Transcending Trajectory of Women’s Rights Movements
By Gauri Thampi
I have always been an ardent and adamant advocate of women’s rights. However, the concept of feminism and women’s rights have taken a different turn and meaning in the recent times. Eminent historian Lucien Febvre once argued that it is never a waste of time to study the history of a word. It is in this context that I wish to go back in retrospect to understand what exactly the word Feminism and its history entails. The feminist movement evolved at a period when women were highly discriminated and oppressed socially, politically and economically and did not enjoy any rights in the society. However, the modern feminist ideology has developed to represent itself as a bunch of hypocrites fighting for special treatment in the society, portraying all men as evil, and wanting to prove that they are better than men. This is where the concept of feminism shifted from what it originally stood for and differs from women’s rights.
Equal rights and equality are entirely different. Period. Equality is not a gender specific concept, rather a subjective concept. No two individuals irrespective of their gender can be equal in all respects. The strengths of one person can be the weaknesses of another. This involves physical, mental, intellectual and emotional capabilities. By advocating for equality between men and women, the modern feminist movement is only moving towards the regressive subjugation of individual capabilities and advancement. They’re fighting for an “equality” which is asking for special treatment in a society which has set gender specific roles. The aim of any society is to breakdown these gender roles. But how do we break them? By promoting and fostering an atmosphere where the individuals are accepted for what they are irrespective of their gender, religion, caste, creed, nationality. This is where the concept of equal rights and law intervenes. Where an individual is incapable of exercising his or her general rights, or where law does not provide certain rights to an individual while such rights are available to similarly situated persons, an equal rights movement arises. Therefore, feminism isn’t about equal gender, but equal rights and opportunities between different genders inorder to provide them with the opportunities they deserve. In the modern world, feminism should be about empowering women. We have reached a stage where our society provides these rights to all genders, but the issue at hand is the access to these rights. Emancipation of all the women is the means by which these rights become accessible to them.
Recently, MP Shashi Tharoor was criticised by the women’s rights advocates for his comment on the Sabarimala issue. He is popularly known as a liberal spokesperson for gender rights and equality, hence his comment that the entry of women in Sabarimala is unnecessary invited backlash from the public. But before we criticise it, it is better to dissect the issue and look into it. Was sabarimala issue a matter of gender equality or a matter of tradition? Out of hundreds of Lord Ayyappa temples in the country where women are allowed to enter, what do we achieve by allowing the entry of women in one specific temple which prohibits entry as a part of its rituals and traditions? For the majority of hindu women of the State of Kerala which was historically a matrilineal society, it is a matter of religion rather than gender. It is a part of their distinct culture and tradition, where there are even temples where only women are allowed exclusive entry to take part in the rituals and festivities. If it's a fight for gender equality why not fight for the entry of men in these temples? Be that as it may, the technicalities surrounding the Supreme Court judgment and opinion of the general public is debatable. However, what surprised me the most is the public outcry surrounding the issue. In 2018, surprisingly the biggest women's rights movement India witnessed was with respect to the right of women to enter a temple. When there were issues bigger and graver, and required immediate attention, all the political parties, media and activists found this cause bigger than everything else. 21st century feminism in India has evolved to reach a point where women are fighting to be seen same as men in the society. When the real problems of women in our society are deep rooted in poverty, and lack of education, it was ignored and forgotten. Hence, the empowerment of the ones who ought to be empowered is not effectuated.
2018 witnessed another memorable movement of women’s rights in India: the #MeToo Movement. Social media became a platform where the upper class women and men threw allegations against each other. The platform opened floodgates to a plethora of allegations where the accused was found guilty in the eyes of the public without any trial mandated by law. There was no opportunity to be heard, or discussion of evidence against the alleged offender. The reputation and future of a man came to be controlled by a keyboard and any woman with a thirst for vengeance. Movements like this has its merits. Agreed. But the amount of power it gives a woman to destroy a man is tremendous. Furthermore, the victims and the offenders the movement targeted were from a smaller and limited forum. Interestingly, there are no safeguards, or any intervention of law to protect a man from scenarios like this. The new age started eyeing every man as a predator. Modern feminism can be thus very selfish and cruel. The judiciary is upholding a pro-feminist attitude in cases of sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence in the recent times which is plausible. The Supreme Court judgment that struck down the adultery provision in IPC is an example of this. However, the absence of any safeguards to protect the men from false allegations and charges questions whether justice is really just as it seems to be. This sets a dangerous precedent where men can easily become scapegoats of unfair litigation.
The private bill titled ‘Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill, 2018’ which was introduced in the parliament recently by MP Shashi Tharoor comes as a breath of fresh air among all this controversy. The bill proposes provisions for abortion rights, free distribution of sanitary napkins, and criminalization of marital rape which directly addresses certain issues that are the need of the hour. This is where what I explained in the beginning of the article as the difference between equality and equal rights comes into play. It is not easy being a woman in a oppressive patriarchal society and asking to be treated the same way as men is not a solution to this. We need to have a movement where the voice of every woman is heard especially the poor and underprivileged, and an unbiased legal mechanism must find a solution to it. Feminism shouldn’t be an anti-men movement, or based on some higher level political or social propaganda. Thus it's high time feminism in the 21st century revisit its meaning and redefine itself to what it originally stood for, and what it ought to stand for.
News18, Shashi Tharoor’s hypocrisy on gender rights, January 4, 2019, available at <https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/entry-of-women-in-sabarimala-unnecessary-the-hypocrisy-of-shashi-tharoor-when-it-comes-to-gender-rights-1991165.html> (Last visited on January 20, 2019).
Economic Times, SC verdict on Adultery, September 27, 2018, available at <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/sc-verdict-on-adultery-welcomed-by-lawyers-activists/articleshow/65977845.cms> (Last visited on January 21, 2019).
 Live Law, Shashi Tharoor’s Bill seeks to make marital rape a crime, January 2, 2019, available at <https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/shashi-tharoors-bill-seeks-to-make-marital-rape-a-crime-141823> (Last visited on January 21, 2019).