By Ankit Kumar
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Assessing the Indian Society and the status of Women’s Rights and Safety in India
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” — Marie Shear
Women’s rights and safety has been a burning issue in India for quite some time. Countless cases of rape, molestation, sexual harassment, domestic assault, dowry, female infanticide and discrimination in personal and professional spheres – out of which countless go unreported; every time something happens, we have a column in the national dailies, with journalists and intellectuals blaming society or the general practice of patriarchy in the most vague of senses. This is not one of them. This is an assessment, not an article pinpointing blame.
Recently, the hidden, almost inherent and instinctive paradigm of the character of women as held by society came to light with the Deepika Padukone-TOI row. Now as far as the insensitivity is concerned, I believe, that it is a deluded mind that sees some sort of superiority-inferiority between sexes. But from journalists, this is unexpected. More than this, it also seems weird because I can’t find the cause that might have evoked such a belief in them, unless the general practice of giving undue importance to the male half of the society has rooted some of its beliefs in us. Every time we make a comment or hold an opinion about the more liberal women of society, we rely on those beliefs and base our opinions on those belief—be it a simple, general observation wherein we admire actresses and models but wouldn’t think of marrying them, while the same cannot be said for the other sex. And this is strange. I wouldn’t want to accept it but each and every one of us has a part of this belief rooted in us in some way or the other.
Status of Women in Society
Following the above dispute, a student club that I’m a part of— the Harvard US-India Initiative started a campaign emBODYindia in which students click a picture of themselves with a placard holding their message. So to contribute to this campaign, I went about clicking pictures and asking people a bunch of questions regarding the same, but I refrained from asking direct questions and asked indirect ones instead to avoid giving them a chance to hide their biases. My respondents, apart from those from my own college, were students who had come from others for the annual sports fest. So the questions I asked were:
- a) What is your view of the current situation of women in our country? Like what is/characterizes the life of an average Indian woman?
- b) What changes would you want to see about the above in the next 5 years?
- c) What are your NAQs (Never Asked Questions — Something that you’d as a women want people to know; something that they are ignorant about and also never ask but presume.)
And well, I won’t say I was amazed with the results. It validated my hypothesis- that maybe somewhere in us the falsified belief system of patriarchy remains rooted and continues to affect our perspectives. While some cited the main causes for the prejudice and violence against women to be the inefficiencies of support systems, useless emergency call numbers, the social embarrassment caused by the virtue of an ignorant legal system and its procedures, insensitive comments about victims and the perception of women as possessions; there were a few male and female respondents who, on the other hand, believed that the fault was on the part of the girls and that deviating from accepted norms led to mishaps. Such a response was characterized by a defensive tone towards the existing norm which seemed to lack in integrity upon further questioning.
And this made it clear, that while the opinion in the TOI column was insensitive, irrational and without proper moral basis, the journalists weren’t entirely or at the least consciously at fault, they simply had a voice and they forgot to factor out the subconscious. Because in deeper truth, each one of us has a part of the same faulty system and beliefs of patriarchy as inherent unconscious opinion forming parts of our thought processes. It’s what we grew up surrounded with, what we observed in our homes, saw on television soaps in our childhood, and read in our stories. It’s not certain entities of society but certain prejudices we grew up with which are responsible for such insensitivity and unjust expectations from the ‘other’ half of our species.
But I was also happy to receive the optimistic response of a few who pointed out that things certainly have improved a lot and are certain to improve a lot more with the new generations of less patriarchal leaders coming of age. And to quote one response — “Staying within equal moral limits, doing the right things the right way and supporting a more liberal dialogue is something that is expected of the new generations so that the transition to a more open and fair society is smoother and faster”. I Agree.
Ankit Kumar is currently a Junior at IIT Kanpur, majoring in Material Sciences and Engineering. An Entrepreneur at heart, Ankit is interested in Start-ups, Venture Capital, Business, Technology, Economics, Computer Programming, Investment Finance and carrying out lots of crazy projects of his own. In his free time, he loves reading articles (lots of them) online, eating and thinking philosophically. A lifelong learner, he believes that the only way to make a substantial and lasting impact on the world is to start a company of one’s own. Got an idea, or thoughts about how the human civilization will change, discuss any idea or concept with him at [email protected]–