CHAT Feminist Kamla Bhasin says Indian men will have to change, not to support women, but to save themselves
“M ian, aap mein kuch kami hai” (Gentleman, there is something wrong with you).”
When Kamla Bhasin said this to Aamir Khan on his tele-show Satyameva Jayate when he said he often cries, a roar of laughter went up. But the outspoken Bhasin was in fact holding up to the public a long-established notion that men are not male enough if they have tears in their eyes.
“We talk about what our women have to go through because of society, but it is equally sad what our men have to go through because of the way society wants to perceive them. Unless men change, their humanity would be destroyed. Look at all these rape accused, they knew they would be caught. Who can run away from the law these days? Yet, they did these crimes, because they are brutalised human beings, the result of what patriarchy has done to them,” she says.
Bhasin, who conducts gender sensitisation sessions for women across South Asia and for parliamentarians, bureaucrats and police officers, draws attention to the notion that has glaring chinks — that education will empower girls to break the manacles of a repressive society and will help build a milieu where a boy and a girl would be seen as equals.
“More and more women are now getting out of their houses, are educated, working and earning money. Yet, when you look at statistics, gender-based crimes are on the rise. Female foeticide is increasing , so are dowry deaths and domestic violence. These statistics tell us that education is not the only answer for a gender-just society,” she points out.
Words like swami , pati , husband , kanya daan will have to go away for an egalitarian society to come in. “What do these words and concepts mean? Swami or pati means maalik (owner ) . Husband means controller; that is where we got the word animal husbandry. How can you have two equal human beings when one is the other’s maalik ?” she asks.
“ Kanya daan is against the Constitution of India. Slavery is long finished. So how can a father give away his daughter, an 18-year-old Indian citizen, to somebody? It should be illegal.”
“What India needs today is a cultural revolution,” states Bhasin. “Also, we need to work on religion because all of them justify patriarchy. Often religion is used as a shield to justify patriarchy. When you question something, you are told, ‘ yeh toh hamara sanskar hai, riwaaj hai . (this is our culture, our tradition). ”
Talking about her journey in gender training, Bhasin says, “After I finished my M.A. from Rajasthan University, I got a fellowship to study Sociology of Development in West Germany. On finishing it in mid-1970, I taught at the Orientation Centre of the German Foundation for Developing Countries for about a year.” It was then that she felt the need to return home to implement what she had learnt.
Soon, she learnt how caste functioned, even in life-taking drought situations. “How Brahmins’ wells would never go dry because they receive State funds for drilling them every year.” And, that women are worse off across castes.
“I began to work with them before I got a job offer from the Food and Agriculture Organisation to go to Thailand to do gender training for women from South Asia,” she recalls.
Four years later, FAO posted her to New Delhi, allowing her to focus on gender issues. She founded SANGAT, South Asian Network of Gender Activists and Trainers. She brought out dozens of books and songs celebrating womanhood. These are now materials used by many NGOs to help people understand gender issues.
Her book, Laughing Matters , co-authored with Bindia Thapar, has been republished. “It first came out in 2005. It is a book of jokes, has words and illustrations of feminist humorists from different parts of the world,” she says.
The book has been republished to mark the 25 years of feminist activism in India and South Asia, and the 20th anniversary of Jagori — a women’s resource and training centre in Delhi of which Bhasin is a founder member. About the 25 years of gender activism in India, Bhasin says, “Achievements are a lot. Today, no government can make any policy without using the word gender 10 times in it. There are lots of laws too. Our women have proved that they can excel in every field.”
SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY