July 14, 2015

Institutional misogyny watch: Part I

Dear Govt. of India,

Your bigotry continues to perturb and baffle me.

On the one hand, the Indian Constitution which you are expected to abide by, declares that every Indian citizen, irrespective of gender (and caste, creed, religion, color etc.) has equal rights (link). It also states justice and equality on political, economic and civic fronts as its objectives. Going by this, I would think that I, along with all women ought to have the same rights as men on all fronts. I would expect your administration to curb gender discrimination and promote equal rights for everyone, through word and action, as this is your stated responsibility.

On the other hand, the laws which are supposed to be based on the Constitutional objectives keep sending mixed signals (link, link, link). You continue to draft and uphold these laws which fall short of these objectives. Also, time and again, you keep contradicting these objectives, by legal, political and administrative means. Different members of your administration have proved on multiple occasions through their words that they have absolutely no idea understanding of their responsibility to uphold my rights (link, link, link, link).

But then, I am confused because some of you keep using words like 'women empowerment' to win elections (link, link). I am not sure if you do this because you think it is a fashion statement to talk about women's issues to gain popularity, or if you really understand what 'empowerment' means and the need to uphold it. It looks as though you are trying desperately to convince women that you are on 'their' side. But often, your words and actions do little to advance your professed cause (link).

I don't understand how you intend to accomplish your professed and designated motto of ensuring gender equality without even making the necessary legal amendments for it. I am failing to comprehend why you would continue to uphold the Muslim Personal Law which is replete with gender bias (link). Your system has failed in delivering justice to Muslim women (link) and administering basic rights granted to them by the Constitution (link). Their voices are unheard and silenced (link), and decisions about laws which are supposed to govern them are made without taking their views into account (link). Under the guise of granting religious freedom, their religion is interpreted taking into account only selective, prejudiced views (link) which are forced onto the rest, ignoring the views (linklink) of the oppressed half.

I don't understand the affected outrage and concern over sexual assaults and female foeticide expressed often by some of you. Some of you seem to be concerned about female foeticide because men don't have enough wives to marry (link). I don't know if you really understand that female foeticide is inhuman and it violates women's right to be born on the basis of gender. Because if you did and if you promoted gender equality the way you ought to have, why would you uphold the patriarchal values which are at the root of our culture's preference towards male child (link, link)? Why would you recognize and encourage patrilineal practices (link) by providing tax benefits for those who uphold them (link)? How exactly is penalizing me for being a woman and legally de-recognizing me from my maternal family, empowering, and how does it translate to equal rights for sons and daughters* (link)?

Coming to sexual assaults, given the statistics of sexual assaults in the country (link) and the horrific treatment with which victims have been meted with by your systems (link, link, link, link, link), we can all safely conclude without much debate that your administration has 'failed' to guarantee me safety at par with men. This is where I am confused again. I think I have the constitutional right to live a life with dignity, and you have the constitutional obligation to ensure this, without encroaching on my right to personal freedom. But you have failed me not only through a passive lack of action in ensuring my safety, but also through active defense of potential assaults against me (linklink). Let alone advancing real support to survivors of sexual assaults, your systems have done more harm than good by imposing constraints on my liberty (link, link) and defending potential crimes against me (link, link). Why are depriving me of my right to live with dignity, by insisting that I am to be treated as a sex slave for my husband, and giving legal sanctions to marital rape (link)?

If you really understand empowerment, you wouldn't insist that my primary identity must always be defined in relation to another male and ask for husband's or father's name on official forms (link). This makes me makes me feel like a second-class citizen. You wouldn't insult motherhood by defining only father as the 'natural' guardian of a child (link). I was happy to notice that my pension form included transgender option which is really something to celebrate about, but what disappointed me was that I had to fill my father or husband's name. This kind of condescending attitude does not make me feel empowered in anyway, I assure you.

You continue to not hear my voice, and pretend to carry on with your charges. I am calling for your attention not as a favor, but because I believe that I deserve to be treated with dignity like all other human beings, and also to remind you of your obligation towards me, and half the population. And to say the least, I am disappointed in your failure to fulfil your responsibilities. I think it is high time that you started walking the talk.

Yours sincerely,
A distressed Indian woman whose rights you have failed to uphold

*The Hindu Law defines the HUF (Hindu Undivided Family) as a family, which consists of males lineally descended from a common ancestor and includes their wives and unmarried daughters (link).

Note: Institutional misogyny refers to the discrimination against women on a systemic scale, stemming from the deep-rooted biases about gender which are internalized in our culture. All my future posts which call attention to this will be tagged with the label 'institutional misogyny'.

P.S: This is my fiftieth post, and I actually had something else in my mind for this one. But the HUF (link) topic came up today (with the ITR deadline coming soon), and I had to write about this. The other draft has to wait.

Related posts:

1. What happens when we allow legal sanctions for marital rape: link
2. Its 'rape culture' not 'tribal culture': On the West Bengal: link
3. So why do I write against gender discrimination: An interaction with a reader: link
4. When a woman talks about her sex life as her choice, patriarchy's control over female sexuality is challenged: link
5. I am a woman in Indian society and I am not yet free...: link

Recommended reads:

1. Gender inequality in the Hindu and Muslim Personal Laws in India: link


  1. It is well-known that laws are being passed to accomplish what a select few wants to, rather than the nation. Any which way, the father/husband's name on forms puts me off big time. Why not make it generic like parent/spouse's name and make it mandatory for both men and women? If that information is that mandatory, this generic option seems like good enough. I would say this stems from the illusion that a woman needs to be in the care of a man - be it father or husband.

    And empowerment? If at all the government wants to stand by its laws which gives everyone EQUAL rights, then there would be no necessity for the word women empowerment. We would not need to be empowered to be eligible for our basic rights. Women are people first and therein, we would be eligible for our rights. But no, misogynists need someone to put down first and then another section of people comes forward to supposedly empower the sector that has been put down. I am asking, "Why trample on someone in the first place?"

    Well, this could go on and on..

    1. Love this: //We would not need to be empowered to be eligible for our basic rights. Women are people first and therein, we would be eligible for our rights. But no, misogynists need someone to put down first and then another section of people comes forward to supposedly empower the sector that has been put down.//

  2. Fun fact: When Republic of India's first elections took place, some women put down their name as "w/o xxx". Imagine having no independent identity! Thankfully the election commissioner Sukumar Sen disallowed it.

    1. 1. This is 2015. In 1950's, people were angry about law providing grounds for judicial separation in marriage, about laws which ban Sati, about 'allowing women' to participate in paid jobs and so on and so forth. How does it matter today?
      2. Someday, I will write about why repeatedly pointing fingers at internalized misogyny in women as a subversive tactic EVERY time someone speaks out against systematic marginalization of women is a bad, oppressive strategy.