Well, I thought about what my first FF post should be about, and I really couldn’t decide, so I’d use a question from my classes: why do we read so much western literature when we study feminism; aren’t there any Indian feminists?
Of course there are: many of them. But feminism in India has been a lot about activism and very little about theorisation.There has indeed been feminist writing in India; a lot of it has been activist writing on specific issues rather than abstract writing on theoretical concepts. (Not to say that we don’t have our Spivaks, Mohantys and Baxis, famous for abstraction in thought and expression!)
In spite of this, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that in India, feminism is not as much a school of thought as a series of movements, not so much a branch of jurisprudence as a struggle to enable women in various ways. The word ‘feminist’ is not a ‘bad word’ in India, because it is not a word at all. I can’t think of a vernacular term for ‘feminist’ – is there one? Most people have no idea what feminism is, and assume that a feminist is necessarily a ‘social worker’ who is crusading to make women’s lives better, by campaigning on her pet peeve.**
Since feminism in India is so minimally theoretical, it is difficult to explain the common threads that run through the Blank Noise Project (for instance) and, say, SEWA. Or, to be more lawyerly, a discussion on Section 377 of the IPC and one on Equal Remuneration. The link between economic and sexual empowerment, and how they are equally important to feminism, is something that has been written about by Western authors, but not, to my knowledge, by Indian ones.
So, while it may seem like we read a lot of a-contextual Western literature in FemJur, it is usually a pleasant surprise to see how well we can identify with Simone de Beauvoir and Susan Faludi; and how Andrea Dworkin’s rage at pornography is eerily similar to our rage at Bhanwari Devi’s rape. The ‘Western’ literature is definitely seems like an alien voice, but one that echoes concerns we face too: concerns about how we treat women as less than human, women’s bodies as objects, women’s work as ‘natural’ and therefore not work at all.
It is when we read the seemingly a-contextual theory, and then try to apply it to our own context, that we realise that the one thing we have in common with the ‘West’ is the one that matters the most to us all: the patriarchy.
*A little early, because I’m away for a couple of days and can’t post tomorrow.
**Of course feminism is about making women’s lives better, but not all feminists are social workers. Most of them have a pet cause, but a lot of them just believe women deserve to be treated as human beings too.
Filed under: Feminism Friday