Gendered Spaces in India

Pranita Choudhry

Examining the spatial exclusion of Women in India

According to the latest census, in India, there are currently 37 million men in excess of women. A country that experiences the giant gender gap in population, also has an equally large gender gap in employment where only 20% women currently participate in the labour market (according to world bank data). India’s performance is among the lowest globally with stark comparisons to its neighbours: 36% in Bangladesh, 59% in China, and 35% in Sri Lanka and 80% women in Nepal are currently in formal employment. This is in the vicinity of 80% for men according to an ILO report. The reasons for India’s low global ranking are all too well-known and obvious – patriarchal society, preference of sons over daughters, fertility, domestic and care activities. While economic growth and rising overall education levels for women are reasons to celebrate, absorption of women in the labour force through creation of suitable job opportunities has been all too slow. Invisibilisation of women due to economic growth was further achieved through increased household incomes that no longer deemed it necessary for housewives to seek work outside, also known as the “income effect”.

“the majority of the women who do work are mostly concentrated in the informal sector. The jobs they perform are part of the highly labour-intensive informal workspaces including menial work within agriculture, construction, handicrafts, or within home businesses.”

On the other hand, the majority of the women who do work are mostly concentrated in the informal sector. The jobs they perform are part of the highly labour-intensive informal workspaces including menial work within agriculture, construction, handicrafts, or within home businesses. Among the minority who make it to the formal sector, most are performing tasks that are an extension of home duties such as nursing, teaching beauty, healthcare, fashion, textiles, teaching etc. Take the textiles industry, for example, where 71% of the workforce according to a World Bank report are women, but where they are subjected to low pay, extensive hours, exploitation and bad working conditions. Women’s primary role in society is seen as that of a ‘caregiver’, therefore even professionally they are engaging in activities that are an extension of the home. Professionals or homemakers, they are never excused from taking on the burden of household chores and responsibility as caregivers to children and the elderly. 

“On average, women do one hour less of productive work as compared to men, and yet are responsible for three times more home-bound care work.”

On average, women do one hour less of productive work as compared to men, and yet are responsible for three times more home-bound care work. Take a look at the graph below that showcases the Female to Male ratio in terms of the time devoted to unpaid care work i.e. domestic and household chores as well as care activities for children and elderly. Amongst the highest in the world are Pakistan and India where women devote 10.25 and 9.83 hours for every hour devoted by men (respectively).

Deshpande, A. and Kabeer, N. (2019) (In)Visibility, Care and Cultural Barriers. The size and shape of women’s work in India (with Ashwini Deshpande) Discussion Paper Series in Economics DP 04/19. Department of Economics, Ashoka University.

While this has shifted slightly in urban spaces, the status quo remains in rural areas. Even in urban areas, policies and compliance is meagre especially in the informal sector and thinking about alternative careers such as those in manufacturing or technology is a distant reality.

The spaces that women claim are largely private. At the end of the day, it’s all a tussle between the public and private spaces and how power is experienced and negotiated within them that creates the silent rules we adhere to in our jobs, relationships, and interactions as a society. Take a look at the picture below of a small village in Bihar, India.

If you visit the interiors of India, you will see this as a common sight. While girls are tasked with commuting from home, holding containers of material or water, often several times a day, boys are found out playing, being with friends, or just running on the streets, just being who they’re supposed to be – children. In other words, you would see boys claiming the public spaces early on, while girls are restricted to private “for their own safety”. The only times they must only be out is to study or related to housework. Here’s another image that’s not specific to rural areas, but all around us.

As I ventured into the rural spaces, I was struck by how hard women worked all day long, engaged in agriculture work day after day as well as performing household duties, ready to forego any payments or rights. While their husbands often roamed about in the evenings to visit their friends or drink at the local pub, women often spent their evenings ensuring the rest of the family members, including the livestock, are well-fed and taken care of. This is an accepted form of behaviour instilled early on in life. Most women I spoke to expressed their discontent at the unfairness of it all, but simply didn’t want to voice their unhappiness from the fear of bringing shame to the family. I noticed they continued to treat their sons differently, maybe unintentionally, contributing to this vicious cycle. It demonstrates the deep-rooted acceptance of norms that dictate our behaviour and accepted both by the oppressed and the oppressor, that leads to the inter-generational repetition and continuation of the status quo, in rural and urban spaces.

“it’s not about the immediate monetary benefits but the consequential and intergenerational impacts on the lives of women and children. Empowerment is a holistic concept that cuts across the economic, social and political realms. It’s not just about getting job opportunities, but to be in an environment that’s productive, safe, and where women have the freedom to make their own choices.”

But isn’t it a woman’s duty to take care of her children and elders? why should they be paid for the tasks that they do for their family? Well, it’s not about the immediate monetary benefits but the consequential and intergenerational impacts on the lives of women and children. Empowerment is a holistic concept that cuts across the economic, social and political realms. It’s not just about getting job opportunities, but to be in an environment that’s productive, safe, and where women have the freedom to make their own choices. Gender norms dictate that claiming public spaces is considered desirable, attractive, challenging and ambitious, and are largely “masculine”, while being in the private sphere, no matter how much work you do, is considered feminine, a duty that’s taken for granted, in some instances leading to ill-treatment and exploitation. It’s about control. Take a look at the positioning and space distribution below which was completely unplanned and in fact but took place organically, reflective of the power dynamics.

“Power is exerted in many ways, one of them being “dismissal”. The collective acceptance of a narrative by those in positions of power, mostly men in senior leadership positions, political leaders, and at a micro-level considered heads of households, are often quick to dismiss or are inconsiderate to any other voices or viewpoints and assume the role of a decision-maker. It’s a system that seeks conformity rather than rewards creativity.”

Power is exerted in many ways, one of them being “dismissal”. The collective acceptance of a narrative by those in positions of power, mostly men in senior leadership positions, political leaders, and at a micro-level considered heads of households, are often quick to dismiss or are inconsiderate to any other voices or viewpoints and assume the role of a decision-maker. It’s a system that seeks conformity rather than rewards creativity. Their dominant presence in the public spaces is what leads to an insecure and unsafe space for women, who face eve-teasing and harassment, and thus have to constantly sacrifice their share of freedom & mobility to participate in the workforce. When taking a non-binary gender view, the experiences of those from the LGBTQIA communities who face violence and discrimination are nerve-racking and are immensely invisible. On other hand, the well-meaning male allies try they find it hard to make changes given the deep-rooted structural shifts that are needed.

The only solution to breaking this imbalance is for more and more women and girls to step into the public sphere and are well-supported to do so. However, with expectations around marriage, fertility, and care responsibilities, the challenge for us today is to facilitate this process and ensure they enter and then remain in the workforce. As the Economist, Amartya Sen explained, women can become agents of change only if certain conditions are fulfilled – they acquire more than basic education; they have an independent income; they have land rights; and that they have the freedom to work outside the house. However, when it is achieved, it brings about development not just for women themselves but others too. On average, countries with greater female labor force participation generally see later marriages, fewer children, better nutrition and school enrolment, and higher gross domestic product, according to the World Bank. There is also research that suggests that choices made by women’s groups not only led to empowerment for women themselves but greater development for children’s education and health, and the community at large.  

“The female labour force participation rate was the highest at 33% in 1972-73, and has been declining ever since.”

The female labour force participation rate was the highest at 33% in 1972-73, and has been declining ever since. Therefore, the challenge is real, to drive women from the “Private” to the “Public”. Unfortunately, there isn’t any quick fix to a problem this deep-rooted and ingrained. A change to this lopsided social structure will manifest only if we put in place certain provisions and solutions that are unconventional and multi-dimensional. At a policy and systemic level, change takes time and various initiatives are underway to influence policy change by organisations such as Sewa Mandir that unionised workers.. At an organisational level, some evidence-based initiatives seem to have worked in the west in the formal sector that may help lead the way towards increasing and sustenance of the labour force participation rate for women. Provisions such as having work-life balance policies in the workplace, effective protections against dismissal for pregnant women, shared parental leave, flexible working arrangements, company provided care services, a robust workplace harassment policy are some of the ways to help women continue being in the workforce. Having mentors and role models is crucial to help access the next stage, and to chart a path less travelled before and keep confidence and self-esteem high. 

While the gaps are structural with empty policies, profit-seeking corporations, poor implementation of laws, or political will, it is as much about changing individual behaviours, mindsets, attitudes, that rests upon us. We as citizens must keep our eyes open and intentions intact by ensuring we put in place a safe and dignified working environment, policies and contracts for staff members, domestic workers, part-time employees, ensure protection in the workplace, and have borders that are defined for our “employees” and not “servants”. Within the household, it is to encourage boys and adult men to teach their children that it is valuable to do “house” work, and a necessary aspect of being truly “independent” and “empowered”. It isn’t enough for men to think and say they “let” their partners work and that they are empowered because they have a job, it will take an equal division of labour both at work and at home. For women to claim public spaces, they need their partners and allies to pick up the slack in the private spaces, only then will the balance be restored.

“The labour force participation of women is lower by 0.3% as a result of the pandemic and girls are dropping out of schools where 37% from poor households in India are at risk of leaving behind their education, and more and more women are at risk of experiencing domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Others are pushed into early marriage or teenage pregnancies. 2.5 million girls globally are at risk of child marriage, India being one of the worst.”

To top it all off, the imbalance recently has further been exacerbated by the pandemic. The labour force participation of women is lower by 0.3% as a result of the pandemic and girls are dropping out of schools where 37% from poor households in India are at risk of leaving behind their education, and more and more women are at risk of experiencing domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Others are pushed into early marriage or teenage pregnancies. 2.5 million girls globally are at risk of child marriage, India being one of the worst. These are areas of work being taken up by various charities, NGOs and multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and other civil society actors. While many of us may not be able to shift these outcomes by ourselves, being part of the larger interventions and contributing is the need of the hour. In addition, there are things we can do and changes we can make within our own lives to contribute to a fight that needs our contribution. The pandemic has indeed offered us a unique opportunity, as we stay at home, to truly re-imagine our roles and contribute equally to all household chores to ensure we aren’t just advocates but practitioners of equality. 

Pranita is an international development professional, writer and activist, working with charities and not-for-profits, specialising in research and evaluation in youth development, gender and inclusion.

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Is Contemporary Feminism Radical Enough?

Raavya Bhattacharyya

Examining the digital-age ideas of feminism, where they stand in historical context and why they fail to challenge patriarchal capitalism

The feminist movement has consistently evolved to show the world the many ways in which women have been discriminated against and made to feel like lesser beings. Each wave of feminism emerged with its concerns – voting rights, equal pay, workplace rights, reproductive rights, and so on. Right from when it began in the early twentieth century, the movement allowed women to awaken to the systemic injustice that was all around them, the kind of injustice many of them had learned to internalise. This collective angst had finally manifested itself into philosophy and an ideology that placed women at the forefront, recognising them as human beings capable of living a life of dignity without male intervention. Women wanted to be seen as individuals with rights of their own, deserving of equality and respect. After centuries of oppression, women were finally examining their lived experiences to see how much was being withheld from them. 

“At home, in the workplace, and nearly every sphere of society, women are viewed as the weaker sex who are always in need of male guidance and are incapable of making their own decisions. These sexist beliefs have stripped women of their agency and their rights.” 

The core principle of feminism, as feminist author Bell Hooks succinctly describes in her book ‘Feminism Is For Everybody’, is “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” She’s careful to explain that sexism is the enemy, “all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult.” As a belief, sexism inherently privileges one sex over the other. For centuries, the world has privileged men and their experiences over women. At home, in the workplace, and nearly every sphere of society, women are viewed as the weaker sex who are always in need of male guidance and are incapable of making their own decisions. These sexist beliefs have stripped women of their agency and their rights. 

In the first few phases of feminism, women had concrete issues to tackle, problems that needed fixing in the form of new laws and policy change. Years of struggle saw a significant amount of change, women were finally given rights that men had taken for granted. But for many women, these changes in law and order never seemed to reach the world they were living in. Despite societal proclamations of emancipation and empowerment, women were still regarded as the inferior gender. Feminist scrutiny and inquiry had to take on new forms to understand complex gender dynamics. Feminists were interrogating social and cultural systems to understand how inequality and sexism were still intact despite changing laws and policies that were in favour of women. 

Where does modern-day feminism stand?

Modern-day feminism prides itself on being inclusive after having tackled major conflicts and contradictions the earlier waves had. The rise of choice feminism saw women reclaiming their agency, supposedly liberated from the shackles of patriarchy. The assumption was that the ability to make any kind of choice is a form of absolute and complete empowerment. What we tend to overlook is that choice doesn’t necessarily imply a decision free from patriarchal conditioning. As choice feminism has grown in popularity, there has been a visible shift towards a kind of feminism that is accessible to a fault. 

“Social media has been instrumental in peddling a watered-down, ‘accessible’ version of feminism. This kind of feminism seems to pride itself in brandishing catch-phrases like ‘girl-power’ without any real exploration of where women stand today or the kind of new struggles they face and how feminists must work to abolish them.”

Social media has been instrumental in peddling a watered-down, “accessible” version of feminism. This kind of feminism seems to pride itself in brandishing catch-phrases like “girl-power” without any real exploration of where women stand today or the kind of new struggles they face and how feminists must work to abolish them. The birth of a consumerist form of feminism, a kind that distances itself from nuance and exists solely for temporary placation is our biggest challenge, one we need to overcome to understand that the inherent discrimination between genders still exists. Our capitalist society has comfortably bought into this accessible version of feminism because it serves their agenda, there are now more things to “sell” to women, a way to monetise a movement that has always been against the very system of reduction and objectification. 

Decades of living within a system that privileges men and their needs over women has resulted in many women perpetuating the very biases they’re so sure of having rid themselves of. An important example here is that of women’s beauty and grooming. Beauty standards for women are incredibly unrealistic, but so many of us, despite calling ourselves feminists, give in to them. We call it our ‘choice’ when we get rid of body hair, our ‘choice’ when we spend time obsessing over how good or bad we’re looking, constantly worried about being ‘appealing’ enough. A closer examination of these choices will reveal our internalised misogyny, the diminished ways in which we regard ourselves because of the way we look. What does ‘appealing’ mean? What does it have to say about the culture of shame and stigma the beauty industry has taught women to accept as part of themselves? 

Existing power structures that uphold patriarchy are alive and well, while we’ve made tremendous strides in women empowerment, we still have a long way to go. Class, race, caste, and socio-economic challenges add to the layers of disadvantage to many women. These women don’t have platforms to show the world the struggles they go through every day. Dalit women in rural India are at the mercy of the upper caste, routinely harassed by them, on the basis of their caste and their gender. These women also face discrimination within their households, bound by strict gender roles. Mainstream media is selective in its outrage which is why these women continue to be victims of cyclical oppression. 

“Intersectional feminism has consistently highlighted the importance of inclusion in the larger feminist movement, the need for voices of women who are victims of ‘double-oppression’ as a result of their gender and race/class or caste to be heard.”

Intersectional feminism has consistently highlighted the importance of inclusion in the larger feminist movement, the need for voices of women who are victims of “double-oppression” as a result of their gender and race/class or caste to be heard. These women are doubly exploited – first on the basis of their gender and then on the basis of their socio-economic status, race, ethnicity and other social identities. American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectional feminism in 1989 to describe how the overlap of social identities was responsible for “compounding experiences of discrimination.” She explains that intersectional feminism is “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. All inequality is not created equal.”

Women in rural India are still victims of brutal, regressive caste-based traditions that offer them no room for free thought and action. The latest data shows that four Dalit women are raped everyday, with many being raped on multiple occasions. Crimes against Dalit women are the highest as compared to all crimes committed against members of the scheduled cast. Gender-based violence persists, unchecked, at an alarming rate. Estimates show that  35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. The stifling continues, but tokenisms on social media and the blatant commercialisation of ‘empowerment’ will have us believe that we’ve achieved all that we set out to. 

Choice feminism needs to be re-examined and questioned

Feminist author Jessa Crispin addresses similar concerns in her polemic essay “Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto”. She writes: “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 patriarchal capitalism.” Crispin also sees choice feminism as inherently individualistic, a kind of feminism that is satisfied with token gestures in one’s personal life that only mimic true empowerment but still function within the accepted norms of patriarchy. We’re so consumed with “living our best life” and making choices that we think are radical that we don’t interrogate our mind-sets, our reasons for being and deciding. “Choice feminism blocks any discussion about consequences of how people choose to live their lives. Because the choice itself is feminist,” Crispin notes.

“Gender equality has not been normalised. Modern-day feminism has diluted many of the core, radical ideas that shone when the feminist movement first began. Early waves of feminism were focused on bringing down a capitalist, patriarchal society that privileged men and awarded them unchecked power.”

Many women feel a kind of dissonance when they look at the world around them. Posters proudly declare “the future is female” but women still have to “break the glass ceiling”, they still have to battle anxiety when they step out of their homes at night. They see women in positions of power struggle to consistently prove their mettle, they’re reminded every day what a “privilege” it is to even occupy such a role. Gender equality has not been normalised. Modern-day feminism has diluted many of the core, radical ideas that shone when the feminist movement first began. Early waves of feminism were focused on bringing down a capitalist, patriarchal society that privileged men and awarded them unchecked power. Feminism wanted women to have platforms that gave them the opportunity to make their own decisions while also promoting critical thinking. The fight for equal pay, reproductive rights and the right to education took place right beside the fight for a world that reimagined gender. Questioning and interrogating our corrupt, power-hungry social systems has always been intrinsic to feminism. 

Now we seem to be more interested in how a largely unjust system finds a way to benefit us instead of working to dismantle that very system, to question its immorality and the way it upholds oppression in the most insidious of ways. 

“Women empowerment is not solely about choice and agency, it is about a deeper investigation of the place of women in society, it is understanding that oppression can sometimes look a lot like freedom. A reclamation is essential, a need to make feminism political again, to make it more than the hollow shell it is becoming.”

Today, we need feminism more than ever to start conversations that have slowly been forgotten, buried under a shiny veneer of what we assume women empowerment to be. Our fight against patriarchy continues. We have to battle uncomfortable questions about the lives we lead as women that we wake up to the everyday and the casual sexism that relentlessly persists. We have to call out systems of oppression that don’t allow women a way out of their lives of misery. Women empowerment is not solely about choice and agency, it is about a deeper investigation of the place of women in society, it is understanding that oppression can sometimes look a lot like freedom. A reclamation is essential, a need to make feminism political again, to make it more than the hollow shell it is becoming. Our revolution must begin in our personal spaces where we reject patriarchy’s idea of liberated women. “Feminist thinking teaches us all,” as Bell Hooks says “especially, how to love justice and freedom in ways that foster and affirm life.”

Raavya is a pop-culture nerd who lives and breathes books and cinema. An unrelenting feminist, she hopes to change regressive mindsets through the written word.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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खोता हुआ हमारा अस्तित्व

अपूर्बा बी

रिश्तेदार, परिजन, सहपाठियों, अध्यापकों के असंवेदनशील, आक्रमणशील और निर्मम प्रश्न, टिप्पणियां और कसे हुए तंज सुनते सुनते अब कान थक चुके हैं लेकिन हौसले नहीं टूटे।

पहली बार इन्हें सुन कर मेरे मन मे क्रोध की भावनाओं ने जन्म लिया था लेकिन अब ये सब कुछ मेरे लिए हास्यास्पद हो चुका है।

ये सिलसिला तब से शुरू होता है जब 2011 में  मेरी माँ ने इस दुनियां को हमेशा-हमेशा के लिए अलविदा कह दिया। उनके इंतक़ाल की वजह कैंसर थी। तब मैं मात्र चौदह वर्ष की थी और मेरे दसवीं के बोर्ड्स आने वाले थे। माँ के इंतक़ाल से पहले यूं तो हमारे परिवार के हालातों की किसी को चिंता नहीं थी और ना ही खबर। लेकिन उनके जाने के बाद अचानक हर किसी को यह चिंता सताने लगी कि मेरी परवरिश पर क्या असर पड़ेगा। आखिर कौन मुझे “संस्कार” देगा, मेरी शादी कैसे होगी, कही अपने पिता के छत्रछाया में आकर में “लड़कों जैसी” ना हो जाऊं वगेरह वगेरह। हर कोई पिताजी पर दूसरी शादी कर लेने का सुझाव कुछ इस प्रकार बरसा रहे थे जैसे बम्बई की बारिश हो, दोनों ही  रुकने का नाम नहीं लेते हैं। हालांकि इतने दबाव के बावजूद भी उन्होंने  कभी दूसरी शादी करने का  ख्याल भी अपने मन मे लाना ज़रूरी नहीं समझा।

हर किसी की एक ही दलील थी, “मास्टरजी, आपकी ज़रूरते कैसी पूरी होंगी, बच्ची को संस्कार कौन देगा, घर का ख्याल कौन रखेगा”, और उनके “सुझाव” नाजायज़ भी तो नहीं, आखिरकार भारतीय समाज में  एक औरत की हस्ती भी तो ना के  बराबर होती है।

हर किसी की एक ही दलील थी, “मास्टरजी, आपकी ज़रूरते कैसी पूरी होंगी, बच्ची को संस्कार कौन देगा, घर का ख्याल कौन रखेगा”, और उनके “सुझाव” नाजायज़ भी तो नहीं, आखिरकार भारतीय समाज में  एक औरत की हस्ती भी तो ना के  बराबर होती है।  पैदा होते ही पिता की बात मानो , फिर भाई की बात मानो , शादी हो जाने के बाद पति और ससुराल, खास कर सास जो की खुद भी एक औरत है उनकी  बात भी मानो और अपनी दुनिया  छोड़ कर उनकी दुनिया में समा जाओ और अपना अस्तित्व भूल जाओ, बच्चे जब बड़े हो जाये तब उनकी जरूरतो के हिसाब से अपने आप को ढाल लो जिससे उन्हें तुम्हारे  गैर अस्तित्व से  शर्मिंदगी  ना महसूस हो और  फिर एक दिन यू ही किसी रोज़ हमेशा-हमेशा के लिए खत्म हो जाओ और अगर गलती से भी किसी दिन अपने अस्तित्व के होने को भी याद कर लो तो खत्म कर दिए जाओगे।

हम भारतियों के लिए  हाउसवाइफ शब्द एक बहुत  सीरियस मुद्दा है, वस्तुत: रूप से भी और लाक्षणिक रूप से भी। हमारा ये मानना है कि जब एक औरत की शादी हो जाती है तब उसकी शादी किसी इंसान से नहीं बल्कि एक परिवार से और एक घर से होती है जो कि अंत में  उसे  सिर्फ और सिर्फ एक भोगविलास और दिखावे की वस्तु ही बना कर रख देता है जिसका औहदा उसके शारीरिक स्थिति और गर्भ को ताक़ पर रख कर ही या तो  बढ़ता है या तो घटता है और जब वह उपजाऊ या “दर्शनीय ” नहीं रहती उसे बदल दिया जाता है। एक औरत जन्म के बाद भी अपने घर में  पराये धन की तरह सुशोभित होती है और अपने पति के घर में भी एक किराएदार की भांति ही रहती है जिसे कभी भी निकाला जा सकता है। आभूषण, पैसा और प्रासंगिक रूपी “सम्मान” और “अधिकार” भी जो उसे उसके पति के घर से मिलता है वह भी एक जमाराशि  मात्र होता है,  जैसे अपने घर के अलमारी के किसी कोने में पड़ा कोई पुराना मलमल का कपड़ा हो जिसे कभी-कभार साफ सुथरा करके धूप दिखा कर दुबारा उस ही कोने में पटक दिया जाता है और जब वो कपडा सड़ जाए तब उसे कचरे के डिब्बे में फेंक दिया जाता है जिससे एक नए मलमल के कपड़े के लिए खाली जगह बन जाये।

मैं  इस किस्म की विचारधारा से बिल्कुल ही अपरिचित थी क्योंकि मैंने अपनी माँ को हमेशा एक मनुष्य के रूप में देखा था, क्योंकि वही तो वो थी। मेरे पिताजी भी मेरी माँ से बेहद प्रेम करते थे और पूरे मन से उनका सम्मान करते थे। लेकिन तब मैं पितृसत्ता नामक इस सामाजिक त्रुटि से अनजान थी जिसके लिए स्त्री या तो देवी है नहीं तो पैर की धूल, उसके बीच कुछ भी नहीं।

इस सामाजिक त्रुटि का सामना मुझसे तब हुआ जब कभी मैं अपने पिताजी के साथ किसी  के भी घर  जाया करती थी और उन सभी लोगो का एक ही उपदेश और सवाल होता था कि मेरी माँ का रिप्लेसमेंट( प्रतिस्थापना) कब होगा।

लेकिन मन में  कुछ प्रश्न भी अब सामने आते  है कि ममता जैसी पावन और पवित्र भावना पितृसत्ता और पितृसत्तात्मक विचारधारा से कब जुड़ बैठी? आखिरकार माँ के अभाव से और पिता के प्रभाव से बेटिया कबसे “बिगड़ने” लग गयी? क्या मेरी परिस्थिति और दूसरी “बिन माँ की बेटियों” की परिस्थितियों में कोई खास अंतर है? शायद नहीं।

हमने जब कभी अपने आस पास चीज़ों को बनते-संवरते देखा है उनमें हमारी माँ ओ का बहुत  बड़ा योगदान रहा है।

हमने जब कभी अपने आस पास चीज़ों को बनते-संवरते देखा है उनमें हमारी माँ ओ का बहुत  बड़ा योगदान रहा है। चाहे वो स्कूल की टेक्स्टबुक में लिखी छोटी छोटी बाल कथाएं हो, surf exel का विज्ञापन हो, या बॉलीवुड की फिल्मो में बेटी को “विदा” करती हुई रोती-बिलखती हुई माँ हो। हर जगह सब कुछ बनाती-सवारती माँ ही है, बाप हर वक़्त किसी न किसी कोने में पड़ा चुप-चाप अखबार पढ़ता हुआ ही मिलेगा।

बचपन से ही बच्चियों को रसोई में हाथ बटाने के लिए मौजूद रखना,
भाई की झूठी थाली धोना सीखाना,
परिवार में मौजूद पुरूषों के  खत्म होने के बाद ही खाना,
अडजस्ट करना सीखाना,
आज्ञाकारी बनाना, 
चुप्पी साधना सीखना,
ज़ोर से ना बोलने, हँसने और चलने पर रोक लगाना,
मधुर स्वर की  एक औरत के “जीवन में  प्रयोजन समझना”,
पढ़ाई  के साथ-साथ घर के काम-काज सीखाना,
खेल कूद में भाग लेने से हतोत्साहित करना,

रूढ़िवादी पेशे अपनाने  के लिए दबाव देना और शादी हो जाने के बाद या बच्चे को जन्म देने के बाद  कैरियर छोड़ देने के लिये अप्रत्यक्ष दबाव डालना,  ये सब कुछ माँ या ममतामयी रूपी पारिवारिक संबंध ही सीखाती है।

माँ , पितृसत्तात्मक सोच- विचार धारा बच्चों में बचपन से ही डालना शुरू कर देती हैं क्योंकि माँ ये खुद भी  आंतरिक लिंगवाद का शिकार होती है।

बचपन से लेकर “शादी की उम्र” हो जाने तक लड़की को एक परिपूर्ण औरत में तब्दील करने का भार हमेशा  माँ पर ही होता है, घर गृहस्थी की जिम्मेदारियां सीखाना हमेशा माँ की ही ज़िम्मेदारी मानी जाती है, क्योंकि इन सभी चीज़ों की  अपेक्षा भी हमेशा औरतों से ही बचपन से की जाती है। माँ , पितृसत्तात्मक सोच- विचार धारा बच्चों में बचपन से ही डालना शुरू कर देती हैं क्योंकि माँ ये खुद भी  आंतरिक लिंगवाद का शिकार होती है।

हमारी शिक्षा और समझ  संबंधों और देश-दुनिया के प्रति इतनी तुछ है और हम जेंडर स्टीरियोटाइप नामक दलदल में इतनी बुरी तरह से धस चुके हैं कि हमारे भारतीय समाज के अनुसार एक पिता अपने बच्चों, खास कर अपनी बेटी की परवरिश करने में असक्षम समझा जाता है।  एक  पिता अपनी घर की चार दीवारों से बाहर निकल कर अपने परिवार का पेट पालने वाला/अन्नदाता,  एक मजदूर, परिवार के लिए एक निर्णायक और एक चयनकर्ता के किरदार से बाहर कुछ भी नहीं है, किसी भी किस्म की भावनाओं और सुघड़ता के नाक़ाबिल समझा जाता है।  हम समझते है कि पिता का  बचपन से बेटियों की परवरिश पर प्रभाव पड़ जाने से बेटियां पुरुषों के आचार-विचार अपना कर अपना स्त्रीयत्व ना खो बैठें क्योंकि  ऐसा होना सामाजिक “विकृति” समझी जाती है। लेकिन ये हमारे परिवार का क़ायदा नहीं था। मैने हमेशा अपने पिता को इन सभी सामाजिक सीमाबद्ध किरदारो के बिल्कुल विपरीत ही पाया है। अंत में  मन में बस एक ही सवाल  आता है कि आखिर कब इस देवी-देवताओं की नगरी में स्त्री को सामाजिक  किरदारों से मुक्ति पा कर मनुष्य का किरदार निभाने का मौका मिलेगा।

Apurba is a visual artist. She completed her bachelor’s in arts degree from Jamia Millia Islamia and currently pursuing Masters in anthropology and post graduation diploma in Folklore and culture studies. She is  Pansexual and her  pronouns are she/her. She likes  reading, writing, gardening and prefers chilling  most of the time.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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Non-Violence in the Private Sphere

Kaushiki Arha

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” 

― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

For Virginia Woolf, what keeps a woman from writing literature is the absence of a room of her own, a room that lets her mind run wild, a room where she is free above all to encounter serendipity and experience what leisure is, a room that lets her write for herself. In mapping the boundaries between public and private spheres what is often missed is the porosity between these borders, so delicate yet definitive. Definitive enough to let philosophers welcome the state and the society into the bedrooms of individuals and pry upon what it calls the “private” and alter it as it suits the public. The access to this room or the lack of it brings in the question of violence. This question was conceptualised by Johan Galtung “as the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual” This article is an attempt to situate non-violence in the private sphere.

The distinction between the public and the private is maintained primarily on the grounds that this separation is “natural”. Whether or not the public and private divide existed across time in societies, the idea is rooted in modern common sense, that each gender has a distinct sphere (the public – man and the private – woman) to which one “naturally” adapts. While rejecting the “mechanistic separation of the two spheres” and not denying the real consequences following from it, it is useful to consider the private/public as an analytical concept for its decisive role in the allocation of powers and resources, an issue raised by Woolf. To question the natural premise of this separation is not to forget the vital role played by private/public in the beliefs we tend to hold about how society ‘works’ and should work.

“The contemporary question of sexuality too is deeply entrenched within the family”

Within the Aristotelian teleological system, the function of the household is to maintain a biological existence, thereby a gendered division of labour and a lack of freedom of choice, speech, and justice are all subsumed under the banner of the ‘natural’ and the biological. The modern equivalent of an Aristotelian household is the conjugal family based on heteronormative sexual ideals. This conjugal family, just as the Aristotelian household, is constituted of hierarchically positioned gender identities shaping their relation vis-à-vis the public. The contemporary question of sexuality too is deeply entrenched within the family. This ends up taking away from the non-normative genders their right to form one of their own.

“An individual is firstly defined by their position within the family and secondly within the deeply hierarchical social structure is as free in the market as a woman in the patriarchal family to decide for herself”

The private sphere, however, steps outside the household to enter the market whose relation with the individual (within or without the family) is again deemed to be outside the purview of the public domain; the state is reduced to operating as an intermediary and any intervention is deemed to be an intrusion of the “free” market. An individual is firstly defined by their position within the family and secondly within the deeply hierarchical social structure is as free in the market as a woman in the patriarchal family to decide for herself. Formal freedom provided by the public realm sanctions commission of omission with regard to questions of right and justice in what it construes as the personal. Accruing to a remarkably similar modus operendi deployed in family, the private adds to the power of the market in dispossessing the individual of any agency to strike a fair bargain. 

Examples range from the recent farmers’ agitation in India where the crisis could have been postponed in the name of being agrarian. However, it has reached the urgency of a civilizational lacuna that forgets and masks the number of farmers committing suicide every day. This is not only because of market inequities but the sheer lack of acknowledgment of the nuances that a farmer’s identity entails, the policy intervention it requires only to not mention the trauma and social handicap their families face after subsequent suicides. 

“the social construction of a woman’s identity that defines how the market views her as a customer, from selling life-threatening beauty standards to limiting the actual choice of a woman in education and jobs”

Other examples include the social construction of a woman’s identity that defines how the market views her as a customer, from selling life-threatening beauty standards to limiting the actual choice of a woman in education and jobs; the stereotyping of minorities (social, cultural, sexual) by a cultural industry that feeds off an unjust private life premised upon a superficially autonomous idea of entertainment, one that does not concern itself with the social and political reality within which it is produced. This brings us to the question of violence – what constitutes violence? and is non-violence adequate to challenge violence? 

As noted earlier, violence according to Johan Galtung is not simply a coercive physical act intended to cause harm but one that limits the very possibilities of one’s being. Violence is systemic and structural so much so that the very nature of the structure invisibilises the violence inherent to it. Within the institution of the family, the question of justice has been ridiculed to be too petty since family is made of “higher virtues” such as love. The existence of love external to the concept of justice fails to register any concern among progressive theoretical discourse on substantive justice. 

“The family, therefore, has failed to address the violence that is both physical – domestic violence, sexual abuse, and female infanticide – and structural – gendered division of labour, inequitable distribution of resources, and construction of oppressive gender norms”

The question of gender in this regime of love is unheard of as it confronts the family with seemingly lower, pettier concerns of unequal access to resources to women, higher unpaid working hours among others only to be met with the there is no “I” is the “us” of a family response. The family, therefore, has failed to address the violence that is both physical – domestic violence, sexual abuse, and female infanticide – and structural – gendered division of labour, inequitable distribution of resources, and construction of oppressive gender norms. The market, on the other hand, works in conjunction with existing pre-capitalist forms of oppression, leaving little scope for the individual to act freely upon their choices since their identities shape their bargaining power. 

Non-violence too is not simply to be seen as a negative: as only the absence of violence but a positive condition that requires conscious action. For Gandhi, non-violence requires one to reform oneself through action. It is both a means and an end in itself. He has a  teleological understanding of non-violence or ahimsa, which serves as a basis for his search of truth, for truth can neither be found nor realised in the presence of violence. For him, non-violence is an active force of the highest order. It implies a positive quality of love for one practicing non-violence is to not hate their oppressor and every person has a role to play in society and in family which they must fulfill. He laid great emphasis on physical work. According to Gandhi, everyone must contribute their labour to the best of their abilities to become self-reliant. 

However, even Gandhi preferred violence over injustice and cowardice, for him any sort of injustice should be resisted even if it calls for violent measures in extremities since he did not tolerate the prevalence of injustice out of fear. The emphasis on injustice here is crucial because it brings us back to the assertion that the supposedly ahistorical separation between the public and the private sphere invisibilises violence which is inherent to any dichotomous conceptualization of the simultaneity of our lived experiences. 

“The political and legal battles being fought on the streets of Delhi by farmers, in media by women, in the courtroom by the LGBTQ+ community and struggles world over are exemplary of the need of porosity between these neatly drawn borders”

It is imperative to repetitively note that the public and the private distinction is politically and historically constructed so much so that the claims to universality and natural necessity are a legitimation technique employed to downplay the violence that holds this distinction together. This argument is being made in light of the politically charged assertions being made by groups and individuals seeking to reconcile this gap between the two spheres which continue to oppress them. The political and legal battles being fought on the streets of Delhi by farmers, in media by women, in the courtroom by the LGBTQ+ community and struggles world over are exemplary of the need of porosity between these neatly drawn borders. There has come about a need to discard these boundaries with questions of justice, equality, democracy, and freedom which through a long drawn historical struggle laden with nuances of diversity in our communities have acquired a universal status. A universal that has so far been external to the regimes of “love” (family) and “choice” (market).

Kaushiki is currently pursuing a Masters in Political Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Design By Hemashri Dhavala