Considering the current mood of the country, I think the only appropriate way to start, is with a disclaimer: The aim is not to deny misogyny, but only asses the mechanism by which we aim to eliminate it. The discrimination and the sexism faced by women from all strata of the society is humongous. The only thing that changes is its form as we move from one type of setting to another.
Somedays it is primetime Nirbhaya, other days nondescript girls who become mere statistics, and on every other day, some girl’s character assassination is carried out by a man whose affection was turned down by her. We kill our unborn daughters and burn our brides, feel sorry for people who have no son, some of us keep having children till a male is finally born and some find it pointless to educate their daughters. These varied forms of sexism are based on the presumption of women being lesser mortals than men.
Feminism, very much like secularism is a western import to India, brought by the ‘liberals’ (I use the word for the lack of a more widely known word to refer to them and realize perfectly well that they are very antithesis of the word they are known by), whose usefulness to the Indian society is questionable. Just like secularism, the nobility of the idea of this ‘ism’ is undeniable, but the problem is the meaning it has assumed in the Indian social and political discourse. Indian feminism appears to be faintly concerned with the cause of enabling educated, wise, empowered and financially independent women. Also, the principle it is based on, i.e. the assumed “equality of the sexes” is unnatural. Here, I attempt to discuss the following three aspects of feminism, of which the first two are explored in the Indian context while the last concerns the concept of feminism itself.
- Meaning of the term “feminism” in the Indian discourse,
- The purposefulness of replicating a western concept in Bharat
- The strength of the feminism’s foundation (which is an assumption) and its proximity to reality.
Meaning of Feminism in Bharat
It would be banal to state that the torchbearers of Indian feminism have found the most extreme forms of misogyny in festivals and traditions of Hindus. The celebration of love between siblings is sexist as it reinforces the role of the male as the protector, while Karva Chauth is sexist as it ‘forces’ women to fast ‘for men’. However, Karva Chauth being a celebration of a woman playing the role of the protector or reviver of her husband by penance (standard stories of Veervati and Savitri read by women observing the fast) does not make the poor festival non-sexist.
Since discussion of each festival of the natives that have been vilified on the basis of specious logic and misinformation by the feminists is content enough for a book, let us move to another pet cause of the feminists i.e. promotion of westernized women as empowered and free. The set of men who turned feminist on being gifted pink chaddis would at best be a null set. While failing in its intended purpose, what it did was to make drinking, smoking and wearing certain kinds of clothes synonymous with being a liberated woman.
This trend is seen all around us and what it does is extremely dangerous. It sets the ground for the profiling of women on the basis of things as superficial as clothes. It ingrains in the subconscious of young women that wearing traditional attire or being restrictive about the number of sexual partners they have, categorizes them as meek women submitting to patriarchy and hence unacceptable in the ‘progressive circles’. Such situations in most cases result in women transforming to obey the progressive laws or not having a ‘vibrant social life’.
It is not difficult to see that the assault is hardly on patriarchy but on the very lifestyle of the natives and feminism is just a tool that comes in handy. The less juicy topics of toilets for women in schools, their education, their economic empowerment via vocational training etc. find very few takers and are raised when the narrative requires the government to be attacked. The occasional talk (just that) of this topic is, however, essential to maintaining the façade of feminism.
The purposefulness of replicating feminism in Bharat
The next step is to analyze the change brought about by the expensive import of western feminism in the lives of disadvantaged Indian women. Before delving into that we must take cognizance of the fact that forceful assertion of the female identity will not earn women respect in the workplace or a societal status at par with that of men.
Some may argue that determined demands of women did earn them suffrage in the west and got the laws amended in their favour [protection of women from domestic violence act 2005] [prohibition of sexual harassment of women at the workplace act 2010]. There is no doubt that it did work in the west. However, in the case of India, the cited laws have neither ensured that the activities prohibited by them do not occur nor have they been able to provide justice to all the victims of the prohibited activity. Additionally, the placard bearing self-appointed Zamindars of feminism had hardly any contribution towards their enactment.
Being a feminist does not require a person to bring about changes in the law to empower women, just making the right noises and standing up against patriarchy is enough contribution. Feminism in India fails even at voicing the opinions that would benefit the female cause and in most cases ends up being counter-productive. Their problem is that given the viciousness, they are filled with for the Indics, they indulge in berating and labelling of people they think are patriarchal.
A hypothetical example would be a Sarpanch of a Khap Panchayat who relates rapes with women drinking carbonated water. The first step of the feminists would be to popularize him and his statement for it suits their narrative of natives being unevolved, unscientific idiots who hold women responsible for being raped. The next would be to label him as an imbecile and a misogynist and consequently conflate him with his entire clan if he belongs to the non-Abrahamic community. The width of the societal subsection picked is determined by the sub-community he belongs to. The outcome would be Women: 0, Feminism: +1 and Community: -1. Also, when such Sarpanch(s) and his ilk get to know about condescension of their festivals by feminists it will further his resolve to not let women get an education.
Similarly, though one may feel like a very strong warrior for women’s rights by excessively using the word vagina in an article, its net effect in terms of women empowerment is zero at best and negative at worst. The concluding message is that the prejudiced and ill-informed critique of Indic culture makes societies more averse to female empowerment, especially the ones who need it most desperately.
Fallacies of Feminism
The very definition of feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. The problem with that definition is that it does not recognize the inherent differences between a male and a female. This is deeply unfair to women as it implicitly demands from women to compete with men in a game picked by the latter. The two have different hormones which make behave differently, want different things and prioritize goals differently. Western feminism has only recently taken cognizance of it and it is this difference which justifies the demands menstrual and maternal leaves.
The Indic Solution
The cause of women empowerment would be better served if we contribute positively using our sound philosophical knowledge systems rather than just parroting decade old western concepts of feminism. If we copy, we always stay behind, but if we innovate and build using our indigenous concepts we could be pioneers.
Also, if we somehow collectively denounce western feminism as a tool for the uplifting of women, then what do we replace it with? There is no doubt about the fact that the status of women in Indian society is far from ideal (from the native/Aryan perspective). A minor illustration of the same is as follows:
Any civilization that claims to base itself on Vedic knowledge system would know that the fundamental element that separates a male from a female is the ‘deha’ or the gross body. The soul or the ‘brahm’ is the same. While the body made of five elements is destructible, the soul is eternal (Bhagavad Gita 2.18 and 2.17) and hence, the essence of life is the latter. This philosophy brings all living creature at the same level, since the differences of the bodily coverings of the soul are superficial, ephemeral and therefore, inconsequential. It is important to note, that while fundamental life force is same, by the virtue of which all living creatures must be treated with respect, there has to be recognition of bodily difference. So, the natural question to ask would be: from where and how did the malaise of treating women as lesser mortals make its way into our society that proudly claims to be in the lineage of Vedic Aryans?
There is a need to understand our traditions better, dispel myths about the status of women in our society and do away with the diseases brought to us by our invaders (purdah, obsession with the amount of body exposed by females). The strength of a man in Vedic society was not measured by the number of princesses he could forcefully keep in his harem but by the extent of his control over his senses. Societies obsessed with unchecked freedom of individual and unrestrained indulgence in sensory pleasures may even call rape a natural/biological epidemic, but the society that glorifies restraint, mastery of brain and perfect control over senses should know better and have no trouble rooting out the ailment of sexual assaults on females. A husband can torture a wife for dowry, but can he do so to his ardh-aangini?
If we can purchase an ideal society for women in exchange for our traditions/lifestyle and festivals then we must. But even that high a cost would not give us what we want, but push us further back by inducing inferiority in Bharatiya Naari. Hence, for the sake of her, we need to shake off the deceptive feminism that stands in the way of her empowerment.