Indian women through the ages

With one tool: Hope

When we talk about India and women’s rights it's always negative in our heads. It’s always discrimination, inequality, disrespect that we think about.

Let us start by asking the question, why do we look down upon India when talking about advancement in women rights?

In the beginning of feminism in our country, the 1970s to be specific when women rights started making the table , India was at the bottom rank, today we are at number 112. Small progress is still progress. But the sad truth is that we have always lived under the shadow of the perception of India.

Today, why don’t we take a moment to appreciate our journey?

One of the most consuming and important jobs in any country is that of a lawyer. Today I have decided to look back at the journeys of female lawyers in our country. Let’s contrast their struggles and see what advancements we’ve made till today.

Mrs. Rita Sinha has been practicing law since the early 1970s for the Supreme Court. Back when the home of women was supposed to be the kitchen. What were her struggles as a female lawyer in the 70s? Was she considered not good because of her gender? Was she not allowed to do certain things? Did she go through gender bias? Did people discriminate against her on the basis of her gender?

Ms. Rohini Prasad has been a lawyer since 2012 for the Supreme Court as well. During the time that our country started truly taking feminism seriously. Now let’s talk about her struggles. Did she go through equal discrimination? Is she not allowed to do certain things? Do people not trust her because of her gender?’

Let’s find out.

When talking about struggles, Mrs. Sinha expressed to us how women were always allowed to practice law but that didn’t mean anything when talking about the advancement. “As a woman, if you feel scared, men in court would victimise you and make you feel even more terrified.” She expressed to us, the men in the court always took gender as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. Elaborating further she said, “Sometimes, since there would be a lot of crowd, men would push us female lawyers and even touch us in wrong places. Many male lawyers were practically sick, they would think that just because we are girls they were allowed to victimise us, get away with misconduct, in those days we didn’t have the amount of courage to save ourselves and take a stand. This is still very much prevalent, but was intense in my days as a lawyer as well. “

This is just one aspect of the struggle lawyers went through back then. The feeling of gender bias was prevalent in that time vividly.

While, Ms. Prasad spoke on how, “Struggles are a part of a professional's life, however, being a female lawyer, presents with itself its own unique set of challenges. Undoubtedly, the biases and stereotypes associated with gender, compounds the struggles. Questions regarding commitment to work, professional capabilities, ability to inspire confidence in others, and vulnerabilities to situations, which may not necessarily be asked of men, are abound. But, not to deny the fact that this isn’t even close to how intense it was for women back then. Honestly speaking, we’ve made quite a leap forward. ”

To understand India’s journey further we decided to ask them things they were not ‘allowed’ to do.

Mrs. Sinha described to us that, “there was nothing that we were not ‘allowed’ to do, but a lot of my peers did not partake in many situations due to the surroundings and atmosphere. We would feel comfortable, only if there were women around us and since primarily there were usually men, it was very much there that a lot of us didn’t take part. “

“There's nothing that you're "not allowed" to do, but there are areas of practice, where the presence of female lawyers is visibly less. The number of female arguing counsels, senior advocates is still quite less, but definitely more welcome in today’s society. Women today are stopped from this walk of life much less than they used to be earlier. We have become more of an open minded society. ” Ms. Prasad elaborated.

Women are much more respected today, taken seriously much more, discriminated against less.

Did you see the amount of progress we’ve made? Surely, we aren’t there yet, but one day we will be. Since the early 70s we’ve made so many advancements. Today women are able to express their voice without hesitation, back then women were much more suppressed. As Mrs. Sinha told us, back then women would hesitate speaking out constantly. Worrying that they’d make a scene as we’ve discussed earlier. Majority of the women during her time would leave their journeys as lawyers to get married, which was the societal norm back then. The majority are now supported when focusing on their careers. These are moments of hope and potential transformation. This is our hope for the future. Maybe, we will not have to wait for another seventy years, and these disruptive changes will shatter patriarchal social norms and bring progress much faster. Obviously, many issues have still not fully been overcome. We aren’t there yet but one day we will be.

One day our women will not have to struggle to do their jobs, one day we will be given freedom, one day we will not go through pay parity, one day we will not go through gender bias, one day we will make it.

But before that happens, let's appreciate India. Let’s appreciate how far we’ve come. It wasn't easy, it never will be, but we will get there. With one tool, hope.

~ Aadya Sinha, VIII-C

Indian Feminism

After India gained independence from British rule in 1947, it was the Congress party that came to power and formed the Government. The government made certain attempts to fulfill the promises it had made to women during the pre-independence period, and also in the initial period after independence.

The Gandhian era and the decades after independence have witnessed tremendous changes in the status of women in Indian society. The constitution has laid down as a fundamental right; the equality of sexes. But, the change from a position of utter degradation and subjugation of women in the nineteenth century, to a position of equality in the middle of the twentieth century, is not a simple case of progress of women in the modern era.

After Independence, the educational rights of women were promoted and they were made aware of the value of education. The ratio of women pursuing higher studies and taking education improved gradually since then. The government provided several benefits such as scholarship, loan facilities to women who wished to pursue higher education. By getting such benefits a large number of women are able to pursue higher education today. Still many are being exploited, they are completely dependent on their spouses or parents. Hence bringing about more and more legislation in order to ensure better opportunities to women, is of no use unless there will be a big change in the Indian society and people’s attitude, towards women and women’s role in society.

Rural women have remained backward due to tradition, illiteracy, ignorance, superstition, social evils and many other factors. Hence, emancipation of women in rural India is an essential prerequisite for social progress of the nation.

Although the constitution of India grants men and women equal rights, gender disparities still remain. Discrimination against women and girls is a pervasive and a long-running phenomenon, that characterises Indian society at every level.

With patriarchy being so deeply entrenched both in our mindset and our laws, Indians have long since accepted the current social situation as the default one. Patriarchy is essentially a system of male domination in diverse aspects of life such as moral authority, social privilege, decision making, control of property, political leadership etc. It has hampered the position of the middle class working women in India in contemporary times, owing to prolonged practices of the past and submissiveness of females.

The subordination of women is explicit in many ways, in both private and public spheres, where women are denied rights and access to many things that are easily available to men. Even in the most progressive families, daughters are still entitled to far less than sons, from playtime and education, to choosing a life partner and inheriting property. Across India gender inequality results in unequal opportunities, and while it impacts on the lives of both binary genders, statistically it is females that are the most disadvantaged.

India’s progress towards gender equality, measured by its position on rankings such as the gender development index has been disappointing, despite fairly rapid rates of economic growth. In the past decade, while Indian GDP has grown by around 6%, there has been a large decline in female labour force participation from 34% to 27%. The male-female wage gap has been stagnant at 50%. Crimes against women show an upward trend, in brutal crimes such as rapes, dowry deaths, and honour killings.

The fondness for sons remains strong among Indian parents. Many of them continue to see boys as an investment and girls as a liability. This obsession with sons has led Indians to resort to female foeticide on a massive scale.

A plethora of social, cultural and economic factors contribute to this trend. A boy is widely viewed as an asset; a future breadwinner and caregiver who will look after his parents when they become old. A girl, on the other hand, is seen as a liability, as parents are often pressured to pay dowries when their daughters marry. Also in India’s patriarchal society it is considered the "pious obligation" of a son to take care of his parents, but no such expectation is placed upon daughters. After marriage, a daughter is usually regarded as part of her husband's household and is generally expected to take care of her in-laws, but not her parents.

Child marriages are quite rampant in India in spite of various measures taken by the government to stop them. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, does not make child marriage void; it is only voidable if either the bride or the groom complains. The 2011 Census of India pointed to a staggering data of nearly 12 million children in India who were married before the age of 10, out of which 84 per cent were Hindus and 11 per cent Muslims. Around 72 per cent of all Hindu girls married before 10 are from rural areas, where caste still plays a dominant role in their social life. Child marriages conducted with the intent of safeguarding endogamy norms in a caste society, further trample the agency of women in exercising their sexual freedom and choice of marriage.

The patriarchal society and its norms deny the value of women even before they are born.India, in spite of glorifying women as a symbol of the nation, has one of the highest rates of female foeticide in the world. According to a Government of India report titled “Children in India 2012—A Statistical Appraisal”, around three million girls were “missing” in 2011 as compared to 2001, which points to the rampant practice of female infanticide.

In 2016, there were 106 rapes every day in India. More than 30,000 rapes were reported in India every year, whereas the non-reporting of such crimes is very high owing to the social stigma attached to them. The Brahmanical patriarchy considers rape the violation of the purity of a woman’s sexuality and imposes a social stigma on the victim rather than on the perpetrator. In fact, rape and other acts of sexual violence are one of the most under-reported crimes in India, considering the patriarchal values associated with women’s sexuality and morality.

“Changing the value of women has to include men. It has to mobilise many sectors in society. Only when society’s perception changes, will the rights of all women in India be fulfilled.” Despite the progress made by Indian feminist movements, women living in modern India still face many issues of discrimination. To Indian feminists, these are seen as injustices worth struggling against.

After independence, India began to look inward to resolve social issues and create a systematic development plan for women. This second wave of feminism became broader as the intersectionality of caste, class and culture were recognised by the state. The movement entered the private sphere to claim equal rights pertaining to marriage, divorce, succession, justice for dowry and sexual violence, and economic opportunities. In 1980, the Five-Year Plan decided to focus on the health, employment and education of women, marking the beginning of the third wave of Indian feminism.

With the effects of economic liberalisation and the advent of modern technology, by the 2000s, women in India witnessed a cultural shift that stressed on rights; such as women’s freedom, choice and independence. Although the term ‘fourth-wave feminism’ originated in the West, it emerged in India almost synchronously due to the widespread use of social media.

This entire article paints a very bleak picture of patriarchy and feminism in India. Of course, there are certain initiatives in the country, and women’s status in Indian society has radically changed especially since Independence and the age of technology. But still, there are many miles to go to reach the goal of gender equality. Gender inequality can be reduced by giving equal opportunities, by not tolerating any unjust behaviour towards women, by raising awareness, by education and most importantly by viewing the circumstances as they are. This is the harsh reality of our country. A lot has been done, but women are still being exploited. We need to move forward from our society’s backward and orthodox views and today’s youth can help eradicate it.

~Ananya Rao, XI-A

“…Nahin maar sakta.”

Bollywood has mostly fallen for the set narrative of showing women as either the all sacrificing, virtuous wife, sister, mother, daughter etc.; or painted totally black as the ‘other woman’, conniving, scheming totally wicked vamp. The past decade has finally given us a few movies that have broken this mould. They have given us a glimpse of what is and what should be. I have picked my favorite few.

Queen (2014): Vikas Bahl's Queen explores a girl's identity as an independent entity. It's about a rooted Indian girl who goes on a holiday to find herself, far away from her family, friends, culture and society. Films of this genre often liberate their heroines only to have them fall in another societal trap by transforming who they are or making them find what they want in another man. As if women need men to be complete. Not Queen.

There's a scene in the first half of the film where a thief tries to grab her bag in Paris. As scared as she is, she does not let go. She puts the strength of her entire body in holding on to the bag. But how this scene plays out tells us everything about how different Queen is. This is not the story of a victim. This is the story of a girl who fought it alone, held on to her identity. In short, a small-town girl, whose wedding gets called off, decides to go on her “honeymoon” all alone.

Pink (2016): The film addresses the men and uses the figure of Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan), a respected patriarch who doubles up as the girls’ lawyer, to reach out as the voice of reason, with the judge (Dhritimaan Chatterjee) as an ally. The girls are alright; it’s the boys who need to get their act together.

Pink is a relevant film, in a day and age when there are many such cases in the news, when attempts by women at seeking justice are often equated with vindictive litigation. Even though so many women don’t even have recourse to justice, they are accused of misusing the law. And feminists are roundly dismissed as ‘feminazis.

When one article upon another on a recent case (of alleged sexual assault) has been obfuscating reason and rationality in many of us, it’s good to have a film stating categorically, even if a trifle simplistically, that a no is a no is a no. That single working women are not a catch. That friendly girls are not promiscuous. That a shared drink doesn’t mean a woman is available. That it all boils down to a woman’s choice and consent.

Section 375 (Sept. 2019): The movie revolves around the rape case filed against a popular and famous director by a junior artist working for him. This movie made me realize Rape is considered the ultimate punishment against a woman. Society deems a rapist as inhuman, someone who deserves the highest and most ultimate punishment; this is a sign of awareness and progress as well as no tolerance against such forms of violence which is a very good thing.

But the underlying fact that I couldn’t fail to notice was that the woman in the movie had to file a "false" rape case against the alleged perpetrator for her issue to be heard. We know and if we don’t, about time we knew that rape is not always physical; there are degrees to it. Being emotionally exploited and allowing sexual encounters just to get a promotion. Her naivety and likeness for him was misused by him. Had she filed her case as is, she would have never received a court hearing. Apparently physical damage is the "real" damage done especially in the case of rape. It is an honor stripping activity which leaves the victim in physical pain and with no identity left of their own.

It’s about time we realized that any form of violence cannot and as a matter of fact, should not be tolerated. Indeed, rape cases should be given more importance as they are a much too common scenario in our country, but its other forms should not be left in the dark.

Thappad (2020): Will it be too dramatic if we said Thappad is a slap on face of the rubbish Kabir Singh, a movie released in 2019 which seemed to say: Alpha males in true, intense, mad love never have to ask, will she mind? This was not a film as much as a balm for bruised male entitlement. Well then, it is the sort of drama we deserve to indulge in. For everyone who tried to reason that nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies hitting a woman you are in love with, Thappad is like an oasis of sanity in the frustrating chaos that Bollywood can be. For everyone who whined that love, after all, is kabhi Khushi, kabhi thappad, Taapsee Pannu’s film is an essential lesson on how to tell a woman from a coffee mug. Thappad’s premise is simple and is evident in the trailer itself when Pannu’s character, Amrita, says, ‘Nahin maar sakta’. Yes, Kabir Singh and co, we are looking at you. A slap is a slap is a slap, no matter how many Arijit Singh songs you stuff us with.

The rest of the film revolves around Amrita refusing to accept that the slap meant nothing, while most people around her, including her own mother, tries to convince her to move on. The slap, Amrita says, implies that her husband felt entitled he could slap her and that was not right. Apart from the central plot, Sinha’s film strikes at the myth of what an ‘abuser’ looks like. From a celebrated journalist who rapes his wife, and a daily wage worker who hits his wife to Vikram, a seemingly ‘nice’ man who vents his anger by hitting his wife in public, Thappad dismantles the myth that domestic violence is restricted to a certain class or that a wife beater looks like a filmy thug.

It also breaks the myth that women with privilege cannot be victims of abuse ― Amrita is educated, comes from an educated and affluent family. The journalist’s wife, Netra, is a powerful, celebrated lawyer who quietly lives with the fact of her husband forcing himself on her. There is no perfect victim, there is no ideal perpetrator and Thappad establishes it with quiet confidence, and not hysterical drama. The biggest triumph of these movies I feel, has been, that they doesn’t create cartoonish villains you forget the moment you walk out of the theatre. They create people exactly like the ones we know and asks us to believe that they are capable of dehumanizing a woman in ways we probably don’t expect them to, thanks to our privileged blinkers.

~Manavi, XII-A