Mobility gives you wings. It gives you freedom, independence, and agency to move wherever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. I decided to write this post after driving my scooter for the first time. It was a different feeling altogether. That feeling can’t be expressed in words. It gave me freedom, ownership, and independence. Every woman should own a vehicle and it is very important for women to learn to drive. A general observation in and around you will show that most of the vehicles are owned by men. When your mobility is sorted, no one can control you. It makes you independent and gives you the agency to chart out your life. When you can take care of your mobility, you are not dependent on your spouse, children, or anyone else to move around. Maybe that’s why women are restricted or forbidden from driving in various countries and societies. They want to control women and don’t want to give them agency to live their lives on their own terms.
I also felt less vulnerable while driving than walking on the roads. Being a pedestrian, I suffered harassment on the streets multiple times but when I started driving my scooter, the harassment was less. Whenever you are in a strong position, people will hesitate to bother you.
Mobility has a big role to play in someone’s life and growth as a person. Public places are hostile to women. They face various kinds of challenges and harassment navigating the public place by walking or driving, or using the private and public transportation system. Many studies and anecdotal evidence expose the masculinity of public places. Most women feel unsafe and avoid being in public places to save themselves from sexual harassment and the toxic male gaze.
As per the data released from India’s first Time Use Survey, it was found that more than 53% of women had not stepped outside their homes the previous day. Only 38% of women in this age group reported stepping out of the home, compared to 88% of men. Marriage and children have a huge impact on women’s mobility and absolutely no impact on the mobility of men. Being married or living with a person is associated with reduced mobility for women but increased mobility for men.
I urge all ladies reading this post to learn to drive even if it’s a bicycle. Figure out a way to do that and your life will change. I am grateful that I finally learned to drive. देर आये दुरुस्त आये 🙂
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“The most common way people give their power is by thinking they don’t have any”
“A feminist is someone who believes in social, political and economic equality of the sexes”.
It was easier to understand how discrimination against women exists in society than to realize how we ourselves undermine our own capabilities. Dealing with this self-awareness was more challenging than discrimination in general. I remember when I got my first job, from the first day itself, I was feeling guilty about not having enough time at home and not being able to manage the house better. This feeling was recurring when I moved from one job to another. I remember this one moment when I forced myself to come home early so that I could spend more time taking care of the home which was absurd. I could have spent this time networking with new people at the office or doing something else rather than unnecessarily worrying about my so-called responsibilities to take care of the house. I also skipped many office get-togethers, feeling that it would be a waste of time.
It was quite relatable and engaging to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead’. Sheryl Sandberg served as the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook for more than a decade. She raised her voice against the discriminatory practices at the company. She also founded two organisations called Lean In and Option B to help women achieve their ambitions and help companies build inclusive workplaces where women of all identities are supported and empowered.
Reading this book made me realise that what I used to feel is a universal feeling experienced by all women of the world. Talking to so many women colleagues made me understand that workplace discrimination is pervasive. Almost all the women accepted that they undermine their capabilities and fail to advocate for themselves. I have read many books that show systemic discrimination and stereotypes against women, but not every book discusses solutions to these problems. A majority of books dealt with the external obstacles that created hurdles in the path of women’s careers. However this book focuses on the “internal barriers” faced by women in their journey of career progression. Sheryl adds that these internal barriers hold us, women, back from looking for opportunities and dreaming big.
That’s where the book shows the path through which women can take charge and grow in this discriminatory man dominated world. Many would not agree with it but it made sense to me. We need to come forward and take on the challenge of balancing work and home without feeling guilty about anything. According to the author, Lean Inis a way to address the problem of lack of representation and discrimination against women at the workplace. It is totally acceptable that many institutional, political and policy changes are required to deal with the discrimination problem at a larger level. But we need to take the smaller steps. The author feels that we need to break free from that unknown fear and move forward.
She shows how despite having to face so much discrimination in the internal and external environment, women have to go extra miles to prove their capability and seriousness. Some of them are highlighted in the book:
Women have to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men have to do.
Women hold themselves back. They lower their expectations of what they can achieve. They put themselves down before others can. They consistently underestimate themselves leading to this strong feeling of ‘imposter syndrome’.
Women internalise the message that it’s wrong being outspoken, aggressive and more powerful than men.
Women are discouraged to take risks and advocate for themselves.
Women are disliked for not displaying the so called ‘appropriate behaviour’
Women are judged for doing it all when no one knows what’s going on in their mind and how they are constantly struggling and hustling to do everything imperfectly.
Women suffer not only discrimination and sexual harassment but also everyday blatant & subtle sexism.
Women are also looked down upon for managing everything and also made to feel guilty for not doing it perfectly.
The biggest take away of this book is that it makes the case for leaning in, for being ambitious in any pursuit. Though women are discouraged and disliked for being ambitious and taking risks, the author adds that career growth is mostly dependent upon taking risks and advocating for oneself. Because opportunities are rarely offered, they are seized. Women suffer from ‘tiara syndrome’ where they expect that if they keep doing their job well someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head. However, it doesn’t happen like that in the real world. Women need to advocate for themselves when their efforts are not recognised. Sheryl adds that not only do we need to take risks, prioritise growth, challenge ourselves but also ask for promotions with a smile on our faces. According to her, there are no perfect opportunities, we need to learn the skill to make any opportunities fit for us. To have a successful career plan, she suggests adopting two concurrent goals: a long-term dream and an 18-month plan.
The most insightful fact about this book is the idea of ‘Don’t leave before you leave’. Women don’t leave the workforce making one big decision but they make many small decisions and leave the workforce. One of the best examples she gives is about pregnancy. Generally all women start worrying about pregnancy long before even trying to conceive which hampers their career prospects. Sheryl feels that women should utilise the time to grow and lean in till the moment their child is not out of their womb. It made perfect sense to me. It’s like whatever time you got, you give your best shot, you work hard and achieve whatever you can so that when you come back after your pregnancy break you have a base on which you can restart your professional journey.
No one can have it all and whoever is claiming to have it all, is lying, says the author. The thing is that life is full of imperfections and flaws. It might look perfect to other people but it is never perfect. Women need to embrace the mess and keep going. Having a supportive partner can help in dealing with these things in a better way. It is a must for any working woman if she wants to excel in her professional life. If the partner shares responsibilities at home, it becomes easier for a woman to manage work and home both.
Very rightly she shares this whole idea of ‘fit in’ at the workplace. I can say this from my personal experience that people are appreciated for ‘fitting in’ and not for delivering good work. People were promoted and liked just because they were fitting in and they were sucking up to their bosses. Workplace bias is a reality. People are evaluated based on personal preferences. At the same time, the author feels that one must not inject gender into every conversation which makes people uncomfortable as well as brings a feeling that one is asking for special treatment. Rightly so, she shows how some women are also perpetrators of sexism because of internalised patriarchy and misogyny.
The only thing the book lacks is the idea to bring reform at a larger level through which every woman gets to understand all the biases and barriers they face internally. How can we bring systemic change to it? Until and unless things are not changed at a larger level, it will take years and years of hard work and effort to achieve gender equality and empowerment.
I am grateful that a colleague of mine gifted me this book recently. It’s fascinating to read this book at this point in my life when I am trying to make my career bit by bit and understand it from the perspective of a woman who worked in a male-dominated workplace. It feels so warm when women support each other which is not the general norm. Though it is not their fault because they also come from the same patriarchal environment.
Sheryl Sandberg is a brave woman who not only took various initiatives to change the system for the better but also showed a path to the upcoming generation. Her honest ordeal in the book makes it a must-read for all women out there. It will empower women to sit at the table, understand the myth of doing it all and why we should not leave before we actually leave the workplace.
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“It’s impossible to grow up as a woman in India without knowing what it is like to have to always seek permission to be yourself. Each of us, in our own way, often magnified by caste and class encounters resistance in finding self-acceptance, achievement, and affection.” (Excerpt from the Book)
The 90s were the time when Shah Rukh, Shaktiman, and cassettes ruled the world. My childhood was spent in the 90s and it was heavily influenced by Bollywood movies. Watching the Sunday matinee show on Doordarshan at 4 o’clock is one of my most fond memories. I was probably 5-6 years old along with my cousin. Both of us eagerly awaited 4 o’clock movies. We finished our homework before time so that we could watch movies in the evening. No matter what the weather was like outside, nothing could move us from our seats before the screen. The saddest part of our movie times were the power cuts which took place right before the movie’s climax.
Despite being scolded by our elders many times, we both ran for 1 kilometer to finish the movie’s climax. Doctor Saheb was an acquaintance of my grandmother, and he was quite wealthy for that area. He also owned a generator that would come on whenever there was a power failure. After the movie ended around 6:30 P.M., we both went home to enjoy a Sunday evening in a fantasy world away from reality. However, after we reached home, our Bua (Father’s sister) would beat and scold us. Occasionally, she would close the front door and not open it for at least two hours. We would wait for her to open it. The whole ordeal was repeated almost every Sunday. Wow, what memories!
I am sure you are wondering why I am telling you this story. The book I am about to discuss has the context of Bollywood films and how they have fascinated generations of Indians in their search for hope, freedom, and fantasy.
Shah Rukh Khan and Shrayana
“Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s lonely young women and the search for intimacy and independence” is written by Shrayana Bhattacharya. This book is the best example of the saying, “ don’t judge a book by its cover”. Like other people, initially, I ignored this book because of its title. However, after listening to the author Shrayana Bhattacharya on The Seen and the Unseen podcast, I immediately ordered this book and devoured it. It gave me perspective. I started observing all ladies around me and trying to piece their lives and how they are navigating and fighting with this world. The author is a young woman and economist at World Bank who also happens to be a zabra fan of the Bollywood super star-Mr. Shah Rukh Khan. She wrote this book motivated by her fandom for Shah Rukh and stories of ordinary women and her work as an economist to weave a fantastic story to understand what’s going on in the lives of ordinary Indian women and how they are dealing with the system of patriarchy.
I have found it to be one of the most insightful books I have read recently. I underlined almost every line. Each and every story of the woman in this book resonated with me. The frustration and relative deprivation of Vidya, the pains of The Accountant, the anxiety of Gold, the boredom of Manju, and most importantly, the author’s own story, all made sense to me. Whatever your educational and economic background, these stories show that women are discriminated against and made to feel inadequate and manipulated. It is all to serve the needs of the other half of humanity. The only difference was that the quality of this discrimination might have varied. Some of it was crude and visible, while others were refined and subtle. Then there is Mr. Shah Rukh Khan’s fan following. He helps these ordinary women bargain and survive the toxic patriarchy in their everyday lives through his movies and interviews. Shah Rukh’s fandom demonstrates their disappointment in society and its institutions which broke their hearts in different ways.
The lives of ordinary women
Reading this book made me more empathetic toward the lives of Indian women. It showed me how much struggle they are still going through irrespective of class, caste, or any other classification and how we women are also complicit in our own discrimination. Women are withdrawing from their jobs because not only do they have to face discrimination in their offices but also they are overburdened with the care and love which they need to provide for their families. Despite sacrificing their freedom to provide love and care to their family, women are feeling lonely and unloved. They are withdrawing from the workforce because of Sanskritisation effect where the increase in family’s income and status lead to more control of women’s body and their mobility to maintain the purity of their community and caste networks. Higher incomes allow family members to perform traditional upper-caste social rituals when women’s bodily honor is guarded strictly within the four walls of the home.
Women leaving the workforce
They leave the workforce because of an unfriendly and discouraging work environment where they are paid less as compared to their male counterparts plus they also have to deal with the male gaze. Marriage and child care act as a hurdle for women to take up jobs in India. In totality, family and society both make it so difficult for women to survive, take up a job, or stay single. We are taunted for whatever choices we make in our lives. In fact, they have a problem whenever we make any choices.
Feminism on Instagram
The author also highlights the discussions around feminism on Instagram. As per the author, real feminism is happening in the everyday lives of ordinary women and she does not have any radical story of resistance to share from the hinterlands of India. They are constantly navigating the patriarchy in their everyday lives which can never be seen on an elitist platform like Instagram. The story of Vidya from the book was so relatable that at one point I felt like vidya is speaking on my behalf. I have seen and worked with women who are very similar to Vidya’s that friend who finds faults in everything that Vidya does. They themselves are so rich and entitled but they judge women like us who have achieved something in their life coming from a normal background without any support and guidance.
In spite of not being able to relate to the heartbreak stories in the book because it has never happened to me, it was heartbreaking to know that women’s relationships, marriages, and love lives are bargained as commodities, and women are judged on the basis of their looks. Despite their different backgrounds, all of these women are fans of Mr. Khan. Seeing a superstar like this who respects and loves women provides them with a respite from oppressive patriarchal culture and discrimination. Many poor and working-class women display their fandom for Shah Rukh Khan or attend his movies in the theater to express themselves.
We need intimate revolutions
The beauty of this book lies in the fact that it also proposes ways to solve these problems for our country.
“Meaningful change in everyday life happens when we start to pratcise the views we profess. ….Only fools think we can rationalise, cancel, tweet, or march our way to a social revolution. Radical change needs oxygen from each one of us. We are required to practise what we retweet, to self-scrutinise, to incrementally partake in impossibly difficult conversations in our own everyday relationships. For people to move beyond people…………………real shifts in their private behaviour requires repeated and sustained intimate interpersonal dialogue in which discriminatory views are revealed and challenged.”
“Change will need good faith and generosity. Mindset is not enough, morality is embodied in how we demonstrate our liberal views in our daily encounters with people, places and our self. Without these intimate revolutions, the best laws and the strongest movements will fail. The realm of everyday intimacy is the true home of social change. It is where all our longing, self-loathing and biases are unveiled. This is the world of deeply private rebellions, within people & within relationships. No platform, no performance. It’s where the real battle is. And it’s got to be long and ugly.”
An answer to the most debated question on humanity can be found in this book. Exactly, what do women want? The answer will surprise you. Women want love, freedom, and respect in no particular order.
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“If this life is so transitory like a rose in bloom, why should one depend upon another? Everyone must not ride on another’s shoulders, but walk on his own feet” – Anandibai Joshi
Kavitha Rao’s book, “Lady Doctors: The Untold Stories of India’s First Women in Medicine,” tells the stories of six inspirational women who defied all the rules of society and built a career in medicine while also contributing to women’s emancipation. Although these women were from different parts of the country, they were united by their desire to achieve freedom and respect in their lives. They built institutions and advocated for women’s rights through protests and petitions.
Anandibai Joshi: the first Indian woman with a western medical degree. Tragically, she died before she could practice medicine.
Kadambini Ganguly: the first Indian woman to practice medicine; she was branded as a whore by a conservative paper at that time. She was one of the first women to speak at the conference of the Indian National Congress (INC). A mother of eight children, she died in the course of her duties as a doctor.
Rukmabai Raut: a fiery woman who left a child marriage, shattering all patriarchal rules. Following her service in dealing with the deadly plague in Surat, she received the Kaiser-i-Hind medal in 1898.
Haimabati Sen: a child widow. Defying all Hindu tradition, she remarried and became a doctor.
Muthulakshmi Reddy: First woman to be elected vice-president of a legislature. She was instrumental in realizing the goal of the universal franchise for women, raising the marriage age, and abolishing the devadasi system.
Mary Poonam Lukose: the first Indian woman to be appointed to a legislature. She was instrumental in building Kerala’s public health care system.
You must read this book to learn about the achievements of these inspiring women whose stories are nowhere seen in our history textbooks. Please let me know your thoughts about this book if you have already read it.
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Stories have always been told from the perspective of the powerful. Most Indian mythologies glorify male characters. It is rare to find a female protagonist whose story of valor, sacrifice, or complexity of character has been told in mainstream work.
This very beautiful book, ‘The Forest of Enchantments’ tells the story of ‘Ramayana’ through its women who were an integral part of the story. Despite the book’s focus on Sita, it also tells the story of other women who suffered just as much, if not more, in this war between good and evil.
Sita’s story shows the vulnerability of being a woman and how she had to struggle to get respect and recognition for her capabilities. Essentially, the book deals with all human emotions, including love, passion, courage, jealousy, anger, and shame, while showing how these characters behave as normal human beings.
My favorite women from this story are Mandodari, Urmila, Kaushalya, Sarama, and of course SITA. However, we rarely know what their contributions were. Everyone knows what Lakshman did for his brother. Although he and Rama were exiled for 14 years, we do not know what his wife Urmila did for him. She had slept for 14 years so Lakshman would not have to sleep for his entire exile period.
Vibheeshan helped Rama conquer Lanka, but his wife Sarama sacrificed his son and protected Sita when she was being held as a captive in Lanka.
I loved this book for two reasons- first, it highlighted the stories of women I had never heard about, and second, it used beautiful and music-filled words that made me feel as if I were reading poetry. My mind created an image from the details in this book – I could see the forests, the palaces, the animals, and all the people that lived in this story.
Do read this book if you haven’t read it yet. If you have read this already, do let me know your thoughts about this in the comment section.
“An Indian woman’s first challenge is surving her own home” -Sonia Faleiro
One more year has passed. New beginnings on a new year. However, things feel new on the surface but not in reality or we pretend that things are new just because a new year is around the corner. Nothing has changed for a girl/woman in India. Don’t know if it will change in the near future. Misogyny, patriarchy, and gender discrimination are everyday phenomena in our country. We all face it. Rape is trivialised. Recently, a legislator in the State Assembly of Karnataka made an insensitive remark about rape, and later he was ready to apologise if his comments hurt the sentiments of women.
We have a central government scheme named Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao to save the girl child. Do we need to save our daughter? Or do our daughters need to save themselves from this whole system? 80% of the money allocated to this scheme was spent on advertisement as per a parliamentary standing committee report. What more we can expect when girls’ parents give them bizarre names like Missed Call, Antima, and Phaltu to express their anger and disappointment because they never wanted to have these girls. I don’t even want to imagine the kind of shame and trauma these girls might be going through because they were made to feel that they were unwanted by their own parents. Being a woman, I have personally experienced this kind of discrimination. There was a time when I used to feel that I am going to fight for my rights. I will complain against these practices. However, different incidents and news reports dealing with discrimination and violence against women have broken my spirit. The most frustrating thing is that we, women, are manipulated into believing that we deserve this discrimination and violence.
A little overview of the Book and the Author:
The book, “The Good Girls” by Sonia Faleiro will make you uncomfortable. It will make you angry and ashamed of our country and society. This book is about the Budaun case where two girls were found hanging from a tree on 26th May 2014, just a day before when the NDA government’s first term started with the promise of “acche din”. The book uncovers the events and circumstances leading to Padma Lalli’s death against the backdrop of the political and socio-cultural life of the state of Uttar Pradesh, notorious for violence against women. All those little details and descriptions about the mundane activities of the households and the exploitation of women shown in the book were quite relatable to me. The author’s deep research about the patriarchal settings and how women are never allowed to tell their stories makes this book an important read.
The author is a journalist who lives in London. She returned back to India and did extensive research for six years to write this book. She visited the Katra village and conducted hundreds of interviews. This case created so much furor that it was ultimately transferred to CBI. In this book, the author also discusses the caste complexities, corruption in the police system, the deep patriarchal structure, and discrimination against women. The book reads like a suspense thriller and I never felt like putting it down. Almost all chapters consist of one or two pages which makes it very easy to read. The chapters’ titles are thoughtful. It intrigues you to know more about the incidents. Sonia has woven this unfortunate incident in the form of a story that not only gives you context but also provides a political, social, and cultural perspective about the lives of the people involved.
Story of Padma and Lalli:
Padma Shakya and Lalli Shakya (names changed since the case is sub-judice) are two ‘good girls’ living in the Katra Sadatganj village of Badaun district. Padma and Lalli were cousin sisters. Padma was sixteen years old and Lalli was fourteen years old. They were always together like two grains of rice. They did everything together. They both had an ordinary life but they were the new age girls. Padma was curious and wanted to explore things. Lalli wanted to study further and do something in life. However, these good girls were never good enough for the people around them because they never wanted to be bound by the rules of society.
Control, control, and more control:
In India, girls are not supposed to have choices. They are bound to do what they are told to do. They are not allowed to go outside. They can use mobile phones but they can’t own them. Even to use it, they need to take permission. Many khap panchayats, villages, and schools in India have banned mobile phones for women. If they go out, they will have to return before it is too dark. They are the honor of the family and they need to be saved. And if they don’t follow these dictates or unsaid rules, they are killed. The most ironic thing is that women are controlled not only by society but also by the State in the name of their safety and empowerment. The recent move of increasing the age of women for marriage can be seen in the same light. A girl who is 18 years old, has the right to vote and choose her representatives but she does not have the agency to choose her partner. This is a clear case of violating women’s choices who want to get married before the age of 21.There is evidence to prove that a large share of reported sexual assaults across India is consensual relationships that are criminalised by parents.
We can see the same kind of control in the Shakya family. Padma’s father bought her a phone which allowed him to record her conversations. He forced Padma to leave her studies so that she can get married to save her family’s honor. When these two girls insisted on going to the village fair, their mother (Siya Devi) scolded and said ‘Ladkiyan bahar Nahin ghoomti’ (Girls don’t wander about outside the house).
Sex, Sexuality, and Shame:
Sex is still a taboo in India. It is associated with something bad. No sex education is provided in our country. Especially pre-marital sex is something frowned upon in our society. I just don’t understand the logic. After marriage, you can have as many kids as you want, but you can’t explore your sexuality before marriage. Height of hypocrisy in our society. Padma Lalli and Pappu Yadav had a sexual relationship that was not acceptable to their respective families. Padma and Pappu were caught in an awkward moment the day the girls got disappeared in the fields. The next morning Padma Lalli were found hanging from the tree in the mango orchard.
Though their family members alleged that they were gang-raped and murdered by Pappu along with his uncle and a Yadav (caste is important here because initially this case was seen as a caste rivalry between Yadav and Shakya community) policeman, CBI inquiry did not find any evidence of it. CBI inquiry concluded that girls took their own lives. However, it is still not clear what has happened on that unfateful night when these two teenage girls disappeared. No one knows what was there in the phone recordings. Nazru, the cousin of Shakya brothers, who was spying on Padma Lalli on the day of their disappearance, still feels that he had seen those men who took these girls. Reading this book will help anyone uncover the shocking turn of events and why the death of these girls is called ‘ordinary killings’.
Saving the honor was more important for their family even when those girls were dead. Sohan Lal, Padma’s father destroyed the phone so that no one gets to know about the relations between Padma Lalli and Pappu. What kind of society we are living in? Why our own parents are like that? Why they can’t think about their family first than society? That’s why Sonia in one of her interviews added that we all are responsible for their death and not one person or institution. The whole system is broken.
Recently, the Indian National Congress (INC) party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi announced that their party would give 40 % tickets in the upcoming elections to women candidates. It comes around 160 seats out of 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly. Though many have termed this as a political gimmick, it is certainly going to push the issue of lack of women’s representation in the parliament.
In the current 17th Lok Sabha, only 14% of parliamentarians are women. The share in the State legislatures is poorer as compared to the national average. A bill to provide 33% reservation to women in parliament has been pending for the last 25 years. The bill was first introduced on September 13, 1996, during the H D Deva Gowda government. It was introduced again in 1998, 1999, and 2008 but it lapsed each time due to the Lok Sabha dissolution.
Historical exclusion and discrimination are the core of the problem and the solution should be affirmative action. Reservation for women in parliament is needed for their political inclusion. Even if there are equal opportunities provided, it has not been converted into equal representation for women. Complex patterns of hidden barriers prevent women from getting their share of political influence and representation.
Reservation is a contested idea. Many sections of society have been asking for reservations on various grounds. In the current circumstances, affirmative action is needed to create mechanisms for the political inclusion of women. Many countries of the world introduced electoral quotas through constitutional amendments or statutory mechanisms which led to increased representation of women in parliament. For example, Nordic countries and some African countries have achieved better representation of women in their national parliament after adopting gender quotas in elections.
Evidence shows that women leaders have a positive impact on development indicators and when elected, they focus on the people in their communities. They focus more on delivering civic facilities such as drinking water, sanitation, schools, and health centers. For instance, in a randomized policy experiment conducted in two States of India, it was found that elected women leaders under the reservation policy invest in the public goods linked to women’s concerns such as drinking water and roads in West Bengal and drinking water in Rajasthan.
Why has the bill not seen the light of the day?
The bill has its shortcomings. It is ill-conceived in the sense that political parties can only run women candidates which will lead to women competing against women in reserved constituencies, defeating the overall purpose of the bill in empowering women. Rotation of seats from these reserved constituencies will lead to diminishing accountability as there will not be any fear from the electorate’s verdict for the next election. Political parties are also apprehensive as they feel that they will have to groom new women leaders to fill these positions. They also fear backlash because the bill has no provisions dealing with the lack of representation of other religious and sexual minorities in the Indian parliament.
Caste-based reservation is a complex factor in Indian politics. The Indian parliament already has seats reserved for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes. Demand for women’s reservations in the Indian parliament is seen as competing with reservations provided to other social categories. Many political parties have also demanded a sub-quota within the quota of seats for women from the backward castes. Though the 2008 bill has provided 1/3rd of seats reserved for SC/STs be reserved for SC/ST women, many political parties demanded reservation for OBCs women also.
Some women groups are also not in support or in agreement with all the provisions of this bill which weakens the support in passing the bill. It is feared that this bill will only lead to co-opting of women belonging to the privileged class rather than bringing meaningful changes in the lives of ordinary women.
Despite huge support for the bill from all across the ideological spectrum, the bill has not seen the light of the day because of the lack of political will from political parties over the years.
What needs to be done?
Women’s representation in the Panchayati Raj system increased tremendously after the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act and it also had a great impact not only on improving the lives of community members but also on women themselves. Some States can come forward and pass this bill to make it possible for the Central government to navigate some hurdles of the bill. Before introducing the bill in the current form, the Central government should have a pre-legislative consultation among all stakeholders and incorporate their suggestions. If the quotas for women can be implemented at the panchayat level, they can be implemented at the national level.
Patriarchy is a system where the male has a dominant role to play and women do not have their “individual autonomy”. The most deplorable thing is that women are considered as the ‘property’ and ‘belonging’ of the males. Women are known as someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s wife and someone’s mother. She is not ‘she’. She is not respected and pulled back by various means whenever she wants to revolt against this very system. And the most heartening fact is that many of the women accept consciously as well as unconsciously this very system. Almost every critical issues related to women is interlinked with patriarchy and if you really notice that you will find out that almost all of the serious legislation related to women have come through the Supreme Court. The executive has hardly taken actions and legislated on its own related on women issues. We can count this on our fingers- Shah Bano Judgement, Vishakha Judgement, Judgement on sterilization of women, Nirbhaya Judgement, Shayra Bano Judgement, Lata Singh Judgement and the list is long where almost all critical concerns of women are addressed by various judgments with the help of civil society or individual fight. It is happening because as Radical Feminists rightly said,“State is a patriarchal state” and ” State is for men and by men”. On the face of it, a constitutional bench of Supreme Court in his recent PIL filed by Joseph Shine questioned the constitutionality of the Section 497 of the IPC and Section 198 of Criminal Procedure Code which violates Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India. In this hearing, the Supreme Court has said that ‘adultery law’ violates the dignity of women’.
Adultery basically refers to extra-marital voluntary sexual intercourse. It is a criminal offense in India under Section 497 of Indian Penal Code(IPC). It is also one of the grounds under which divorce can be granted. This Section 497 like others archaic acts is the colonial hangover which is totally paternalistic, parochial, outdated, arbitrary, anachronistic and a replica of Victorian mindset. The provisions of Section 497 are given below:
“It says that a man could be punished up to five years in jail if he has ‘sexual intercourse’ with another man’s wife. It makes it clear that the wife will not be considered as an abettor and will not be punished”.
The most inhuman part of the act says that” it is not a criminal offense when a man has the sexual intercourse with the wife with the consent and connivance of the husband of the woman”.
“It does not criminalize adultery if the husband has consensual sex with an unmarried women, whereas a married women having similar relationship with a bachelor may find her paramour being punished for the offense.”
The provisions of the Section 497 IPC treats married women as the “personal possession” of the husband which is inhuman,against the dignity of women and denying the sexual autonomy which is recognized under the “Right to privacy”judgment. It is like women are some objects(Car etc), when the husband wants, someone else can use it. I also agree with the argument made by Sai Deepak, Advocate of Supreme Court that this provision clearly helps in the objectification of women. The most absurd thing is that under section 198 of CrPC, only “aggrieved husband” can complain about the adultery and not the wife. It is, in fact, the clear-cut reflection of the system of patriarchy which is written in the law.
The most profound defense for keeping this provision is made in terms of “protecting the institution of marriage”. Whenever any issues related with women for instance marital rape, domestic violence etc come into the limelight, this is the last argument put forward by those who are part of this patriarchal system. I just want to ask one question- if the institution of marriage is so strong, why there are discrimination, subjugation, and violence against women in marriage. This provision needs to be scrapped or modified where women should also be punished and they should also be given the right to complain about the husband, by the Supreme court to restore the dignity and autonomy of women. In fact, 42nd Law Commission of India report, 1971 andMalimath Committee on Criminal law Reforms, 2003 suggested that this section should be amended to make it gender neutral. Not only this, National Commission of Women(NCW) in 2006 put forward the view that this section needs to be decriminalized. However, recently NCW said that women cannot be punished for adultery but they should be given right under section 198(2) so that they can also prosecute their husband for his promiscuity. It needs to be emphasized here that the Supreme Court Bench also said that decriminalizing the section 497 does not give any license to people to involve in licentious behavior.
It is a cliche that the law should reflect the changing times when the Supreme Court has accepted the “right to privacy” and considered to decriminalize the homosexuality under section 377, Indian state should come forward to deal with structural flaws present in the institution of marriage to make it more gender neutral and equitable. Indian State must not protect the system of patriarchy and behave like a “patriarchal state” as women are one of the most important constituency of the country who not only helps but also contributes towards nation building. Many European and South Asian countries like Bhutan, Srilanka, China, South Korea has decriminalized the adultery. In fact, UNHRC has recommended all the governments to do away adultery as a criminal offense saying that it is a violation of human rights.
After 70 years of independence and adoption of one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world, the status of women in Indian society is still deplorable. Violence against women occurs at every second with impunity because of failure of governance[i] as well as the patriarchal mindset of the people who still think women as their property. In fact, crimes against women[ii] are reported every two minutes in India.
If we only talk about the crime of ‘rape’, as per the statistics[iii] of National Crime Records Bureau, 92 rapes are committed every day in India in 2012. In fact, there are a number of cases who are not reported[iv] by the victim due to the fear of the perpetrator or the stigma attached to this crime or maybe lack of awareness and courage. It means that a number of rapes committed are more than the numbers reported to the law enforcement bodies.
Rape occurs when a man commits the sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent. However, the IPC (Indian Penal Code) under Section 375 provides an exception in the case when men and women are married and women are more than 15 years and less than 18 years old, the sexual intercourse will not be considered as rape. This whole exception is based on the Age of Consent Act[v] 1891 which was enacted in British India. In fact, this exception is violative of the Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. However, as per the lawmakers, this exception was given to deal with the social reality of rampant child marriage[vi] in India. But the problem is that it also creates arbitrariness if we compare it with Prohibition of Child Marriage Act[vii] as well as POSCO Act[viii].
When I started writing this piece, I didn’t think that Supreme Court will declare this section unconstitutional. Supreme Court has struck down this clause in its recent judgment[ix] in October 2017 on the grounds of violation of Article 14, 15 and 21. However, the Supreme Court didn’t say anything about criminalizing the marital rape. Now, it means that sexual intercourse with the minor wife is rape but sexual intercourse with the adult wife without her consent, is not. In India, marital rape is not a crime not because we have not recognized the rights of women but because the Government of the day has no political will to criminalize the marital rape due to fear of backlash from the conservative sections of the society. As per the UN Population Fund report[x], more than two-thirds of married women in India, aged 15 to 49, have been beaten or forced to provide sex. This statistic is a stark reminder for the government of the day to take a serious interest in resolving various issues related to this issue by enacting the appropriate law.
Opponents of this idea give numbers of justifications for not criminalizing the marital rape. The first and most vocal opposition is that criminalizing marital rape will destroy the sacred institution of marriage[xi] because the mindset is that when a woman enters into a wedlock, she has given ‘irrevocable consent’ to perform sexual intercourse with her spouse. This whole concept stems from the theory of women as a man’s property. It is totally unjustified and uncalled for. How can we sustain the sacredness of the marriage when there is no freedom and ‘sexual autonomy’ for one partner? And after India became a constitutional democracy and adopted the ‘Rule of Law’, it can’t take recourse to culture and traditions to justify sexual crimes committed within or outside the wedlock.
The second criticism is that the law will be misused by the women to fabricate false crimes as witnessed under Section 498[xii] of the IPC. In fact, almost all the laws are misused in one way or other in India which no way justifies not enacting a law to address the crimes committed against married women in India. In fact, the exception for Marital Rape is not justified on the basis of Article 14-Right to Equality when one woman gets the protection of law but another doesn’t because she is in an intimate relationship with her preparator. It is also not justified because it is arbitrary and discriminatory.
The third reason given not to criminalize marital rape is that there are enough laws and safeguards under Domestic Violence Act[xiii], 2005 and other laws which women can use to prosecute her husband for violence against her. The irony is that recognizing marital rape as a crime is very much related to the recognizing the “sexual autonomy” and bodily integrity of women. We want to say that don’t bring this matter in front of everyone because you have other laws to deal with it. It is almost treating women as the secondary citizens who have not entitled the ‘Right to life with human dignity’ under Article 21. It shows the patriarchal and patronizing mindset of Indian society.
In fact, this is high time that India must criminalize the marital rape to give autonomy and freedom to the half of the population of India. Now we are in 2017 when Supreme Court of India has given “Right to Privacy[xiv]” in its path-breaking judgment in August 2017. In this judgment, Supreme Court has given a broad perspective of privacy. It says, “Privacy safeguards individual autonomy and recognizes the ability of the individual to control vital aspects of his or her life. The pursuit of happiness is founded upon autonomy and dignity of the individual.” It also recognizes the right to be left alone.
This whole concept of privacy can be applied to the marital rape issue where as per the law, the married women has no autonomy in her sexual relationship. She cannot exercise her bodily integrity. It is absolutely unfounded and unjustified now after ‘the right to privacy’ judgment. In fact, we can be reminded of the fact that right to privacy to the people in India was not there earlier which has been evolving since the law of land came into force. Therefore, it can be said that Indian society was not ready ten-twenty years back to accept the issue of marital rape but now in the year 2017, we must accept this reality and take action to criminalize this inhuman and brutal practice to give justice to those women who are suffering in silence.
Many committees appointed by the Government of India advocated for criminalizing the marital rape[xv]. The Justice J. S. Verma committee, which was appointed after the dreaded ‘Nirbhaya’ incident has recommended “marriage or any other intimate relationship between a man and a woman is “not a valid defense against sexual crimes like rape”. The committee also added that the legal prohibition on marital rape should also be accompanied by changes in the attitude of all the stakeholders and there is need to create awareness of women’s rights to autonomy and bodily integrity regardless of marriage or other intimate relationships. Recently appointed Committee on the Status of Women (2015) headed by Pam Rajput also recommended that as a pro-women measure, marital rape should be declared as a criminal offense irrespective of the age of the wife and the relationship between the ‘perpetrator’ and ‘survivor’. However, the Central government[xvi] consistently denied taking a proper stand by saying that the people in India are not ready for it and it will create stress for the entire family system.
The claim that it is a western concept is unjustified because of South Africa[xvii] another developing country which has criminalized the marital rape. In fact, as per the UN Women’s 2011 report[xviii], 52 countries out of 179 countries have explicitly amended their legislation to make marital rape a criminal offense. It is totally against to the various Human Rights Conventions to which India is a signatory. It’s been a long time to the women of India, the government needs to recognize the spirit of “Right to life” with human dignity under Article 21 and the recent judgment of “Right to Privacy” to pave way for declaring marital rape as a crime which violates the dignity and autonomy of women.