Friday, November 29, 2013

An opportunity for mutual emancipation

Aryaman Jalota

When I flip open the newspaper every morning, the plethora of negative media stories fails to astonish me.
An opportunity for Mutual Emancipation
The number of times the word “rape” makes the headlines is also no surprise to me anymore. I have heard no end to didactic lectures about gender discrimination, women’s rights, and women’s safety. There is enough criticism of the government, the police, promiscuously driven men, and promiscuously clad women. Unfortunately, none of this criticism delves deep into the socio-cultural roots of gender inequality in India.

Before we delve into the roots, we must orient and understand the problem. In modern Indian society, neither are women treated as equals nor are they treated unequally. They are treated sub-equally, a situation wherein the mechanisms for women to succeed or liberate do exist, but the opportunities to pursue or access those mechanisms are controlled by men. A fine example lies hidden in the recent buzz about the Indian political opposition’s Prime Ministerial candidate. While the feud for the spot was between a senior member of the party and a successful state-level politician, the leader of the opposition, a woman, was completely ignored. She became the country’s youngest Cabinet Minister at the age of 25, served six terms as an MP and three as an MLA. In 1999, the party’s patriarchs nominated her to contest against Sonia Gandhi in a constituency that the ruling party had controlled since Independence; in a record breaking 12 day campaign, she managed to secure more than 3.5 lakh votes, and lost by only a 7% margin. Would the opposition’s patriarchs have let her pursue the road to her Prime Ministerial candidacy? Perhaps they were still shocked by the radical political guts that India’s only female Prime Minister manifested from 1975 to 1977.

The impression that Indian society has historically restricted women is specious. The liberty of female self-expression dates back to pre-Mughal India, of which the erotic carvings on the walls of Khujaraho are fine examples. The Mughal Raj undoubtedly brought about a change, swinging liberty away from women's favour. The British Raj then enslaved a disparate society, which was to taste freedom only in the mid-20th century. Switching from liberty to restriction to liberty again has undoubtedly projected a perplexing societal influence on gender issues, thus rendering "Indian society" not culpable. Moreover, not many will deny that this perplexity was further exacerbated by Western influence on modern Indian society.

There is no easy way to ameliorate this perplexity. The notion of pro-women solutions to gender disparity is on one extreme end of the spectrum. If we truly desire harmony between (or among) the sexes, we cannot take measures that ignore the role men must play in the resolution of gender discrimination. What men need to be made aware of is that they are tricked into thinking in a certain way by a patriarchal society, which has spawned from the political perplexity that the last ten centuries blessed us with. Once they recognise this, and are emancipated from this perplexity, the emancipation of women is an imminent and inevitable consequence. Feminist movements must therefore seize the opportunity for mutual emancipation through this initial liberation of men to implicate a subsequent liberation of women. When these milestones are achieved, the utopian goal of transforming sub-equality into actual equality will only be moments away.

Aryaman Jalota is pursuing his IB Diploma at in Mumbai. He has an academic inclination towards both Economics and Mathematics, and hopes to influence Indian public policy through economic research. When he isn’t buried in his books, he occupies his time with Model UN, advocating organ donation and poetry.