Sourajit Aiyer - Market Moving.Info, UK - India cannot keep ignoring its gender equality issues, Nov 2014
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India cannot keep ignoring its gender equality issues
This article was originally published by South Asia Monitor.
Controversy rakes up a lot of noise, especially when its cause threatens gender equality. India’s new establishment
cannot afford to ignore the challenge a recent such controversy has created, given that Indians voted for this
government in the hope of change.
One hopes that the call for “change” includes changes in gender issues as well. The Prime Minister has an
economic vision for India, which would need increased participation from women in the economic mainstream.
However, continued gender issues might just threaten the realization of that end.
Hindu Mahasabha, a right-wing Hindu nationalist group of which NathuramGodse was once a member, created
headlines in Haryana province by allegedly commenting that young girlsshould not wear jeans or skirts as that
“provoke” men, leading to rape. He also said that mobile phones can lead to immoral activities among young
people, and western clothes spoil Indian culture.
The defence given by a prominent member of the group, during a new-debate show on a leading Indian news
channel, was that “wouldn’t Indian parents want their children to dress in decent, cultural clothes.”
However, these controversial comments raise questions on gender issues. One feels it is not so much about
whether girls should wear jeans/skirts or talk on mobile phones, as much as it is to do with the tactics of a section of
men trying to dominate women by ordering them what they should do or not do.
The male ego finds soft targets to boost itself. Asserting control over women is one of these, and it is a
phenomenon seen in several nations, not just India. One cannot help but think that such comments by right-wing
groups might have had similar motivations in mind, as much as they may justify it by talking of protecting cultures.
If more Indian women are to enter education and job avenues, and participate in India’s economic vision, then such
sections of Indian men need to stop asserting dominance over women, even if they are feeling insecure or
threatened by the rise of socioeconomic independence among the women.
The alleged comment that appals the most is about the girl’s clothes “provoking” men, thus leading to incidents of
rape.While the Mahasabha’s member may defend himself on the TV show by saying wouldn’t Indian parents want
their children to dress in decent, cultural clothes, it is horrifying to see that he did not attribute the primary cause for
rape to the man’s misconduct.
I am sure no parent would want to see their son commit a heinous crime like rape, no matter what clothes the victim
wears. Such comments, which potentially indicate that the primary instigator of rape incidents is what the girl wears,
raise serious questions on the safety of women.
India is already infamous for crimes against women, and it is worrying if men who commit such heinous crimes are
not hauled up for their wrongdoing and instead end up finding defence in such immature comments. Another
question for the defenders of such an idea is that if indeed the girl’s tight, western clothes instigate to rape, then
how does it explain rape incidents with old women and minors?
No culture is perfect. Every culture has positive as well as negative aspects, be it western culture or any other.
Perhaps that was the sentiment which the right-wing group had in mind when they initially spoke out their views.
It can be said that young teenagers specifically may not always have the maturity to understand the possible
ramifications that the fast adoption of convenient technology, social media and different clothing has on societies
which are “in transition,” like India.
Some boys might interpret wrongly what a girl says, does or wears, due to immaturity of age. Peer-pressure among
young people is another challenge. One might argue it can sometimes lead to unsavoury situations, even if only as
an exceptional case.
However, the two observations, about men asserting dominance over women due to feelings of insecurity and
placing the primary fault of rape on the girl’s dress instead of the man’s misconduct, are indeed causes for concern.
Safety is paramount
It was change that Indians wanted when they voted in the federal elections. That change also includes the way in
which society treats its women. If change does not happen, then Indians may get disgruntled.
The new federal government cannot afford to ignore such controversies, since the people hope for change from it. It
has to swallow the bitter pill by taking on such right-wing groups.
Vote-bank politics has already necessitated political parties to appease the rural, ruling communities like
“khappanchayats”, who are powerful when it comes to vote equations. As it is, a leading politician from Samajwadi
Party had also courted controversy recently due to immature comments like “boys will make mistakes” while
addressing the issue of rape.
The new federal government needs to ensure that the hopes and confidence of modern-thinking Indians do not get
diluted, as their role is critical for the new government to realize its ambitions for this country. Women comprise
almost half of the country, and if their safety, independence and involvement cannot be ensured, then those
ambitions will struggle to get realized.
But on a second thought, it might be better to abide by such comments, immature as they may seem. After all, if the
Indian society is so immature that it cannot handle women becoming independent socio-economically due to
feelings of insecurity, and if it cannot guarantee basic safety and justice to its women against heinous crimes by
punishing the perpetrators for their misconduct, then it is better to abide by such comments just so our women stay
Safety is something which every Indian todays prays for his daughter, sister, wife and mother in this country. But it
will be a sad day indeed, if things really do come down to a situation where abiding is the only alternative.
It is not entirely surprising that this controversy occurred in Haryana province. It has one of the worst gender
statistics on aspects like female foeticide and female/male ratio. In any case, any group whosoever has no right to
order what the people should or should not do. Only the federal and provincial governments have that right.
It is ironical to see that same member admitting on that news show that he also carried a mobile phone. The federal
government recently had a meeting with the chief of a leading garments maker from Japan — so one expects it
does not view western attire as entirely decadent. But one does expect it to act against illogical and immature
Extremist views are not isolated to India. Right-wing extreme thoughts are a challenge in several countries,
including secular, Islamic and Christian nations.
To end, one might add that the women participants on that same TV news-debate show included SabaNaqvi,
Advaita Kala and ShaziaIlmi — accomplished professionals in their own right. India is proud to have daughters like
them. Its aspiration should be to have even more.
– SourajitAiyer is a finance professional in India. Views expressed are entirely personal.
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This entry was posted in In Depth, Views and tagged Asia, emerging
markets, equality, feminism,gender, India, politics on November 4, 2014 by Antonia Oprita.