Feminism in India | A Critical Essay

Feminism in India | A Critical Essay

Essay on Feminism in India

Emerging as a literary and social force to determine nation Women play a prominent role in every nation, may be colonial, anti colonial or post colonial in shaping the national fantasies. India is presented as Mother India which is a feminine cult. The female figure is very dominating in England. The symbolic significance of Queen Elizabeth is very powerful. The power movement has been attributed to the image of woman. Resistance itself is imagined as a woman- Delacroix commemorated the spirit of French Revolution.

The anti colonial movements are always presented as women. They have depicted nation always as a mother. The women are literally represented by fertility cult. Their duty is to give birth to sons who may die for the nation. Muslim nations always advocated the role of woman as the mother of great warriors. They always considered that to fight against the enemical forces the role of Muslim woman is equal to the man’s. These women are considered as the source of powerful womb to produce men. The woman has a great role to play in saving the honour of the nation.

The women are also identified as national mother and great warriors. No one can forget the goddess Kali or Rani of Jhansi. If the leaders like Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela are highly adored for their contribution, the woman like Winnie Mandela is also respected in South Africa among the people. These vocabularies are communicated easily to colonial situation.

The white men assumed the role of parental care. They constructed their role to look after the colonial people. This role of white men was not limited to the relations between state and subject but became the ways for expressing racial and cultural relation as well. In his autobiography Nelson Mandela has described the discrimination done by the jail authority against the blacks in South Africa. These blacks were not permitted to wear the long trousers. The whites were permitted to do so. The ‘motherhood’ was marshaled by the white women too.

The African women were domesticated to do household works. They were limited to the space of their family. But the African women used the conception of family for their own advantage. Family became both the domain and the symbol of anti colonial activity. Anti colonial nationalism led to the emergence of cultural nationalism. The cultural selfhood flourished in the form of religious festivals which was eroded during the colonizer’s rule. It also challenged the tyrannical tradition encouraged by the patriarchy. The evil practice like veiling, clitoral excision, polygamy, widow immolation and the same sex relation were seriously challenged. The women struggle for the assertion of their own identity and got support from the scholars and reformers. Under colonial rule, the image of nation as a mother had dual role. Firstly it asserted female power and secondly it also evoked female helplessness. This helplessness has been highlighted by Sri Aurobindo. He says:

“My country as Mother. I offer her my devotions, my worship. If a monster sits upon her breast and prepares to suck her blood, what does her child do? Does he quietly sit down to his meal…. or rush to her rescue.” (quoted in Ania Loomba, 182)

This pathetic image of nation as mother both marshals her and undercuts female power.

In real sense, the women have been granted limited power. This power is remote controlled by male authority. This can be seen in Europe’s renaissance. The humanist delivered big arguments in favour of women’s education but became very careful to distinguish between a learned women and virago, who might usurp male authority. In colonial context the female education was further complicated by racial and colonial hierarchies. The colonialist tried to educate the women in their institutions to inculcate their own ideas. The nationalists countered them by offering a parallel process of education to neutralize the impact of the colonizers.

In nineteenth century the nationalists provoked the colonialists by telling them that their owned educational institutes produce ‘memsahibs’. These memsahibs are not fit for Indian society. The Bengali discourse always advocated the making of bhadramahila. The construction of bhadramahila was not simple. It was complex process. These women must be the mingling! of both English education as well as well versed in traditional culture and values. The instinct of bhadramahila to oppose patriarchy must be suppressed. As a result many indigenous forms of women’s popular culture were decimated.

The colonised man always asserted to strengthen patriarchy within the family. The worst sufferer was women. This can be traced from the autobiography of Rambai Ranade. She was the wife of great scholar and jurist Mahadev Govind Ranade. After her marriage at the age of eleven, her husband wanted her to continue her study. Her mother-in-law wanted that she should discontinue her education. One day she did not go to school for study. Her husband did not talk with her. He was very angry on his wife. He did not make any inquiry to his mother rather he punished his wife mentally and psychologically. Later she went to her husband and apologized. His response was to scold her. In this connection the critics have pointed out that the nationalist wanted to fashion the woman in such a way that their interest should be kept intact and the worst sufferer was woman. It should not hamper the interest of man in the society. They wanted that the women should be educated but simultaneously they should exercise their views in keeping the interest of their husband.

One of the women critics Lata Mani has further highlighted the plight of women. They were forced to do satis to satisfy the ego of male centric society. They were forced to face the monsters of cultural terrorism. Whenever there was debate on sati, these men only talked about cultural uprightness and traditional values of sati. They never considered women as the subject. Their pathetic condition did not come for discussion. Late Mani sharply says : ‘what was at stake was not women but tradition.’ (185) She further stressed that women became the sites on which various versions of scripture, tradition and law were elaborated and contested. It was very difficult to know the position of women. Their plight was horrendous but no details were provided as she was not the subject of the topic. This was somewhat that confused women concerning their position in the making of social structure. Women were not simply a symbolic space. They were systematically targeted by the colonialist. The nationalist as well as colonialist were not in favour of women’s freedom. Their sinister design has been highlighted in the following lines:

“Such collaborations do not indicate that gender ideologies are more fundamental than those of class or race, but they do remind us that women do not just provide a vocabulary in which colonial and colonised men work out their relations with each other but are at least half the population of any nation.” (186)

Now the feminist scholars are scrutinizing the writings of female writers who had dared to write outside the nationalist and anticolonial movement. The patriarchy had always tried to shadow the feminist writers. In 1883, Pandita Ramabai attacked the patriarchy very vehemently. She revolted against the limited role attributed to women. The women were forced to do the domestic works at home. It was also supported by nationalist Hindu women. The orthodox Hindu always favoured limited role for women. Women were forced to accept the cosmetic position in a nation to represent culture. The women as a class revolted and broke the silence. In Latin America the women were silenced by machismo movement. The Black consciousness movement was also often aggressively macho. The women’s voice did not get any attention here.

Contrary to all these movement, Gandhi realized the potentiality of women as a powerful force. Gandhi’s movement was often called ‘proto feminist’. Gandhi believed in family. He censored women’s militancy and utilized their talent to enhance their motherhood quality. Gandhi drafted famous female stalwarts in his freedom movements. Millions of women actively participated in anti-colonial struggle. Gandhi gave a new orientation to the strength of Indian women.

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After independence and departure of Gandhi from the political field the Indian women remained active but rather distinctly. They became the representatives of different political parties. The women like Uma Bharti became religious leader and later landed to politics. She became the vibrant voice of Hinduism. The INC is represented by woman President, the post of Lok Sabha speaker is represented by women and the other places of importance are also occupied by women, though very less in numbers.

The largest and the most mainstream women’s organisation in India at this time was the All India Women’s Conference. Founded in 1927, it was many-layered and always attempted to reflect the regional diversity of the movement.

Madhu Kishwar’s landmark essay ‘Why I Do Not Call Myself a Feminist’ is just one voice in the struggle for an indigenous feminism that has raged on in India from the colonial times.

In Islam particularly in Middle East the position of women is worst forever. Many postcolonial regimes have been indulged in making the position of women marginal. They outrightly dismissed the rights of women. The identity of women have been seriously in danger. The place of women in Islamic world needs immediate address. The fundamentalists of Islam have abused the position of women. These women have become meek and voiceless. These women are mere object to satisfy physical urge of men.

The relationship between women and nation is highly variables. These women have to struggle incessantly to establish their position against male dominated world. In several sectors their voice is still unheard. In 1984, Robin Morgan‘s anthology Sisterhood in Global claimed that women have been unheard even inside the periphery of nationalism. The one third reservations to women in Indian Parliament is still a distant dream. Women have to overcome the male opposition to become the equal partner in the struggle for democracy.

The women are not adequately represented in various public places like commissions and constitutional bodies. The women are fighting for their rights but it is not concentrated and focused to achieve their goals. They come from various fields and feminism has just become their meeting ground. The female have to face the hostilities of male sex. They become the victims of physical abuse. The culture also tries to make the women meek in their own way. The irrational challenge from male sex has become more frequent.

Today the post colonial woman’s movements have to negotiate the dynamics of globalization. The condition of women in ‘First World’ and ‘Third World’ are not different. They have to face the challenge to prove their own identity and assertion of their position

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