Kolkata-based young lawyer, Vedatrayee, dwells on the subject of gender justice. She examines it socio-politically, in the historical perspective, to challenge established biases, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.
Sunil was in a hurry to leave for school. Sheetal, his younger sister was packing his bag for him. Savitri their mother opened the freezer to see they had only two eggs left for breakfast for a family of four that morning. One for the father and one for the son, she decided instantly.
Rakesh longed for Wednesdays. That is when his school held Ballet classes for junior students. Fifteen years later his heart ached when he came across a ballet video by an Indian boy on YouTube in his 9-5 office cubicle. His parents wanted him to get a ‘manly’ job. He has.
These are instances that any Indian citizen gets to witness perhaps every day, every hour – aware or not. The heading must have made you cringe in your seat “Oh God not again!” Yes, the topic of gender justice is one of the most widely spoken about social problems in India. It is ‘trending’. So much so that anyone can give you a 5-minute-long speech on it. Please note the words ‘spoken about’. People who give the speech will manage to amaze you with their ability to contradict themselves by their actions. Doesn’t this remind you of our politicians during the elections? It does. Somewhat.
Justice means fairness. Technically it is a legal as well as a philosophical theory by which fairness is administered. Gender justice speaks of the balance that is required for the proper functioning of the world. It is essentially meant to observe the freedom of both sexes from social taboos sometimes at the cost of their very existence. The position of women in India has not always been like what it is today. The Vedic period witnessed equality of both sexes and there was no concept of ‘weaker sex’. It can best be termed as a period of feminine glory and also masculine sagacity and liberalism. It was a time when men and women carried out all functions together, helping and supporting each other. Famous historian Romila Thapar, in Looking back in History, remarks, “Within Indian subcontinent, there have been infinite variations on the status of women diverging, according to cultural milieu, family structure, class, cast, property rights and morals”. The first setback to the status of women was brought by the restrictions put by Manu. It worsened in the medieval period with the attack of Alexander and the Huns.
Education came to a halt as they were not allowed to move outside for their ‘security’. Social evils like Sati, child marriage, female infanticide were born. The British advent in India led to the emergence of Middle Class, which again proved to be a shattering blow to the status of women. Although the Social Reform Movement of the 19th Century and the Nationalist Movement of the 20th century made attempts towards revival of the lost grandeur and although the phase witnessed stupendous outcomes like eradication of Sati movement, widow remarriage, enactment of several laws for protection of equal status of women and other historical milestones, the loss was irretrievable.
Analysing this trend it can be well said that women were ‘made’ to suffer. Was it because men realised they were nothing compared to the exceptional power of women? Women are powerful beings and there shall be no debate on this. However, in contemporary times women are celebrated as well. It is in the forms of Goddesses, on the one hand, and ‘item’ ‘bomb’ and ‘chamiya’, on the other! Talent and capability? Well, who cares? We live in a world where naked Goddesses are worshipped every morning noon and evening and naked women are objectified for selling jewellery to junk foods, utensils to utilities, toiletries to toffees and coffee to condoms; where peeking bra straps and miniskirts are more important than an outstanding performance on a tennis lawn and where cleavages of actresses are paid more attention to rather than the fact that they give super performances on screen; where there is outrage at the idea of inter-caste marriage but a father is allowed to ravish his daughter and the mother is silent. Most of the leading legislative enactments in India pose that a son is ‘independent’when he is major, but a daughter is when she is married off. In the mid-20th Century when there is no profession left unconquered by women and the law of the country defines girls as a liability of her father, it would not be erroneous to say that we are far from gender justice.
It is said that to understand the spirit of a civilisation and to appreciate and realise its excellence and limitations is to study the history of its womenfolk. Liberal Feminist John Stuart Mill in his famous work, ‘The Subjection of Women’ has been quoted to state, “The existing relations between the sexes, the legal subordination of one sex to the other is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement….” Sadly, this philosophy has a more theoretical existence today. In terms of women’s rights and their protection, we still have a long way to reach gender justice.
Gender justice is not women empowerment. Both are often explained simultaneously and that is exactly what I did till now. One probable reason is that gender-based violence mostly occurs around women – domestic violence, child marriage, abduction and sale for prostitution and rape. But, although by a nominal margin, men are also exposed to gender biased injustice, although hard to believe since we call it a ‘man’s world’ and everything is so easy in India if you are a guy. Well, bursting the security balloon, it is not always true.
Now, let me draw the attention of the readers to the other side of gender justice. The stronger sex or the first sex they may be called but society does not spare them of its stereotypical bashing nor are they safe from miscreants. By society, what exactly do I mean I myself don’t know! The age-old usages that have not been updated with flowing time maybe. Boys are also exposed to sexual abuse and other related offences. Socially, men in India have a long list of ‘don’ts’ as well. They are for every moment since their birth under the seething pressure to be manly. Manly when you don’t cry and don’t wear pink. Wearing pink makes you gay in India, even if you are not. You are expert level manly if you beat up your wives and dominate your sisters and girlfriends. Men are raised with the idea of manliness. Correction. Men in India are raised with the idea that inequality is pretty normal. A very few manage to come out of this maze and live their dreams. Those who don’t, they continue to live their life under the impression of being the first sex and contribute towards the rising percentage of women related offences. These beings are not happy. This is an injustice. The world is not a happy place anymore. This is the outcome.
In 2006, the Council of the European Union adopted conclusions on ‘Men and Gender Equality’ noting that if gender equality is to be achieved, attention must be paid to how men are involved in the achievement of gender justice as well as to the positive impact of the same on men and well-being of society as a whole. There must be a joint responsibility. We need both. Even creation is not possible without both. The World cannot do without either men or women. They are like the ebony and ivory of a piano and there cannot be perfect harmony if they don’t live together as Paul McCartney said in his song. “We all know that people are the same wherever you go; there is a good and bad for everyone. We learn to live when we learn to give each other what we need to survive, together alive”. [Ebony and Ivory lived together in perfect harmony by Paul Mc Cartney]
Gender justice works for this perfect harmony and this is what needs to be achieved.
Photos from the Internet
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A young lawyer by profession from The City of Joy, Vedatrayee is currently pursuing LLM from Calcutta University. She is a Bharatanatyam danseuse who has won a number of prestigious awards and performed in several National Festivals and Competitions throughout the country. Another passion that stirs her from deep within is the welfare of street and abandoned animals. She volunteers for a sociocultural endeavor, Swatantra, striving for the social, cultural and behavioral empowerment of the population.