For the past decade or so, ‘girl power’ has become a popular way of describing the success of the female gender. While modern culture dictates girls can do anything, the dreams of young girls are still suppressed. India both loves and hates the female form – take for instance the worship of goddesses and the barring of entry of women into temples during their menstrual cycle, or a woman’s virtue being valued above all else amidst a rampant rape culture in many states.
Feminism is a complex idea and in a place as complex as India, it struggles to be taken seriously. Being a patriarchal society, feminism did not gain meaning or become an operational principle in real life until India gained independence in 1947 and adopted a democratic government. The Indian Constitution then granted equality, freedom from discrimination based on gender, and Governments developed Five Year Plans to provide health, education, employment and welfare to women. The country has, without doubt, encouraged women in many fields – they are found in the army, in politics, on the football field, and even in space.
In the light of these achievements, no one would dare think that women are still being oppressed and are fighting for an equal social status. Yet, we see so many young girls whose dreams have been crushed. We see several young women who are raped and murdered. We see girls discontinue their education because their parents thought their son’s education to be more worthwhile. We see around 1.5 million girls lose their futures every year and be forced into marriage even before they turn 18. We see women being blamed for their ‘revealing clothes and lack of respect for culture’ when they report harassment.
If we truly are a feminist society, then women should not have to face sexism every day. Women should not have to face catcallers and tolerate sexist jokes. Women should not have to face less chances of promotion than their male counterparts. Women should not have to face the endorsement of traditional gender role prejudices and stereotypes.
Women are still judged for working, for opting to not have children, for being too fat, for being too thin, for not getting married, for choosing to live alone, for choosing abortion, for being too emotional, for not being emotional enough, for their fashion choices, for living life on their own terms.
Women are being judged, criticised and harassed throughout their life. Girls are told to dress a certain way, to talk and laugh a certain way and live their life a certain way, even though the society ‘supports equality and is progressive’. This is neither equality nor is it progressive. This is not feminist. This is the exact opposite. Besides, Indian feminism has tended to represent the interests and concerns of upper caste women rather than reflect the experiences of Indian women en-masse. By recognising this, Indian feminism can truly evolve to effectively benefit all women.
The patriarchal traditions and ways of Indian life have been in effect for so long that this is the lifestyle that women are used to, and expect. Few reformers in the past, both men and women, saw through this deep rooted patriarchy and spoke against it. Now, we have a whole generation fighting for equality and justice for all the women this system has killed. India has come a long way. From Savitribai Phule to Anita Dube, from young women educating themselves by candlelight to young women achieving great heights and demanding for their voice to be heard, Indian women are learning their worth and starting to speak up. India will truly be a feminist country once we learn to overlook gender roles and break gender barriers.
Let us ask, let us demand, let us scream and let us fight equality through our actions, because in the words of Jasmin Kaur -