The most basic definition of the word feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights with respect to gender equality.
History of Feminism in India
Feminism is used as an active tool to represent the interests and gender disparity of the upper-middle and upper-class women in India. Women from lower and underprivileged classes aren’t included in the definition yet. Simply because the term does not exist in their world, the concept is not broken down to yet. They may not understand how to use feminism as a tool to challenge the patriarchal system of a male-dominated household, workplace and society in India. Education on feminism is essential as most people have an established preconceived notion on the subject without any evidence or scientific perspective. On the flipside, if an individual does happen to be well informed, the focus of the conversation shifts. Trending topics include urban disparities such as glass ceilings, discrimination, etc. between men and women.
A walk down memory lane.
To understand feminism in its entirety, we have to go way back. Starting with the history of oppression of women in India because “text without context is pretext”. This is not going to be a history course on feminism and gender studies. Rather, an informative section of historical facts that every individual must read to help stay in context on the subject of feminism in India.
The sacrifice of women, quite literally.
Sati is the practice of a widow (only women) immolating herself in her husband’s funeral pyre, as was Hindu tradition. This went on for nearly 2400 years. Sati existed in ancient India and evidence based on reports from Alexander’s (‘The Great’) army Generals stated that the subcontinent practiced Sati in the year 400 B.C. The last recorded case of Sati was in 1987 where an 18-year old Roop Kanwar was immolated in Rajasthan. The in-laws that were responsible for forcing Roop to commit suicide were acquitted in 2004, which makes no sense. Many other suspected cases of Sati have happened as recently as of 2015.
When a girl child, means no child.
As much as I’d hate to accept it, sex-selective abortion is still prevalent in some parts of the country where cultural norms value male children over female children. This is indicative in the child sex ratios between male and female children. Haryana, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat have the highest sex ratio of males to females (120-116 boys for every 100 girls) in India. According to data provided by MacPherson, Indian families abort nearly 1,00,000 fetuses every year because the child is female. That’s all it takes. And if things couldn’t get worse, the mindless creatures who still support female foeticide also have the audacity to complain about not having enough women to marry. A few years ago, a story was covered on four brothers that had married the same girl. In 2013, a similar story emerged from Dehradun, where a woman married five brothers and slept with a different one every night. Yes, let that sink in.
Soulmates with a price tag.
Dowry. A word usually used by an imbecile trying to say that a woman isn’t enough. The woman’s parents have to provide money or something of monetary value to compensate for what she may lack. Now, do you see why people didn’t (and some still don’t) want a female child? No, you don’t. But that’s what it was back then. She was seen as an expense because of dowry. He was seen as the breadwinner that will earn for the family.
So none of this really adds up. Ancient literature, poems and architecture seem to have depicted women as divine, holy figures. Yet, women are not welcomed in temples, all mosques, and other holy places of worship because a woman undergoes menstruation. What does the natural biology cycle of a woman have anything to do with where she can or cannot be? Ridiculous. Everything said up until now, screams women oppression. You may notice child marriage is missing, but that needs an article of its own because Muslim Personal Law still permits a child under the age of 18 to be married.
Sadly, we’re not alone.
Oppression of women is not only prevalent in India, but in many parts of the world. Especially in developing countries with a relatively low GDP. Oppression can take several forms. And with everything, our society has shaped the definition of what Feminism does and means in India today. Coming up is part 2, as I cover how Feminists in India struggle hard and fight for the right to work for equal wages, equal political rights, equal access to education, and much more than we can possibly imagine.