Feminism, as an ideology, “aims for a gender-neutral society, eliminating injustices ingrained in our home and society against women”. Have you ever pondered why there’s such an everlasting howl in the social sphere emphasizing feminism? At the outset, women are treated as secondary gender around the world. In India, it is very much evident through female infanticides, son-meta preferences, isolation of menstruating women, better educational opportunities for ‘Sons’ at the cost of ‘Daughters’, placing the burden of marriage expenses and dowry upon bride’s parents, poor share of women in labour force, lack of reproductive rights, economic dependency upon men, and designating household care to women.
Glorification of Indian traditions, norms and social institutions has always been a game where ‘some’ are deceived to be more powerful than ‘others’. Certain social groups are finding pride to be the flag bearers of Varnashrama and Manudharma. People who interpret these historical texts have cleverly attached ‘Dignity’ to the social division based on gender, occupation, heredity etc., thereby instilling and perpetuating the ‘Notion of Purity and Pollution’. Taking them forward, our social setup has placed women and Shudras at the lowest rung of hierarchy. Looking there, why do such oppressive practices come into place first? Cues from Indus Valley Civilization up until Sangam Age signify righteous position to women in every walk of life as an able participant in social life, as poets, court advisor etc.
But in the Later Vedic Period, women lost their due presence in social life. It led to institutional Woman Ostracization (excluding a member from a group with agreement from other members). Gradually women were objectified as a mode of increasing population in caste line. As every object has unique features/product specifications women are specified with ‘Chastity, Self-less, Sacrificial, obedience to men, undertaking Sati etc’. Though we have traversed several centuries beating down unethical practices like Sati, the present day is still indifferent to the power balance weighed heavily towards men depriving women as like every time period.
Coming back to our present, caste is so deep-rooted in our society that every caste uses women as a weapon to strengthen their dominance over other castes. So called upper castes instill a false notion that Caste-purity gets Polluted when a girl follows inter-caste marriage. In the name of bringing back the honour, parents and social groups land up in ‘Honour killing’. Eventually, women lose their right to choose their partner, which is the fundamental trait of Feminism.
Further, perpetuation of women centric norms begins from women themselves. This is called Institutionalized Patriarchy. Here, Women both elderly and young invariably thinks that performing all household chores, being Self-less, Sacrificial are the ‘Way of life for womanhood‘. They pass on this mentality to younger generations girls and boys and find a weird pleasure in exercising their duty towards caste.
In the lower rungs, Dalit women are exploited physically and mentally by upper caste women and men. For instance, more Dalit women are forced to perform manual scavenging, also face ill treatment in domestic labour, sexual harassment by the upper caste etc. Hathras rape case stands as stark reality reflecting caste stigmatization where a Dalit, handicapped girl was raped to death by upper caste and was even refused respectful last rites. Recently an editorial also pointed to the systemic fault upon law enforcement agencies in recognizing harassment cases under Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, even when the victim belongs to either group
Restricting menstruating women into temples has been rightly challenged in Indian Young Lawyers Associations Vs State of Kerala (Sabarimala case). Even after the court allowed for the entry of women, the inability of the state and society to enable the entry explains the intricacies of religion and caste interwoven in women’s liberty. It also brings out the need for an anti-caste approach in rooting feminism. When the clutches of caste upon women are decluttered, they can truly find the purpose and balance in their life.
Recognizing caste-based discriminations, restrictions, violence against women puts us on right track to eliminate caste indifferences and also achieve dual objective: Casteless Society and Gender-Neutral Society. Hence, while we advocate better education opportunities and health care for women, we should equally ensure that she is aware of all her social liberties and is able to exercise them efficiently to develop herself socially and economically on par with every other member in a social setup.