Wednesday 25 May 2022
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Women activists differ on feminism

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Feminist legislations in India are draconian and not implementation-worthy, Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi, opined at a function held at the Indian Women’s Press Corps in New Delhi on 23 April. She said post-Independence legislation for a modern India was less rigorous than what the British enacted in the form of the Indian Penal Code, which may be found flawed now but was ahead of its time in the 19th century.

Kishwar took the example of the amendment in the law dealing with rape post-16 December 2012, and lamented the fact that no fall in the against women and humanity has been noticed ever since.

Ranjana Kumari of Centre for Social Research vehemently disagreed with the assessment, and said misuse or abuse of a law was not ground enough to not have it. She emphasised that women’s rights, issues and political power were nowhere on the agenda of political parties in India despite 30 years of struggle by women’s groups. She said, “All political parties pursue the politics of patriarchy.”

The panellists reacted initially to two statements that have been issued recently by high profile politicians. One was by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who dubbed a rape as a “mistake boys make”, and the other was by Abu Azmi of the same party, who said that women who had sex outside marriage should be hanged. The women activists on stage as well as the audience took serious exception to the political leaders’ feudal mindset that led to making such outrageous statements.

There are indeed many leaders of other parties who have also given objectionable statements against women at various points of time.

While Subha Rajan of the Confederation of Indian Industry, giving her own example of struggle in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram in India and the countries Liberia and Sierra Leone, called on women to stand up and fight, Kishwar insisted that “whining” and “seeking protection” got women nowhere. The laws, like the one on dowry, or that against sex determination all created a “huge backlash”.

Marta Franceschini, author of Buried Echos and My Father Who art in Heaven, noted that violence against women was a global phenomenon, and death penalty, imprisonment etc. did not bring change. It was social change that was needed. “It is the complete failure of the system” that results in countries adopting death as solution for rape, she said. Franceschini and Kishwar’s criticism of laws and the criminal justice system stood in stark contrast to Kumari’s plea for greater space for women in the political process in India was widely supported.

Kishwar branded the cry for women’s rotational reservation in the legislatures as “janana dabba politics”. Responding to a question as to whether women’s activist groups — just like Dalit groups and Muslim groups — were doing more harm than good to the cause they purportedly stood for, she said it was important to note who was funding such groups.

Kishwar said when an activist group is sponsored by a foreign source, in order to show the financier that the group was spending the money for the intended purpose, it tended to go overboard. When the sponsors are indigenous, she opined, the group negotiates or makes noise depending on the action’s actual requirement.

The well-attended event was moderated by Sudesh Verma, author of Narendra Modi, The GameChanger. The discussion was organised by Vitasta Publishing to felicitate Franceschini whose latest book tells the stories of two women who were economically and sexually abused.

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