“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”
Of the many fears that the December 16 gangrape of a young paramedic in Delhi last year unleashed, one important but cynical one was that the public outrage that had erupted in its wake would fade away just as quickly as it had built up. That the perpetrators would get away, the case would drag on for years, and nothing, really, would change on the ground. That what Lessing had exhorted women to do would not materialise. But that fear seems unfounded. Exactly a year after the barbaric rape, the discourse on women’s rights has not only persisted, it has acquired new shades, more nuance and a stronger, more assertive tone. Be it of Suzette Jordan, a single mother of two who was gangraped in Calcutta, but refused to be referred to as the ‘Park Street rape victim’ and demanded she be identified by her real name, even though the law prohibits anyone from naming a rape victim; of the law intern who plucked up the courage to blog about retired Supreme Court judge A.K. Ganguly as the man who harassed her in a Delhi hotel; of the young journalist from Tehelka who spoke up against her powerful editor Tarun Tejpal and subsequently quit; of the women who exposed godman Asaram Bapu and his son Narayan Sai, landing both in jail on rape charges.
Mumbai radio jockey Meera Damji, 34, had friends teasing her about turning into a hard-core ‘feminist’ when she walked the talk and brought a man to book for assaulting her on the stretch between her office and train station. “If fighting for equality makes me a feminist, then I am one. Keyboard activism is important, but it’s important to get out and do the real thing, get your hands dirty.” With a group of three women and a young man, Meera has gone a step ahead and formed an activist group called ‘War Against Railway Rowdies’. “We wanted to do something about the dozens of men who hang out of trains not due to lack of space, but because they like to touch women waiting to get on at the platforms. So we mobilised other women who used the local, and with the help of the railway authorities, the women’s commission and the police, nabbed more than a dozen men. We’ll be carrying out this operation every few weeks,” she says.
Hell hath no fury like a woman assaulted. No one escapes it, be it a powerful editor, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a godman with unshakeable mass appeal, or his son...
If the female voice feels more empowered, taking on a fiery, go-getter tone, the nature of debates, too, has shifted. “The discourse has moved on to include talk of gender neutrality, sexuality, the very definition of rape. The laws, however, despite the amendments, do not reflect the complexity of women’s issues,” says feminist scholar Nivedita Menon, who has been writing actively on ongoing issues of crimes against women.
Taking to the streets Calcutta erupts in protest over a the gangrape and murder of a 20-year-old in Barasat, West Bengal. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 16 December 2013)
From seminars and conferences, Feminism 2.0 has now come to the streets. So the ripple effect of the recent high-profile cases has been felt not just on public platforms, but even in homes. “This is a time when one is reflecting on the old-school feminism vs the new, simply because young girls are now guided by a sense of personal violation. Young men have also joined the debate,” observes women’s rights activist Akhila Singh. Documentary filmmaker Shilpi Gulati, who divides her time between Delhi and Mumbai, feels a sea change in how she negotiates her space in her conservative home, where she has had to fight for every little issue, unlike her older brother. “After the December 16 incident, what has become vital to me is to assert my right to be out, to loiter on the streets, anytime I want to, like my brother. I have had to fight off the efforts of my family to ‘protect’ me by restricting my space.”
Walkovers Slutwalk in Delhi. (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)
In 2013, the agenda, above all, is one of introspection. “We, who claim to be so liberal, sorted-out, really need to sort out our own issues first before pushing others to do so,” says actor-activist Nandita Das. “Subtle inequalities exist everywhere. There is discrimination at every level. Ten years ago, I may not have protested gentle moments of discrimination, but now I see myself asserting my right at every level.”
Walkovers Moochi walk in Bangalore. (Courtesy: Wooplr)
“There’s a real sense of outrage among young Indians that’s giving rise to grassroots feminist activism,” says Howard. “Some of these groups are very inventive in their tactics. Consider Mind the Gap, who stage anti eve-teasing flash mobs on the Delhi Metro wearing T-shirts reading ‘Main cheez nahin hun mast mast’ or ‘I am not an Item’, or the Blank Noise Project, a campaigning community art group that put a lie to the tired argument about eve-teasing victims ‘asking for it’ by wearing western outfits when they staged an exhibition of garments Indian women were wearing when they were sexually molested—most, of course, turned out to be in saris and salwar kameezes.” While in the West, a ‘third-wave feminist uprising’—with sexualisation of young girls and objectification of women in the media as key issues—may be taking root, back home, we are just about coming to terms with both an increase in violent crimes and an understanding of the inequalities women face every day but have learnt to brush under the carpet over the decades.
On Youtube Kalki Koechlin’s satirical rape video went viral
The widening space of women’s issues has sparked off niche initiatives, too. Shilpi Gulati is off to Mumbai to shoot a documentary on women’s rights within the Parsi community. In Bangalore, journalist-activist Nisha Susan launched The Ladies Finger with her peers to “write about gender-related issues but not necessarily gender violence”. The biggest hit on the irreverent, quirky website is a post by Swati Bhattacharya, national creative director of JWT India, titled: ‘My Dirtiest Secret As A Mother’. “Her secret is that she leaves work everyday at five in the evening. It turns the notion that women have to work late hours to prove their worth on its head,” says Nisha. “What is heartening is that there has been continuous engagement on gender issues in the last year, and the kind of people talking are not the usual choir gang,” she adds. The general refrain is: this is a good time to capitalise on the momentum. Harish Iyer, a Mumbai-based activist, speaks of the amplification of thought thanks to social media. “Due to the revival we’re seeing, every issue pertaining to women has surfaced. But through the online network, there has been a sense of widespread support—it has revolutionised the revolution.” On the ground—in our homes, across dining tables, in the bedroom, out on the street, in public forums and political spaces—the wheels seem to be moving. It should please Doris Lessing that Indian women are “doing it now”.
By Neha Bhatt with Dola Mitra
Feminist fluff. If you want to be treated as an equal, don’t ask for special treatment (Hear that Shebang?, Dec 16). Compete on equal terms and prove your worth. When women can’t even compete in a non-physical, cerebral sport like chess on even terms with their male counterparts, it shows that they have a long way to go.
Cdr Arun Visvanathan, Chennai
The ‘new’ Indian woman is a forced entity, the creation of a loud media and exploitative politics. In trying to fit that image, women have come to believe that femininity is a weakness. They are trying to be masculine and trying to feminise men with the aid of biased law. They aren’t even thinking independently, their thinking is being conditioned by feminist jargon. They take offence at the slightest statement on women. How progressive and mature is that? There’s no room for debate, they take an absolutely fundamentalist position. Their loftiest notion of rebellion is to be disrespectful. There are many men too who will agree with them blindly, for the fact is they have traded objective thinking because of instinctive empathy. The new-age woman is equated with a working woman. That’s the result of a capitalist system that fails to see anything without associating it with money. It’s just an urban phenomenon that ignores the actually disadvantaged, exploited woman. It’s a fad, a torch in the hands of monkeys. As for the cover, haven’t seen anything funnier. Don’t mess with us, who exactly are they saying this to?
Chittaranjan V., Bangalore
If the law fails to protect them, what is wrong with women clenching their fists to convey the message, ‘Don’t mess with us’. Women must be free to live anywhere in this country, as they like, at any time.
George Jacob, Kochi
Great cover, and a nice Indian twist to the poster of American icon Rosie the Riveter, in which she exhorts women to take up jobs while their husbands are away fighting in the second world war.
Kishore Dasmunshi, Calcutta
Do women think as a group? I doubt. Often, women are the worst enemies of women. Shoma Chaudhury is only the most recent example of that.
V. Iyengar, Hyderabad
Who is a shebang?
An ultra feminist?
Who else thinks the cover photo is plagiarised from Rosie the riveter .. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:We_Can_Do_It!.jpg
27 D Dinesh
"Judges, journalists, uncles, roadside romeos, bus drivers, godmen - everyone is hunting young girls.."
"Judges, journalists, uncles, roadside romeos, bus drivers, godmen - everyone is hunting young girls.."
The hyper reporting seems to have caught up with you. Or are you part of the hysterical brigade?
Your cover, unfortunately, is blatantly copied from a similar cover on The Economist some years back. Your designer does not seem to have much creativity.
Things have progressively become worse over the years. Judges, journalists, uncles, roadside romeos, bus drivers, godmen - everyone is hunting young girls. However, one wonders whether the increased activism will work against girls in the long run. How does one ask them for a date, for instance, without being branded a rapist? And will it lead to fewer women in the workplace if men are scared to work with them? So until gender sensitisation is not introduced, men will never grow up, and if they don't, we cannot expect the situation to really improve.
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