Things which perhaps are basic to human beings, some even included as fundamental rights in the Indian constitution, become novelties for women in India. For instance take the ‘freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India’ (Article 19 clause C), but today every rational woman would think twice before stepping out of her house at a late hour. For a few, the late hour may be as early as 7 or 8pm. For the past few years we have been waking up to rapes, dowry deaths, abductions in our each morning daily. The question of a safe existence of almost fifty percent of the country’s population is something that simply can not be ignored.
The question of the position of women stems from the basic belief that they are the disadvantaged other half of the country. Historically subjected to practices such as Sati, Dowry etc. they were kept in the confines of a household denied not only political rights but also basic social and economic rights. While theoretically they are now guaranteed all of these, in practice the redundant rituals, myths and gender biases have barely been replaced. Patriarchy has become such an internalized phenomenon, that even the women have no will to change the existing social order, attributing their lowly position mostly to destiny.
Many a times one notices that it is the women themselves to help maintain such an order. Specially taking the case of rural women, one notices that it is a mother-in-law subjecting a daughter-in-law to various forms of torture for reasons as frivolous as giving birth to a female child or not bringing in enough dowry, when the former as survived past a similar circumstance in her day. We are a nation where female infanticide is still a reality, not only among the rural uneducated and urban poor but also the richer, literate but equally misguided individuals.
Even today an issue such as women’s reservation bill are being debated and many proclaim that they are in no need of such positive intervention as it puts a question mark on the merit of women. But here one must realize we the liberated educated women of India are the miniscule privileged elite of this country and introduction of such a bill in all government bodies addresses not only a few advantaged but also grass root level organizations such as the Panchayats where women are now beginning to enter the mainstream of India after much subjugation and violence.
While the feminist movement has come a long way since independence we can still find an inherent gender bias plaguing the society. One finds that because of some inexplicable reason it is the women who become the object of blame even in the most neutral circumstance. For instance, pubs may be visited by men and women, the women would be beaten up; young children may be abducted and forced to prostitution by men, it will be the women at the end of the day who is demeaned. The list of rapes on record is probably not even 20 percent of the actual number of women who have faced marital rapes and minors who barely understood the abuse.
An individual often finds themselves succumbing to the will of the society for the sake of acceptance, be it male of female. ‘Her’ identity is often reduced to that of a commodity, her life to an existence revolving around the whims of men. There is an establishment of a certain type of hegemony which divides the society into gender stereotypes or prescribed roles, adherence to which assumed by the members constituting the society. The question is not about merely listing the hardships of a woman’s life or crimes against her, nor is the solution as simple as constitutional law; the situation demands an ideological revolution. This state of revolution is a phenomenon that continues in perpetuity in an evolving, plural Indian democracy. This may take piece-meal social engineering: education or simply giving way to our intrinsic sense of justice and equality.