Jisha – Not Another Nirbhaya
Another shameful incident has shown our country the mirror – Jisha’s brutal attack and end in Kerala.
An alleged rape that is being likened to Jyoti Singh's case, now immortalised as Nirbhaya in Indian consciousness, we are inadvertently painting this as ‘yet another rape’ by doing so. It took us so long to react to the horrifying end she met, because it had happened before and it lacked shock value.
What else had lulled us into indifference? No one moved for 5 days after the crime. Not the authorities and not the media.
It was the distance from the Capital and social hierarchy. The incident happened in Kerala in a small town called Perambavoor, which is 216 kilometers away from Thiruvananthapuram. That is far away from Lutyen’s Delhi and headquarters of most Media conglomerates. And our apathy once again became a victim of physical distance.
And finally, she was a Dalit – always at the receiving end of violence and discrimination. A regular day in her life involved fending from people who threw stones at her for existing amongst them.
So, no. We cannot box her in with Nirbhaya. We cannot separate her Dalit identity from her womanhood. We cannot let her be filed away as the Nirbhaya of Kerala.
She was Jisha. And she deserved an equal life and a natural death.
We robbed her of both.
Girl Child Education Second Chance Program Campaign
For most of the men I’ve had in my life – from my father, uncles, brothers, most friends and boyfriends – there has been one thing in common with them all. Strangely enough they’ve tried to inculcate this one emotion into me – fear. No matter what the situation has been, they’ve always asked me to be scared or have a problem because most often, according to them, I’ve been too fearless for a girl. Whether anyone believes it or not, the only person in this world, who has taught me to be myself and do/react however I want to, has been my mother.
I don’t understand how and why, most of the men who have meant something to me, have tried their best, in whichever way possible to imbibe this emotion that I truly don’t relate to. I am not stupid, I definitely don’t do things that are not practical or harmful, but minus that, I do not understand why I should or shouldn’t react to situations the way I do because I am not a boy! From getting off on the road and regulating traffic to giving a piece of my mind to a tenant who’s torturing my mother – if I think something is wrong, why should my gender stop me?
It hit me yesterday, again, when I was asked by a certain very important man in my life, to fear the situation I was in. “That’s no way to talk to him… you’re a girl!” and that’s what got my blood boiling. I’ve never understood why me, a girl, needs to be afraid of people just because I don’t have more testosterone in my body.
As a child it was my father who didn’t let us do quite a lot of things because ‘we’, my sister and I, were girls – and I grew with this constant fight at home, where my mother was the pillar who managed us permission for doing it because she didn’t consider us any less than sons. Stupid things like joining HPS in my 11 th and 12 th , or going out for a party after sunset, with boys – were issues! And all this was coming to me from the most important man in my life – and why?? Because I was a girl! He didn’t think I could manage myself in a co-ed school or take care of my character at a party.
My argument has never been about why I can’t do it – my only question is: If you can, why can’t I? Things that shouldn’t be done by either of us are the valid ones. But if you’re allowed to do something because YOU were born a boy and I can’t because I am not – is what I’m against.
It was only because of these men in my life that I actually realised what a hero my mother has been in my life, and I am truly grateful to her for being herself. She brought me up just like she would have raised her son, with the assurity of being there by my side, through everything. And of course, for not putting this demon called ‘fear’ in me only because I am a ‘girl’.
Beat your wife, saudia says. Where is the outrage, america?
At a time when our collective fight for equality of women in India is gaining gradual acquiescence albeit with frequent setbacks, out comes a video to shock us out of our insularity to the state of women in other parts of the world.
The video that we are talking about is this:
To put into words, the video features a self-styled Islamic therapist who is propounding the “right way to beat your wife”.
The video was released on the national channel of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after clearance from the Kingdom’s government.
The highlights of this video are that after forsaking your wives in bed, women need to be disciplined and some women provoke their men to beat them. The video suggests that wives should be beaten with toothpicks and handkerchiefs to make them feel ashamed of themselves and get them back in line, so to speak.
Now this video has caused an uproar in most parts of the world. We can rave and rant, but on a diplomatic policy level, we have no control or clout over a kingdom that brazenly flouts human rights on the back of its oil reserves. Because the one country that can influence change continues to remain quiet.
The video was released in the United States of America through the DC based Middle East Media Research Institute but has failed to invite any comment or criticism by the government.
This is not the first time the U.S. has put blinkers on Saudi Arabia. 47 people were beheaded on January 1 st , 2016 for protesting against the dictatorial policies of Saudi’s ruling class. But not a single statement was passed by Uncle Sam who is the self-proclaimed custodian of peace and equality around the world.
So then of what use is our voice that is being raised but finds no resonance in change-makers?
We must keep on talking about this. Till it reaches and echoes in the corridors of power. We must not forget that the fight is also for women beyond borders. That the fight will be long. And hope that the fight will be taken forward by generations of women and men who are growing up with ideals of an accessible and equal world.
Women’s struggle for clothing, caste and choice
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Women's struggle for clothing: Image courtesy of Feminisminindia.com
Cloth – a barrier, a protective gear, an ornament, a symbol for status, identification and humility has many meanings and purposes. A piece of cloth has a history attached to it. Defined by the norms, society, class, gender and styles shaped by the different periods and regions.
Be it Khadi being portrayed a s a symbol of self – reliance and resistance by Mahatma Gandhi, or Dalits wearing three-piece suits at public gatherings to make a statement of self – regard. The clothing in the early twentieth century with western shoes and long women’s blouses worn by upper classes. Or the saree adopted by Brahmo Samaj women, later to be known as Brahmarika saree. The style was influenced by the Prasi women. A piece of cloth can create a sense of euphony, as heard in the song Mera joota hai Japani, Patlon Hindustani from the film Shree 420. And can also lead to violence. That is, the cloth Gandhi cap worn by nationalists led to the arrests by the police during the Khilafat movement.
Looking back at the history of clothing, the notions regarding the same in the nineteenth and twentieth century were heavily controlled by one’s status in the social hierarchy. As ideas changed and reforms came about changing social values, the social history of clothing experienced dramatic modifications and the perception surrounding it.
One such revolution by the women that called for wider social norms and resistance against class-based injustice was The Channar Revolt of 1813 to 1851. The Nadar community under the caste hierarchy of Travancore, a princely state in south-western India, now part of Kerala. Faced several social disabilities. Where they claimed to be wrongly placed in the caste system due to Nayak invasion were subjected to discrimination. The Nadar climber women of the kingdom of Travancore and majority of the non – Brahmin women of Kerala were not permitted to cover the upper part of their body to accentuate their status in the society. And had to pay Mula Karam also referred to as breast tax to be able to cover their chest with a cloth.
In 1822, the Nadar women were attacked by the Nairs (group of upper castes) for covering their bosoms with cloth which later led to violent social reactions. Men and women both had to be bare chested when in the presence of a higher ranked caste. And during 1820, under the influence and the rise of Christian missionaries, many converted and started to wear long tailored jackets and blouses when in 1813, Colonel John Munro, issued an order which granted permission to women who converted to Christianity to wear upper cloth and many did so to in order to be at par with the dominant castes.
Narayana Guru and Hindu reformer Ayya Vaikunder were the two prominent figures who actively participated in the protest. One was in opposition of converting into another religion to escape injustice and the latter participated actively when the Nairs resorted to violence by tearing clothes of the women who started wearing upper clothes. The violence increased in the 1820’s, when the women continued their fight. The proclamation in 1829, declined the Nadar women to cover their bosoms. The abolishing of slavery in Travancore, 1855 increased the resentment in the controlling section of the society. Later when the riots and revolt escalated in 1859, the government gave the right to the women to wear upper body cloth, whether Christian or Hindu. But not in the same manner, as higher class Niar women did.
Women, in different periods, have been at the very end of injustice and have faced hostility when gone against the traditional conventions. In this case, one’s femininity, honour and charm were directly related, only if they choose to accept traditional norms.
The decision regarding women’s bodies lied with establishments in society rather than the women themselves.
In recent times, there have been several instances where CBSE took the decision to omit important topics of gender, class, diversity, secularism etc from the syllabus. And one such decision pertaining to the section, Caste, Conflict & Dress Change’ from the Social Science Curriculum for the students of class IX was ordered to CBSE in 2016 by Madras High Court.
The section mentioned the same atrocities faced by the Nadar Community, Channar Revolt and the mention of Mula Karam and several other taxes paid by the lower castes in the caste stricken Kerala. The section was called offensive and of wrong impression. But the move was opposed by historians and public intellectuals, who questioned the decision to remove a section which discussed the caste and gender relation in India and its evolution over the years. To sideline any important historical developments and only study the glorious events makes for a very tinted and false image of the country. And suggested that rather than eliminating the whole section, CBSE should have option for fact checking and revisions.
In July 2016, the legendary story of Nangeli surfaced. The story is not officially recognised by Indian historical accounts and remains largely debatable. In the 19th century, Cherthala, Kerala. Nangeli, an Ezhavas chopped off her breasts and presented it to the tax collectors on a plantain leaf, who visited her after she refused to cover her chest and later died of blood loss. Her death started the future movements against the caste – based tax. The story has been adapted differently in current cultural space. Is it said that her husband, Chirukandan, later jumped into her pyre and sacrificed his life.
Which led the state of Travancore to officially abolish the tax in 1924. The tale gained momentum and visibility after Chitrakaran T Murali, a painter, painted the whole series on her tale which was covered by the BBC in July 2016. The artist found the tale in a local magazine and later went to her village to delve more into the background and sacrifice she made. Thereafter, his paintings and recognition he provided the story have been used in feminist writings, and debated by many organisations about its authenticity and relevance in the society where class struggle is deeply rooted.
Keeping aside it’s authenticity, it is important to touch upon the tale in terms of the backdrop of this insurgent act to understand the domination and suppression the women have faced over the years. Ever since, the ideals around beauty and style have taken multiple forms and taken the shape of the new values the fight by the women and several reforms brought in the changing times. Dominant attitudes were questioned in the country where technology and economy was advancing and it became necessary to adapt and learn from the struggles of the past and make way for a more tolerable, rational and just society. Where the decision of wearing a piece of cloth and the material it is made up of lies only with the person wearing it.
Feminism in Pre - independence India
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Feminism in pre-independence: Image courtesy of Keystone/Getty
Kamala, a member of a women’s rights activists’ group had just returned home. After a demanding yet purposeful day spent on campaigning against sexual harassment in the workplace. She finds herself questioning her space in the fourth wave of the feminist movement. Steering through the landscape of the movements that emerged within the feminist sphere in the Independent India, she tries to imagines colonial India under Bristish rule, when the concepts of modernism, individual rights & equality had just started to emerge. From fighting to open up opportunities for women to making workplaces safer, Kamala went on a journey to understand the time in the struggle which has made today possible for her, to become a part of a movement with shifting paradigms.
Late 19th Century
The beginning of the fight for women’s rights in India started when the light was shed and awareness against practices such as Sati, child marriage, focus on reducing illiteracy and legal arbitration in the matters of property right & controlling age of consent were made.
The nation was out from the first war of independence and the high spirit of nationalism could be felt all around. On one hand the country saw the entry of western ideals, which elite upper classes were adopting to tone with their colonial rulers. And on the other, the idea of strengthening their identity distinct from the same rulers was also present.
In between this paradoxical situation, a new Indian society was in the making. With Britishers intervening in the matters of Indian culture & society. The reformers began to critically evaluate the social practices which acted as obstacles in the progress of women. Influenced by the first wave of feminist movement in the west, the reformers in India, mostly men started to question the matters of education and abolishing of Sati and Window Re marriage. The reforms were majorly aimed at upper caste and upper caste women. And Indian culture being cruel became the basis of an argument used by the British to create a way to bring about Victorian modernism in Indian society which was still rooted in tradition.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy, a modest leader from 19th century Bengal campaigned for women’s rights and used his influence to get Sati Pratha abolished. A student of Hindu Philosophy, he argued that sati was not supported by shastras and called widowhood glorious. The Pratha and the texts were interpreted differently by both sides. The Hindu conservatives argued about its relevance in the Indian customs and Roy referred to the scripts to provide evidence on its wrongful interpretation after the Sati Regulation Act was passed in December, 1829. Understanding how sati affected women got side-lined during the interpretations of texts by both sides.
Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856 was another important social reform legislation after the abolition of sati. Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar, an Indian educator, father of Bengali prose and a campaigner for women’s rights proposed and pushed the act. Being an advocate of women’s right to education, in the years of 1851 and 1855, he along with other reformers opened several schools for women across Bengal. The act encouraged widow remarriage, allowed inter faith marriages and prohibited polygamy.
While the western progressivism being imparted among the Elite took time to get converted into the awareness and resistance against the status of women. The eighteenth-century
highlighted disappointment from the regularity of gender injustices and absence of any active resistance against the same made the movement slow as compared to the revolt in the west.
But women did try to assert their position through the Bhakti Movement. Which originated from south India in the 7th century, and challenged a more individualistic path regardless of one’s age or gender was another movement that supported the idea of complete surrender to the god among neglected classes. The participation of women was restricted in the public sphere and devotion to the god was a way to go against the male – dominated world. The movement led them to embrace devotion, with passion and alter the concepts of religions, community & relationships. The movement taking its inspiration from religion, supported the idea of a classless and a more equal society. A society without the dominance of Brahmanical patriarchy Men and women began interpreting bhakti subjectivity and led on to live their life as they wished devoid of any conventional rules guiding them.
Kamini Roy, Britain’s first female honours graduate was seen super heading the women’s suffrage movement in India. The movement which fought for women’s political liberty under British rule. Constantly raising her voice against the injustices and using poetry as a medium to express. In one of her poems, she writes,
As the Days Pass
As the days pass, darkness overwhelms me
I see not the divine light; hear not that oracle
Childhood fancies, dreams I think countless
All those yearn to believe as truth…
Of my present condition, like many others
I too move, meet chores: Oh! What feat
I hoped, how noble could I do but
Awakened to fetters in my hand cruel
Inability ceases this life
Unceasingly overpower, not a drop of strength
To combat, bewail in vain
In my heart hopelessness resides
In the anterior depressing signs rubbed
Stopped flowing tears, sigh, lament
Laugh when the world laughs, but impossible
This constant self-oblivion, what arcane warmth
Keeps me awaken, underneath the oceans’ waves
As hot current within the secret chambers
Deconstructing feminism — who is against whom?
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‘Feminism’ entered the English dictionary in 1841 and became the Merriam-Webster’s word of the year in 2017. From being defined as, “the qualities of females” when first entered to “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”. What one thinks of Feminism still differs. But what remains crucial is that it should not be misunderstood in terms of its objective, that is becoming equalitarian, creating equal gender relations and not suppressing or demeaning other sexes and supporting a false idea of the movement.
To break down the theories in the definition, the economic and social rights include, right to work, food, clothing, standard of living, social security and education. And to ensure political equality, a person must be able to participate in political life of a society freely without discrimination and protect oneself from getting violated by any government, social or private bodies. These rights should be equal to that of men. Men having a gender advantage in our patriarchal society, provides meaning to the revolution which struggles for equal rights for women and challenges everything that opposes it. Feminism neither strives for a higher standard of living than men nor does it demand higher wages than men. What it stands up for is the feminist thought of equal rights and opportunities for both men and women.
To attain equality, the fight for women restricted to the kitchen or stereotyping women as emotional becomes equally important in regards to breaking the bias and fight for not shaming men who contribute to housework and the idea that suggests that men are supposed to be restrictive emotionally. When the fight for one gender outweighs the other and considers to achieve dominance and superiority by threatening the rights of other genders. And feminism reaches a furthest point of concern, that it becomes what is called pseudo – feminism.
Kamala Bhasin, a pioneering feminist icon and a poet in an interview last year on seeing the gendered reality of children’s literature called herself, life – long student of learning and unlearning about gender. And asserted that, it is very much relevant to discuss gender because often it gives more power to men, the power which is taken from women and girls. And it also gives more power to the men who fit into the so-called ideal standards set by the society.
And stressed that, ‘feminists are against patriarchy and not against men.’.
In her book, Dhamak Dham, she writes
हमारे पिताजी बड़े निराले
हम उनके बच्चे मतवाले
काम से घर वापिस आकर वो ना बैठें ठालम ठाले
हमारे पिताजी बड़े निराले
मेरे साथ खेल वो खेलें छोटू को वो गोदी ले लें
हम बच्चों के नखरे झेलें मौक़ा पड़े तो रोटी बेलें
हमारे पिताजी बड़े निराले
हम उनके बच्चे मतवाले
हम उनके बच्चे मतवाले
Coming back to the re branded term pseudo – feminist, where acts of misandry are clubbed under. Often confused with feminism, which stands for equality of all genders. And ends up creating polarity by limiting feminism to only advocating supremacy of the female.
Misandry – prejudice against men and misogyny have always existed but cannot be equated with each other. We find people equating feminism to hating men, feminists who practice misandry, and blatant use of labels like man – hater and people who believe that bad experiences with men makes all men criminal. What is important to understand is that both the terms have nothing to do with feminism or being a feminist. The true and sole purpose of the revolution is neutrality and equality of all genders. And this false and mis-constructed identity and understanding of feminism should not be ignored.
In one of his TEDx talks, Harsh Sadani, a gender rights activist and the co – founder of MAVA (Men Against Violence & Abuse), Mumbai talks about deconstructing the notions associated with term and the practices in our culture and constructing new ways which promote dialogue rather than confrontation. One of the initiatives of MAVA, travelling film fest, uses films as a method to initiate conversations around the root of gender violence and how patriarchy affects men along with women. And highlights how feminism needs men as well as the importance of creating safe space for men in our society which makes the movement collaborative and without conflict.
In her book, LADKI KYA HAI, LADKA KYA HAI? Kamala Bhasin makes us question the differences we have created in our society based on genders. And deconstructs the labels, the boxes that we tick, limiting us to our identities and our freedom.
The fight is for all the genders to rise above the similarities in our struggle in the right direction to attain justice that the movement aims for.
Source: Internet Archive
Menstruation - bleeding to life in red with no shame
IMAGE CREDIT :
Image source: Evanstonian.net , Illustration by Saskia Teterycz
Suman, from the Oscar winning film (2019), “Period – End of sentence”, lovingly known as PadWomen of India talks about her journey and fight for menstrual awareness in the podcast called, Small Big Wins. Right in the beginning, Harsh Vardhan Jajoo, the creator and host of the podcast series tells her that talking to her during the Navratri’s is like a holy offering to him. To which she replies, ‘you consider it as the Navratri’s holy offering but talking about menstruation during the festival is widely considered unholy where menstruating women are restricted from offering prayers’, and considers it a huge step to see a man initiating a discussion on the topic.
Don’t enter the kitchen, temple or touch the holy books. Isolate yourself, you’re impure and evil. Don’t talk about menstruation and keep the pads hidden. These and many other existing myths related to menstruation remain a major cause for gender – based discrimination that restricts women from education, equality and employment and instead inflict shame on the gender.
The issues that arise in relation to menstruation are strongly associated with gendered practices. There remains a lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene and issues arising from deeply rooted myths, stigmas and practices. Then comes the lack of acceptance towards the bodily process of menstruation which is not considered as normal. Which in return promotes the stereotypes around menstruation. Followed by lack of access to basic hygiene facilities, products and medical care.
The lack of acceptance can be understood by taking the example of the 2018 Supreme Court Verdict. Which allowed women who were in their ‘menstruating years’ enter into Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple breaking the age-old custom. The verdict was met by resentment.
On the other hand, isolating women and forcing them to live in dangerous conditions highlights the lack of acceptance prevalent in many communities and cultures in India. Periods are one of primary reasons due to which girls drop out of schools and their participation in other activities remain restricted. Heavy taxes on sanitary pads until 2018 shows the lack of access to products required for healthy and safe menstruation. Even after the removal of 12% GST on sanitary napkins, the cost remains high for the rural population where taboos and gender-based discriminations persists.
Ntozake Shange, a poet, writer and a feminist in her poem, “we need a god who bleeds now”, writes:
i am/not wounded, I am bleeding to life
we need a god who bleeds now
whose wounds are not the end of anything
In second stanza, Shange writes: “our mothers tearing to let us in
this place breaks open
like our mothers bleeding”.
With all the shame around women, menstruation and their bodies. How can we forget that the end of one’s cycle is preparation for possible pregnancy? For human life?
Rhythm Rastogi, known as the PadGirl of Vadodara, Gujarat has been working in the field of menstrual hygiene awareness in the state since she was 14 years old. In her TEDx talk in 2018, the 18-year-old begins with asking questions from the men in the audience, ‘what are brands of sanitary napkins they are aware of apart from whisper and Stayfree’. Followed by, ‘what do they think about is the most efficient method of disposing of a sanitary pad’. The questions hardly receive any responses which only highlight our low awareness towards menstruation and knowledge about period products.
Questions such as these are important to ask to initiate talk about periods beyond gender. To start off with a more empathetic, inclusive and understanding attitude is significant to destigmatize menstruation that associates periods to only womanhood. Not all women menstruate and awareness about the same is restricted due to social and cultural limitations around menstruation. On the other hand, referring to the ones who experience it as ‘menstruating women’ does not help in adjusting to the fact that periods are genderless, a natural body phenomenal which can be experienced by a person who identifies with any gender. Including transgender and non – binary people is important to dismantle misinformation and cultures of shame which has been long associated with menstruation.
In July 2021, Whisper, a multi – corporation finally started showing period blood as red in colour instead of blue. This practice has been going on for decades in Indian advertisements. There are several other advertisements and brands that represent the period blood as blue. The unrealistic representation only adds on the stigmas and false notions that continue to prevail in the minds of the general public. In march 2020, RIO heavy flow pads by Nobel Hygiene were the first sanitary pad advertisement which showed menstruation in its natural colour, red. Apart from the colour, advertisements hardly counter any taboos and instead stick to portraying periods as a disease or unhygienic which can be cured or looked after only after using the sanitary pads being marketed.
Inadequate options for menstrual hygiene are a cause for several issues pertaining to the education of girls. Including poor participation, drop out and low enrolment in schools. It becomes important for the girls to be aware of their first menstrual period and knowledge of managing their periods in the environment they are part of. Because inadequate management can lead to health concerns and put them at the risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections. Along with that, the taboos add on to the physical and psychological burden. The advertisements not covering the pain and discomfort due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and portraying a skewed representation is equally responsible for misinforming the people who menstruate as they fail to resonate completely with the picture being shown.
There is a growing shift in terms of language being used to target menstruation as genderless, technology and sustainable menstruation, alternatives and ensuring period positivity. While all these factors are crucial but cannot be solely credited for revolutionizing menstruation. It is necessary we create safe spaces for dialogue and which helps is binding policy decisions and creates an open, accessible and inclusive discourse on menstruation. A long battle needs to be fought for menstrual equity to ensure safe menstruation for all.
At a time when our collective fight for equality of women in India is gaining gradual
At a time when our collective fight for equality of women in India is gaining gradual
For most of the men I’ve had in my life – from my father, uncles, brothers, most friends