Yuva - India

Feminism in India- Is it Empowering Women, or Merely Denigrating Traditions?

I am a 21-year-old woman in what is considered to be a very patriarchal society. Shouldn’t I sing praises of feminism day and night? Why am I questioning its actual effects on the society now? Am I overlooking all the good that feminism has brought to our society?

 

For the longest time I identified as a hardcore feminist. I still wouldn’t call myself an anti-feminist, but I am confused if I can identify as a “feminist”. I feel – I may be wrong – feminism today is tearing into our traditions and social fabric.

 

My disillusionment with modern-day Indian feminism started when the Sabarimala issue was at its peak; there were women, mainly communists, who wanted to enter the temple; there were women who are not Hindus, or worshippers of Lord Ayyappa, but who still wanted to enter because they were “torchbearers of equality”; and the worst, there were women who tried to desecrate the temple with used sanitary napkins, “to prove that menstruation is not impure.”

 

At that moment I was confused, but as I read more about this issue, I realized that women should not enter Sabarimala Temple. And when I say this, I’m not opposing equal rights or treatment for all sexes. But women shouldn’t enter Sabarimala, just as men shouldn’t enter Kumari Amman Temple in Kanyakumari. Just as the Koovagam festival is only for transgenders and bars entry of both men and women. There are certain customs since time immemorial, and we equal-rights champions are nobody to toy with them, especially when we are so unaware as far as our own traditions and rituals are concerned.

 

Recently, another issue flared up, where activist Trupti Desai, who was also at the forefront of the Sabarimala movement, said there should be no dresscode for devotees, primarily females, in the Shirdi Temple. She even wrote to the CM of Maharashtra, insisting to ask the Shirdi Sai Sansthan to remove the board which asks devotees to come to the temple in “civilized outfits”.

 

I don’t consider this empowering in any way. I simply consider this a mode to belittle our traditions, in the garb of equal treatment.

 

It is not uncommon to come across articles written by online portals like SheThePeople and ‘Feminism in India’, which constantly attack traditions, festivals, rituals as being sexist and misogynistic. No points for guessing which community all these festivals belong to. Every time I go through those articles, I can’t help but feel this “Feminism” is just one way to remove all traces of our ancient culture.

 

I am not denying patriarchal undertones of the Indian society; it still exists to a large extent. Our country is highly unsafe, with the increasing number of rapes and harassment cases. Women in many places still struggle to get basic education. Families don’t allow educated daughters and daughters-in-law to work. There is a major dearth of information around menstruation, thus, causing women to fall prey to backward customs and illnesses stemming from lack of menstrual hygiene.

 

 

 

 

These are the issues feminism should address. However, modern-day feminism is all disparaging traditions. Even women-centric films and shows usually talk less about actual issues that plague Indian women, and rather espouse openly drinking, smoking and sexual freedom as true liberty. I agree these are personal choices and the right to make them may be empowering for people on a personal level. But how does this help, say a group of girls in a village, who are not allowed to pursue education beyond class Xth because their families believe they should get married?

 

Importing American concepts like “Burn the Bra” and “Free the Nipple” are only seeking to create wide chasms in our society, where the empowered privilege class of women can take pride in their nudity, whereas the less empowered section doesn’t even get a chance to receive a college degree because families believe a woman should stay at home and serve them. Ask a girl who was married off at sixteen when she wanted to be a doctor, if not wearing underclothes feel empowering, and she will probably want to spit on those who ask her such absurd questions.

 

In a society which still struggles to empower such a large chunk of females, the Western notion of feminism feels like a slap on the faces of those who didn’t even get to exercise basic rights simply because they are women.

Feminism was great till it talked about equal-rights, equal-pay, freedom to marry as per one’s own choices, freedom to work, right to pursue higher-education, right to be in public places without the risk of getting assaulted.

 

But today it just feels like another one of those Leftist movements, which endorse everything that’s eventually going to cause the society’s disintegration. A woman can choose to not marry; but why publish one article after another denouncing marriage and motherhood? A woman can choose to repudiate the faith she was born in; but why insult all traditions of the Indian society, especially when those who do so, come from a place of misinformation? A woman has the right to hate men for what one may have done to her; but I don’t understand the reason behind hating men publicly and encouraging other women to hate them too.

 

Lastly, feminism is about equal rights, not supremacy of women. Many feminists refuse to acknowledge that men often fall prey to fake rape allegations, dowry cases, domestic violence, harassment, etc. Men are also raped and assaulted. Men are often threatened by certain, opportunistic women of having fake cases filed against them- one can’t forget the audio tape leaked 2 weeks back, wherein Union Minister Maneka Gandhi was threatening a man with a fake molestation charge; or the decision taken by a Rohtak court last month, where they refused to take action against the infamous Rohtak sisters who falsely accused three men of sexual harassment- the men lost their reputations and jobs. Today they are struggling to make ends meet. And the Court dismissed the matter saying, “it was too old.”

I understand laws exist in favor of women because the society is not kind to us; even in developed countries, rapes and assault are common.

 

But a true feminist, in her desire to create an egalitarian society, should demand equally harsh punishment for women who misuse these laws and abuse men, because every fake case is a nail in the coffin of real victims and ruins an innocent man’s life, who will then live the rest of his life hating women and denouncing their empowerment.

 

I am still unclear as to how I feel about feminism. On one hand, I am grateful to this decades-old movement for telling us that we are equal to men. On the other hand, it boils my blood when I see people denigrate traditions by misusing this movement. While it helps certain sections of the women get more empowered, it overlooks the painful struggles of another, larger section. It imports the Western concepts we so dearly love, but it simultaneously bashes Indian culture to no end.

 

India is a unique country. It is important that all social movements, including feminism, take into account this characteristic of our society, and reconcile the basic tenets of social change with our social fabric. India may exhibit patriarchy, misogyny and sexism today, owing to our painful history wherein we were ruled by those who were not kind to women. But this is the same land, where a few thousand years ago, in the ancient days, Vedas were authored by women, women could exclusively control wealth, women were safe because they were treated the same as men.

 

The sooner feminists make peace with this fact, the sooner we will be on the actual path towards empowerment and equality. After all, our land is the land of Shakti- empowerment was never an issue because we worship our Goddesses as much as we worship our Gods.

Bhavya Jha

Intern, Goa Chronicle
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