“We have began to raise our daughters more like sons… (But how is it equality if) few have courage to raise our sons more like daughters!” – Gjoria Steinam
In this issue we would like to take a look at more delicate issues of gender. Important issues of gender and sexual liberty are often comfortably brushed aside as “not so important” or “elitist struggles” by conservationalists. However this is just a way of saying, “You cannot ask for so much equality”. But we stand for complete liberation of humanity. So every aspect of gender equality is equally important to us.
We would like to talk about:
- How patriarchy stabilizes caste system
- My Husband My Rapist – Marital Rape in India
- The transgender question
- Section 377 – An Imperial law policing minds
- Media as a pillar of patriarchy
- The need for Gender Sensitization and the Role of CASH-GSU
How patriarchy stabilizes caste system:
Status of women in India cannot be studied unless we understand the social process that shapes them. There have always been extremely rich and powerful women in India. But what women can never win in India is the control over their body – their sexuality. When a woman’s sexuality is controlled and policed, she get into eternal subjugation. Thus it is important to move beyond the economic question and look at the causes and effects of such sexual control. This can be done by looking into our supposedly early literatures. Because they have shaped the society in one’s favour and other’s pain and it still continues to. Mahabharatha says, “There is nothing else that is more sinful than women. Verily, women, are the root of all faults. Women, even when possessed of husbands having fame and wealth, of handsome features and completely obedient to them, are prepared to disregard them if they get the opportunity. They never take into consideration the age of the person they are prepared to favour. Ugly or handsome, if only the person happens to belong to the opposite sex, women are ready to enjoy his companionship. The destroyer, the deity of wind, death, the nether legions (the vast army of lower world), the sharpness of the razor, virulent poison, the snake, and Fire–all these exist in a state of union in women.” (The Mahabharatha, Book 13: Anusasana Parva (Book of instructions): Section XXXVIII translated by K. M. Ganguli). It further says, “All men, in this world, are seen to attach themselves to women, overcome by the illusion that is created by the divine being. Similarly, women too are seen to attach themselves to men. While men take pleasure in women and sport with them, women, it seems, are engaged in deceiving men.” (Book 13: Section XXXIX) At the time of creation the original Manu allocated to women the habit of lying, sitting around and an indiscriminate love of ornaments, anger, meanness, treachery, and bad conduct [Manu, IX 17]. Why do these scripts fear women and their sexuality this much? Nothing would explain this better than Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna presents his real worry about the war. “With the destruction of dynasty, the eternal family tradition is vanquished and thus the rest of the family becomes involved in irreligion. When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Krsna, the women of the family become polluted, and form the degradation of womanhood, comes unwanted progeny. By the evil deeds of those who destroy the family tradition and thus give rise to unwanted children, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated.” (Chapter 1: 39-44, Bhagavad Gita, translated by Prabhupada) So, why they want to control women’s sexuality is to preserve the true religion – the varna dharma – the caste system. Because women, just by being themselves, can demolish the caste structure and make it meaningless. But, just to quote and interpret religious texts will not be enough. What is more important is to study the present structure. Still, Hindu fundamentalists attack beauty contests, propagate ‘the love jihad’ campaign, get furious at valentine’s day or simplistic events like Kiss of love, Why can’t religious fundamentalists accept love? Why religious forces oppose beauty contests are entirely different from the reasons why feminists oppose them. Feminists oppose beauty contests as they commodify a woman’s body – her skin, her thighs, her nails, her hair – everything is marketed. Why upper caste Hindu fundamentalists attack beauty contests is because, ‘a woman’s body is their community’s honour and they wont allow them to expose it’. Thus, still the community sees a caste’s honour in the “purity” of their women’s sexuality. When the right wing terms a day of expression and celebration of love as a ‘cultural war on India’, there is little left for us to interpret. A woman who exercises her emotional right to love is seen as a disgrace to their caste pride. They fear the subversive potential of love to shatter the social structure. Thus it is very obvious that, irrespective of the historic basis, weakening one institution of caste or patriarchy definitely shakes the other. To preserve the artificial structure of varna and caste, things as natural as love and desire are demonized by the super-artificial ‘GODS’ and scriptures. We request the readers to challenge both patriarchy and caste system at the same time by winning your control over your desire and sexuality.
DO YOU KNOW WHY WOMEN MENSTRUATE?
No, do not turn to your text books. Real Hindus do not believe in pseudoscience. The real answer is in Srimad Bhagavatham (6.9.4 – 6.9.9). Indira killed Vishwarupa for cheating the demigods by offering oblations on behalf of the demons. Thus he beheaded (the three heads of) Vishwarupa. He later regretted it knowing that Vishwarupa was a Brahmana – Brahma hatya (Killing a Brahmin) being the most sinful crime. Though Indra was powerful enough to neutralize the sins for killing a Brahmin, he accepted the burden of the sins with folded hands and later distributed it (!) among Earth, water, trees and women. For each 1/4th of the sin of killing a Brahmin, we find deserts on the surface of earth, visible sap flowing from trees, bubbles and foam in water. In return for Lord Indira’s benediction that they would be able to enjoy lusty desires continuously, even during pregnancy for as long as sex is not injurious to the embryo, women accepted one fourth of the sinful reactions because women as a class are highly lusty and their lust are never satisfied. As a result of those reactions, women manifest the signs of menstruation every month. Because of bearing these sins, women are considered untouchables during their menstrual period and are forbidden from taking part in rituals as they would get polluted. These descriptions are as quoted in Srimad Bhagavatham, translated by Prabhupada. This is why we say we have to question beliefs, faiths and rituals before accepting them, because they have an innate background of sexism and discrimination in them.
“IS CASTE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR DAUGHTER?” – “YES!”
One of the biggest shames of Tamil Nadu, the land of Periyar and the Dravidian movement, is honour killings. If you wonder what actually is honour killing, it is best explained by the facebook post of TS Arunkumar Villupuram, self-proclaimed advocate in Tamil Nadu. “Don’t worry if you have committed an honour killing. Come to me and see that you are saved. There is no crime called honour killing. The killing is a punishment for having violated honour. Parents have the right to punish the killing of honour.” Yes, Parents killing their sons and daughters for marrying outside caste and disturbing their caste honour, is honour killing. Does this even happen? 81 honour killings have been reported in Tamil Nadu in the last three years with zero cases ending up with conviction. But Arunkumar was only one of the hundreds of accounts which congratulated the killers of Sankar, a Dalit man who married Kausalya from ‘upper-caste’. “Is caste more important than your daughter’s life, I asked a father whose daughter had been killed”, says Kathir, founder of Evidence, an NGO documenting atrocities against Dalits. “Yes, he replied. Caste is more important than God, because caste is what makes God.” That is exactly what we say (without G caps). Ramdoss, leader of the Pattali Makkal Katchi, a Vanniyar-based political party, walked out of a press conference when asked to respond to Sankar’s killing. PMK activists are known to have mobilized against Dalits in the wake of love affairs between Vanniyars and Dalits. The AIADMK and DMK, both dominant parties, are silent on the issue. But in spite of overwhelming evidence, the state government remains in denial. In 2012, Tamil Nadu was one of a handful of states who didn’t send details of honour killing cases to the Supreme Court. “The dominant political (vote-bank) and social status of the castes concerned – usually Vanniyars, Gounders and Thevars – is the main reason for the persistence and the official denial of these deaths,” says Prabhakar, an activist. Youngsters of TN known to step up during times of crisis, have remained disturbingly silent regarding this insane trend.
My husband my rapist!
The unwillingness of both governments to criminalise marital rape puts the gender equation of the Indian family system into question.
India has not stopped talking about sexual violence since the Nirbhaya incident of December 2012. Public anger frothed into the streets, forcing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government to appoint a three-member commission headed by Justice J.S. Verma to suggest remedies to combat sexual violence. One of its recommendations was to criminalise marital rape, a suggestion that the government ignored. Marital rape is everything a rape is, but by her husband. This only makes it worse, as the crime is somehow always justified. The Parliamentary Standing Committee chose to exclude marital rape from the Criminal Amendment Bill 2013. Criminalizing marital rape, the committee argued, would weaken traditional family values. As if the institution of marriage were built entirely on a man’s entitlement to his wife, as if she were his property and has no autonomy, no rights over her body. It is almost like the doctrine of coverture followed in England and the US well into the 19th century, in which a married woman’s rights were essentially signed over to her husband. Back then, British feminists argued that marriage amounted to little more than legal prostitution. Why this is even worse than prostitution is because, you cannot get out of this. ‘S’ was a Muslim who converted to Hinduism to marry her love, a haryana Brahmin. But ever since marriage she was treated as an untouchable at his home. “Every night was a nightmare. He would never even ask me for permission. He used to have sex with me five times a night. At one stage, I was not even able to walk. One night when I asked why could you not love me like before, he got furious. He hit me with a wooden box 18 times on my head. He threw me out naked to the balcony in the shivering winter night and inserted a torch in my vagina.”, She disclosed in a TV show. After she was recovered bleeding vaginally, she petitioned the SC for justice. The SC said as marital rape is not a crime presently, the individual petition could not be entertained. SC could intervene only if the issue is brought with a larger consensus, it said. But this clearly is not an isolated individual case. In early 2000, two-thirds of married Indian women surveyed by the United Nations Population Fund claimed to have been forced into sex by their husbands. The last National Family Health Survey of India (2005-2006) found that 40 percent of married women (aged 15-49), at least once, had experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence perpetrated by spouses. This from a sample size of 1.25 lakh women across 29 states. The number of women who experienced sexual violence by husbands was 40 times the number of women who experienced sexual violence by non-intimate perpetrators,” noted a report by Aashish Gupta of Rice Institute, a non-profit research organization. “If now we make marital rape illegal, the institution of marriage itself will fall apart. Men would then rather go to a prostitute than get a wife,” says Rajesh Vakharia, founding member and president of the Save Indian Family Foundation that claims to be the largest men’s rights organization in Asia. If the Indian marriage is so resistant to change, so indifferent to female sexuality, preserving an outmoded, irrelevant male dominance, so ungenerous and inequitable, is it worth saving? If young women get to know that they could just be treated like a sex machine where their emotions have no value, that would shatter family system more than a marital rape law. Some argue that sexual assault is already covered by the existing Domestic Violence Act. But the Domestic Violence Act is a civil law that gives relief to abused wives. Under it, she can seek protection or civil relief, not criminal prosecution. As a nation we need to recognize that rape by anyone is a crime. Maneka Gandhi, who was a supporter of a marital rape law during the last government, now says, “Marital rape cannot be applied to Indian context”. BJP says it is ready to act on marital rape if there is a wider public consensus for the issue. But, we cannot make laws just based on public consensus. This is not a cricket match. If this was the case, untouchability would not have become a crime, dowry would not have become a crime. The constitution guarantees every citizen the right to dignified life. We definitely fail 60 crore Indian citizens of this right if we don’t criminalise marital rape. If we are a country that is actually inclusive of women, we must respect their sexual rights.
The modern day patriarchy
“The society definitely was patriarchal and is still patriarchal in rural areas. But the modern urban society where women get education, work and are financially independent, cannot be termed patriarchal” – this probably is the opinion of a major section of the society. But, this definitely is not true. Even places where educational, industrial and technological revolution has spread are still largely patriarchal. To understand this we have to understand the core attributes of patriarchy.
(I) Traditional male and female qualities: The attributes of power, control, rationality, and extreme competitiveness are examples of these traditional male qualities. Emotional expressiveness, compassion, and ability to nurture are examples of subordinate qualities in a patriarchal system. Thus childcare, teaching, nursing are all reserved for women have disproportionately low salaries. This also leads to the classification of who is a good woman and who is not. The society idealizes the fair, thin, curvy and submissive woman, thus putting enormous pressure on a woman.
(ii) Protection of traditional patriarchal social structures: The social structure that has contributed to women being slaves has not changed any bit. If a person or group challenges patriarchy in any form, then the patriarchal response is to increase control.
(iii) Reinforcement of other types of oppression: Women undergo layers of discrimination. Patriarchy accompanies and contributes to racism, sizeism, casteism and homophobia. It makes life difficult for the socially oppressed.
(iv) Male domination: Leadership always continues to be a domain of men. In politics, industry, technology, sports, print and news media – everything is crowded by men. Domestic violence is a visible marker of male domination.
(v) Pay gap: According to the Annual Survey of Industries of 2004-05 the gender pay gap for regular workers in the formal or organized sector was 57%. As per the latest Monster Salary Index by online career and recruitment solutions provider Monster India, the IT services sector has a huge gender pay gap of 34 per cent and manufacturing sector has a gender gap of 34.9%. India has the distinction of being the lowest ranked on gender parity, which includes pay parity, among the BRIC economies. This was revealed in the Global Gender Gap Report of 2010. This is all after The Equal Remuneration Act came into effect as early as 1976.
Thus it is more than evident that the modern society is still patriarchal. However, one other important point to remember is, as described on the Daily Kos, “Patriarchy is generally not an explicit ongoing effort by men to dominate women. It is a long-standing system that we are born into and participate in, mostly unconsciously.” The point however is to change it!
The transgender question
It is imperative that we distinguish between gender and sex. A transgender person is one whose sense of gender, that is, the gender identity, does not match with the gender assigned to that person at birth. Hence it is absurd to deem it as abnormal or unnatural. Plus, it is only fundamental that one is at their own liberty to choose his own gender identity- each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth. It is a constitutional right. The problem arises when we limit the scopes human mind, its annotations with gender and become obsessed with the male-female dichotomy and become indifferent altogether of the existence of the “third gender”. In June 2014, a transgender person died following an accident, as doctors could not decide which ward – male or female – to use for treatment. The empowerment and welfare of transgenders is of utmost importance to feminism, because feminism quintessentially seeks to eradicate exploitation and subjugation on the basis of sexuality and gender.
In this second decade of the 21st century, we all know that feminism is not in fact about “women” but about recognizing how modern discourses of gender produce human beings as exclusively “men” or “women”. – Nivedita Menon
It is criminal to differentiate people for what they feel about themselves, let alone brand them as lesser mortals and marginalize them so much that most of them are uneducated and have no substantial employment. Shockingly, this indifference begins within the family, and ends up with most of them eking out a livelihood from begging and commercial sex work, and vulnerable to human trafficking. They are ghettoised and are the most dis-empowered group in Indian society. It is a dire necessity that we put an end to this social stigma that the transgenders face in our country that boasts about unity amidst diversity.
The International Law on Human Rights on Gender and Sexual Orientation states that every state is obliged to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses by third parties and take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. In 2010, the supreme court made the progressive NALSA judgement in which the court emphatically noted that dignity cannot be realized if a person is forced to grow up and live in a gender, which they do not identify with or relate to. The judgement also granted legal recognition to a person’s self-identified gender- as male, female or third gender, treated transgender persons as a backward class and extended reservations in education and employment and also appropriate health facilities such as HIV clinics and SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery). NALSA made a break from the erstwhile paternalistic and charitable approach of the State towards the transgender community by framing their concerns as a matter of rights. But the primary redressal has to come from the families and the communities in which they live, who outcast their own kin because of ill-formed societal consensus. The judgement would have paid dividends in reducing discrimination in areas of public employment, health care, education, access to services and police atrocities such as stripping, feeling up breasts and genitals and subjecting transgender persons to intrusive body searches or medical examination to ascertain their gender. But in 4 years, as attacks on the lives and dignity of transgender persons continue with impunity, we managed to move to the retrograde Transgender Rights Bill in which the case seems to be more like a liability than the duty of the state. It is even contradictory to many provisions in the constitution itself, the NALSA judgement, the report of the Expert Committee on the Issues Relating to Transgender Persons constituted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Transgender Persons Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2014. The lack of political will is clear as the government attempts to push for a heavily diluted legislation, thus turning a blind eye towards the long-suffering community.
The continued marginalization of more than 4.5 lakh transgender persons in our country speaks volumes about our culture, which is very often heralded for its quality. What good is a culture if it treats different people differently? Each one of this large population is equal and deserves to be respected as equal like anybody else in the country. Their voices have to be heard. And the first thing that has to change is our attitude towards gender because it is our minds that are in fetters.
Section 377 – An Imperial law policing minds
The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
-Article 15 of the Constitution of India
The legal and public debate on Section 377 is one of the most important in the fight against discrimination of sexual minorities in India. Section 377 makes any sex (not just intercourse with the same sex) apart from penile-vaginal intercourse between a man and a woman – any sex the authorities in power decide is “against the order of nature” – to be illegal, says Congress MP Sashi Tharoor. And absurdly enough, this has been conveniently twisted to criminalise homosexuality. In 2009, the Delhi High court made a landmark judgement and struck down the provision of section 377 stating that it violates the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. It is a direct violation of the right to freedom and sexuality, to privacy and dignity and equality and non-discrimination (Article 21,15 and 14 respectively). Earlier in 2000, the 172nd Report of the Law Commission (Review of rape laws) had recommended the deletion of the archaic law. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court ingloriously took a retrograde decision to overturn the High Court verdict, explaining that it was a decision for the parliament.
The law was written in 1860 under colonial Victorian morality. It is a colossal disappointment that the mind-set has not changed a century and a half later. If not anything, it is utterly undemocratic of the state to discriminate a minority on the basis of what one does with his own body. An amendment or the repeal of section 377 that acknowledge and accept sexual minorities and their individuality would be the first step in tackling homophobia in the country. But it seems that it will not be the case for some time to come as the parliament vetoed even discussing an amendment of the provision put forward by Sashi Tharoor, twice.
Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” – Charlotte Whitton
Broken lenses – Media as a pillar of patriarchy
Human beings have no natural desire. Our desires are artificial. We have to be taught to desire. So then, what shapes our desires the most? Throughout the mainstream media (where women are grossly underrepresented both on and behind it), be it the cinemas, the vast number of advertisements which together are perhaps telecasted more than any content in all of the channels, the newspapers and magazines (most of which have little space for women), there is a huge perversion of gender. The problems of this perversion are multitudinous. Many often, women are blatantly objectified, quite often as sex objects. As though they are subjects to be utilized- devoid of opinions and emotions. They are usually stereotyped as young, thin, beautiful, passive, dependent, and often incompetent and dumb. They are told that this is what you want to be like to be successful. In most movies and telefilms, female characters devote their primary energies to improving their appearances and taking care of homes and people. Traditional backward morbidity such as these are largely inflicted through such picturisations. Because media pervades our lives, the ways they misrepresent genders may distort how we see ourselves and what we perceive as normal and desirable for men and women. Men, women and even children are accustomed to viewing everything from a man’s view. Worse, they standardize this image as what a woman should be. Our girls are taught to desire to look hot and sultry like in the advertisements. This is literally impossible. So, they are also told that they will fail. This pornographic perversion of the idea of women in the mainstream media eventually percolates into violence. Homophobia, too. It’s not that woman alone are always at the receiving end, but unlike men women face a hostile climate wherever they go, they are always in danger of being exploited. And the pervert media makes it look normal and trivialize such horrifying deeds. The dangerous attitude that arises from such neglect and irresponsibility distances our hopes of creating a better world.
Importance of gender sensitization
We live in a patriarchal society. The ethics of this society and its practices are biased. The notions of what is masculine and what is feminine is fed along by family, friends and this society. Unlike the western society, our society does not provide enough opportunities to understand the other sex. In fact, for our society it is the “opposite” sex. There is no proper sex education given at school. Our society has charted exclusive duties and morals for each gender. Female sexuality is completely caged. Women are more than just bodies, that doesn’t mean they have to be ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality. The implication is that to be sexual is to be trashy because being ‘sexy’ means playing into man’s desire. Why can’t ‘sexy’ be a kind of beauty, a kind of self expression and one’s own celebration of being wonderfully female. It is a riddle why this is totally unacceptable in our society. We should not let this influence the next generation the wrong way as they are capable of either carrying the same values or demolishing this entire system of exploitation. This is why gender sensitization becomes extremely important. The role of GS-CASH by its own definition is to sensitize youth on gender and put an end to gender stereotypes and discrimination.
How gender sensitized are the youth in our own university?
We made a simple survey in our university with the whole of third year IMSc students as sample space. With 108 respondents, the survey found that 70% of boys in the university think dressing regulations on women are only to protect women. Though 57.46% of girls feel that dressing regulations actually exploit women, it is an irony that 60.86% of girls feel that women should adhere to the dressing regulations. It is unfortunate enough that 45% of boys think that women should dress modestly to safeguard themselves. The very foundation of GS-CASH, from the Vishaka vs state of Rajasthan case, is that no one can draw upon harassment on themselves. It is highly unfortunate that girls in our varsity think otherwise! This tells the need why Gender sensitisation and counselling unit of CASH has to rise up and sensitize our youth.
It is true that the only gender sensitisation workshop organized by CASH-GSCU last year was poorly attended. The vice chancellor seemed to be very upset with the lack of interest shown by students for such a constructive activity. Yet this cannot be the reason why there are no more gender sensitisation activities in campus. The student representative of CASH as mentioned in the university website is “Narmada from IV IMSc Chemistry”. However she is our alumnus who passed out two years ago. Student representatives have to be nominated and they have to actively propagate gender equality to bring a highly sensitized student community.