Women in Indian society and politics continue to be pariahs, as events related to Sabarimala and the Me Too movement reveal. Women are barred from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala state on grounds of impurity owing to menstruation. Besides being irrational, this social diktat violates the fundamental right of equality guaranteed under the Indian constitution. Some women approached the Supreme Court, which upheld their right to enter the temple.
Tradition and faith are used extensively to sustain inequality in India, as shown in Dalits being barred from drawing water from public wells or entering temples. In many cases killings took place when Dalits asserted their right to be human. However, despite repeated attempts, prevented by mobs, women could not enter the Sabarimala temple and the government was unable to honor the order of the highest court of land, dealing a blow to India's image as a lawful society and polity.
The event also revealed that equal citizenship of women is of no concern of the main political parties, as the Bharatiya Janata Party mobilized people against the entry, while the states ruling Communists and the Congress party lent symbolic support on television.
While BJP president Amit Shah advised the courts to give precedent to faith while judging cases, the Kerala state government eagerly waited for a review petition filed in the Supreme Court, so that it could be partially excused from the responsibility of implementing the court's order.
In fact, political parties have miserably failed women of the country, as they are all talk and no action for nearly a decade on women's 33% reservation in the federal Parliament and state legislatures. In fact their representation is abysmally low, at 11.4% and 9% respectively. This shows the imbalance at the top where men corner nearly 90% of power.
Indian social reality
Women's absence from the power gallery represents a larger social reality in which millions of Indian families continue to believe that a girl child is better born in others' families, resorting to female feticide and plunging India's gender ratio to 940 females to 1,000 males, while in prosperous regions like Chandigarh, Delhi and Haryana it has dipped to 818, 868 and 879 per 1,000 respectively.
In an average middle-class family, a male child is more likely to be admitted to a better school (that is, where English is the medium of instruction) than his female counterpart. Though they constitute 46% of college enrollments, women hold merely 12% of cabinet positions, 12% in higher judiciary, 8% in police and 15% in higher administration. Evidently women of the country are absent from power seats of community and are a vulnerable lot.
Me Too movement
So when a fraction of this humanity voiced against sexual exploitation under the Me Too campaign it was met with saintly silence and raving retaliation. A national family-health survey for 2015-16 found that 49% of women in Maharashtra justified spousal violence owing to disobedience, presenting a disempowered self-image lending credulity to Simone de Beauvoir's assertion, "One is not born but becomes woman."
This is the curse of society in which women become an object, predesigned for a role, conceptualized from man's point of view. When women do not fit into it by asserting their individuality they become target of crime. In 2016, 338,954 incidents of crime against women, including 38,947 rapes, were reported in the country, indicating peril of women's safety.
There is an absence of formal sex education at schools, and an average teenage Indian boy gets sex education from his immediate environment, Bollywood or pornography. Women are stereotyped and fantasized from a male worldview.
Louann Brizendine in The Female Brain claimed that while men think about sex every 52 seconds, for a women it is once a day. This and related neuroscience research that is informing modern psychology have a significant value for educational policy and molding cultural attitudes toward women on the street and in society at large.
It is no surprise that instinctive male behavior aggravates into predatory trespassing in positions of authority, more so in the absence of an effective mechanism of protection with discomforting consequences for working women. The Me Too campaign is a strong testimony to this.
Policymakers must recognize that women's empowerment is not only a right but is knitted with justice and development of the country. If India is to join the club of developed countries in the near future, it must create a robust social capital, which is a prerequisite for such an ambition.
(The writer is a researcher and author based in Melbourne. Formerly he taught political science in Delhi University and was the national general secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.)
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