More than a century ago, on 8 March, more than one million people across Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland took a stand for women’s suffrage and labour movements. Taking protest demonstrations to the streets, women demanded the rights denied to them: equal payment, equal rights, equal opportunity, equal representations etc. Since then, every year on this day, people across the world celebrate International Women’s Day.
The Indian Cultural Forum takes its readers through some of the assertions of women’s rights that took place in India over the last year.
The Sabarimala Judgement
On 28th September 2018, granting women between the ages of 10 and 50 the right to enter the shrine, has set the stage for a direct confrontation between contrary worldviews and social currents. Ranged on one side are defenders of the status quo who see the entry of women of menstrual age into Sabarimala as an assault on their traditions and religion. These champions of orthodoxy include the high priests of the temple, the erstwhile Pandalam royal family, upper caste organisations like the Nair Service Society, and hardline outfits like the Ayyappa Dharma Sena which have the direct backing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Opposed to these forces are a range of progressive organisations and movements which view the Sabarimala issue as a question of gender justice. They seek to use the Supreme Court judgment to advance the struggle against social prejudice and patriarchal mindsets. In this, they have received the active support of the Left-led state government. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speechin Kerala, referred the Kerala government’s effort to implement the SC judgement as “Kerala government’s conduct on Sabarimala issue is the most shameful.” So far, after relentless effort, only two women succeeded in entering the temple premise, although the Kerala government claims fifty-one women of menstruating age entered the temple after the Supreme Court verdict.
The triple talaq judgment of the Supreme Court is a partial victory for Muslim women since it declares instantaneous triple talaq as unlawful, but not unilateral triple talaq. Even in the case of the former, it does not declare instantaneous triple talaq as unconstitutional but only unlawful and that is a significant difference. Indian courts, even in respect of legislated laws have not been very encouraging when it comes to personal laws being challenged on the grounds of discrimination and dignity of women. And included a proviso where a man found guilty of the same be sent to jail for a three-year non-bailable term.
Historically, Devadasis or Temple women in South India were associated with the artistic performances and offerings to the divine in the temple. The bedars, dombars, holeyas, madigas, kilakkyatas and voddas often dedicated their girls as basavis at the local temples.
Present-day, the devadasi system is a continuation of the custom of dedicating girls to the life of a devadasi by the lower castes. There are being exploited by the upper caste men. On 24 January 2019 a dalit girl from Lingadahalli of Bagewadi taluk and Vijayapura district, Karnataka, was allegedly gang-raped and killed. The police refused to file an FIR against the culprits.
Devadasis are often abused by the upper castes because of their ancestral past. On June 12, 2007, following a mass dharna in Bengaluru, then state government forced to provide pensions and social security measures. The devadasis are now demanding a survey to secure social benefits for the children of devadasis.
Banaras Hindu University
On 21st September protests erupted in Banaras Hindu University over the victim shaming by the university administration, of a female student who was molested by three men inside the university premises. After the incident, female students protested against the lack of action and victim blaming by the administration. On September 23, the female protesters who were sitting at the university gate were brutally beaten up by the police. Protesting against the police repression and the ignorant attitude of the administration on September 25, women rights organizations, students and citizens in Delhi came together, in solidarity with BHU. They demanded swift action and a gender-sensitive body which can inquire into the sexual harassment cases and take up the task of gender sensitization for members of the University community.
Pinjra Tod, Delhi University
Pinjra Tod organised an all-night protest in front of Arts Faculty, North Campus, against the unreasonable and arbitrary curfews in Delhi University hostels.
Pinja Tod has been raising issues to the administration over the last three years and had even submitted a memorandum to the VC several times. However, no action was taken by the authorities. Their charter of demands is divided into three sections, namely Hostel Rules, Hostel Fee and Infrastructure, and Hostel Allocation. It consisted of several demands, including removal of curfews/in-times from all the hostels of Delhi University, construction of a new women’s hostel for PwD students, and abolishment of the interview system for allocation of hostel seats.
On 8 October 2018, women students and activists protested against the Delhi University administration for their rights.
Sexual Harassment charge against Atul Johri
Jawaharlal Nehru University has been plagued by various issues in the past few years and issues seem to be growing every day. Last year, the university saw a series of protests against Atul Johri, faculty at School of Life Sciences (SLS). Nine women students filed police complaints against Atul Johri, Professor, accusing him of sexual harassment, abuse of power and sexual misconduct. The students demanded suspension of the faculty till the enquiry process is completed.
The newly instituted Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) by the university administration not only failed to take action against the Professor but also it provided him fully impunity to revisit the university.
All India Women's Protest Rally
Thousands of women marched towards the Parliament on September 4, chanting slogans and singing songs of resistance. Women from 20 different states participated in the march in New Delhi, protesting against the ever-increasing culture of violence and injustice against women in the country and the insolent silence of the government on this matter.
This is a part of the series of posts, leading up to the International Women's Day, that the Indian Cultural Forum is dedicating to women asserting change in cultural, economic, and socio-political spaces.