Posted in Female Writers, Feminism

Unnameable Discontent : Feminist Voices From Kerala

“There is no Shakespeare, Homer or Kalidaasa among women because the best years of our life are spent in bringing up children and looking after our men.”

Sounds familiar? No, it’s not Woolf.

In the early twentieth century, when the Independence movement raged in India, a woman who was a child bride, then a mother and also a writer longed to take part in it. She belonged to the most privileged caste in India, the Brahmin caste; but apart from her caste privilege and financial security, her life was much the same as her sister in the lower rungs of Kerala’s highly feudal society.

Though Kerala is at the tail end of the Indian peninsula, sloping into the Arabian sea , Gandhi’s calls for a free India were answered with much enthusiasm because Kerala was no stranger to foreigners. The struggle for Independence in India was not just aimed at ousting the English, but it was also a movement to reform India. For these vast regions to be unified under the India banner , commonalities had to be unearthed and the differences purged. The caste system, the religious divides, the regional divides – all of these had to go. The Kerala society, like everywhere else, plunged into a period of intense debates and reform.

 It was into the midst of this furore , that Lalithambika Antharjanam, our child bride-mother-writer was born. Her family was renowned as artists and writers and in an unusual act for the time, her father engaged a private tutor to teach her. Once, a 10 year old Antharjanam secretly sent an article on Gandhi to a newspaper which published it. But soon after that, she was married and writing became difficult. She, like other Brahmin women of her time, lived in utter seclusion and their days consisted of observing the numerous rituals and the same time toil away in the kitchen. Because she had no time during the day and since a woman writing was not acceptable anyway, she wrote through the night, often struggling to see in the dim light of the lantern. These nights permanently ruined her health.

However, as she wrote, hers became one of the most important female voices at a time when the reformers were exclusively male. Her female characters, often Brahmin women, question their fate, fight the society and some meet tragic ends. They feel love and lust, forbidden to most women and sometimes they carve their own paths.

Lalithambika Antharjanam was one of the first feminist writers of Kerala, though, like Iris Murdoch, she would have shied away from that term. At a time when women’s magazines were dishing out articles about the qualities of a good house wife, she writes that it is economic dependence that keeps women subjugated and silenced – around the same time Woolf published Room of One’s Own. Antharjanam however, blamed western feminists for promoting individualism and divorce because she staunchly believed in a woman’s role in a family. But I wonder, if her struggle, the ‘unnameable discontent’ she calls it, was trying to reconcile the opposing spheres of her life – home and art.

Posted in Feminism

The Sea, The Sea – Iris Murdoch’s Feminism

“I think being a woman is like being Irish… Everyone says you’re important and nice, but you take second place all the time.”
― Iris Murdoch

Feminism, as is the nature of social movements, is powered by its writers. But what happens when a woman writer is not regarded feminist enough?  Iris Murdoch began to get published around the same time second wave feminism took off and she has been accused of not being a woman writer, but a writer who happened to be a woman. While most people would be left wondering about that distinction, it is a very serious accusation in the literary and academic world.

This is probably why I had scarcely heard a mention of Murdoch until this January, when I discovered an academic paper on her. Later on, I picked up Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea on a whim. Actually, not a whim – I picked it up for its title. I love an atmospheric novel and what best to read a chunky book set on a frosty British coast, while battling the humid heat in Chennai. Also, my recent addiction to Booktube might have led me to judge it solely based on its absolutely gorgeous cover.

Charles Arrowby, the protagonist of The Sea, The Sea, is recently retired from the Theatre. He is a celebrity in a world where cinema still lacked the label of serious Art. Though he willfully left the theatre world behind him, theatre was not ready to let him go. His friends keep dropping in and we realize that Charles is romantically connected to almost all the women who appear in the novel. But the turning point in the novel comes when Charles meets Harley, his childhood sweetheart, from before his theatre days. From then on begins an obsession that proves to be the undoing of many.

So why isn’t Murdoch feminist enough? One reason is that Murdoch herself shied away from that label; she didn’t want to be associated with any ‘-isms’. Secondly, her protagonists were all usually male and the female voice isn’t given any particular importance. Her books aren’t Greek myth retellings either (retellings are in vogue again – 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlisted two of those!). But as Murdoch says in an interview, her fiction is about the human condition. If feminism doesn’t figure in the human condition, I don’t know what does. So, I would say that Iris Murdoch is a feminist writer, knowing full well the difficulty of defining those terms satisfactorily.

The novel is about a man so obsessed with a woman that he pulls apart his whole world for it before he realizes the futility of it all. The scared and confused Harley would be the anti-thesis of a ‘feminist’ heroine, but the decision at the end of the novel is solely hers. Staying with an abusive husband might not be the best choice, but it is her choice, regardless. Charles, who sees himself as Hartley’s messiah, is shocked when he realizes that Hartley does not want him. Though the novel isn’t from Hartley’s perspective, Hartley’s will and her voice is more than heard.

The characters, plot and the setting also harks back to a genre called gothic fiction. I believe that The Sea, The Sea can be considered a feminist retelling of the Gothic novel.  A literary genre that was extremely popular in the 19th century and the most famous gothic fiction is probably Bram Stoker’s Dracula, followed by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As the critic Maggie Kilgour explains, gothic fiction is usually identified by its stock properties than by its essence.  These novels were set in dark and mysterious places, far removed from anything ordinary – like haunted medieval castles. Similarly, Arrowby’s strange, creaky house and the ocean around it, lend it an air of mystery, danger and isolation. This effect is heightened with the appearance of certain fantastical elements early on in the story. The main consumers of Gothic fiction were women who might have had a sadistic interest in seeing beautiful, virtuous, young women being held captive by ruthless villains, which was a major trope. This is where The Sea, The Sea becomes a rewriting of Gothic fiction. Though a very confused and almost senile Hartley is held captive by Charles for days on end, she never submits to his demands and finally it is the ‘villain’ who gives in. Arrowby, the villain in the juxtaposition is definitely not ruthless, because he is aware of his actions, but tries hard to justify them with his immense love for Hartley. This makes his character ambivalent and therefore unclassifiable as a stock villain.

The novel essentially questions the idea of love and marriage and never for once, glorifies Charles’s obsession.  The novel, among other things, frees Hartley from Charles’s rosy, childhood memories and transforms her into a person in her own right. Hartley’s story escapes the trappings of male discourse, the same reason why feminist retellings exist.

Posted in Feminism, Uncategorized

Why I Am Not A Feminist – A Book Review

This is a review of the book ‘Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto‘ by Jessa Crispin.

Like I wrote in my previous post, this book got me frantic at first and thinking later on. It was an onslaught on almost everything that I believed in and it hit me too hard. So it took me some time to get to the end of the book and my feelings and opinions about it have changed drastically in the meantime.

The book criticizes contemporary feminism, its ideals and is a call to awaken the spirit of sisterhood which was exchanged for individualism in the recent years, according to the author.

Crispin, very rightly points at how capitalism came to benefit from the feminist movement towards individualism and choice. Sex and the City is a classic example .SATC touches upon many issues of women in relationships and makes you rejoice in your womanhood, but it would be idiotic to not see the fashion brands that pepper the script and white elite-ness that it reeks of.  Not to mention the stereotyping of it all.

The overarching argument of the book is that when by exchanging sisterhood for individualism, some women got to step into men’s shoes and had become complicit with men in their culture of subjugation. This, I believe is a critique of capitalism rather than of women or of the feminist movement. Also, entrenched in this argument is a belief in the ‘goodness’ of women – the belief that, given the chance, women would do a much better job running the world. For example, the author decries the ambition that drives women who work in the corporate world.

This is similar to the argument that used to be made against feminists who advocated a professional life for women- they were told that as many women from the upper class left their homes to begin working, their positions would be supplanted by domestic helps who were obviously again women. The problem with this argument is obvious. For one, domestic helps are paid for the work they do and so it is not the thankless job that most women have to perform at home. Secondly, the fact that domestic helps and other low tier jobs do not have job security and benefits cannot be blamed upon other working women. That is a fault with the system of which both men and women are part of. Thirdly, are men made to feel guilty about hiring other men to do jobs like plumbing and welding or whatever? This argument is based on the assumption that domestic jobs like cooking and cleaning is something that women have to do and not expect anything in return just like the former argument believes in an inherent goodness of women which really doesn’t exist.

“Breaking away from the value system and goals of the dominant culture is always going to be a dramatic, and inconvenient, act. Surface-level feminism — feminism that requires only a swapping out of labels and no real reform—requires nothing so strenuous from you. To understand how surface-level contemporary feminism really is, we need only note that the most common markers of feminism’s success are the same markers of success in patriarchal capitalism. Namely, money and power. Our metric is how many women are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, how many bylines at The New York Times are women’s, what percentage of medical school graduates are women.” Excerpt from Chapter One.

 At this point in the book, the author is all for revolutionary changes in the system, so that women will not be part of the oppressive culture of subjugation created by men. While one is left to puzzle out how to actually revolutionize the system while not even being a part of it as the author advocates, the later chapters reverses the argument entirely. A quote from the last paragraph of Chapter Eight–

Women, if you want a better existence for your people, you must participate in the imperfect world that exists now.”

There are several individual points in the book that I agree with and have written about. For example, the author speaks against the increasing number of vigilantes that feminism seems to give birth to – talking about dealing with sexual harassment cases and social media vigilantism-

What they are doing is looking for one man to carry the weight of our entire history, to make up for all of the men who hurt us and escaped punishment. This is revenge.”

 Crispin also proposes the idea of building a community support system so that women will not be left with a just choice between being dependent on a patriarchal family system with no freedom or being independent and free, but crazy due to all the work and no emotional or mental support.

However, on the whole, this book was a disappointment as it raises many questions on the contemporary feminist strategy, but leaves all of them unanswered.

 

Posted in Feminism

The Witch Question

All of us came across the witch figure initially in children’s literature, cartoons and movies. In my childhood, I was exposed to two kinds of witches, the western and the Indian one. The western one invariably dressed up in a pointy hat, had a long nose and a grotesque looking pimple or mark on their scrawny faces. And do not forget the trademark broomsticks. These witches were not all evil and in some cases they were actually nice.

And then I remember the Indian ones who were mostly evil crones, always plotting against the hero of the story. However, as many of you might know, the problem of the evil old witch wasn’t just contained to the story books. In fact the negative portrayal of witches in the story books came from the real life witch hunts which took place in the Europe and America from the fifteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

While witch trials have now been relegated to a past that no one wants to remember, many places in India still witness witch trials in which most of the witches on trial are women. According to national crime records bureau, between 2000 and 2012, 2097 murders were committed as part of Witch hunting.

Major Indian tribes like Mundas and Hos derive their rituals and practices from the same myths and the character of the witch is a prominent one in these stories.  The story goes that the Singbonga , meaning the Supreme One ordered the killing of his wife because he was convinced that she was a witch and had plotted to kill his son, borne by another wife of his. Singbonga asked his brother to kill the wife and the brother Baranda made sure that she was a witch by consulting two witch-hunters before killing her. So this is the first instance of a witch and witch hunting in these tribal stories and scholars say that this story was a later addition to the original collection of myths. However, what matters is that the story exists and even today women are threatened and even killed by this paranoia about a witch figure. Though the story exists only as a tribal myth, these tribes are the largest ones in India and they exert their influence on to the neighboring non tribal villages – thus spreading the culture of witch hunting. The fact that 11 Indian states, including the ones with maximum populations have enacted a law against Witch hunting shows the severity and reach of the problem.

Also,it is extremely interesting that most often, some particular kinds of women are targeted in these witch hunts. It is seen that older women, widowed or single women, sometimes childless women etc are at a huge risk of being labeled as witches as compared to other women. It is obvious that that these are women who do not fit into the traditional roles of the mother or the wife and thus their position in a tribal society is precarious. Many a times, these women inherit their husband’s or father’s lands or income and thus become the target of greedy relatives looking for a chance to eliminate the woman in question. In other, less common cases, the targeted women are actually those who support themselves and are financially better off than most of the village.

Why only women is a question that most scholars have never been able to fully answer. While misogyny is definitely part of the problem, it is surely not the whole reason. The patriarchal power structure of most tribal communities could be another reason. In the Munda community, there are three leaders- the political leader called the Munda, the religious leader called Devri, and the Witch hunter called the Ojha. Needless to say, all these positions are held by men and women sometimes don’t even have land rights in these tribes. So it is not a coincidence that the matrilineal tribes of Khasis and Gharos where women have sizable administrative power, has never had a witch hunt or a wizard hunt in all their history.   Tribal societies have somehow gained a reputation for being more women friendly – but clearly they are not.

Drawing a very real picture of the issue is Mahasweta Devi’s horrifying, yet powerful short story of a witch hunt titled Daini or the Witch.

This is another of those anachronous, but ironically urgent issues that India shouldn’t forget to tackle amidst all the hungama of ‘development’.

Posted in Feminism

Gender identity over bread and butter issues?

I thought I should start the first post of this year by giving a theoretical background to feminism as some readers have told me that sometimes my posts can get too theoretical and thus not accessible to all. It is imperative that Feminism become properly understood by people in general and not just the students in some arts corner of a university.

The feminist movement has been divided into the First, Second, Third and the Fourth wave which is the ongoing one. The first wave feminism focused on legal inequalities and pressed for equal rights for women, most importantly voting rights. The second wave feminism moved on from there and focused on a wider range of issues such as sexuality, abortion rights, violence against women etc. The third wave which began around the 1990s, broadened the movement which had begun in the affluent western countries, to include women from different parts of the world. It recognized the fact that women cannot be considered as a unified whole and in different parts of the world and in different communities, their needs and ways of oppression are different. From here on feminism does not have a single definition. The movement becomes more individualized in the sense that a single voice of feminism does not attempt speak for all women, but women speak for themselves. This also means that a woman’s ability to exercise choice becomes more important than anything else. The Fourth wave which began around 2012 is majorly dedicated to abolishing the rape culture, justice for rape victims etc. #metoo campaign that we saw last year and the protests in support of the Delhi gang rape victim in 2012 are all part of the fourth wave of feminism.

While this is the path that western feminism has taken, in other parts of the world, the different waves of feminism are still in motion. As I wrote in an earlier post, Saudi women just won voting rights and they have a long struggle in front of them. In this context, a guardian article argued that feminism now prioritizes gender identity over bread and butter issues. Thinking in that vein, it can be said that feminism itself isn’t as important as bread and butter issues, right? It is this kind of ‘hierarchy’ among social causes that relegates feminism to some kind of elite activism, which it is not and should never be.

I also acknowledge all those people who do great work for women, but refuse to call themselves feminists.  What is important is that the female condition gets better. However, I am still wondering what’s in a label? Exactly. Let’s hope that this year Feminism becomes a less threatening word.

 

Posted in Feminism

The Educated Indian Woman

Are educated Indian women more well off than their grandmothers in terms of quality of life, choices, societal expectations, etc?  The right kind of education shatters many oppressive ideas one grows up with and for Indian women that has actually become a problem. Because in India these ideas remain within the walls of the university, women are clueless as to how to respond when they get home and are faced with the same oppressive ideas they had been asked to unlearn at university.

Indian women have come a long way since being cooped up at home all day long and dying on their husband’s pyre.  Now most middle class Indian women are also breadwinners and add significant amount of money to the family income. And since they have to work, they are also educated at the best universities. On the whole it would seem like a great time to be born an Indian woman. However this very notion of the ‘liberated Indian woman’ has become a bane for the actual educated Indian women. Middle class Indian parents do not recognize the need for feminism or feminists in their households because they assume that they are being very progressive by giving education to their daughters. Though it is undeniably progressive by national and international standards, this very education stifles and restricts women more than ever before.

While their parents expect them to study in a way that secures them a job, educated girls explore a world of ideas, possibilities and choices that they had never been ‘granted’ before. While in the university they discuss freedom, choice and all the ‘-isms’ that matter today, they come home to find that their parents are merely waiting for them to secure a job before they can be married off. This utter disregard and lack of validation for their ideas and opinions at home can be extremely depressing and oppressive to these women who have scored marks at university for the very same ideas. The difference between home and university can be so huge that women are forced to select between these worlds and because of the cultural setup, many of them end up choosing home over university.

The condition of the women who work is deplorable because while women have entered what were traditionally men’s fields, the reverse has not happened. This disparity has a huge consequence on the workload of women who are now expected to work two full time jobs – one at work and one at home. Half a century earlier, women used to slave at home and now they slave at both work and home and have to do a great job at it ( lest they be termed the careless, irresponsible mother or the inefficient employee ). In Kerala, an Indian state which is exceptional in terms of Human Development Indices, women chopping vegetables on the train for dinner as they go home at the end of a long day, is a common sight. So many women walk this tightrope and some of them know that they don’t have to, but they still do.

Sometimes having jobs does not imply that women get to keep them. In several upper middle class homes, depending on where her husband’s job is and on the transferability of her job, almost always the woman quits her job to live with her husband. It is also a very logical decision because obviously the husband always earns more than the wife. In these kind of arranged marriages , having a job increases the prospective groom traffic to a girl’s house, the same reason why most girls are taught classical music and dance (Apart from competition with the neighbour’s kid).

Thus, education in present day India produces a generation of highly frustrated women who are stuck between the worlds of university and home, unable to express themselves because of the cultural baggage that forces them to acquiesce to their parent’s wishes. So, in a middle class Indian home, education acts as an ornament worn by girl to attract suitors in her direction or it is a result of the financial need to have two working adults to cover the family expenses and is definitely not aimed with liberating women. Liberation is the unwanted child.

Posted in Feminism

Are You a Feminist??

The inevitable contortions in expression,the look of disapproval or even disappointment – you have probably faced all this when you reveal to people that you are a feminist.

The feminist struggle is nowhere near the end and people still question the need for the movement. Is the same true for every other movement for social justice?

In India, the word communist was never a taboo. Despite its embarrassing failures almost everywhere, Communism is still a positive word and reminds people of the charismatic leaders like Che Guevara, Gorbachev, Lenin, the power of the words like revolution and proletarians. Apart from academicians and American presidents who have criticized Communism, the word never was a taboo among the general populace. In India, where communists never had central power, most university students call themselves communist- in fact communism is viewed as a sign of intelligence. Whereas feminism draws all kinds of reactions from people- from old women behaving like they just heard a cuss word to young men who deem it another of those fads that ‘their women’ won’t indulge in.

Feminism simply aims to end the influence of patriarchy and transform the world into one where men and women have equal access to opportunities and have the freedom of choice. It sounds like a very noble cause to me. Feminism has achieved innumerable feats in different societies around the world. There are feminists working in all parts of the world, employing the version of feminism needed in that particular society. For example, a year before America came ‘dangerously’ close to having a female president, women in Saudi Arabia voted for the first time in the country’s history.

So why do people have to so cautious about the word or even admitting to the fact that they are feminists?  Every movement has the extremists and the moderates and every combination which falls in between. Communists are quick to defend their extremist groups saying they do not represent communists; nor do people really think they do. Though feminism and communism fight against oppression, there is an imperceptible, but inherent difference between the two- The proletarians consist of men, but in the case of feminism, theoretically, all the men are on the other side. Revolution to overthrow the massive feudal powers is exactly what working class needs, but the need for a revolution inside their own homes is something that they cannot yet digest or comprehend.

The reason feminists aren’t as popular as human rights activists or animal rights activists or communists is because they are a threat to a social order that has existed from before gods were invented, from the time man settled down to farm or maybe even before that. Nobody knows. Also, there has been a methodical backlash movement to vilify feminists – the bra burning feminists are one such example. Bra burning feminists never really burnt bras- they wanted to, but they didn’t.  Now, talking about man-hating feminists- there are no man- hating feminists. Even if there are a few of them, they are wrong about it because many of us have great men in our lives. Finally, addressing the myth that all feminists are lesbians- there have been a few feminists who advocated lesbianism. However, all feminists are not lesbians and being lesbian is not a crime (It is in India, though)

If you have any more doubts about the legitimacy of this movement, look up the meaning of feminism in the dictionary and if you get interested, there are great books out there on feminism.

Posted in Feminism

The Ethics of Shaming

The Name and Shame campaign on Facebook was started by Raya Sarkar, an Indian law student studying in the U.S.  This campaign lead to feminists doubting their ideals; several veteran feminists drew flak from younger women for not supporting the campaign and on the whole shook up the ‘Who is a Feminist’ debate all over again. The campaign circulated lists of professors in the Indian academia who were purportedly sexual harassers, while the accusers remained anonymous. The names were collected by Sarkar and her friends from Indian students who sent her texts on Whatsapp and Email naming the professors who had abused them. Feminists in India have been divided on the issue and for more information on the debate, I have included some links at the end of the post.

This campaign came after the #metoo campaign which received an overwhelming response from women who have been sexually harassed. While the #metoo campaign was about showing solidarity with women who had been sexually harassed, the Name and Shame campaign gets into unchartered territory by accusing people of harassment without any proof whatsoever.  When an individual is named and shamed publicly, it becomes a transgression of his rights. Guilty until proven innocent is clearly against the spirit of any constitution.  Raya Sarkar says that this list was prepared in order to warn women against these dangerous professors. However, women have been warning each other of predatory men for centuries in whispers. This list, which in Sarkar’s words is ‘not aimed at institutional action’ just encourages the tendency to keep quiet and whisper among themselves in the face of sexual harassment.  In my opinion, this list is a huge distraction from the debate surrounding sexual harassment and impunity of the assailants. And it led to feminists justifying why they are still feminists.

The reason for such a list or a measure, if one can call it that, emerged because of the difficulties women face while reporting a harassment case in an academic institution. There are several factors which make it terribly hard if not impossible for a girl to report sexual harassment – many a time the authorities don’t take the victim or her complaint seriously. Most universities have an ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) which tries to hush up the case and protect the academician, and then there is always the trauma and taboo associated with going public about a sexual harassment case. Lack of proof in such cases also leads to the dismissal of these cases.

Having explained the reason why such a campaign might be initiated, it does not justify the campaign itself. The list merely sidetracks the national debate on sexual harassment into a debate on the rationale and ethical consequences behind a list of professors accused of sexual harassment by anonymous people. And I am a young feminist who thinks ‘due process’ must be followed.

It is not that online campaigns and petitions are not effective; it is just that this particular campaigner who happens to be a law student couldn’t care less about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also, like I said earlier, women have always warned other women of dangerous men; however this confidence is based on trust which this campaign is in dire need of.

For more information:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/karthikshankar/why-i-published-a-list-of-sexual-predators-in-academia?utm_term=.it2qkx8q7#.dg5ELYPEK

https://kafila.online/2017/10/24/statement-by-feminists-on-facebook-campaign-to-name-and-shame/

 

 

Posted in Feminism

Women and Shopping

My friend forwarded a ‘women and shopping’ joke on Women’s day. I lost it and I gave him a lecture on feminism. Now you might think that I was over reacting because somehow those jokes are everywhere and I should probably just get over it. I am not offended by them ( only because I have become immune to them), but I decided that I should explain the origins of and problems with these jokes. No doubt some of those jokes are funny and have a grain of truth in them. However, I have two problems with these jokes- Firstly, I belong to the group of women who don’t go crazy about shopping and secondly, what is so bad about shopping?

What people should realize is that there are historical reasons for almost everything including women and their preoccupation with their body. From the time humans settled into agricultural societies, women have been domesticated along with dogs, sheep etc. From then on, women have been dependent on men for their survival because he was in control of the food his family ate. The institution of marriage was also born out of this domestication. Marriage almost always referred to polygamy which meant a man could have multiple wives while a woman could never marry multiple men. When these women had to compete for their husband’s attention, physical attractiveness became the single demarcating feature or the yardstick to measure the worth of a woman. Women did not have education, money or status- she just possessed a body. Now, does it still seem strange that women are generally more conscious about their looks than men?  If you say that women care about ‘superficial’ things in life, I would say that they were forced to.

One could argue that times have changed and women don’t have to be so conscious about their bodies anymore. But the practice of dowry brings back the yardstick of ‘beauty’ in full glory. Let me give you a very obvious example.

Recently, a book recommended for a reputed college in Bangalore, listed some advantages of dowry. One of them was as follows-

The marriage of ugly girls, who otherwise would have gone without a partner, is made possible by offering a heavy amount of dowry

For a moment there, I was speechless. But then, I realized that it was the truth. ‘Ugly’ would translate to being dark skinned or being on the heavy side. India is a land of contrasts- However fat or dark the guy is, he would still prefer and almost always marry a fair skinned girl. Apparently, over 90 percent of Indian women cite skin lightening as a high need area.  Dark girls want to become fair and fair girls think they are not fair enough. It’s ridiculous and not so ridiculous that we have a problem with the skin we are born in.

So, girls in India, from their childhood, are prepared to be the perfect brides of tomorrow (reminds me of Broiler chicken!). Dark girls are encouraged to apply turmeric for better, fairer skin and the aunts who seem to have nothing else to do keep remarking, “Your colour has worsened or improved”. So I realized in the course of writing this post, that even though monogamy has become the rule in most communities, the historical reason that I mentioned earlier is an ongoing problem. In India it is almost a matter of survival, because unmarried women are shunned by Indian society.

Women are never allowed to forget that they are women, just like how people belonging to the lower castes can never forget their caste- someone or something constantly reminds them.  So women and shopping are not jokes, they are remnants of a survival tactic to stay relevant.

Until little girls can grow up with Barbie dolls and family members that/who, don’t make them hate their own body, the situation will be no different. Also, not having financial independence takes women back to the beginning of agricultural society, minus the polygamy, I hope.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Feminism, Uncategorized

Child’s Play

In the ‘third’ world, one of the most common reasons for death of teenage girls is pregnancy and childbirth. Last week, the supreme court of India figured in international headlines for ruling that having sex, even consensual, with a girl below the age of 18, regardless of whether she is married or not ( which as you know is illegal, but is still very prevalent) will be considered rape. The ruling also specifies that this applies to all faiths.  Child marriages are very prevalent in India. It is more openly done in rural areas , where more than half the women are married before they are 18.

Reading up about age of marriage in different countries and different religions, I discovered that many countries allow teenagers to get married, with their parent’s consent.  In many Islamic countries, it is a norm to marry off girls as soon as they hit puberty. Well, I do not want to think about my mental maturity at 14 and did you say marriage?  But one should not assume that this is the case with everyone.  Officially, in India, every risky or potentially harmful activity like driving, voting or marriage requires that you are above 18 years of age.

For the urban population which is most likely to read this post, child marriages are the most common occurrences in rural areas, just like matrimonial sites in the urban areas, unbelievable yet quite common.  45 percent of the girls in the 14 years-17 years age bracket are married off in the rural areas of India. In states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, 80 percent of the girls are married off before the legal age of marriage.

Mental maturity or mental problems in general are usually not considered important or worthy of discussion in most Indian homes. Consulting a counselor makes me sure that you have gone mad. World mental health day came and went this week, and India remained indifferent. Studies suggest that child brides routinely suffer from Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) owing to alien, scary things that happen to them after marriage.  Several studies show that child brides are more prone to HIV-AIDS; their infant and maternal mortality rate is high, which is obvious as the average age of pregnancy is 15 years. An early marriage also limits their access to education, curtails their freedom and also makes them more susceptible to domestic violence.

There are others who say that marriage is done to curb a girl’s sexual needs, so that she doesn’t lose control and forget the invisible but visible wall between her and the guy next door. If marriage is a license to have sex, then are we taught about sex? I think parents leave sex education of their kids to the community in the traditional tribal style of community upbringing.  In the urban school that I studied, teachers repeatedly skipped the chapters dealing with reproductive organs and sex. So there is no legitimate way to learn about sex in India, other than crouching under school benches with books like Godfather (This was before Chetan Bhagat). In 2016, India’s then health minister Harsh Vardhan opined in a blog that sex education should be banned in India. Then there are other ministers who say that sex education would uproot the ‘values’ from the Vedic culture. I am sure that explains the rape culture as well.

This enforced ignorance with regard to sex and their rights cripple the lives of these girls who will never know that they are being wronged. Also, before they are mentally or emotionally prepared for marriage or childbearing, they are married off citing reasons of security. The question is what or who are we protecting them from? To me, it does seem like the girls are safer and happier in their own homes.

Sure, there are economic reasons for child marriage, but the cultural ones cannot be ignored. The culture of banning sex education and marrying girls off before they can begin to think on their own is definitely has a patriarchal agenda behind it. It makes these child brides helpless, inaccessible and essentially trapped in their miserable lives. If it could be blamed solely on economic reasons, then equipping these girls to have a steady job of some sort would bring in more money rather than losing a fortune as dowry. This just goes on to show the hypocritical nature of most things we refuse to change in the name of culture.

So, the supreme court ruling is definitely a step in the right direction- but the question remains that will a child bride go to the police to complain against her husband, or rather, can she?