‘Truth alone triumphs' is the national motto of our country. Since childhood, teachers, parents, elders and textbooks have been preaching us this doctrine. We drank the essence of it as we would a magic potion, believing that the logical progression of truth is always towards its prevailing, towards victory, even without any agency. So the inevitable conclusion is that whatever that does not triumph could not have been the truth. This extremely convenient approach makes us blind to blatantly stark realities.
And that is why when Aamir Khan stormed into our drawing rooms, hitting the nail on the head, through his newly launched television serial Satyamev Jayate, we were so taken aback as if the fact that in our social set-up gender bias begins before life itself has taken root inside the womb of a mother had somehow escaped our attention.
The ominously increasing practice of female foeticide is made evident by the decreasing male:female ratio in most parts of the country. But this has not been enough to wake our nation out of a complacent slumber. Do we really fail to realise that this inhuman practice is unethical, immoral and illegal, having serious repercussions? Or, do we ignore the truth under the influence of some latent but more powerful forces than our individual subjectivity?
This brings me back to the concept of truth always being victorious. For me, it poses a larger philosophical question of truth being the ‘objective reality' or being contingent on perceptions and social experiences. Marx's proposition sounds most logical. He never rejected the existence of objective truth but believed in the distinction between true knowledge and knowledge that has been distorted through power structures or ideology. It is pre-evident that in our country the dominant ideology with respect to gender discourse is both patriarchal and patrilineal in nature. This male dominant power dynamics constructs the rationale which formulates a kind of a validation in the social psyche for gender disparity and even for gender-based crimes. It also creates a social mindset which considers boys assets and girls nothing more than a burden.
The validating reasons are threefold. First, in our society descent and succession are through males. Sons carry forward not just the lineage but property rights as well. Secondly, only a son can beget spiritual benefits. The condition precedent for attainment of moksha is the performance of cremation rites by the son. Last but not least, while a son's marriage brings dowry into the family, a girl is always associated with the term paraya dhan. Females are regarded only as temporary members of their natural family.
On the one hand, a daughter or woman is generally considered financially unproductive as her contribution is largely in the form of unremunerated family labour and, on the other, she alienates her parent's property on marriage. Even in the present context of working women, who are financially productive, social perception does not change because apart from a few initial years, for the whole of her life she earns not for her parental but marital home. It becomes extremely difficult to break through this nexus of sheer economics and traditional, cultural practices tangled with the status of females in our society.
For a very long time, the ‘right-thinking people' have been trying to fight this battle for equality of women mostly with the help of law. They seem to have forgotten that in India, with respect to gender discourse, societal validation still has more authority than legal validation.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, provides that any direct or indirect demand for dowry from parents or other relatives of a bride or bridegroom is a punishable offence. But since our society considers it a matter of great family honour that a daughter is married with pomp and show even at the cost of the parent's life savings, giving and taking dowry are still an inherent part of a marriage.
Another example would be the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. It has made daughters coparceners in their parental ancestral property but the harsh reality is that any daughter who demands her share is looked down upon as greedy and selfish. So the sons, even after seven years of the passing of this Act, continue to have unhindered enjoyment of property rights. Conversely, where society joins hands with progressive legal measures, there has been positive transformation.
For example, the practice of Sati is not only illegal in our country under the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1986 but is also considered atrocious and inhuman by society and that is why it has been completely eradicated. This fact should make us realise that laws alone can never strike at the root of a discriminatory social mindset. There has to be a conscious effort to deconstruct the patriarchal notion of truth and to make the social belief-systems on a par with progressive legal measures through large-scale social movements and awareness programmes.
Of late, civil society has been so preoccupied with reforming big institutions that the importance of the role of an individual in social reforms has been severely undermined. In this context, I am often reminded of what Helen Keller said: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” Eventually, change like charity would begin at home and at the end of the day ‘we' will have to be the change we wish to see.
Without taking any credit away from the team of Satyamev Jayate, I have to emphasise that after all it is individuals like the former DC of Nawashahr, Krishan Kumar, who make us see light at the end of the tunnel.
(The writer is a former national general secretary, NSUI, and former president of the Delhi University Students Union. ragini_nayak@ yahoo.co.in)