For a change

I’m not ranting at the ToI for their ‘reporting’. I’m ranting at the Supreme Court for giving them this to report.

Let me clarify something. I don’t think anything deserves the death penalty. But the law, as it stands, says that the ‘rarest of rare cases’ do. And to make sure that the death penalty is rarely awarded, the law says the trial court can’t award it by itself, the High Court has to agree. So, in this case, the trial court found this chap guilty. Then the High Court confirmed his sentence. And the Supreme Court,

Though it agreed with the trial court and the HC on the guilt of Singh, it said this was not a fit case for awarding death penalty.

Fair enough, they aren’t bound to accept the sentence along with the finding of guilt. But let us see why the Hon’ble Justices S B Sinha and Markandey Katju disagree with the sentence (emphasis mine):

we reduce the sentence to life imprisonment since it appears to us that the crime was committed in a fit of passion and does not come within the category of ‘rarest of rare’ cases.

I’m quoting from the Times report here, of course, since the judgement isn’t yet online. But I don’ think that’s actually a misquote. This is a man who killed two women after raping one of them. The Supreme Court of India thinks those are crimes committed in a ‘fit of passion’? It thinks that such a ‘fit of passion’ extenuates the crime some extent?

I think the Hon’ble Supreme Court is very male.

Should we have a woman President?

It’s Friday, again, and a perfect chance to write about the campaing for “India’s first woman president”. 

My first reaction to Pratibha Patil’s nomination was, of course, “Oh, wow! A woman President, finally!” And over the past few weeks, I’ve read quite a bit about her in the papers: all her faux pas, all the reasons why she should not be our next President. There’s even a blog campaign demanding she provide some answers to all the allegations against her: it starts “Not for President!”, and says “India demands answers first.”

But I want to go back a bit further, to the initial announcement of her nomination. The Congress wanting to capitalise on her being a woman, accusing the NDA of being anti-woman because it didn’t support her, and liberal voices going “So what if she’s a woman? That shouldn’t be a consideration in choosing her for President!”

And so very few voices saying “But it should!”

First, because it takes strength and courage and hard work and sacrifice for a woman to make it in politics**, and the fact that she got this far is testimonial to all of that. As Vidya Subrahmaniam pointed out:

even the bare facts impress: a practising lawyer before she joined politics, five consecutive terms as MLA, a clutch of portfolios in the Maharashtra Government, member of the 10th Lok Sabha, deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, and Governor of Rajasthan. All this topped by untrumpeted, constructive social work: engineering college for rural students, hostel for working women, development fund and cooperative bank for economically depressed women, schools for the poor and the disabled, and so on

Second, because having a woman president sends a message. Not the message that every Indian ‘respects women’, as the Congress would like to claim, but that collectively, as India, we don’t judge people by their gender alone.

Sounds like I’m contradicting myself? That’s because male privilege is mostly invisible. We don’t see our biases till we look for them, and so, the default men-as-public-leaders doesn’t seem to reek of discrimination. If we stop to think, we’d realise it can’t be ‘natural’ to have so few women in public life. So the ‘default’ is because of discrimination, because we are taught to value people according to their gender. Having a woman in the highest public office is a statement that we refuse to accept this default. That we see the discrimination in our society, and we appreciate and reward those who fight it.

Third, because the fact that she covers her head doesn’t stop her from speaking out against purdah. The office of President is a largely ceremonial one, that of the Government’s conscience, one might say. And a conscience that understands the difference between wearing a veil and requiring someone to wear it seems like a good start.

Pratibha Patil’s gender is one very good reason why she should become President; it shouldn’t be the only reason she doesn’t.  

**Yes, a lot more than it takes a man, do you even doubt it?

Of clothes, culture and comfort

I heard an interesting tidbit yesterday about one reaction to an exchange student who wears shorts to the Acad Block: that it raised “public morality” issues. I burst out laughing, till I realised the person saying it was serious. If he’d said it in front of me, I’d have pointed out to him that the “public morality” issue wasn’t her clothes, but the boys and men who thought the clothes justified their staring lasciviously at her. (I actually said lasciviously?!)

Now, since I wasn’t there when the said ‘he’ made his statement, I just muttered something about intolerant assholes, and left it to lie. Of course, things left to lie in that brain of mine usually tend to link up at random with other things and result in posts like this one, don’t they? Continue reading


I’ve been rather lax with this post: I practically promised Thinking Girl I’d answer her questions in a separate post, and that was two weeks ago! Never mind, better late than never. I hope.

So, here are the questions:

how much does the caste system play a part in a lack of Indian feminist scholarship? what do you think of western feminists who study Indian women and then theorize about what they observe? how much do you think westernization and development has played a part in the close tie between feminist activism and economic development? what I’m wondering is how much feminist activism, which does often seem so tied to economic concerns for women, is motivated by a more general interest in improving the Indian economy – and how much by actually improving women’s lives? does this distinction matter if the end result is that women’s lives are improved by improving their economic situation?

I am going to start with the last bit: about the connection between feminist activism and westernisation and development. It’s not something I’ve read a lot about, so be warned, this post is going to be a bit long and rambly. Continue reading

Here and now*

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.