You must have heard. Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan is planning to register and track every movement of working women. What more can you expect from the patriarchal, sexist old men of the BJP who run that cow belt state? Headlines in liberal media have already delivered their verdict. Feminists have already made bold declarations of intent: they will never register! A song or poem, on the lines of “kaagaz nahin dikhayenge” may also be in the works.
The Madhya Pradesh government clarified that this was only a proposal to help with security. It had no intention of tracking anyone and would apply equally to both men and women. But this did not stop India’s feminists from fighting the most important women’s rights battle in a generation. A number of left-wing opinion sites chimed in, uncovering all sorts of ulterior motives that you may not have noticed at first.
But first, let us check out what the Chief Minister actually said. Here is the video. Luckily, it is from Barkha’s Mojo Story, which should give me some protection from criticism by liberals. Anyway, ignore the title of the video and just listen to what the Chief Minister said (starting 0:20)
“Koi mazdoori karne, kaam karne ke liye bhi koi beti-beta baahar jayega, to pehle uska registration zile mein kiya jayega…. Pradesh se baahar jaana hai to zile mein registration hoga ki beta kahaan ja raha hai, beti kahaan ja rahi hai… ”
Here I have put in boldface the part where he talks about sons and daughters, as well as the masculine forms of the verbs he used in his sentences. He was always talking about both sons and daughters.
After this, he launched into a minute of explanation of how the policy would serve and protect women. Why would he do that? Perhaps because he was speaking at an event called “Samman,” a fortnight-long awareness program about crimes against women.
That was all there was to this story. But who will tell the feminists who are determined to make this the biggest women’s rights battle of this generation?
Incidentally, the Indian state has a number of policies that you could see as paternalistic towards women. For instance, rebates on stamp duty, property tax, slightly cheaper loans and so on. Even Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) from the government are generally made into the accounts of women in the household. We will not even get into laws on domestic violence or sexual harassment which are not gender-neutral. Till now, these have mostly been regarded as positive measures, necessary for the empowerment of women. But if you wanted, you could turn it around on its head, and argue that they are paternalistic towards women. A woman can earn her money as much as a man. Does she really need a cheaper loan to buy a house?
But that’s a much bigger, more nuanced argument. And it had nothing to do with what Shivraj Singh Chouhan had proposed. His plan was gender-neutral.
Are there legitimate privacy concerns here about the Madhya Pradesh government proposal? Probably, for both men and women. But again, that’s a completely separate debate, having nothing to do with sexism or patriarchy.
But feminists and liberals did not seem to care. They just wanted to scratch their itch against the BJP.
At the risk of being accused of being paternalistic (or worse), I have a humble suggestion for all the feminists out there. The laws in this country allow a Muslim woman to inherit only half of what sons are entitled to. The laws in this country allow for child marriage of Muslim girls. And the laws even protect female genital mutilation of babies in certain Indian Muslim communities. Perhaps we can all come together and raise our voices against that. It is 2021. You have no excuse.