India’s 112th Rank in Global Gender Gap Index

Gurbani Kaur Bhasin 

Examining India’s fall in the Global Gender Gap Index, what it means and where we stand going forward in a world with covid

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is based in Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland is the organization for Public-Private Cooperation, committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.

According to its Gender Gap Index, countries are ranked according to the calculated gender gap between women and men in four key areas – Health, Education, Economy, and Politics. “Gender Gap” is the measure of this gender-based disparity.

It reports that for the year 2020, the Global Gender Gap score (based on the population-weighted average) stands at 68.6%. This means that, on average, the gap is narrower as compared to last year, and the remaining gap to close is now 31.4%. Iceland is ranked the most gender-neutral country, which is the country with the lowest disparity (highest equality) between men and women when measured based on the said parameters. 

“Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.”

India’s latest position at 112th has dropped 14 ranks lower than its reading in 2006 when the WEF started measuring the gender gap. India is ranked lower than many of its neighbouring countries like China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia and Bangladesh. This widening gap raises red flags for India for many reasons. Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.

“The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women.”

Similarly variables of Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment, are aligned with the numbers reflected by Educational Attainment graphs to study the reasons behind gender disparity. The findings provoke questions on lifestyles, law-making and execution, and attitudes towards women in Indian society. The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and basic necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women. A striking contrast on the other hand is seen in the relationship between education and political empowerment where the nation stands at number 18 on the same list.      

Upon analysing the reasons behind the dynamics of each of the above trends, one can broadly infer that the stem of this disparity roots down to and raises doubts about the quality of education, healthcare provided, and interest and capability in Politics (ref WEF_GGGR_2020).

“While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrolment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers.”

While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrollment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers. This in turn accounts for a similar low share in economic participation and income earned.

This filtration can further be attributed to the largely patriarchal nature of Indian society impacting households and professional environments. The vicious circle of this disparity looms large out of the fact that it is women, who preach these social norms to younger women and the following generations. Any attempt for reform is defamed as an indecent rebellion. Women who stand up against these norms are ostracised from society making large scale social reform very difficult.

Another unfortunate contributor to the bottleneck situation of women’s quality of education is the very fondly tamed culture of meticulously planning and saving for a fat, extravagant wedding and heavy dowry – a presumed responsibility of the woman’s family. Prevalent in many rich and poor, educated and uneducated households of South and East Asia, this culture shapes the savings of the family where the majority is invested to compound into huge sums to meet unnecessary wedding responsibilities, followed by only basic education and lastly, healthcare of the girl child.  This adds to the gap because of the presumption that the man is the earner of the family. As a result, most women either aim or are compelled to confine their lives as homemakers. Thus, many among the very few who manage to attain tertiary education, are not able to transform their years of investment in academics, into monetary rewards.

“Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.”

Since largely all the above, in varying magnitudes, affect the educational turnover of women, the standard of their qualifications is poorer than their male counterparts thus yielding them less lucrative employment opportunities. Moreover, the employers in India view most women as short term resources as they are expected to get married early into their careers. Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.

Contrary to popular hashtags, women are not exactly “in this together” or at par with men, they are not in the same boat even when they share the same storm. The risk of the current Covid pandemic to an average female employee is much higher compared to her male colleagues. 

“Women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc., and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on the women.”

A report by McKinsey shows that women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc. and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on women since they are the main caregivers in most households.

Another issue is the sex ratio which has been perpetually lopsided due to a long prevalent practice of female infanticide and foeticide, which even though has been abolished for a few decades now, has made a deep dent in the gender distribution of our population. Technologies such as IVF are being misused for sex selection leading to a rising sex ratio of males per female. Figures of infanticide and foeticide together show that nearly 200,000 Indian girls are killed before the age of six owing to gender bias. Many women also succumb to death during childbirth due to low access to healthcare facilities 

The world is a witness of how much more efficient at management, women are than men. Former Union Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj had assumed the rightful liberty to once quote that: “As a woman and an elected Member of Parliament, it has been my firm conviction that there is a shortcut to real social change — empowering the girl child.”

“Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders.”

Having studied the credible data about the gender demography of our country, the need for women’s representation in the given parameters is louder than ever. Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders. 

The points distinguished in the WEF report on Gender Gap and elaborated above highlight the growing urgency for action. Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent and at the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.

Gurbani is a 23 year old student, in the final year of Chartered Accountancy and a graduate of Commerce from Hislop College, Nagpur.

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Migrant Deaths: “No such data is available”

Sukanya Maity

Speaking to Bhunia, a migrant worker who shares his experience during Covid pandemic, as the government claims to have no data/record of the deaths of migrant workers.

The constitutional strongholds of India were shaken up when the Ministry of Labour and Employment claimed “No such data is available” in response to a question about the deaths of migrant workers during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

On March 24, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced a nationwide lockdown. The entire country was panic-stricken. While those of us reading this worried ourselves about groceries, medicines and purchasing disinfectants, 40 million people who account for more than half the population living below the poverty line, had just one question in their mind – “How to go home?” In India, where inter-state migration is common, hundreds of thousands of people from rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal migrate to the cities in search of jobs and better living conditions. Migrants usually end up working in informal sectors and as daily-wage labourers. They live in substandard living conditions or slums in the margins of cities.

“They marched from one city to another, walked miles after miles barefoot, carrying their aged parents and young children in trolleys, bicycles and mostly on their shoulders.”

Shutting down factories and mining centres rendered these daily-wage workers jobless overnight. With no alternative forms of employment and very little savings, they had to bear the prospects of starvation, homelessness and even death. Hence, started the great exodus! They marched from one city to another, walked miles after miles barefoot, carrying their aged parents and young children in trolleys, bicycles and mostly on their shoulders. The pandemic, undoubtedly, brought to light the plight of the most vulnerable, ignored and exploited section of the society – the migrant labourers. 

Migrant workers photo by Sukanya Maity

While most of them, fortunately, made it to their homes, some of them had succumbed to the journey. Reportedly, sixteen migrant workers were crushed to death by a goods train in Aurangabad, in Madhya Pradesh, five of them were killed in a truck accident and eight people died in a road accident in Karnataka. As many as 378 people lost their lives, out of which 69 people died in road and rail accidents and others succumbed to starvation and exhaustion.  In the Shramik Special trains deployed to rescue stranded migrant workers in the middle of a heat wave, 97 people have died before 9th September. Those who made it to their hometowns faced stigma and new forms of untouchability. 

“Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sourav Bhunia, a resident of a small village in West Bengal who had migrated to the Khammam district of Telangana to work as a labourer in a granite factory, shared his heart-wrenching experience”

Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sourav Bhunia, a resident of a small village in West Bengal who had migrated to the Khammam district of Telangana to work as a labourer in a granite factory, shared his heart-wrenching experience: “For the last two months from the start of the lockdown, the contractor allowed us only one meal a day….one chappati (bread) and sometimes a spoonful serving of rice”. 

Bhunia, 25, along with eight other people, originally from Madhakhali, a small village in East Midnapore district of West Bengal, had left for their destination in 2019, sometime around September. After nine months, spending their maximum earnings, impoverished and jaded, they returned to their home state in the first week of May 2020. Following is Bhunia’s account of the lockdown. 

Sourav Bhunia photo by Sukanya Maity

How did you get through the initial days of lockdown? Did you save up?

Whatever little we had earned in the past few months, we transferred the amount to our families back at home and kept with ourselves, not more than what we would need to buy groceries or pay the rent. The contractor, Bera, under whom a group of eight people worked, promised me a sum of twelve-thousand rupees by the end of March. Because of the countrywide lockdown, the granite factory had to be shut down and the contractor always found an excuse to not talk about our wages. We waited for weeks until we confronted him. He seemed helpless and ignorant about the entire situation when we came to know that the factory owner had not paid him the sum that was due. I grew restless, without a penny in my pocket and an empty stomach, I would cry to sleep every night. We prayed for the lockdown to be lifted in no time so that we would get our due wages and return to our village. We did not want to die there, either of hunger or from the virus; we would rather die in our homeland. 

He broke down in the middle of our conversation.

Did the State Government or the local officials help in easing your condition? 

Mr Bera had recorded a video of us pleading with the West Bengal Government to arrange for our return. He had assured us that it would reach the Chief Minister of the state. We were betrayed again. It did not; why would the government think of us? 

The Central Government had arranged for Shramik Specials (special trains to carry the migrants to their hometowns). How has the initiative helped you?

When the Central Government passed an order to bring back the migrant workers to their villages, we were overjoyed; but we are labourers and why would anyone do us any good? The rail authority asked for our Adhar Cards so that we could get the free tickets to our home. I felt a sudden urge to kill myself when I realised that I did not have my Adhar card with me. How would I know that the only thing they care about even when we are in the midst of a pandemic, is a proof of citizenship? Back at home, my father contacted the local BJP cadres so that they might help in any possible way, but it did not work. I was not surprised at all. In the last election, I had voted for the Janata Party thinking that Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister) coming from a family like ours, would work for the betterment of the majdoors (labourers and menial workers). I was only daydreaming.

How did you manage to return?

Thank heavens, I was not the only one without an Adhar card. Some of my co-workers, who could not board a train the following day, planned to go to the local police station in Khammam to seek help; I accompanied them too. The police personnel asked us to arrange a feasible means of transport for ourselves and made it clear that they would not be able to help us in any way. There were eight of us and we managed to get an ambassador car which charged each of us 5,000 INR. After continuous rounds of visits to the local police station and the district magistrate’s office, we were finally granted permission to leave for our home states.

Bhunia sighed after narrating his experience. As a sign of empathy and being at a loss of words, I exclaimed how the pandemic has affected the lives of people in the worst possible ways. What followed next, has kept me wondering about the situational reality and the world that we are living in. He said, “A pandemic becomes a pandemic when no one can escape from it, be it the rich people in the cities or people like us and when it affects them (referring to the privileged sections), it becomes a global issue. People like us anyway die of hunger. It has been ‘their’ (the privileged) government, ‘their’ problem, and now, ‘their’ disease. The only thing that we want is our wages. That will help.” 

“Not acknowledging the sufferings, hardships, humiliation and helplessness of the workers and erasing their reality by not keeping a record of their lives reflects how little the lives of people like Bhunia matter.”

Last week, the Home Ministry openly declared in the parliament that the panic created due to the migrants’ exodus has been solely stimulated by “fake news” about the duration of the pandemic. This negates the reality that the government did not specify the duration and for a daily-wage migrant worker the most rational action, like many other professionals, students, travellers was to go home. Not acknowledging the sufferings, hardships, humiliation and helplessness of the workers and erasing their reality by not keeping a record of their lives reflects how little the lives of people like Bhunia matter. Speaking to Bhunia and listening to his harrowing experience, I realise how we, as a nation, have failed to uphold our democratic ideals by choosing to be silent observers.

Sukanya is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a feminist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist and hopes to document the lives of remarkable women so that their stories don’t vanish into anonymity.

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What Not to Wear

Arti Kadian

Examining how clothing traditions have sought to control women’s identity and autonomy in India.

Content Warning: Violence Against Women, Rape, Victim-survivor shaming quotes

On 19 June 2020, the Gauhati High Court passed a judgement granting a divorce to a man because his wife refused to wear sindoor (a vermillion red powder worn in the part of their hair by married Hindu women). The order grabbed attention as it stated: “her refusal to wear ‘sakha and sindoor’ will project her to be unmarried and/or signify her refusal to accept the marriage with the appellant (husband). Such a categorical stand of the respondent (wife) points to the clear intention of the respondent that she is unwilling to continue her conjugal life with the appellant.” 

“Other facts withstanding, the order has exposed the belief pushed by the age-old patriarchal system that the identity of a Hindu woman is defined by her relationship with men.”

Other facts withstanding, the order has exposed the belief pushed by the age-old patriarchal system that the identity of a Hindu woman is defined by her relationship with men. In this case, it was her marital status, signalled by her wearing sindoor that legitimised her relationship with her husband. 

A Family Court in Mumbai granted a woman divorce on grounds of cruelty as her husband objected to her wearing a kurta and jeans, forcing her to wear sarees. When she refused to do so she faced humiliation and harassment. The case reaffirmed the norms applicable to women concerning their clothing choices and illustrated the varied consequences of a pushback against the existing system.

In May 2019, a video of a middle-aged woman went viral for verbally harassing a group of young women for the length of their dresses. She associated their attire with a heinous crime like rape, stating that “All ladies who wear short or naked dress should get raped”. Meanwhile, recent reports on the Bois Locker Room – a group for sharing images of underage girls and jokes on sexual assault and rape on Instagram – highlighted the sexist misogynistic and deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes towards women.

“Clothes have been used as weapons by institutions, religions and societies to oppress women’s freedom. From a very early age of a woman’s life, there are persistent reinforcements and reminders of do’s and don’t rules imposed regarding clothing and choices.”

Clothes have been used as weapons by institutions, religions and societies to oppress women’s freedom. From a very early age of a woman’s life, there are persistent reinforcements and reminders of do’s and don’t rules imposed regarding clothing and choices. These rules vary over religion and caste, with disproportionate unfairness to minority communities leaving women with no space for expression, control or decision-making. 

“Women have always been subjected to intense scrutiny, with strict implementations of ‘covering up’ to protect them against ‘evil intentions’.”

Women have always been subjected to intense scrutiny, with strict implementations of “covering up” to protect them against “evil intentions”. Other reasons justifying this misogynistic practice are those of “honour of community” and “traditional norms”.

Alpaxee Kashyap, a Ph.D. scholar in Women and Gender Studies, rightfully notes that clothes represent culture, the protector of which is the state. She argues that women have used nudity to resist injustice and as a tool of protest. She elaborates using the example of a 22-year-old woman who walked in her underwear in Rajkot, Gujarat to protest against police inaction to her complaints. The complaints were against her in-laws who were emotionally and physically harassing her, demanding a dowry and a male offspring. 

Globalisation brought western clothing and attires to India. Modernisation along with an increased focus on women’s education and the inclusion of women in the formal labour market contributed to Indian women choosing western garments over traditional clothing. However, this created friction with the patriarchal set up of Indian society which saw it as “against ‘Indian culture’.” The choice of attire, when western, was categorised as being “vulgar”, and the woman wearing it as “immoral”. 

“A grocery store owner in Delhi expressed: ‘But here girls can’t be like the girls in the west. They have to dress decently and watch where they go, who they are with’.”

An article by The Sydney Morning Herald presents the various views of men regarding rising sexual assault cases in India. Many have found ways to blame the “western culture”. A grocery store owner in Delhi expressed: “But here girls can’t be like the girls in the west. They have to dress decently and watch where they go, who they are with”. Mohan Bhagwat, leader of the Hindu organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh said: “Such incidents[rapes] happen due to the influence of western culture and women wearing less clothes.” 

The argument of Indian vs western culture falls flat because according to fashion historian Toolika Gupta, in India there were no written dress codes. This concept was imposed by the British colonisers. The terms “blouse” and “petticoat” were introduced by colonisers, coexisting with some Southern as well as Bengal regions where women were traditionally bare-chested. These findings negate the argument that ties Western clothing to “immodesty”. Gupta also explores pre-colonial clothing attires adorned by women. Early representations of women have shown them with minimal clothing. 

“Clothing for women has also varied with religion and caste in India with discrimination more pronounced for minority categories.”

Clothing for women has also varied with religion and caste in India with discrimination more pronounced for minority categories. A Livemint article, titled, “The changing fabric of Dalit life” (21st April 2017) talks about how caste barriers also defined the rules surrounding attire for example what Dalit women could wear. As an example, the article mentions the period of 1800s where men and women of the Nadar community of Travancore were forced to keep their upper bodies bare to show respect to the upper caste Hindus. This was termed as the “breast tax”, named after the fine required to be paid on violating the rule. Vivek Kumar a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, interviewed in the article explains: “Dalit women were involved in midwifery—so whatever was there which was soiled during childbirth, was given to them. Dalit women also performed duties at the time of death, so whatever was left by the dead, they would get that.” The article mentions that men from lower caste communities also demanded that women be conservatively dressed to prevent upper caste men from their villages from sexually objectifying them. 

“The conversation surrounding women’s clothing and attire has even found its way in arguments abetting sexual violence.”

The conversation surrounding women’s clothing and attire has even found its way in arguments abetting sexual violence. In the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case, one of the rape accused named Mukesh Singh was interviewed for a BBC documentary “India’s daughter”. He majorly used the character assassination in his defence, that a “decent” girl would not be roaming on the streets at night and would not wear “wrong” clothes.

“While this horrific incident shook the consciousness of the Indian society, the victim-survivor shaming that accompanied the initial investigation proved the apathetic response to sexual violence.”

While this horrific incident shook the consciousness of the Indian society, the victim-survivor shaming that accompanied the initial investigation proved the apathetic response to sexual violence. The case highlighted illogical “victim shaming” reactions which eventually normalise our society’s misogynistic response to sexual violence against women. This was demonstrated when a biology teacher in Kendra Vidyalaya in Raipur, proclaimed and taught her co-ed class that “wearing revealing clothes incites crimes like that of Nirbhaya”. 

On similar lines, a HuffPost article by Chetan Bhagat, attempted to examine the reasons for rape apologists to question the character of victim-survivors. He proposes it as a “coping mechanism” for those who seek comfort in the belief that victim-survivors are responsible for what happened to them and so their family members are safe by dressing conservatively. Another reason Bhagat explains is the denial of female sexuality that is expressed through clothing.  

Bhagat may argue that the imbalance of sexual power between the two genders could be a reason for violence against women, however, on exploring further one cannot discount the systemic injustices meted out to women on their relationship with their bodies. Clothes have been a means to further the objectification of women as property of men. This regressive treatment of women reflects how women’s identity,  choices and right to self-expression have been controlled by Indian society and used as a tool to judge their character.  Feminist movements have highlighted this issue and aim to provide women with equal social, legal, political and economic rights enjoyed by their male counterparts.

Arti is an Economics Major, keenly interested in development economics especially in the area of gender. Currently working as a risk consultant, she is also an avid reader and a yoga enthusiast. She aims to work at a social consultancy that focuses on education of girls. 

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Indian Populist Leaders: From Indira Gandhi to Modi

Navika Mehta

Why populism works in Indian politics as a political tool used by leaders to gain popular support.

In 2016, 2000 articles in the Guardian mentioned populism as compared to 300 articles in 1998. In 2017, “populism” was declared the word of the year by the Cambridge Dictionary. In the last 20 years, there is a significant increase in populist support worldwide and populist vote share has more than tripled in Europe. Although populism is not a new occurrence, the 2008 financial crisis and the 2015 refugee influx in Europe have been commonly cited by academics as propellers of this “anti-establishment” rhetoric

“populist parties are not revolutionary and do not oppose established political parties. Instead, they call themselves a ‘new’ kind of party that is different from all others.”

Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist, has defined populism as “an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté (general will) of the people”. He explains that populist parties are not revolutionary and do not oppose established political parties. Instead, they call themselves a “new” kind of party that is different from all others. He differentiates populists from early socialists because populists claim to speak for the “oppressed people” while unwilling to change “their values or their ‘way of life’”. For example, speaking for farmers’ rights while charging high-interest rates on loans. 

Indian politics is not a stranger to populist politics. Right from the movement for Indian independence from the British Empire, to the current BJP government, populism has been key to gaining votes. Prior to Independence, the nationalist movement which enabled the country-wide resistance against the British Raj brought about a sense of togetherness in the collective struggles against the oppressor. This movement succeeded largely by gathering the outpouring of popular support as the nation as a whole came together to bring an end to British rule. 

“After Independence, another major wave of populism was brought about by Indira Gandhi from 1966. She created an anti-elite rhetoric by pushing a pro-poor agenda with the famous phrase ‘gareebi hatao’, which means, end poverty.”

After Independence, another major wave of populism was brought about by Indira Gandhi from 1966. She created an anti-elite rhetoric by pushing a pro-poor agenda with the famous phrase “gareebi hatao”, which means, end poverty. And so, further enforcing redistribution through economic policies like nationalisation of banks and abolition of the privy purse (a sum paid to the former rulers of princely states of India who agreed to integrate with the union). Thus, creating a them vs. us narrative – the colonial past vs. modern egalitarian India – and – rich elite vs. poor. These redistributive anti-elite policies along with her emphasising a strong feminine character, being referred to as “Ma Durga”, Goddess of Power, challenged the political masculinities of Indian politics and enabled her to get the popular vote. 

“Since independence, an exclusive form of populism has emerged, based on identity rather than economic interests. This populism uses economic hardships as a tool to gather identity-based support.”

Populism can be inclusive or exclusive. For example, populism in Europe is exclusive and that in Latin America is inclusive. This means that while European populism has a socio-cultural dimension to exclude immigrants or refugees, the Latin American populism has an economic dimension of including and helping the poor and underrepresented. Indian history has witnessed both kinds. The independence movement was inclusive, it was a fight against colonial oppressors and freedom for all Indians. Since independence, an exclusive form of populism has emerged, based on identity rather than economic interests. This populism uses economic hardships as a tool to gather identity-based support. Identity here can be religious, caste-based, gendered or along any other social category. Due to this, a new political cleavage with a cultural dimension has now emerged.

“Unlike Indira Gandhi, Modi’s populism focuses on exclusion. While it is the same anti-elite rhetoric, the focus remains on identity-based exclusion and highlighting political masculinity. His famous statement during the 2014 election campaign ‘chhappan inch ki chhati (56-inch chest)’ perfectly exemplifies the politicisation of his masculinity.”

Populism in India today has taken a similar approach using this new dimension. With identity-based politics at the forefront, right-wing populism has slowly grown and has now taken a stronghold with the re-election of the BJP for a second term. Unlike Indira Gandhi, Modi’s populism focuses on exclusion. While it is the same anti-elite rhetoric, the focus is on identity-based exclusion and highlighting political masculinity. His famous statement during the 2014 election campaign “chhappan inch ki chhati (56-inch chest)” perfectly exemplifies the politicisation of his masculinity. The party has successfully created a them vs. us narrative through religion – majority vs. minority and also through nationalists vs. anti-nationals (those who speak against the government). While Gandhi herself belonged to the ruling class she channeled her image as the anti-elite rebel, similarly, Modi has emphasised his humble beginnings as the “chai wala” (tea seller). 

Both types of populism focus on pro-poor agendas, their solutions are oversimplified and inadequate in bringing about real economic equality. For example, demonetisation and privy purse, both claimed to be for the benefit of the poor, anti-elite, but neither had a significant impact in bringing real economic and social change for the masses. 

The recent Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that prohibits illegal migrants from becoming citizens of India with exceptions for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities was defended by supporters of the government and mainstreamed a huge populist anti-immigrant sentiment. Suddenly, elite, upper middle-class and majority religious groups who may have never before concerned themselves with the rights of the Indian working class, expressed deep concern about Muslim immigrant workers from Bangladesh taking jobs of the Hindu working class. The focus of the political sphere thus shifted from the real causes of unemployment to the them vs. us narrative of Muslim immigrants taking the jobs of natives. This has been highlighted as the “scapegoating phenomena” by Colantone and Stanig who explain that anti-immigrant sentiments tend to be higher in areas with greater unemployment and in the presence of a right-wing populist party. They explain that unemployment and lack of opportunities trigger this belief that the labour market is a “zero-sum game”, wherein, in order to get a job the individual needs to take it from another person thus making immigrants a perceived threat for natives. 

“nativism means that ‘states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group – the nation – and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state.’ He argues that this idea of nativism has essentially been ‘whitewashed’ by using the term populism.”

Mudde argues that this anti-immigrant ideology used by populist parties is actually “nativism” couched in a less explicit racist term as “populism”. He explains that nativism means that “states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group – the nation – and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state.” He argues that this idea of nativism has essentially been “whitewashed” by using the term populism. In India, the CAA along with the NRC (National Register of Citizens) is not only a threat for migrants and refugees but also against people who don’t have the paperwork to prove their citizenship, with the CAA  specifically excluding Muslims who entered India on or before December 2014. Thus, further reinforcing the exclusive populist narrative of India in the 21st century. 

“The present day form of Indian populism is very different from post-colonial populist beliefs.” 

The present day form of Indian populism is very different from post-colonial populist beliefs. Post-Independence, in the backdrop of partition, the Indian government laid emphasis on ideas of pluralism, secularism and diversity, with the phrase “unity in diversity” coined by Nehru. These ideas were deeply ingrained in education, government policies and cultural references. In the present day, until the issues of “nativism”, economic inequalities and political propaganda of right-wing populists who pretend that they care about the working class are effectively tackled, populism will continue to thrive, and fake news and positive media coverage will enable it to do so.

Navika is the Editor of Bol Magazine and created this platform to inspire conversations and action.

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women in Politics

Nadia Ahmed 

Even after 74 years since universal suffrage and Indian Independence, women’s representation in politics remains low. 

The Constituent Assembly of India is often touted as one of the best in the world due to its production of a constitution that manages to encompass every aspect of a country as diverse as India and has withstood the test of time. While it was largely representative, the discourse was dominated by men. 

“widespread illiteracy and subjugation of women caused by pre-existing societal prejudices and norms made it impossible for women to claim political space.”

Out of 392 people in the committee, only 15 were women, making the representation of women less than 4%. While this is not ideal, it is important to note that widespread illiteracy and subjugation of women caused by pre-existing societal prejudices and norms made it impossible for women to claim political space. Due to this, there were very few educated, politically strong, and radical women at the time empowered to be elected to the committee.

Nevertheless, contributions by several women shaped the Constituent Assembly debates. Some of them include Dakshayani Velayudhan, the first and only Dalit woman to be elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1946. Ammu Swaminathan who formed the Women’s India Association in 1917. Begum Aizaz Rasul, the only Muslim woman member of the Constituent Assembly. Durgabai Deshmukh who participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement at the age of twelve. Andhra Kesari T Prakasam, who participated in the Salt Satyagraha movement and established the Andhra Mahila Sabha, and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, who founded the first All India Institute of Medical Sciences as India’s Health Minister, among many others. To this day, defenders of the Indian Constitution rely on their contributions.

Indian history, however, has not been kind to the women stalwarts. Most women of the Constituent Assembly have since faded from the public conscience.

“In India, women did not have a popular movement to fight for their exclusive right to vote and contest for public office. In 1950, universal suffrage was granted to all. The involvement of women in the constituent assembly ensured their right to be an equal part of politics and governance.”

In India, women did not have a popular movement to fight for their exclusive right to vote and contest for public office. In 1950, universal suffrage was granted to all. The involvement of women in the constituent assembly ensured their right to be an equal part of politics and governance. While India prides itself on having had a female Prime Minister, President, Chief Ministers, and leaders of political parties, representation of women in politics is still low. In 2019, India stood 149th in a list of 193 countries ranked by the percentage of elected women representatives in their national parliaments, trailing Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, dropping three places since 2018.

From a representation of 5% in the first Lok Sabha (lower house) election in 1952, the percentage of women representatives in the house has gone up to a mere 14% of the Parliament as of 2019, the highest since independence. Only 78 women were elected as Members of Parliament (MPs), that is one woman representative per 8.5 to 9 million women, greater than the population of Israel, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore.

“Since 1962, of the 543 constituencies in India, nearly half 48.4% have not voted in a single woman MP. The current Uttar Pradesh cabinet features only four women, Madhya Pradesh has two, Bihar has only one, and Delhi has none. This is one of the gravest representative injustices in the country’s history.”

Since 1962, of the 543 constituencies in India, nearly half 48.4% have not voted in a single woman MP. The Economic Survey of 2017-18 observed that women constituted 44.2% of elected representatives in Panchayati Raj (local government) institutions. But at the state-level, this number goes down to 9% especially in the Hindi heartland (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh and Delhi NCR). Here women’s representation effectively collapses. The current Uttar Pradesh state cabinet features only five women, Madhya Pradesh has two, Bihar has only one, and Delhi has none. This is one of the gravest representative injustices in the country’s history.

Though on paper major parties claim a 33% reservation for women in party leadership, that is far from the truth. Women only govern four of India’s political parties. From 1970-1980, 4.3% of candidates and 70% of electoral races had no women candidates at all. And in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, only around 9% of the total 8040 candidates were women.

While women in India continue to improve their capability and enhance their economic contributions to society, the Indian electorate still deems them unfit for representative duty.

“What’s surprising is that the voter turnout of women has increased by 27% since 1962, and in comparison, men’s voter turnout rate has only increased by 7%.”

What’s surprising is that the voter turnout of women has increased by 27% since 1962, and in comparison, men’s voter turnout rate has only increased by 7%. Data from the National Election Studies conducted by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) shows that the number of women with high participation levels in election campaigns increased substantially from 13% in the 1999 general elections to 22% in the Lok Sabha Elections of 2009. Women have been actively participating in election campaigns, not limited to holding rallies, meetings, distributing party leaflets, door-to-door canvassing by party workers and supporters and roadshows by party leaders.

Still, according to Census 2011 data women’s representation in Lok Sabha had never touched 12% since Independence despite the fact that they constitute 48% of India’s population.

Further according to studies on election patterns, women show a higher winning rate than men. Going by the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where even though only 8% of the candidates were women they consisted of 14% of the winners, and 10.93% of women contestants won their election while only about 6.35% of men contestants were able to win. Additionally, average winning margins for women candidates generally tend to be much higher than those of male candidates. The same holds at the state level too, where data analysed from India’s state assemblies over 1980-2007 found that while women comprised 5.5% of all state legislators over this period, only 4.4% of the candidates were women.

“women-led constituencies contributed 1.8% more to the GDP of India than male-led constituencies. A constituency is likely to see 15% higher economic growth under a woman legislator.”

Furthermore, according to the United Nations University which published a paper titled “Women Legislators and economic performance” after studying more than 4000 state assembly constituencies in India for the period between 1992 to 2012, goes on to report that women-led constituencies contributed 1.8% more to the GDP of India than male-led constituencies. A constituency is likely to see 15% higher economic growth under a woman legislator.

Previous research has also shown that, in many instances, greater political participation by women does result in policy choices more attuned to women’s needs and concern as women are likely to bring attention to welfare and public health issues such as violence against women, childcare, and maternal health. Drinking water and road improvements are also issues most frequently raised by female elected officials. The most significant issues for men are roads, irrigation, education, and water. Furthermore, women representatives are more likely to oversee the completion of road projects. The share of incomplete road projects is 22% points lower for women.

“Having more women in elected office has been shown to lead to broader societal benefits such as better infant mortality rates, better education outcomes in urban areas and lower corruption as female legislators are three times less likely to have criminal charges pending against them than male legislators”

Moreover, having more women in elected office has been shown to lead to broader societal benefits such as better infant mortality rates, better education outcomes in urban areas and lower corruption as female legislators are three times less likely to have criminal charges pending against them than male legislators, and the annual rate at which women MLAs accumulate assets while in office is 10% points lower than it is for men.

“In states where gender bias is known to be deeply entrenched, a woman’s electoral victory is followed by a significant decline in the share of new women candidates in the next election.”

Despite these stats, it is seen that politics is still considered a man’s world where new women are not encouraged to contest, there are no spillover effects of observing a woman’s victory. Parties do not switch to fielding women candidates and there is no increase in female candidacy in nearby constituencies. Furthermore, in states where gender bias is known to be deeply entrenched, a woman’s electoral victory is followed by a significant decline in the share of new women candidates in the next election.

In 1994, the Indian government established quotas (reservations) in constitutional amendments (73rd and 74th) to reserve 33% of seats in local governments for women. The Women’s Reservation Bill (108th amendment) has been introduced in the national parliament to reserve 33% of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha seats for women, but even after 22 years, it is still to be made into a law.

“Such descriptive or numerical under-representation can have consequences for the substantive representation of women’s interests.”

Such descriptive or numerical under-representation can have consequences for the substantive representation of women’s interests. For a nation that had consciously decided to be a representative democracy, the vow in the Constitution to secure political justice and equality of opportunity remains only partially fulfilled.

It took us 90 years to achieve independence from the British Raj. But even after 74 years since independence , women continue to struggle for representation.

Nadia is a Political Science graduate who is pursuing Law and hopes that the world will become an unprejudiced and tolerant place.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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The Post-Covid World Order

Kavya Manocha

With the United States no longer funding the World Health Organisation, looking at how 2020 is changing the world power dynamics

The current Covid-19 pandemic has been truly “global” and adversely affected every country in the world. Its continuing longevity and profound effect has destabilized the world and shook the power dynamics of the emerging multilateral world we have seen in the last few decades. A possible trend in the post-Covid-19 world is the vacuum in global leadership and the inefficiencies of international institutions. It has brought attention to the various issues underlying this multilateral world and exposed problems in global governance and institutions. The institutions, like the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO), which were created post-World War II, aimed to ensure peace and stability, are currently highly politicised. Lack of timely response by these organizations has eroded their importance at solving issues of the real world. 

“The US-led world order propagated capitalism, collective defence, trade legalisation, and democracy as ways to uphold its ideals and norms”

The United States has been the world’s leading superpower, or rather, the world’s hegemon, since the last century. This is because of the glorious victory of the allied block in the Second World War and later, due to the US defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Moreover, its unmatched economic and military capacity, supposedly developed society, along with the support of its western allies has helped to cement this position. The US-led world order propagated capitalism, collective defence, trade legalisation, and democracy as ways to uphold its ideals and norms. Its allies would grant the US access to their countries’ resources and support in international institutions and the US provided them with funding and security. They were critical in upholding such a system through material and ideological support, which favoured American supremacy. However, the Trump administration has time and again questioned these alliances and viewed them as unnecessary burdens. 

“The US’s response to Covid-19 has put major doubts on its capability of handling a crisis and brought devastation to human lives and the economy”

At the beginning of the pandemic, the US tried to hold on to its position in the world order. Moreover, rightly so, a collective response along with its allies would have been the standard response. However, the pandemic threw the country into a frenzy where it was unable to lead or care for its citizens, forcing it to look inwards, and threaten allies for medical supplies. The US’s response to Covid-19 has put major doubts on its capability of handling a crisis and brought devastation to human lives and the economy. Another big blow came from the Trump administration withdrawing from the World Health Organization, an international institution that depended on the US for $893 million in funds in the two-year budget cycle 2018 and 2019, that’s nearly 15 percent of its budget. The pandemic has shown how dependent international institutions were on their de facto leader, the United States. In addition, the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw troops from Germany could affect the US’s ability to operate in the Middle East and Africa, while handing over a strategic advantage to Russia. This leads us into a time when the international community is going through one of its biggest vacuums in global leadership. 

“The termination of the United States’ relationship with the WHO is a complete disaster for public health research and life-saving work administered by the WHO in treating Ebola, HIV, and polio in many poor and low-income nations, where the US public health researchers and policymakers are a huge guiding force.”

The termination of the United States’ relationship with the WHO is a complete disaster for public health research and life-saving work administered by the WHO in treating Ebola, HIV, and polio in many poor and low-income nations, where the US public health researchers and policymakers are a huge guiding force. International institutions like the WTO and the United Nations were established to ease the response to global threats, and they are global resources, which the world cannot do without. These institutions have in the past, aimed to act as an agency working for the greater good, to provide scientific information, peace, and assistance to both, developed and underdeveloped nations. Most importantly, being accountable to all countries. Hence, in such uncertain times, the US could have aided the world, rather than divide it. 

What withdrawing financial support amid a global pandemic showcases is a lack of global understanding by the United States and gives way to a possible domino effect leading to the crumbling of international institutions. Losing financial and organizational backing from the world’s leading superpower puts doubt on their acceptance, applicability, and importance by many of United States allies in the post Covid world. Imre Hollo, director of strategic planning for the WHO, said it is already hampering their financial plans and budget for 2021 and might cause many employee cuts.This move by the US could make these institutions obsolete. It has only led the international community to believe that the United States is no longer upholding the world order and can not be relied upon. It could force allies to doubt collective action measures and the possibility of a collective response to the pandemic. 

“This power vacuum might have an upside: it brings the possibility of a world order which is much more decentralized than being controlled by a hegemon. This cooperation can be different from the previous one, which only benefitted a few elite nations.”

This power vacuum might have an upside: it brings the possibility of a world order which is much more decentralized than being controlled by a hegemon. This cooperation can be different from the previous one, which only benefitted a few elite nations. It could lead to a world order containing groups of nations, which support ideals of global governance, progress, and issues that the United States and its allies have failed to act upon. Such groups could still support multilateralism and harness its benefits in the globalised world. They need not pursue the norms of capitalism, trade liberalization, or collective security guided by the Western World, rather, propagate a new set of norms and ideals. 

The economic boom and the rise of emerging powers like Japan, Australia, South Korea, India, and Brazil in the last few decades have made their presence felt in the post Covid-19 international order. These states have the capacity and ability to influence global leaders. They have already begun safeguarding and assisting their neighbourhood nations to leverage support and reduce dependence on either the US or China. Hence, partnerships between these states could restructure ideals and guide material resources and capacity. These partnerships could be more productive since a collective approach encourages states to leverage capacities by providing information, collaboration, and medical expertise. 

“the lack of responsibility by the United States has thrown major doubts on its ability to expand its power, while the collapse of its hegemony seems inevitable.”

At present, the world is going through one of its biggest economic and health crises and such unprecedented circumstances make it impossible to correctly shape the post-Covid-19 world order. At the centre of all this, is the manner in which the WHO handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Their failure to make responsible decisions and timely action in declaring it a pandemic made it impossible for nations to be prepared for the wreckage which was soon to come. This has resulted in a lack of trust forcing them to reduce their reliance on such organisations. In addition, the lack of responsibility by the United States has thrown major doubts on its ability to expand its power, while the collapse of its hegemony seems inevitable. This brings to question the validity and use of international institutions, which rely heavily on the US for funding, along with their existence. 

The tragic termination of the United States’ relationship with the WHO affects its very existence in the post-Covid-19 world. This vacuum in global leadership allows for the rise of middle powers as groups that can benefit from collective action and shared interests. Thus, the upcoming world order hangs in the future, but cannot be fathomed without factoring in the role and power these middle powers will hold in the upcoming decade. 

Kavya has recently started working as a management consultant after completing her Economics Honors degree from Christ University, Bangalore.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

Kong, The Women of Tyrshang

Hemashri Dhavala

An insight into the matrilineal society of Meghalaya

“It’s an iron rule of history that every imagined hierarchy disavows its fictional origins and claims to be natural and inevitable.” – Yuval Noah Harari

In prehistoric times, humans lived in small societies as hunter-gatherers. To survive, men and women would together hunt down animals, gather plants, berries and nuts. Nurturing for the young was a communal activity and parenting was a group effort. Studies have shown that more than three-fourth of the handprints found in the caves in Spain were made by women. Even in early agriculture settlements the men, women and children worked equally in fields. It’s rather absurd to think that in such labour-intensive activities one group would sit idle while the other worked day and night.

Bobbing its head a chicken walks carefully, laying its feet one by one on a clay road, leaving its footprints on the road, damp from the rain. There is a faint noise of women giggling and thumping mud from a nearby shanty. A few more chickens cluck about and the strong smell of freshly cut pine wood engulfs the entire village. It’s all very surreal.

In ancient times, it is said that the Khasi and Jaintia men were fierce warriors who protected their land from invaders and spent most of their lives away from their homeland. The uncertainty of whether the warriors would come back and the consequent fear of their sacred land falling into the hands of the invaders gave birth to the idea of female inheritance of land. And so this tradition became a part of their religion and from then on the woman is the owner of the house. According to Khasi culture, the youngest daughter of the family inherits all of the property passed down from her mother and before that her grandmother.

A one and a half-hour taxi ride from the city of Shillong brings you to the village of Tyrshang. Located in the Jaintia Hills in the northeastern state of Meghalaya. It is home to some Khasi and Jaintia communities. As a part of a craft-based subject to study and understand more about the unique craft of making handmade pots from black clay and greenstone acquired from the Sung valley, I was lucky to witness the beauty and simplicity of this village and peek into the lives of the people and witness their culture. Working alongside highly skilled artisans observing and absorbing their splendour. 

Kong Ibahun’s sister showing us a freshly made pot.

The title Kong meaning sister in Khasi is commonly used in the region to respectfully address a woman. Kong Ibahun is one of the many women of the village who make pots out of black clay. She is my guide and mentor in learning more about the community. 

A typical day starts at around five in the morning with children running to school and women gathering in Kong Ibahun’s courtyard to start pounding the clay for a day’s worth of pots. Gathered around with muddy hands they shape pots and discuss their day. The majority of the households here make a living by making and selling ceremonial hand-made black clay pots. This craft, known as Khiew Ranei, is said to have originated by a family in a neighbouring village, their kin settled in Tyrshang and continued practicing the craft. The fresh produce of the week along with local delicacies and handlooms are sold in a weekly market. 

A shop selling assorted dried fish
A woman selling Potha Ru

Every Saturday, the women prepare to go to the market. As I walk into the market I am transported into a whole new world with vendors selling everyday utilities from dry fish, poultry, silkworms, Koi, paan leaves, local vegetable, berries, spices, tea leaves, duma (local smoking tobacco), smoking wood pipes, clothes, jainsem (a traditional garment), baskets, pots to Bangladeshi boots, fishing nets, and potions. The market is dominated by women.

People from nearby villages flock to the market to replenish their weekly supplies and it gives the sellers a good place to display the variety of their products and skill. There is a woman selling Potha Ru (traditional rice cakes) to a woman who then hands it over to her baby tied on her back. The woman with the baby then picks up her sack full of amenities and walks away. A woman selling paan leaves and koi calls me to her stall and asks me to take a good picture of her, in return she offers me a paan leaf with some choona and half a koi nut. I accept her gift with gratitude.

A mother with child on her back buying Potha Ru
Women selling Paan leaves and Koi

Typically after marriage, the husband acquires the wife’s name and moves into her family home. Their children take the mother’s last name. They say that the man is the head of the family and the woman is the neck, where the neck turns the head follows.

Next to the market is a tea stall, offering red tea or sha with a selection of garlic chicken, smoked pork, boiled spinach gravy with a side of red rice and fermented fish chutney for lunch. The woman who owns the tea stall gets busy feeding her son after serving her customers. She has a few friends sitting and drinking tea and talking when suddenly lightning strikes and everybody goes quiet. The awkward silence makes everyone in the little shop burst into laughter.

Walking back I hear somebody calling me from behind, it’s Kong Ibahun. I spotted her earlier in the market selling her pots. She is now on her way back with a bag full of groceries and a big bunch of local bananas. I give her a hand as she escorts me back to her home. 

As we reach home her younger son and elder daughter come and take her bag from her and start unpacking the groceries, Kong gets started on making lunch after feeding her four-month-old daughter. Sitting with Kong Ibahun in her sultry kitchen as she makes smoked pork curry we drink some sha. She has freshly made pots stacked on the side of her herth. Rows of corn hang on the ceiling of the kitchen most probably left to smoke.

Smoking Corn
Kong Ibahun’s children helping her out

Kong Ibahun’s eldest son

While in Tryshang, Kong Ibahun and the other women of the village are in a position of power that is granted to them through inheritance of property, in many societies across the world, women are not so lucky. Today, even when women do pursue their careers in professions previously dominated by men, they bear the bulk of the household work and are assumed to be the primary caregivers. The distribution of labour is skewed drastically with no added gains for women. 

A village elder

Passing down all the ancestral property to the daughter may not be the best way to create an equal society. That said, piling all the housework on a woman or  presuming a bulldozer operator, a CEO of a Fortune 100 company, a stockbroker in wall street to be a man isn’t equal either. 

“Does the handle of a jhadu (broom) come printed with the words: ‘to be operated by women only’?” asks a petition started by Subarna Ghosh, co-founder of an NGO called ReRight Foundation. It asks Prime Minister Modi to ask Indian men to do house chores as well. In the hope that if the Prime Minister asks them, they might listen. The time I spent in the village of Tyrshang will stay with me forever as a time when I witnessed a society that not only encouraged women but also placed them in a position of power through inheritance. Their involvement in important decisions related to the household and the village allowed them to live a life of their choice and in their own terms. 

Hemashri is a Graphic designer from the National Institute of Fashion Technology and the Creative Director of Bol Magazine.

Photos by Hemashri Dhavala

Talking Periods Beyond Gender

Kanika Malhotra

Women are not the only ones who menstruate, why it’s important to go beyond gender when talking about periods.

An individual’s gender is not defined by their sex. Sex is a biological concept that, in this context, defines “male” and “female”. Gender is an individual’s identity separate from their biological sex. It is not determined by hormones or chromosomes. So, an individual’s gender identity may be different from the sex they are assigned at birth.  As explained by French theorist and philosopher Simone De Beauvoir in her book “The Second Sex”, one isn’t born a woman, “social discrimination produces in women moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to be caused by nature”, rather, one becomes a woman. The behavioural traits that may define men and women are acquired and are not pre-determined by anatomy. Gender is, therefore, not a direct consequence of an individual’s biological sex. 

“Menstruation is highly misunderstood when it comes to trans and non-binary individuals”

Menstruation is a biological function commonly linked to the female sex, however, it is not limited to cisgender women. The term cisgender is used for people whose gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth. It is also important to note that not all women with female reproductive systems menstruate, and that can be due to various medical and non-medical reasons. This assumption that only cisgender women menstruate is reflective of the lack of understanding and ignorance around the subject. Menstruation is highly misunderstood when it comes to transgender and non-binary individuals. Like cisgender women, they also, may or may not menstruate. 

J.K. Rowling’s recent transphobic tweet regarding menstruation, which received backlash and was taken down by Twitter, reflects this ignorance and bias that people have against transgender and non-binary identities. In India, transgender and non-binary people face similar prejudiced and ignorant comments. Speaking to Bol Magazine, Saral, a trans woman, explains that when she came out to one of her close friends they were shocked: “How is it possible? Aren’t trans people by birth?” This statement is reflective of how little people know about gender identities. 

“They are vulnerable to societal exclusion due to rejection of their avowed gender identity. This exclusion leads to violence against people of the transgender community”

The term Transgender is used to describe people whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned, usually at birth and based on their genitals. They are vulnerable to societal exclusion due to rejection of their avowed gender identity. This exclusion leads to violence against people of the transgender community. If they choose to undergo a medical transition to change their primary sex characteristics, for instance, a person assigned male at birth and wishing to change to female, they may seek gender-affirming surgery or “sex change”. That said, they also face difficulties transitioning their sex. Gynaecologists often deny transitioning or charge excessively.  Moreover, there are not enough doctors or clinics providing  transitioning care.

A survey conducted in 2018 by the nonprofit organization Lambda Legal found that 70 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals have faced discrimination in a healthcare setting. The ignorance of gynecologists and general practitioners (GP) has resulted in misery for various individuals wanting to transition. “My worst experience, as a trans man, was when one GP refused to help me transition and said they’d do everything but ‘that’, like transitioning is a disease” says Math Blade, a trans man from the USA. He reflects: “My experience has been bad if I don’t have my beard, or if I am on the phone. Depending upon the clerk I get asked to get my husband on the phone. If they continually insist I throw my voice deeper, which hurts, and finish the transaction.”

“Representation of periods in the mainstream is always about cisgender heterosexual women. It has never been inclusive of any other gender”

Menstruation for cisgender women is a taboo in Indian society, and while periods have been recognised and represented mainstream, the same is not true for transgender individuals. They continuously face the stigma of people not accepting or understanding the fact that they may also menstruate, depending on what part of their transition they are in.

Representation of periods in the mainstream is always about cisgender heterosexual women. It has never been inclusive of any other gender. The education regarding periods is gender-segregated, taught only for cisgender girls by cisgender women in schools and in homes. Not only does this cause alienation but also creates an atmosphere of ignorance about menstruation for other genders. 

Being able to afford menstrual hygiene products such as sanitary pads and menstrual cups is a privilege in India. An article by Deccan Chronicle revealed that a person in India spends 300 Rupees (INR) on pads every month. That is nearly equivalent to 1,40,000 Rupees (INR) spent on pads for their whole life. According to a National Family Health survey only 57% of Indian heterosexual cisgender women in urban areas can afford menstrual pads at MRP (Maximum Retail Price). High costs and taxes associated with menstrual products also make them inaccessible for trans people, who may not be able to afford them. 

“accessing public toilets is another challenge, because of the existence of male and female only toilets”

Moreover, accessing public toilets is another challenge, because of the existence of male and female only toilets. Men’s toilets are not conducive spaces for menstrual hygiene and so trans men don’t have a safe space to change pads, or any other period product. There are no dustbins for disposal of pads. In some public toilets for men there are no private stalls. There are also cases of physical, verbal and even sexual abuse behind the doors. In 2016 in India, the highest number of assaults on trans people occurred in public toilets. Trans and non-binary people are denied spaces where they can change clothes, use toilets or change pads. 

Talking about the lack of access to toilets, Sonal, a trans woman, explains this issue: “During the pride parade I wanted to pee but I didn’t know where. Whenever I go out, I don’t drink much water. The biggest issue a transgender or non binary individual faces is where to go for a washroom, where? I have seen that whenever I go to a women’s washroom I have seen some discomfort in some women and we don’t even have the option of gender neutral washrooms, so where should we go?” 

“Menstruation, toilets, uniforms, and changing rooms need to go beyond gender”

Menstruation, toilets, uniforms, and changing rooms need to go beyond gender. Travis Albanza, who identifies as trans feminine, was denied access to a changing room in a TopShop showroom in the UK. They told buzzfeed that they wanted to relax and chill with their friends but instead their entire day became politicised.

Menstruation is a biological function. Creating a safe and accessible space for all humans who menstruate, regardless of their gender, is essential. This can be done by setting up gender neutral washrooms and changing rooms, and incorporating gender neutral language and more representation in the mainstream. School uniforms are gender neutral in Wales, UK. This  means that when a list of clothing items is published by the school, they will not be assigned to a specific gender. This helps non-binary and transgender children to feel included and safe. It prevents the imposition of gender on children. 

“Parents should ensure that they are allowing their children the freedom to figure out their gender identity. This can be done by not restricting their choice of toys, clothing or the colour of their room because of their gender, pointing out and correcting transphobic language, and not misgendering them by using incorrect pronouns”

Parents should ensure that they are allowing their children the freedom to figure out their gender identity. This can be done by not restricting their choice of toys, clothing or the colour of their room because of their gender, pointing out and correcting transphobic language, and not misgendering them by using incorrect pronouns. Always, a brand which sells sanitary products has made a decision to remove “Venus”, a symbol used to represent females, from its packaging in order to be more inclusive of trans men and non-binary individuals. Using words like “menstruators” or “menstrual hygiene” is another way to be inclusive. 

Transphobic minds cannot be changed overnight but everyone deserves a safe place for basic needs like using the toilet and access to menstrual hygiene products. Everyone deserves to be treated equally and with dignity and respect regardless of their gender, and that can be accomplished only through an active effort towards a more inclusive society.

Kanika is currently in high school in 11th standard. She believes in feminism and advocates for inclusivity of the lgbtqia+ community. Writing is a medium through which she expresses her opinions and takes a stand. Her other interests are skating and films.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

India’s Rising Population – The Political Scapegoat

Anupama Nair

Does India, the world’s largest democracy, need to control its population? No it does not. Here’s why.

We have heard about how the human population has increased exponentially over the past few decades. We have also heard of overpopulation draining India’s natural resources and being a major cause for concern with regards to the wellbeing of citizens and the environment. What a lot of people might not know, however, is the fact that India’s overall population growth has declined considerably over the past few decades and is now stabilising. We are, in fact, very close to the point in our demographic transition wherein the population size of the following generation will be the same size as the current generation.

A widely used indicator for measuring population growth is the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which is the number of children a woman passing through her reproductive years would be expected to have during her lifetime, based on prevailing age-specific fertility. In most developed countries, a TFR of 2.1 is considered as the “replacement rate” that is, the TFR at which each generation exactly replaces its previous generation in terms of numbers, without migration. For long-term stability of population size, a woman is expected to give birth to two children in her lifetime, one of whom is expected to be a girl who would go on to give birth later in her life. The 0.1 accounts for factors such as infant mortality and sex ratio. 

 “India’s population is not growing by a high margin anymore and is almost at the replacement rate”

As per the Indian government’s most recent SRS Statistical Report, India’s TFR stood at 2.2 in 2018, all the way down from 5.2 in 1971 and 3.6 in 1991. In other words, India’s population is not growing by a high margin anymore and is almost at the replacement rate. There are regional differences, however, as the TFR varies between states. At the lowest end are Delhi and West Bengal with a TFR of 1.5, and at the higher end are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh with TFRs of 3.2, 2.9 and 2.7 respectively. The states that continue to have higher fertility rates also happen to have low socio-economic indicators, especially with regards to women. Bihar, for example, with the highest TFR also has the second-lowest female literacy rate. 

Additionally, the TFR in urban areas collectively stood at 1.7 whereas that in rural areas stood at 2.4. Aside from reasons such as more women going to school, working, and marrying later, as one moves to the city, the costs associated with having more children tend to increase considerably. Declining fertility rates in India can, therefore, be attributed to factors such as rising levels of education for girls and urbanisation, and have had little to do with coercive means to control population growth.

Many notable academics and activists have made a serious case for population control based on influential population growth models and theories, especially since the 1960s. Fear of the human population outgrowing food supply and resulting in increased poverty and famine influenced some states to implement coercive policies, such as China’s one-child rule and India’s forced sterilisation camps. However, these measures are not only violations of human rights but also have other negative long-term consequences.

A declining fertility rate and increased life expectancy in China is now resulting in an enormous ageing population that needs to be supported by a much smaller active labour force. Moreover, a cultural preference for sons in China has led to a higher number of men than women.  Fewer young men are now able to find wives and are labelled as “bare branches”. As more women work and earn well, they tend to become increasingly selective of their potential husbands. However, the prevalence of highly patriarchal norms, and a government that is now concerned about its shrinking youth, continue to pressurise women to marry young. Those who remain unmarried beyond their late twenties are also given a label: “leftover women”.

“in spite of an agenda based on women’s reproductive rights and health adopted by the UN in 1994, following the backlash against coercive population control measures, the legacy of sterilization-based family planning programmes in India persisted until as recently as 2016”

Sterilization programmes in India were funded by many international aid organisations and largely comprised of men and women being paid to undergo sterilization. Between 1976 and 1977, over 8 million men had been forcibly sterilized. The loss of the ruling party, Indian National Congress, in the following general elections led to a shift in focus from population control. However, in spite of an agenda based on women’s reproductive rights and health adopted by the UN in 1994, following the backlash against coercive population control measures, the legacy of sterilization-based family planning programmes in India persisted until as recently as 2016.

An important factor to consider when discussing population control is the persistence of unintended pregnancies, a common phenomenon in developed countries as well. This is largely due to the continued lack of reproductive rights, no access to sex education in schools, lack of access to contraceptives, lack of freedom to plan a family, or terminate a pregnancy.  The focus should be on creating equal opportunities for women through education and ensuring reproductive rights for all rather than coercive or punitive measures to control population growth. The choice to decide if, when, and how many children to have should not be a privilege, but a basic human right.

“Due to huge inequalities in consumption levels between countries, a child born and raised in a developed country is likely to have much greater consequences on the planet than one born in a developing country”

While it may seem like a declining human population is beneficial for the planet as a whole, in reality, population size is far from being the most significant determinant of environmental wellbeing. Equally important are the roles played by consumption levels and the prevalent norms of production. The developed world consumes maximum energy and food and is responsible for around 50% of cumulative carbon emissions since industrialisation. Due to huge inequalities in consumption levels between countries, a child born and raised in a developed country is likely to have much greater consequences on the planet than one born in a developing country.

“population control tends to be used as a scapegoat by politicians and policy-makers when they fail to deliver adequate and efficient services to the public”

At the same time, it is imperative to improve living standards in developing nations and bring millions out of abject poverty. If we are to achieve this goal without causing as much harm to the planet as has already been done, it would necessitate limiting consumption levels of the rich and involve vast changes in current production norms. More often than not, those who call for population control make no mention of consumption and production. Population control tends to be used as a scapegoat by politicians and policy-makers when they fail to deliver adequate and efficient services to the public.

The question of controlling a “population explosion” in India has been raised by the government again, after decades. A Population Regulation Bill was tabled in the Rajya Sabha in July 2019, which proposes incentives such as tax cuts and free healthcare to families that have two children or less, and penalises those who have more by withdrawing concessions from them. More recently, a Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2020 has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha, seeking to include similar measures in our constitution under a new Article 47A. There is little doubt that India’s population is overwhelmingly large, considering we account for 18% of the global population but only 2.4% of the total landmass. However, it seems as though the renewed concern for controlling India’s population growth seems misguided and ill-informed.

As explained earlier, India is no longer undergoing explosive population growth and this has happened without strict interventions by the government. By incentivising having two or fewer children, the government is likely to waste resources on families that would probably have decided to have fewer children anyway. On the other hand, it will mostly be the poor who would be disproportionately impacted by punitive action against those who have larger families, decreasing their chances of socio-economic upliftment. 

“one cannot ignore the history of unethical population control methods and their social consequences”

Moreover, one cannot ignore the history of unethical population control methods and their social consequences. Like China, India also has a cultural preference for sons and India’s sex ratio is already skewed, with men outnumbering women by millions. Population control measures are also associated with targeting specific social groups, based on racism, xenophobia, and communalism. The false rhetoric of Muslims having more children to outnumber the Hindu majority in India has been used by politicians and is widely believed. We should be asking how population control legislation might affect these issues in our country?

Educating and empowering girls, and decreasing income inequality have been suggested as far more effective ways to address issues of resource scarcity and poverty, as compared to incentivising people to have fewer children. These will also address a myriad of other problems that plague Indian society. Family planning programmes are important so long as their objective is to provide access to safe contraception and family planning services. There exist many other well-researched suggestions to improve the state of India’s environment and increase resource use efficiency, without any need to address population growth at all. If poverty, resource scarcity, and environment were truly primary concerns for our legislators, surely they would consider better means of intervention than population control.

Anupama is a researcher at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change Indian Institute of Science, currently trying to figure out how her work could help improve the environment and society at large.

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