ABSTRACT: This paper highlights the different phase of feminism in India. India is governed by a strict patriarchy from the olden. It has its consequences in the belittlement of women. Women are expected to confine under the four walls of their home, they are regarded as secondary and passive. In the institution of marriage as well, they are expected to be the caregiver and provider of men. They are regarded as useless and having no opinion in the political and social administration of a society. The movements discussed in this paper, however proved it wrong. They are the movements performed and initiated by women to amend the slip of society. These movements proved that women can be of beneficial and useful physically to the society.
Though the word ‘feminism’ is of modern epithet, women’s movement had been in India as early as the middle 19th century. Scholars and historians have divided the history of feminism movement into three phases:
i) Beginning in the mid 19th century, its main objectives were on the customary laws regarding women and women’s education.
ii) Began from 1915 to 1947 (Indian Independence). In this phase, Mahatma Gandhi incorporated women’s movements into the Quit India Movement.
iii) The third phase happened in the contemporary period which span from post-independence till date.
Through the ages, women in India have suffered oppression and injustices through the structural hierarchies in the society. However, they were influenced by the western feminism movement happening in the US and other parts of Europe, though there were some which they rejected due to cultural differences. The black feminist and Indian feminist faced two discrimination, that of race/caste(in India) and gender. Feminism of the west in the 1970s focused mainly on the equality of education and employment; and this very much influenced on the Indian women. They fought for issues like dowry-related violence against women, Sati, sex selective abortion, and custodial rape.
i) It is said that feminism in the first phase had been started by men to uproot the evils of Sati so that widow can remarry, to forbid child marriage and reduce illiteracy. In the late nineteenth century, the movement was obstructed with the arrival of nationalist movements in India. Several Indian states like Jhansi, Kittur, Bhopal and Punjab were ruled by women like Rani Laxmibai, Rani Chennama, Quidisa Begum and Jind Kaur.
ii) The second phase happened when the struggle for independence was growing intense. Therefore, with Gandhi as their leader the two movements collaborated in such a way that the women regarded nationalism as superior and fought for it and the fight proved to be a fight not only independence for the nation, for the women and from men’s oppression as well. There were women’s movement like All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) and the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) which were flourishing during those times.
In the 1920s,women’s associations/movements were labeled as ‘feminism’ and it is a new thing for the women. It would be right to mention that right after the independence, the issue of feminism was precedent by issues relating to the nation-building and nationalism.
iii) Post-1947: In this phase, inequalities in the workforce like unequal wages for women, relegation of women to ‘unskilled’ spheres of work and restricting women as a reserve army for labour had been challenged.
Throughout history and till today, there have been movements which excluded women because they were often regarded as the ‘other’. Meanwhile, there were movements organized and participated by women which affected the society positively. These movements brought out the passion and boldness of women to fight for their civic rights. It should be remembered that the harassment and partiality in the patriarchal society gave us the energy to fight for ourselves. However, the movements before independence were the issues of the condition of women belonging to the upper castes of the Hindu society, and are sponsored by men who saw the ill threats to the Hindu society by the colonial powers. Their main aim was to safeguard and reform their cultural struction. As their plan, the issue of patriarchy had not been touched. Some of the movements included induction of women in the nationalist movement, 1974s Towards Equality Report prepared by the Committee on the Status of Women, International Women’s Movement and the Convention on the Abolition of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It must be mentioned that most of these movements did zero in uplifting the conditions of women in the patriarchal society. As the movement went on through the years, there has been a progress in the feminism movements which were worthy of discussion. Therefore, some of the women mass movement were:
i) The Chipko Movement: Inspired by Gandhian non -violence movement, Chipko Movement or Chipko Andolan was a forest conservation movement in India which started in 1973 in Uttarakhand (part of Uttar Pradesh). Though the rural people depended on the forest for livelihood, the growing development of Uttar Pradesh led to the consumption of trees in the forest. Therefore, it resulted in lower agricultural yields, erosion, depletion of water resources and increased flooding in the surrounding areas. Back to the year 1964, environmentalist and Gandhian activist named Chandi Prasad Bhatt founded an organization which he named Dasholi Gram Swarajya. His aim was to promote and encourage small industries for the rural settlers. With the rising development, big industries came in the state destructing forest for raw materials which resulted in severe floods which killed more than 200 people in 1970. So, Dasholi Gram Swarajya stood up for the people and the forest opposing the large industries. The incident bring forth the so called Chipko Movement and the protest occurred near the village of Mandal in the upper Alaknanda valley in April 1973. However, the villagers were banned to cut down small portion of trees for making agricultural tools which is a primary need; while the big industries were legally permitted for sporting goods manufacturer. Once their appeals had been denied, with the leadership of Chandi Prasad Bhatt, women villagers protested by embracing and guarding trees all night in the forest to prevent them from further logging. After days of protest, the government banned big companies from logging the forest and allowed the local people to log the trees for local use as requested by the Dasholi Gram Swarajya.
However, the issue of ecofeminism had already been a burning issue even during those times. They even connected destruction of environment and forests to the oppression of women. Their active participation in the protest gave them the needed courage to stand up claiming a position to have a voice in the decision-making process. To mention, men opposed the involvement of women in the Chipko Movement. In a society like ours where patriarchy is deep-rooted, the participation of women in this movement showed the pivotal roles of women in safeguarding our environment.
ii) Anti-liquor movement : This happened in Andhra Pradesh in the early 1990s. This movement had been undertaken by the women of Andhra Pradesh, of rural and urban areas regardless of caste and religion against liquor whom many of their men had depended upon and the reason which many abuse on women had taken place. Their only demand was : “no drinking or selling liquor”. The movement was led by a brave woman named Sandhya. It began as a strike demanding to stop selling liquor in the local area. The movement proceeded such that women destroyed the liquor packets as they reached the sale counters. They, then marched to the Chief Minister of their state with a letter in their hands which is written in blood which stated “we do not need liquor that drains our blood”. When they received refusal, they protested by sleeping on the doorstep of the Chief Minister to prevent him from leaving. They decided that any man found drinking would have head shaven and the penalty for selling liquor would be marching in a donkey throughout the village. It led to a whole statewide ban of liquor in 1995. The movement or tactic used by these women were innovative that political scientist Kancha Ilaiah even commented “the methods that they use are neither Gandhian nor Marxian but uniquely their own.” This movement made a turning point when the TDP (Telugu Desam Party) won the election of 1994 and passed the prohibition law. Though the law had partially been released in 1997, the women still made an active participation in the thrusting the society in the right path. More actions had been undertaken when AIADMK came to power in 2016, the then Chief Minister Jayalalitha closed 500 state-run liquor shops and in February 2017, an order had been given to close another 500 state-run liquor shops. This has been a brave deed since huge amount of revenues have come from the sales of liquor.
iii) Women and Armed Revolution: The Telengana Peoples’ Struggle (1946-51): Before going into further details of the movement, it would be right to properly take a look at the history which made this movement necessary. Before attaining the statehood of Telengana, the people residing in the state of Hyderabad belonged to three linguistic identities, viz Telugu, Kannada and Marathi. The Telugu speaking community constituted over fifty per cent of the whole population of the state. The hereditary ruler and the Muslim elites, Hindu-caste landlords and money lenders harassed and oppressed agricultural labours. Among them,lower caste and Dalit women constituted about six million in numbers. It is said that they have not benefited from India’s independence.
One of the notable leaders of the movement was Chityala Ailamma and she had been joined by thousands of women to protest against the issue of Caste-Hindu supremacy and rejecting the rights of the lower laboring classes. Although there were some successes such as land redistribution among the lower castes, the Indian Army crushed the movement by October 1951 by arresting nearly 50,000 peasants and tortured over 3 lakh people. Through the eyes of feminism, the fact that the lower-caste women fought against the oppression of men was a big movement and paved a big pathway for feminism.
iv)#MeToo Movement: The movement began in 2006 to oppose sexual abuse in the society. However, the story came out in 1997 when a African American woman activist named Tarana Burke, out of sheer pity on hearing a girl’s (named Heaven) story of sexual abuse spit out her wishes to say “me too”, chided “You’re not alone. This happened to me too”. It went on and began as a movement in 2006 to voice against the act of sexual abuse. It was only in 2017 that the movement became viral through internet in the US as an e-movement in the form of hashtag. However, it became a global phenomenon with the confession of a Hollywood actress named Alysaa Milano who unfolded the story of sexual abuse and challenging her fellow victims of sexual abuse to speak up. She wrote on her Twitter account, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet”. #MeToo became viral in India around October 7,2018 when an actor Tanushree Dutta spoke out, charging against actor Nana Patekar during the shooting of Horn OK Pleasss, 10 years ago. Since then, floods of stories of sexual abuse were publicise to disgrace their abusers, among which included the then Union Minister MJ Akbar whom 11 women make allegation against him. When the movement came out, women celebrities and other women voiced out their sexual abuse which heated the movement. It gained support from politicians, lawyers and members of various institutions. However, it unfolded the stories of various women to shame the assaulters publicly.
v) The Gulabi Gang: It is founded by Data SatbodhSain in 2006 to women victims of domestic violence in the absence of police intercession. The gang members wore pink, it have its first rescue in Banda district in UP, wherein the organization has been actively located in North India. It have its members grew to as many as 2,70,000 in 2014. Not only does it fight against violence against women, it even laid hands on corruption, child marriage and dowry deaths. The age-group of its members normally ranged between 18 and 60 years of age. The value of this organization is the fact that it acted where the police failed to take actions.
vi) Save Silent Valley Movement: This movement was initiated by Sugathakumari ,an environmentalist and conservationist . In 1928, the Electricity Board of Kerala suggested an input of electricity generator along the river Kunthipuzha, which was approved on 1973, which projected a cost of about 25 crores. It required a dismantle of 8 sq.km of evergreen forest. Romulus Whitaker (founder of Madras Snake Park and Madras Crocodile Bank) with KSSP (A voluntary science group) was the initiator of the protest against this issue. Sugathakumari wrote a poem titled “Marathinu Stuthi” (Ode to a tree) which became a symbol and anthem for this movement. As aforementioned, he started this movement to save natural forests across the country. Some of the arguments of the conservationist of the river are:
a) If the project has been furthered, the entire valley would be drown by the dam.
b) The worse done by the project will be much worse.
c) The destruction of the construction would include illegal wood felling, cattle grazing, poaching, encroaching which would cause destruction of the valley.
Several petitions, campaigns and protests had been going on pressurizing the central government and as a result, in 1983 the project had been called off. Indira Gandhi declared the respective river to be protected in 1984 and the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi inaugurated as a National Park in 1985.
vii) Nirbhaya Movement: Back in the year 2012, the news of gang rape and torture of a medical student in Delhi on the 16th December, 2012 flooded media across the entire country. Women protestors were all over the country, protesting in rage and anger. The protest got so heat up that even the legal system of the government had to listen to the demands . They have over 8,000 suggestions aided by various law makers and institutions. It included 20 years as the minimum penalty for gang rape. Though the conviction rate stayed as low as 1%, reports have increased from the incident which is the positive outcome of the movement.
Due to literacy, education and knowledge, the condition of women have risen. According to the Human Development Survey of 2011-12, 70% of girls of 15-18 years of age still continued their their education, therefore, the percentage goes only 5% less than boys. In 2018, in the class XII CBSE examination, 33.31% succeed in passing the examination which outperform boys which is only 78.99% only. In spite of all these improvements, the percentage of participation of women in the labor markets has been quite low. In contemporary India, above their education, one of the outstanding problems of women has been the barrier at the participation of work. Illiterate women worked more in the labor market. White collar jobs were regarded for the men; due to this, there were factors which caused the less participation of women such as social background, place of residence , non-availability of white collar jobs, disproportionate long hours and lesser job security. The 2011-12 NSSO data showed that between 25-59 age-group, nearly one third of agricultural workers are farmers while the proportion of working women in the professional groups is only 15%.
Therefore, feminism movements in India down the ages have impacted in giving rise women organizations like Convention Against Discrimination of Women (CEDAW), Convention on Combating the Crimes of Trafficking in Women and Children, National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), Mahila Dakshita Samiti (MDS), Joint Women’s Programme (JWP) and Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) . These organizations gave the needful courage and energy to stand up against oppression of women. It also gave the rightful confidence to voice their opinions and speak up for themselves and their fellow women, against torture and abuse by men.
Let us discuss some of the reasons why feminism movement is needed in India-
1) To end the victimization of male dominance: Practices like kanyadaan, raksha bandhan and the purdah system highlighted the extent of male dominance in the society. In various realms of our lives, women were look upon as ‘the other’, the weaker beings and are expected to surrender themselves to the needs and wants of men. These movements and organizations educated the women which further provided the needful confidence and courage to stand up for themselves.
2) For achieving equality and identity: It should be mentioned that over 2 lakhs baby girls are killed due to the preference of baby boys and thousands of women were killed due to dowry harassment. Even after birth, women/girls have to go through discrimination of all sorts. Of education and nutrition, women benefitted much less than boys. From statistics, 50% of teenage Indian girls are underweight. The percentage of girls getting higher education is quite less as compared to boys, which serves the reason as to why only small amount of girls could enter white collar jobs. Normally, women were barred from their own identity. In fact, each and every person have their own identity and it is, therefore a crime to identify someone from someone’s identity (be it their father, brother or anyone else). No one deserves to stand in the shadow of other, wherein everyone deserves to enjoy the light from their own view. In this sense, women movements helped women realizing their rights and dignities.
3) To end contempt of women’s career choices: Firstly, in India women were not expected to become well-educated and having jobs that pays off. They were expected to stay at home and do household chores. In fact, they disdained housekeeping because it did not paid off, but research tells that housemaking is equivalent to 2.5 jobs. Women were often discriminated in various jobs. They were often paid less than men for the same job and the same amount of energy consumed. Women acquired only 14% of the 17th Lok Sabha members. The Women’s Reservation Bill which is still pending in the Parliament proposes to reserve 33% seats for women in Lok Sabha and in all State Legislative Assemblies.
4) To stop discussing about the know-how of women’s dress code: In India, feminism is needed severely. Putting aside all other rights and freedom, women were not allowed to wear every dress they fall for. They regarded western styled clothes to be immodest and an invitation to rape, which is illiterate. Even in times of discussion of rape, the dress code of the victims has always been discussed which make these movements seem necessary.
To conclude, feminism and its movements and organizations were much needed to protect women, to fight against evil thoughts and deeds which barred them from enjoying their rights and freedom. It is needed to remind women of their strength and dignities. Therefore, the patriarchal spirit gave the rise of these movements. If women were given their fair needed rights, feminism won’t be necessary.
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Cite the original source:
Rinawmi, Debbie and Kaparwan, Dr. Shuchi. “Movement of Feminism in India ” Mizo Studies, X, no. 3, Sept. 2021, pp. 488–498.