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Womyn’s Rights or Your Mother’s Smile? Feminism in Patriarchal Society

“Womyn are wearing clothes to provoke men anyways.” “She didn’t fight back.” “She clearly was asking for it.” “Why give her legal help when she wanted it?” With atrocious influences such as the media, the oversexualization of young girls, and the belief that womyn create false reports to gain attention, these myths are heard across India, and often across the world. Yet a womyn’s scream is never heard. As Marie Shear succinctly puts it, “{f}eminism is the radical notion that womyn are people.” Indian society has seen a slight change in the status of womyn; from gaining property rights with the revised Hindu Succession Act (1956) in 2005, to national outrage over violent crimes against womyn after the rape and murder of a victim named “Nirbhaya” (fearless). Yet there is still progress to be made – until females can walk the streets without a male to provide security, can walk the streets without lewd comments being made about their apparel or make up choices, can simply walk the damned streets without being afraid of anything, there is not enough change.

Patriarchy Since Beginning of (Wo)man

Patriarchy was and is uniquely different in Indian society than other societies. It pervaded every civilization in the world, but in the Indian nation, it was used as a way to ensure caste purity. It was a monolithic form of oppression to ensure social stratification, dating back to ancient times. The subjugation of womyn was institutionalized into the religious order of the Hindus. The Brahman social elites attempted to prevent caste contamination by effectively creating a system of sexual control. Womyn were crucial to land preservation (by birthing sons) and retaining traditions of ritual quality (by being the same caste as the male). With this tradition enmeshed in Indian society, this injustice still continues today. Seen in marriage practices, womyn are expected to prioritize the husband and his family first, her parents and siblings a far second. They are also expected to take care of their in-laws, shedding light on why a son is much more coveted in India than a daughter. Feticide is rampant in India; with many would-be young couples, already nervous about being parents, worry about the “burden” a daughter would be in contrast to a son. In fact, researchers estimate say that about six hundred thousand female fetuses are aborted in India every year, leading to a skewed gender ratio of 914 boys per 1000 girls.

Violence Against Womyn

In the last month of 2012, there was a heartrending incident of violence against a young, 23 year old physiotherapy student. She was going home after watching the movie “Life of Pi” with a friend. Six men lured the pair upon a private vehicle, and then used a metal bar to severely injure the male friend, knocking him unconscious. The six proceeded to rape the girl, using the bar to maim her as well. Dumping them unceremoniously upon the roadside, these six inadvertently sparked a long-awaited wave of change confronting the deplorable treatment of womyn in India. Other such incidents begin to be uncovered, cases previously dismissed by lax authorities. These cases occur regularly across the nation, but this specific case was different, with the publication of the victim’s name and her father’s openness to speak about the harrowing crime. The national furor incited over this was due to the sympathy the rest of the middle-class Indians felt. This girl was trying to live a modern life and such a barbaric treatment leading to her death infuriated many Indians. The Nirbhaya Movement led to the hanging of four of the victims, a 3 year reform imprisonment for the juvenile perpetrator, and a suicide in jail for the sixth attacker that his defense claims was a murder. Yet some assault victims face even worse injustice – a seventeen year old girl in Punjab, for instance. This girl was drugged and sexually assaulted, and after going to the police who told her to marry one of her attackers, she committed suicide. The police, instead of registering her case, wanted to create a compromise between her family and the attacker’s families out of the court system. These occurrences compose a small part of the overall brutality against womyn in India – blatant crimes that not only go unseen but also unheard.

Silence Broken

With the appalling death of Nirbhaya, Indians took to the streets, protesting with rage, battling the police and shaming politicians who treated the issue with otherwise indifference. The Justice Verma Committe, set up to create adaptations to criminal law and provide quicker, more severe justice, submitted its report on sexual violence in about a month, a deadline that normally would never have been met. It addressed sexual harassment at the workplace, sex trafficking, and acid attacks. It also gave a detailed addendum on how to solve these issues, setting up hotline centers, CCTVs, etc, to prevent this violence against womyn. After Nirbhaya, there was a fast-track court set up for rape cases. Nirbhaya effectively broke a cultural taboo surrounding the discussion of violence against womyn, especially in India where sexual assault is often seen as a womyn’s shame to keep to herself. State elections and political parties also began to see the anger against this violence, adopting “womynifestos”, a list of six actions they promise to take to protect the freedom and safety of womyn. Taking a step forward after Nirbhaya, the Indian Parliament passed a new law to restrict sexual violence towards womyn. However, this law doesn’t do quite enough – it does not address national security force prosecution for these types of crimes, or marital violence. The four attackers’ deaths killed some police apathy towards these issues, and brought some justice to cases languishing either unreported or stuck in judiciary proceedings for decades. Yet there is still room to change the underlying mentality behind these attacks – the idea that because the womyn does not say anything, they would not get caught. Laws and Supreme Court judgments can attempt to create a legislative change – but real progress comes from female empowerment and grassroots organizations, giving females a political, social, economic, and human voice. This is the only way to further open the door to change that has been cracked open with the sad plight of Nirbhaya.

Change for the Better

Change ultimately occurs from the people. Multiple organizations across the nation have been pushing for women’s rights, and since this incident, they have gained recognition for their protests and vigils. Awaaz-E-Niswaan is one that is a protective haven for Muslim teen girls, who meet with their peers to learn their rights, develop a network of support, and learn how to use government and non-government aid to defend their dignity – and their rights. Different groups help provide women with a better self esteem, skills for leadership, knowledge about gender issues, and ultimately, information about their legal protection. When women can earn a living, they are able to resist maltreatment and live by their own hard work. Women learn that they have the right to body integrity and stop normalizing the violence that is prevalent in their communities. There’s only one question to ask about women’s rights in India: what would you do if it were your sister, your mother, your daughter?

Take Action

Help out at these organizations to aid women’s rights across the world:




[Image Attribute: Union Solidarity International]

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