IntroductionWomen play a great role in the growth and development of the society and making it an advanced and modern society. There is a famous saying by the Brigham Young that, You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation. But Indian women’s have faced inequality and injustice for a very long period of time. Various movements helped to shape the current Indian scenario. Feminism in India is a series of movement that aimed to challenge the establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and to ensure equal opportunities for women in India.
Women’s role in Pre-colonial social structures reveals that feminism was theorized differently in India than in the West. (Partha Chatterjee, 2014) In India, women’s issues first began to be addressed when the state commissioned a report on the status of women to a group of feminist researchers and activists. The report recognized the fact that in India, women were oppressed under a system of structural hierarchies and injustices.
During this period, Indian feminists were influenced by the Western debates being conducted about violence against women. However, due to the difference in the historical and social culture of India, the debate in favour of Indian women was conducted creatively and certain ideas were rejected. BackgroundIn the early nineteenth century, the women question was raised primarily by elite upper caste Hindu men. The women question included issues like women’s education, widow remarriage and campaigns against sati. In the 1920s Indian women entered into a new era- with what is defined as feminism leading to the creation of localized women’s associations that worked on issues of women’s education, livelihood strategies for working class women, as well as national level women’s associations such as the all India women’s conference.
It can be said that the evolution of the Indian women’s movement in the nineteenth century grew out of a cultural and nationalistic response to the British colonialists condemning of the treatment of women as barbaric and directly connected to Indian religious practices. It was the colonialist’s contention that the traditions of Indian religions accounted for the suppression of women, not their social or economic condition. This led nationalists to take up the women’s cause and frame it in the wider context of an attack on Indian tradition in general. This they did by drawing the distinction between ghar’ and bahir’, or the home’ and the world’; the dichotomy used to divide the inner spiritual world and the outer material world. Chatterjee interprets this dichotomy as a way of maintaining the positive elements of western materialism; economic practices, good governance, rationality, science, etc., with the higher, spiritual nature of Indian culture; the identification of traits that are distinctively national. This dichotomy helps us to understand how women’s gender roles were redefined within the nationalist’s political project. Women became protectors of the spiritual domain, the home or ghar.Education of women became a popular idea in India (amongst the higher castes at least) in the early nineteenth century (Patel : 1998) . This was done in the context of the nationalist movement as it was seen as desirable that women became educated in their own language, and desirable that they could achieve superiority over western women, women of the preceding generation and over women of the lower classes. This gave the women of the higher classes and castes a sense of freedom and self-emancipation. This, however, was part of the dichotomy that Chatterjee identified and in fact led to a new form of oppression.This new form of oppression can be seen as imprisoning the women in a nonactivist and nontransformative’ state, whose superiority over all others meant she now embodied ghar and the unchanged domesticity in an age of flux’ This transformation of the women to this new elevated position in Hindu society restricted them to this newly defined gender role. This role was to play a crucial part in right-wing politics in the future.It was around the 1970’s that the contemporary women’s movement began to be more radical and active, especially against the Indian state who for a time declared a state of emergency which led to the repression of all political and progressive groups, not just women’s (Ray : 1999). This repression led to a fight back by women’s organisations which greatly increased their scope and power. Today issues are fought over a large spectrum of issues including ; union rights, abusive partners, the rights of dalit’ women (the lowest caste in the Hindu religion), worker’s rights, sexual assault and much more (Ray : 1999). It is not just left-wing and progressive causes that are fought over by women, but right-wing issues too.Hindu nationalism, the kind of nationalism that led to the new form of oppression that Chatterjee (1989) described, still has a large say in women’s issues in India today. Gender symbolism has been used by the modern Hindu nationalist movement in much the same as the nationalists and anti-colonialist’s of the nineteenth century did, with the crucial difference, however, that several female leaders now espouse renunciation and violence as a part of their imagery (Sarkar & Butalia : 1995). Amrita Basu uses the example of three Hindu women in Sarkar & Butalia (1995) to highlight how sexuality and violence have been used within the women’s movement. Vijayraje Scindia, Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Rithambara, members of Hindu nationalist parties and leaders within their associated women’s organisations, have all declared their celibacy and are known as sanyasins’. In India, as Mahatma Ghandi illustrates, renunciation exercises enormous symbolic and iconic imagery. This image of the sanyasin heightens their ability to reach out and unify diverse sectors, different castes and classes within Indian society. Scindia, Bharati and Rithambara have been able to do this with great success as they are seen as beyond moral reproach.However this elevation of the individual through sexuality gives women the power to enter political debate with religious symbolism, muddying the waters of the Indian states already shaky secular status. This extension of the dichotomy of ghar and bahir, and the empowering affect the protective inner sanctum of the home’ (1995: 162) has on Hindu women enables them to attack politicians, Muslims and the secular state, often in a violent way. The assertion of female dominance over Muslim men has led to widespread violence against them. Propaganda from the right has helped build up the caricature of the Muslim man as attacker of Hindu women and therefore attacker of all Hindu’s. It is the case that this violence is an example of the right-wing Hindu movement’s abilities to co-opt women’s issues in the name of their own causes.Tanika Sarkar in Jeffrey & Basu (1998) relates this to intercommunity strife and conflict, a feature of Indian life that the Hindu Right has sought to stoke through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. The Indian women, then, became a symbol of the whole Hindu community and has emerged as crucial mobilizing impulse, since much of the violence was composed around allegations of abductions by Muslim criminals’ (1998: 97).Social reform movementThis movement was the mirror in which Indian men were invited to see themselves when colonial education began. The new urban elite, drawn mostly from the upper castes, imbibed the enlightenment philosophy of individualism and humanism. They perceived barbaric traditional practices against women as a civilizational lapse and as recognizable social evils (R. Chatterjee 1992). Thus the social reform movement emerged as an attempt of the new elites to challenge, sometimes with and sometimes without British help, the worst features of the old patriarchal society. Women were in the forefront of all the main items on the agenda of the social reform movement. For reformers, women’s emancipation was a prerequisite to national regeneration and an index of national achievement in the connected discourse of civilization, progress, modernity, and nationalism (Sen 1993).
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