It seems that there isn’t a more opportune time than the present to talk about gender equality in India. While the global #MeToo movement was gathering steam in India, with actors and journalists at the forefront, Supreme Court ruling in allowing women of all age groups in Sabarimala temple added a much needed impetus to the national discourse on gender equality.
Yet in your naivety, if you take for granted the newfound spring in the society’s step towards liberalism, you are in for a rude awakening. If you cast a cursory glance at the media – social media or traditional media – you can find that not many among men or among women see these advancements in positive light. There is cacophony of diverse voices casting aspersions on the character of women who are part of the #MeToo campaign. There is a brute majority out there, including women, who call the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala excessive and needless.
Without a significant change in the patriarchal attitude of the society that considers women as second class citizens, no material or moral progress is possible. As is the case with all kinds of resistance against the immoral and unlawful exploits in the history of mankind, the struggle for gender equality must also first rise in the minds.
Revolutions have always sprouted in the minds, where they might lay dormant for some time, but drawing nutrients from the thoughts and challenging the intellects, before rising into action – sometimes peaceful, often violent – in the alleys of institutions and the streets of cities, stirring every hamlet and every soul residing in them.
Renaissance that our society, particularly Kerala society, witnessed many decades back is in serious danger of wilting and disappearing under conservative pressure. The more we change, the more we remain where we are. The progressive society that we assume we have become has turned out to be a myth. Education that aims at ennobling people to an advanced state of progressive existence has apparently brought material prosperity, but hasn’t brought any moral advancement.
Though the allusion may seem trite, it must be reiterated that while Russians are sending women to space, we in India are still squabbling on whether menstruation is impure or not. No society can progress when the majority of its citizenry believes that a physiological characteristic of human body is inherently impure. Every idea that gains traction in the society must pass the twin test of analytical and logical consistency. Nothing that defies logic and reason must be allowed to gain foothold.
In order to gain their rightful space in the society women need to assert themselves. There is much to be admired and to be followed in the way in which Women in Cinema Collective has declared their intention to seize what is their due. In the film industry exploitation of what the society calls the “meeker gender” is entrenched. Financial disparity is obviously present, which is in itself awful, but sexual abuse is widespread, which is ethically and legally criminal. It took such a long time to actors to open up on the abuses they faced shows what is all wrong with this malevolent male dominated society.
It was with enormous shock that we learnt that sexual exploitation is widespread in the field of journalism too, which we had assumed to be a domain where liberal values had its most expansive expression. Women can no longer allow the narrative of victimhood to describe them. An attitude change has become inevitable; they need to take the bull by the horns.
The womankind must understand that the struggle for justice that women in one part of the world fight is a struggle that has implications to the lives of women in other parts of the world as well. If you abdicate the responsibility of standing with your fellow women in their struggle for equality then you would be committing a historical wrong. It is a struggle women can ill afford to lose.
Esoteric religious texts and their narrow interpretations, together with archaic traditions and customs could be the driving force behind one’s personal spiritual journey, but the basis on which a society runs its business could only be the liberal tenets enshrined in the constitution. Women’s emancipation and gender parity could be achieved only if such liberal values flourish in the society. Real hope for change lies only in a generational shift in the attitude of the young, where indoctrinated conservative dogma takes a backseat and liberal values take over.