men and women as a society have accepted patriarchy as their way of life. Men and women are so comfortable with the system that they don’t really want this to change, however inconsistent with morality the system is. As torch bearers of the next generation, we simply cannot let this happen. As
advocates of equality and justice, we should at least start our march towards gender equality. That is what we have tried with this issue.
Do not trust men. It would be moon-shine for men to grant you equality. If you want it, fight for it!
As this is a diverse and a very important topic, we have planned of dealing with this by parts in two issues. In this issue of Echo, we have covered the following topics:
-> Male chauvinism and the crux of feminism
-> What do our textbooks say?
-> Declining sex ratio and sex selective abortion
-> Online harassment
-> Marriage as an institution
-> Women’s reservation bill
-> Periyar Feminism
-> Religion and patriarchy
Male chauvinism and the crux of feminism
India is the largest democracy, yet the fourth most dangerous country for women who account to 52% of its population (Thomson Reuters 2011). Only Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan were rated as more dangerous than India, and India was even listed one place higher than Somalia.
Though it looks as if we have improved over the years, women are still held inferior. Dowry, a symbolization of viewing women as a liability to family, is still widely prevalent. Chastity and virtue of women are still viewed as pillar of our culture. Proper health care and education, especially higher education is still a far cry for most of the women. The increasing violence against women is not only a law and order problem. What is a bigger problem is the male chauvinistic attitude which our youth have inherited as such as a centuries old tradition. It is beyond question that women in India have a depressed status. But, the youth today aren’t even ready to accept it. The Times of India reported last year that a study had found that 57% of Indian men between the ages of 17 and 25 thought that beating one’s wife was acceptable in certain circumstances. What was even more disturbing was that 53% of women in the same age group also thought that light beatings were acceptable. Another recent study by the International Men and Gender Equality Survey reported that more than 65% of Indian men believed that women should tolerate violence to keep the family together and that women sometimes deserved to be beaten. Meanwhile a UN Population Fund report claimed that up to 70% of married women in India aged 15 to 49 have at some point been victims of beatings or coerced sex. The fact that so many deem violence of any kind, including domestic, to be acceptable is very disturbing and sadly revealing of how many people view women’s rights in India.
In “FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY”, Bell Hooks explains that most men find it difficult to be patriarchs. Most men are disturbed by hatred and fear of women, by male violence against women, even the men who perpetuate this violence. But they fear letting go of the benefits. They are not certain what will happen to the world they know most intimately if patriarchy changes. So they find it easier to passively support male domination even when they know in their minds and hearts that it is wrong.
This is where feminism gains significance. Simply put, Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. Patriarchy is a form of institutional sexism. It is the responsibility of each one of us as well as the government to encourage feminism. As individuals, we should do our part to shake the roots of patriarchy and passionately appeal to the rest of mankind the notions of feminism. Individual efforts alone will not suffice. Similar thoughts have to be reflected by institutions, especially the government. There should be billboards; ads in magazines; ads on buses, subways, trains; television commercials spreading the word, letting the world know more about feminism. We are not there yet. But this is what we must do to share feminism, to let the movement into everyone’s mind and heart.
Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility.
What do our textbooks say?
For a great majority of school going children school text books are the only accessible and affordable resource for education. Thus these textbooks are of paramount importance in education. School text books and curriculum influence gender roles of students immensely.
In Tamil Nadu text books, among the 31 occupations mentioned, nursing and teaching are the only paid work done by women other than a woman selling sweets. Among the twelve teachers shown in the text books, ten are women but the only Head Master is interestingly a man. There are also gender stereotyped games and activities associated with girls like hopping, skipping, hop scotch etc. depicted in these text books. Boys are shown in activities that include more physical activity, team work and higher level of competition like foot ball, cricket, hockey etc. The books also reinforce gender specific teams, instead of promoting healthy inter-gender interaction. Women were almost always portrayed as wives and mothers. And in almost every story intended to be humorous, the butt of the joke is a female. By portraying girls who wish to see moon during day time and girls who don’t know Sunday is a holiday, school text books still carries negative statements like ‘women are illogical’.
“Father goes to work to earn money, mother washes, cooks, and does the household work…” – this kind of stereotype is reinforced in page 25 of IV standard text book.
This is not just the case of Tamil Nadu.
Text books of West Bengal has 50 pictures of males (96 percent) vs. 2 of females (4 percent). One is shown carrying a pitcher of water from a pond; the other is picking tea. Not a single woman is depicted in the chapter about “Main Ways of Earning a Living.”
A Moral Science guide in Karnataka states that a woman should put up with her husband’s violence in the hope of happiness during her son’s time. The Kerala report on gender bias in textbooks criticizes the use of “Man” to include women and the fact that men far outnumber women in visuals. The social issues underlying women’s inequality are not adequately explained.
Women in Rajasthan textbooks are invariably shown wearing traditional clothes, their heads demurely covered, faces expressionless. In Savio texts, girls are usually shown as sweet, pink-cheeked, and wearing cute frocks. In Atal Dhruv (Rajasthan, Class 3), the king’s two wives are key characters. The story plays out the tension between ‘good’ mother-and-son, and ‘bad’ mother-and-son. The ‘good’ woman is shown as submissive, silent, innocent and homely, while the ‘bad’ woman is manipulative and worldly-wise.
Comparison with the books of organizations linked to the RSS is salutary. There are no Dalits or contemporary women among the “great Indians” whose biographies are published by Rashtrothana Publications linked to the RSS.
Thoughts that women are economically less productive, women are illogical, women have to be submissive and that this is a ‘man’s world’ are being repeatedly emphasized through textbooks. To check this hideous rashness is important if we have to influence the current gender roles.
Sex ratio and missing women
The inferior status that women face in our country starts even before their birth itself. India faces a crisis of low Sex Ratio(number of females per 1000 males), despite the progress it has achieved in terms of literacy, economic growth and urbanisation. Further, there is also a declining Child Sex Ratio (ages 0-6), which is more alarming because it indicates that the ones who are born are facing a delayed, more brutal death. This is the form of neglect the daughters of Mother India experiences today. What causes a bigger worry is the number of, as Dr. Amartya Sen says, “missing” women- the number of women that would have been there had they been given the same health care, food and nutrition as men, which itself has grave economic and criminal consequences.
Sex selective abortions
One of the main reasons why there is a declining number of women is sex selective abortions. The government has responded by introducing The Prohibition of Sex Selective Abortion Act (1994), the cradle baby scheme and Betti Bachao plans which act as helpful incentives but could only solve the problem to an extent as they don’t address the basic reasons. It is vital that these basic reasons for daughter neglect have to be targeted:-
Proper health care should be extended to women, especially in rural areas where the bulk of the ‘missing’ women are. The cobwebs of a patriarchal mindset that propagates son-preference and daughter neglect over political barriers and social status has to be cleaned off. The rhetoric that women don’t do any ‘actual’ work has to be buried. They have to be elevated and accepted as bread winners and able decision makers. Laws that enhance the status of women and degrade sexism should be enforced. Women should be entitled with proper property rights, which would also help curb foeticide due to the quest for male heirs. More importance has to be stressed on education than economic inequality (states with high literacy rate such as Kerala fare much better in terms of number of women than states such as Punjab and Haryana, who are the best in terms of income yet the worst in terms of number of women).
This kind of progress would not only help subvert the male hegemony but also kill the infectious dogmas of tradition and culture. It is also depressing that these issues are not yet properly addressed by the media, as only their active involvement would bring about a change that is much more than necessary.
Marriage as an institution
We talk about the evils of child marriage. Many talk against dowry. Intellectuals speak out the serious flaws of arranged marriage system. But, people seldom talk about how marriage itself can never be a feminist choice. We are made to believe that marriage is a natural part of life. It is unfortunate that parents somehow or the other want their children married. No one talks about the politics of marriage. Did this marriage system exist from the beginning of civilization? It is hard to believe so. Marriage should have started when man had developed an interest to amass wealth beyond necessity. He needed someone to guard the wealth. No other man would do it for him. Hence he should have employed women. And he should have thought that his wealth should be enjoyed by his own blood and not anyone else. Hence he should have laid restrictions on the women and developed concepts of chastity. This is why chastity is meant only for women. Thus should have started the family system, believed Periyar. In an interesting study by academic Divya Mathur, entitled, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’, Mathur concluded that where parents were the matchmakers, they made sure that the daughter-in-law had characteristics that suited their needs more than the needs of the sons for whom they were fixing these matches. Marriage has got do more with social security of parents than their children. Marriage is mostly patrilocal, where the woman has to leave her own home and move into that of her husband’s family. The burden of adjustment falls on her, and the inequality sets in right there. This means she lacks support structures that were once within her reach, and this affects her autonomy and decision-making abilities to a large extent. Hypergamy, a very common feature of Indian marriage, is a strategy through which a woman’s parents raise their own family status. They marry daughters ‘up’ — and often this was one of the justifications for dowry. But, by marrying ‘up’, equal treatment and self respect of women are sacrificed. Though marriage is glorified as path-sharing, life-sharing agreement, even the kitchen is not shared. By, glorifying mother’s love, grooming a child is held as a woman’s duty for which she sacrifices most of her time, freedom and even aspirations. Men and women should realize that it is neither necessary nor natural to get married, unless such a need is felt by both the man and the woman.
I’m interested in love, commitment, long-term relationships, and the sharing of dogs and groceries. What marriage has to do with any of that is lost on me.
The Delhi Police registered India’s First Case of Cyber stalking in 2001 where a lady named Ritu Kohli complained that a person was using her identity to chat over the Internet also deliberately giving her telephone number to other chatters encouraging them to call her at odd hours. As a result of which, Ms. Kohli received an estimate of 40 calls, national as well as international, during odd hours within 3 days. The case was filed under 509, IPC. That IPC section, however, did not cover internet crimes. It finally fizzled out when a frustrated Ms. Kohli moved out of India. Though the first complaint was in 2001, the first conviction for online harassment came as late as July 2015.
When activist Ms. Kavitha Krishnan questioned the tokenism of Modi’s #SelfieWithDaughter contest, she was threatened by numerous men for gang rape. Prominent actor Alok Nath tweeted: “Jail the bitch.” When she sent the screenshots to the Delhi Police, they did not respond. When she sent them to Twitter, Twitter India responded by saying that gang rape threats did not come under their community guidelines.
Apart from daily abuses, serious threats and revenge porn makes internet a horrible place for women. As 66A IT act was struck down by SC, there are no specific laws against them. To get justice through civil laws are extremely difficult as police do not even understand how Twitter or Facebook or other chat web sites work. The cases end by advising women not to post their photos and indulge in social networking. This victim blaming is very high especially in online harassment. But, even that doesn’t help as most harassments happen through non-consensual photos and hacked web cameras and CCTVs. Specific laws will do the bare minimum of condemning such acts. Learning the gender values can alone eradicate it.
Youth victimized by their peers were 2.4 times more likely to report suicidal ideation and 3.3 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than youth who reported not being bullied. Across 24 countries, India has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of child cyber-bullying cases in the world at 32% among children who have access to Internet or mobile phones compared to the countries like the US (15%) and Britain (11%).
Women’s reservation Bill
The Women’s Reservation Bill (WRB) is not one that owes its genesis to a sense of right rather need. India is ranked 141 out of 146 countries in terms of political representation of women in national parliament (12%). WRB is one that recognizes women in their entirety as an oppressed category in an otherwise male-dominated society. Based on studies that portrayed the positive effects of 33% reservation of seats for women in Panchayats and Municipalities, WRB was first introduced in 1996 to ensure and enable empowerment for women, in all spheres – social, economic, cultural and political, through political representation.
The WRB was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2008 so that it would not lapse after it failed to get clearance in the parliament in 1996, 1998, 1999,2002 and 2003(twice). The bill was cleared by the Union Cabinet in February 25, 2010: The Bill seeks to reserve, one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies (181 seats out of the 543). One third of the total number of seats reserved for SC/ST in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies shall be reserved for SC/ST women (41 out of the 124 seats ). Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation such that all the constituencies will have at least one female representative in three elections to come. Reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of the Act.
The proponents and opponents of the bill are bothered whether the bill would further widen the caste structure of the parliament unfavouorably, which is why it is debated so vehemently and dramatically despite generating a consensus that accept its necessity. The alternatives of the bill (mainly dual constituencies and reservation in political parties), all of them, are not adhered to the cause, nor are they argumentatively satisfactory. The question here is not the possibilities of these alternatives but their necessity; they would only maintain the male dominance hitherto evident in the Indian Parliament. However, the quota within quota provision negates any possibilities of upper caste interests to halt the emerging number of lower caste participation in the parliament. It further ensures that a significant portion of them would be women.
The impasse of the WRB, two decades after it was first introduced, is surprising. It is ironical that the ruling party has not taken any affirmative action despite a sheer majority in the parliament considering their historical support ‘to the cause’.
In the year 1938, eminent women in the social life of Tamil Nadu, convened a women’s conference at Chennai. Among the resolutions for advancement of the society and improvement in the status of women, the conference lauded the contribution of one man, who stood and fought against the slavery of women in all spheres of life and conferred on him the title ‘Periyar’. Yes, he opposed the norms, customs, beliefs, faiths, religion and god by whichever name it is called to subjugate the women and deny her due rights and dignity, he raged a war against that. That Man was Periyar E.V.Ramasamy Popularly known as Periyar. The uniqueness of Periyar and his feminist ideology is that his concern for women flows from his innate sense of equality and justice. Periyar raised serious questions about the connection between the superstitious beliefs, in equal treatment, coerced sacrifices and harassments inflicted on women on one hand, praising the women for her motherhood, worshipping women as goddesses, attributing superlative qualities of patience and tolerance on the other. Periyar rejected the ‘glory’ attached to the sacrifices of women for the sake of the husband. He rejected the stories portraying women in the light of ‘glory’ for her loyalty to her husband and he called the women to come out of those images and role models. The greatness attached to such women characters (like Savithri, Sita, Kannagi) were criticized by Periyar as ‘stupidity’. He rejected the very concept of chastity. He called it an illusion created just to establish patriarchy. The forwardness of his thought can be understood from the invitation he extended to a conference where he called women who ‘consider themselves as prostitutes and widows’ to attend the conference. He rejected such classifications and cared about them leading a social life at least like other women. In addition to that, Periyar analyzed the founding factors of justification for subjecting a woman into slavery by way of family. The family has constructed the kitchen for the women and the hall for the men. The supremacy of man was attached to his birth and the birth of a girl child was considered to be a woe and cumulative loss of money and prestige of the family. In orphanages run by Periyar he encouraged boys and girls to wear lungi, jubbas and even have hair cut in the same way. He even asked his wife Nagammai to wear shirt and lungi, though she could not venture out with lungi on for a few weeks. From swadeshi movement to toddy opposition to temple entry, all movements headed by Periyar, women spearheaded them. He started with bringing women from his own family to public life. Gandhiji later wrote that scenes he saw in Tamil Nadu changed his perception of women in the nationalist movement. When Gandhi was asked to abandon his protest against toddy shops, he replied, “It is not in my hands. It is in the hands of two women in Erode”. Abolishment of devadasi system, caste surnames, legalization of self-respect marriages, divorce law, widow remarriage act, law that enables men and women from any caste to be a priest, full property rights for women, 50% reservation for backward classes are significant achievements of his movement.
Periyar cannot be merely seen as an incredible philosopher. The kind of effort he had put to spread thoughts of equality and self-respect is astounding. In times when public transport had not well-developed, what is remarkable is the commitment he showed, mindless of age, poor health conditions and abuses which were way more than praise. He had attended at least 10,700 programs. If all his speeches were recorded, it would play continuously for 2 years, 5 months and 11 days. He had travelled at least 13, 19, 600 km to carry the word of equality ie 33 times the circumference of earth and 3 times the distance between earth and moon. He did not stand in a single election nor did he hold any government post in independent India. He is not even known to a common man beyond Tamilnadu.
Data: “Periyar – Oru kai adakka varalaru” By Pe. Maruthavaanan.
Religion and women:
The major religions in India, unfortunately, are deeply patriarchal. This religious orthodoxy has to be first fought. The English version of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 9, verse 32 says, “Those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth — women, vaiśyas [Merchants] and śūdras [Workers] — can attain the supreme destination” (“Bhagavad Gita As it is” by his divine grace (!) Swami Prabhupada). Thus we can see that Gita clearly considers women to be of LOWER BIRTH. He further adds, “Women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy. So, the different family traditions of religious activities should always engage them, and thus their chastity and devotion will give birth to a good population eligible for participating in the varnasrama system. On the failure of such varnasrama-dharma, naturally the women become free to act and mix with men, and thus adultery is indulged in at the risk of unwanted population.” Even after the horrific incident in Delhi, the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, and the Sankaracharya of Puri both blamed ‘Western’ culture. A Hindu godman, Asaram Bapu, blamed the girl herself; she should, he said, have gone down on her knees and begged for mercy.
Chapter 8 of Quran, translated by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan says, “O mankind!… You may marry women of your choice, two or three or four…… Concerning your children, god enjoins you that a male shall receive a share equivalent to that of two females…. This fixing of portions is by God and he is all knowing and all wise.” It goes on. “If any of your women commit fornication, call in four male witnesses from among yourselves against them; if they testify to their guilt, confine them to the house until death releases them. If two men commit a like abomination, punish them both. If they repent and mend their ways, leave them alone. God is forgiving and merciful. …. He is all knowing and all wise.” . “Men are protectors of women, because God has made some of them excel others and because they spend their wealth on them. So virtuous women are obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what God would have them guard. As for those from whom you apprehend infidelity, admonish them, then refuse to share their beds, and finally hit them [lightly].” Oral Talaq or Burqa are inhumane practices that Islamic fundamentalists still defend.
This clearly is not to hurt religious sentiments of people. To cure a disease we need to find its cause. Though patriarchy is universal, its extreme rigidity in India, is due to the conservative “Hindu dharma”. Islam failed to provide an alternative. If not for the British rule, education would not have been for all (though they deprived us of everything else).
A Passionate appeal
This is nothing but a passionate appeal for boys and girls of CUTN to understand the dimensions of gender equality and to reinforce them in our own lives. We want all students of CUTN to reject the barbarian concepts of chastity and virginity. We want to inculcate self-respect among the boys and girls. Self respect is assured only when equality is established. Though we feel these are very important, we want to bring some of the least spoken topics of gender spectrum to public. In the next issue, we will take about how modern society has re-established patriarchy, how patriarchy in turn strengthens caste system, marital rape, homosexuality, transgender issues, importance of gender sensitisation and the role of GS-CASH in it. We also hope these topics move from paper and becomes topics of discussion in near future.