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Denying women their freedoms

The rising number of attacks on women in Kerala, a fully literate State, is a serious matter to be looked into. Women in all phases of life have been victims, and there have been instances of a few being set on fire in full public view.

What is our law doing? What are our politicians doing? What is our society doing?

After a momentary hue and cry over an incident, Kerala returns to its usual self and people forget about them.

We consider women to be goddesses — yes, our women are goddesses who can survive fire and acid attacks and are supposed to forgive everyone who violates them.

These days, however, urban women are coming out to reveal their bitter experiences to the world, and the courts are striking down unjust laws that denied women their religious, political and sexual freedoms.

But society fear granting women those freedoms. This attitude was exposed in the shameful protests against the Supreme Court judgment allowing women of menstruating age to enter the Sabarimala temple. Any discrimination based on gender invites the scrutiny of Articles 14 and 15 (equality and non-discrimination) of the Constitution.

The Bombay High Court in the Shani Shignapur Temple and Haji Ali Dargah cases lately ruled that the practice of prohibiting access to women to public places of worship is contrary to these equality provisions. However, the Supreme Court went a step further in the Sabarimala case and struck down the impugned rules, under Article 17 by perceiving this prohibition on women of menstruating age to be a practice comparable to untouchability.

The Constitution was conceived as a transformative document, intended to correct instances of social exploitation wherever it exists. Gender discrimination and untouchability have contributed to the deeply unequal and undemocratic nature of society. Whereas the Constitution provides various tools for change, they often prove to be ineffective in the face of powerful cultural forces which resist change.

Such events in light of the ongoing practices and hostilities continue to be the most perplexing stumbling blocks in bringing about the Constitution-mandated social transformation. A large group of men and women, regardless of their political, social, religious and sexual affiliation, is against granting women freedom in all spheres of life as they fear that this freedom will be abused. However, scope for such an argument exists for the freedom of men too.

The truth is that despite social progress in terms of legal protection and equal rights, women still assume a lower-status role in many traditionally patriarchal societies around the world. Regardless of affluence or social standing, women are often subconsciously expected to serve men, either as domestic or sexual objects, which results in the normalisation of such events.

Women are denied their sense of self and the recognition of her concept of life. She is thus denied her right to object to injustice. We claim India to be a democracy even when society fails to realise the fact that men and women are equal. Being proud of a democracy where women are raped within marriage is a paradox.

Popular support, threats or force should not be a ground to prevent the enforcement of the rule of law that ensures equality in a democracy. Who is responsible for this? Each one of us. It’s we who teach our children that girls are only supposed to have a narrow view of the world through a tunnel created by society. They are educated to remain unresponsive to rude and strange experiences.

A girl is taught to remain within the Lakshman Rekha drawn by society. If lasting change is to be made, we need to transform the conventional career model and develop a new norm where women have the freedom to choose their own life patterns. Even after becoming a mother, women should easily be able to attend university and begin careers without social pressure and restrictions.

A power perspective shows that gender inequalities are tied to power relations at all levels of society. So gender inequalities are deeply political and if we want to help tackle them, we must address them as such. To do this, among other things, we need to develop a deeper understanding of the local context; focus on a wider range of powerful actors; and, importantly, take a closer look at the gendered power relations within the closed doors and in society as such.

Leave alone the implementation hardships, the political parties are still not viewing women-related issues with utmost priority. Through strategic public interest litigation, civil society has achieved some of its biggest wins during the past few years. There is a need for more concerted efforts to implement policies and laws at the ground level, which is appearing to be a dream.

nabeelasiddiqui09@gmail.com

ajuphili@gmail.com


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Printable version | May 19, 2022 9:04:38 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/denying-women-their-freedoms/article29477036.ece