Sunday, November 22, 2009

How Long Will We Tolerate This....

We attended our first wedding ceremony in Bangalore last December. The bride was our landlady's neice. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly at the reception. The couple looked happy....nearly a year later, just last wednesday evening the groom was mercilessly 'hacked to death' by a horde of 'rowdies'! His mistake was that as one of the leading organizers of the Ganapati festival at Basavanagudi on Monday, he had objected to the eve-teasing going on near the temple. He and his friends had 'roughed up' a few of the rowdies who returned with their hordes 2 days later. None of the rowdies have been arrested...and I am sure they never will be. Now we are complaining about violence against Indians in other countries are we safe in our own? Eve-teasing which is rampant in all cities and is a criminal offense and those perpetrating this crime go scot free only due to brute strength and those opposing it lose their lives in this horrible manner. The couple have a baby too, a month old daughter...will they ever get justice, I wonder!

Monday, October 12, 2009


Well, a High Court of India has finally put the seal on the real status of women in their matrimonial homes...kicking, calling names, giving her second hand clothes to wear...everything is acceptable...these do not amount to cruelty. Funnily, no women's organisation vociforously protested the least not in the newspapers. There were a few tiny articles hidden in the papers somewhere, shamefaced. What are women afraid of, contempt of court. The news on whether the judges are liable to declare their assets to a governmental authority, on the other hand, made it to the front pages and editorials of several newspapers and magazines. Is it because such torture is acceptable to us as a society. A society where untold misery including the killing of young brides and mothers is common place, what are a few kicks here and there? I remember what my mother in law once told me " if you are so easily hurt why did you get married?" As if getting hurt and marriage and getting hurt at the verbal barbs of your in laws goes hand in hand. That is an accepted rule in Indian society...'tana marna' , 'sasural ke taane sunna'. An ideal wife will bare the taana easily and smilingly get into the business of being an ideal bahu who in the face of taanas and untold verbal abuse renders selfless 'seva' to the people in her sasuraal.No matter how beautiful or qualified you are 'taanas' are a must in your inlaw's house. In fact you will be cursed for your beauty or your high post at office itself. Judges are but representatives of our own society and will uphold the societal norms. To change judgements we need to change the society too. How long will it be acceptable for women to bare the verbal abuse in their marital homes? My mom told me something that women of our country have become adept at following 'bobar shotru nei' ( dumb people have nom enemies)..meaning if you keep quiet and hear other people's abuses and do not reply then the others will become silent and become your friends. But I have observed that that is not the case, they become silent but they can never be friends, at best there will be truce for sometime till you do something wrong in their eyes again. It is better to react and let the anger out, then next time when they want to abuse you they will think twice. They will not become friends then either, but at least they won't use you as the whipping bag for their frustrations. There needs to be a movemnet for the opposition of all forms of verbal abuse in the family...specially towards those who are weak ie women and children.The Domestic Violence Act can bear fruit only when, what constitutes cruelty is defined by our judges in their declarations and decisions. This process of defining the 'violence' has got off to a wrong start in India, that is for sure. I am adding this a few months later on finding out that I made a grave error! The above decision was given by a 2judge bench of the Supreme Court of India! This judgement creates a dangerous precedent and jeopardizes the attaining of justice under the 'Domestic Violence' Act which India is so proud of. The judges have defined 'cruelty' as being an act inducing the woman to take the extreme step of suicide. It is not enough if the woman's self respect is destroyed and her self confidence is mauled. In a country where the law says that even verbal abuse may amount to cruelty to the woman, the enforcers of the same law passes a judgement which is completely anti woman in nature. It is common knowledge that the Indian woman's position in her marital home is completely subordinated to that of her husband and in laws but giving legal sanction to the ill-treatment is completely unacceptable specially if the sanction comes from the highest court in the land!

Friday, July 31, 2009

What Respite for the ‘Daughters of Fire’?

The event, “Daughters of Fire: India Courts of Women on Dowry and Related forms of Violence”, came to a conclusion in Bangalore yesterday. It is significant that such an event on violence against women be held in India as this country is notorious for the lack of even basic human rights for its women. There is a clear public –private divide in the lives of the women in this country. Publicly she is great, ‘shakti’, source of strength, worshipped with folded hands, she is the mother goddess. The mother in the Indian psyche equated to God who has immense impact upon the child and hence the future generations. In the confines of her home, however any amount of injustice may be heaped upon her! Apart from the fearsome experiences related by the women delegates, there was another contributor to the ongoing discussions, one Veena Talwar Oldenburg, a person who is a historian and a feminist writer. I think her find is significant for social scientists, law reformers, women’s activists and history people alike. She found that as early as 1853, the sex ratio in India was quite appalling! Now, discounting for several factors eg the expanse of ‘India’ at that time and the method of recording of census and suspicion of the census officials and consequently giving of wrong data etc, one can be again reminded of the antiquity of the practice of feoticide and infanticide. One can imagine the primitive techniques employed to torture women, making them believe that death of their littlr girls was better than a life as a woman! My belief is that the census documents can be a useful source for the social sciences and is of particular importance to the study of women’s position in society through the ages. Along with this the testimonies put forward by the women should be properly recorded and made available for all women. In this women’s ‘Court’, the eminent former Supreme Court judge Justice V R Krishna Iyer, known for some of the most enlightened judgements upholding women’s human rights, pronounced a death sentence on dowry and urged Vimochana ( the women’s organization that conducted the court) to declare July 28th as the day signifying the end of dowry in this country. Although, it is heartening to read such declarations in the newspapers, I am afraid that they do little to stem the tide of this evil practice. My senses are fine tuned to catch such snippets in the newspapers but what about all those women who are suffering such problems in their day to lives? Would they benefit from this event. The event was held very near my house, yet I could not attend because both the mite and the brat girl was down with flu, so what of the thousands who missed the event for some reason or the other? I remember attending a seminar of Dowry officers organized by the National Women’s Commission and the Indian Law Institute in Delhi, the discussions were good and the facts brought forward were eye openers, however there was one thing that severely restricts the impact of such events- lack of follow up activities. We tend to convene such occasions and are happy to hear 600 or so testimonials and click our tongues at the horror of it all, but where is the effort to bring about a tangible impact of such exercise? In the dowry officer seminar we understood the problems at hand but there was no scope for charting the future moves of all those present, both concerned government officers and lay people like us. There has to be a conclusive and attainable goal set for everyone, something that we can all do once we get home. Maybe the testimonials and judgements can be released in pamphlet form and sold or distributed, or students and teachers and any organizations or just plain individuals can take a pledge to absent themselves from dowry marriages or pledge not to give or take dowry themselves…something concrete step. I understand that exchanging experiences can help the victim to vent their agony and help other women to rebel but should the aim of such events be confined to merely that?? There should be strategies to avoid such tragedies in the future. There should be an effort to reach out to women who are suffering at this moment and to parents who are thinking of entering into negotiations with a family who demand dowry. I can rant away for ever on this but I hope I have been able to put the point across- history people, sociologists, law people, work together on this and strategize and develop ideas for follow up action. I can’t wait to get out there and do something about all this, so help me God!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Have You Heard About CEDAW?

The Convention on the Elimination of all froms of Discrimination Against Women put forward a comprehensive set of rights that are deemed to be the basic human rights of women. Article 16 of this international law document deals with a very significant aspect of family law- no Indian law has ventured in this very important aspect which pertains to family relations and women's status within the family.Article 16 states- Article 16 1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women: (a) The same right to enter into marriage; (b) The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent; (c) The same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution; (d) The same rights and responsibilities as parents, irrespective of their marital status, in matters relating to their children; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount; (e) The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights; (f) The same rights and responsibilities with regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children, or similar institutions where these concepts exist in national legislation; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount; (g) The same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation; (h) The same rights for both spouses in respect of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property, whether free of charge or for a valuable consideration. 2. The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory. Although the rights mentioned in this whole article still completely elude our women, it is alarming to note that this is precisely the Article that the Indian government excused itself from while ratifying this important international document. The Indian State declared that- i) With regard to articles 5 (a) and 16 (1) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Government of the Republic of India declares that it shall abide by and ensure these provisions in conformity with its policy of non-interference in the personal affairs of any Community without its initiative and consent. "ii) With regard to article 16 (2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Government of the Republic of India declares that though in principle it fully supports the principle of compulsory registration of marriages, it is not practical in a vast country like India with its variety of customs, religions and level of literacy."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What women wear

The obsession with women's dress amongst the guardians of our social culture should be viewed from the perspective of the human right of equality. Under what obligation is the woman expected to adhere to the 'Indian dress' when men have opted for the more comfortable shirt and pant of the west a century back, completely eludes me. Recently a lady who was debarred from entering into the Christ college campus because she was in jeans and sleeveless T, was accused of making a mountain out of a mole hill. I agree clubs have a dress code and so do other institutions but the dress code specifies dresses for men as well as women and everyone is informed beforehand. A club and other such organizations deal with small groups of people, if somebody from outside has come to run an errand in the club then he/she is not expected to be dressed in the dress code. Therefore the lady is perfectly right in pointing this out- she is not a student neither is she a part of the college so her dress does not come in the perview of the authorities there. The right to equality is granted under Article 14 of the Constitution. Discrimination on the ground of sex ( amongst other things) is prohibited under Article 15. Our Constitution is based upon the principles of justice, liberty and equality and is committed toi the preservation of the dignity of the individual. All these lofty principles some defendable in a court of law are blatantly violated and no case is filed on the ground of violation of a Constitutional right. We keep refering to our ancient culture where women are venerated and worshiped and divine goddess, but that arguement does not stand in this day and age. The lofty religio-cultural ideals will for ever bind women to the definition of womanhood within that religio-cultural paradigm. Thus a woman in jeans cannot be venerated as a goddess, only the sari clad woman can evince such emotion-leaving all others who do not conform to that description open to attack. Justice can be brought about only by invoking the Constitutional rights which apply to all women equally irrespective of caste, class, religion, culture and any manner of dress.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Fundamentals of the Matter

The women of India as citizens of this country received, under its constitution certain inalienable rights. These are the rights of equality, liberty and non-discrimination as well as positive discrimination acknowledging their de facto subordinate status in society. However these rights have been consistently violated by the citizens of this country to keep women in their subordiante position in the name of religious purity, preservation of culture and the upkeep of family honour. There is a common contention among thinkers that it is impossible to bracket Indian women together as the problem of women differ by social strata, religion and region. Can the Indian woman never be united? I hold that they can, and the legal document that unites all Indian women is the Constitution therefore the provisions of the Constitution must be understood by and known to all Indian women and their position and complaints should be addressed keeping in mind this supposed fountainhead of all laws in our country. But do all the laws in our country, all its customs and traditions conform to the Constitution- the answer is in the negative specially in the case of the Indian women. The difference in their expeiences are but superficial, all women whatever their social strata, their religion or their place of origin face the same kind of discrimination. so used are women to this kind of violation of their fundamental rights that they are unable to assert their rights. The Constitution of India, specially the section on Fundamental rights should be taught in detail to all indians no matter what stream of study they choose. The BJP government in karnataka is busy proposing the alteration of the History books so that a more Indian perspective is presented to the students. The sinister attempts at politicians to impose their social ideology on the people of India would be put to rest when the people are made aware of their Constitutional rights. All men and women in india are equal in the eyes of law- however women are unequal right from the time of their birth. This inequality is enforced throughout her life. In this blog I will attempt to measure the predicament of Indian women to the ideals that are put forward by the Constitution. I am sure that awareness of the Fundamental Rights can be enhanced by this discussion.