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How do Indian feminists deal with Indian anti-feminists who think domestic feminism is foreign in nature?

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

When I was around 16 years old, one fine day, just like that, I decided I wouldn’t be making my brother’s bed, in addition to making mine, because I figured, he should be able to do that on his own, as I was making my bed since I was of 9 years. My brother was 12 years at that time. This seemed to be a fine idea of being a rebel, and that too with a just cause. It meant one less chore for me (and I was supposed to do quite a few of them, which would cut down on my time allotted for studying and leisure, my brother facing no such problem). So off I went to Ma (my mother), and told her of my proposal.

I got an earful and among them, Ma called me a feminist.

At that point of time, I had no informed idea about what is feminism, but I had a very good idea of who feminists are: hated people; troublemakers. And this daughter exactly knew in what sense the word was applied towards me.

My parents were actually living in the U.S. during the 1970 and witnessed one bra-burning event and some nude runs by feminists. That is their brush with feminism, and I’m not being an apologist here but I could see where they are coming from.

This is an interesting question and thanks Shefaly Yogendra for asking me to write on it, because this actually made me think of “where do I begin….” and I chose to start from home.

As with everything in life, I tend to see the “Why”-s of opposition, because listening to the “why”-s often leads to ways of mitigating opposition.


Who are the anti-feminists?

A massive majority of Indians. A significant proportion of anti-feminist Indians are well-educated, are also women, as well as men.

A vast majority of these people are not actually women haters, or against equal rights for women, but they fail to see and thereby address the endemic misogyny in Indian society.

So even though they might not be informed about feminism, a lot of them believe women have it better these days because they have all the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, women are going for education and political participation, and furthermore, women have reservations. Therefore women are seen to be in a privileged position than men.

For many anti-feminists, feminism seeks to break down very roles of women that assign their place in Indian society as determined by fungibility (handed down by tradition). A vast majority of anti-feminists are against feminism, because Indian feminism threatens the existence of family (as to how will be explained later in the answer).

In my experience, the anti-feminists are people who believe they don’t need feminism because feminists do not respect the sanctity of marriage, feminists hurt people, feminists think all men are pigs, feminists are free riders who want chivalry as well as reservation, feminists lack empathy, feminists are opportunists…..in plainspeak, feminists are monsters.


Why are people anti-feminist in India?

1. The top-down approach by the government and women’s organizations to counter the endemic misogyny in India has not been aligned with a simultaneous change of underlying attitudes towards women.

We have quick resort laws that serve as puny band-aids in order to heal deep, gaping wounds and scar tissue. Existing pro-woman laws like article 498 A (Anti-Dowry and Anti-violence law) or reservation for women in trains and jobs look at men as oppressor en masseand feminism is perceived as a movement that seeks to correct oppression with oppression. Feminism is perceived as militant and reactionary.

2. The fruits of feminism are not reaching those who need it most.

Any scorned woman can file complaints of rape or harassment towards a man who refuses to marry her after having sex on mutual consent. Indian feminism do not want gender-neutral rape laws.

Any woman can slap a man and wouldn’t be seen as violent, but would be lauded for their actions. (Rohtak sisters viral video controversy; AUDIO: Before being sent to jail, Delhi traffic cop hands police an audio clip to support his claim).

A man could be lynched and subject to mob violence just because someone identified him as the rapist.

An adulterous married woman is protected by law while the man she has an affair with stands the risk of being criminally prosecuted per Article 497.


Indian Feminism: Neighbour’s envy, Owner’s Pride?

The chief contribution of Indian Feminism has been towards mitigating violence against women in India. This is definitely not a Western problem but an Indian reality. Let me quote:

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), dowry deaths – or murders of women by the groom or in-laws because of unmet high dowry expectations – constituted 3.4% of all crimes against women. In other words, last year in India on average 22 women were killed per day because their families could not meet dowry demands.

The NCRB statistics indicate that an Indian woman is most unsafe in her marital home with 43.6% of all crimes against women being “cruelty” inflicted by her husband and relatives. These numbers do not include incidences of marital rape, as India does not recognize marital rape as an offence3. Of the 24,923 rape incidences in India in 2012, 98% of the offenders were known to the victim4, which is higher than the global average of approximately 90%. This may also mean that children – boys and girls – in India grow up in a situation where they see violence against women as the norm.

Source: Page on freiheit.org

According to this survey, 65% of Indian men believe women should tolerate violence in order to keep the family together, and women sometimes deserve to be beaten. Bollywood movies and Indian serials frequently endorse this thought process, where women are shown to be slapped by men (usually by the husband and sometimes father) as well as women (mother-in-law, mother, sister-in-law, etc) so as to make them come back to the rightful path.

More figures and stats are to be found here: Violence against women in India.

While Indian Feminists like Indira Jaising,Flavia Agnes,Kavita Krishnan, Nivedita Menonand others have chiefly been working on to bring in more legal protection for women, it has also meant that the very cornerstone of Indian society, the structure of the Indian family is at stake.

But when significant amount of violence happen in the family, there is no way one can tip-toe around the issue. Further, while the laws in India are pro-woman, the social climate and law enforcement agencies make it very difficult for victims of misogynistic violence to lodge any complaints and get effective and sensitive redressal.


How do I deal with anti-feminists?

Pick my Battles:

I possess the knowledge of the contribution of Indian feminism but I exercise the wisdom to present it to any audience. With age, I have gotten more unapologetic about who I am, but I’ve also learnt to pick my battles, and I don’t think unsolicited educative measures to unwilling adults is going to do anyone any good.

In virtual reality, I might write about it. In actual reality, I ask a lot of questions to people and get clear on their assumptions on feminism and their perspective on women. I reason, I discuss…..an
d I try to find a middle ground. Usually, a middle ground and a grey area exist where violence against women is not condoned (at least in the networks I roam around) and people are in favour of equal educational opportunities for women.

Indian feminism is a lot geared towards problems very rooted in homeequal opportunity for education, female infanticide, sexual trafficking of women, violence against women, and so on, but it is important to remember that it also fights a very dangerous and despotic version of patriarchy—one that includes women as perpetrators of violence and drivers of oppression—and women often internalize their oppression and get into survivor mode of passive resistance and active support of powers that be.

I take feminism and equal opportunity for men and women seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously to start lecturing/educating people on feminism when that very word is hated more than the other f-word.

I recognize a lot of opposition to feminism is not towards feminist ideas but towards the label:

As I mentioned in the beginning of this answer, my mother is against that label. But she is not a woman hater. She is all for equal opportunities for women. She is against violence against women, which has been a chief area of work for Indian feminism. In fact, not only my mother, but a lot of people around me (and I realize this is anecdotal evidence but I deal with anti-feminists in real life too) is against violence of women. More often than not, these people are not in support of the violence meted out towards women and they do not even know they are actually tacitly supporting Indian feminism. In this context all is nice and good.

I recognize how people desperately want to be seen as do-gooders and work from there

I recognize many people would rather love to be in denial of the status of women in India because they want to be seen as the good guys who respect women, who are not a partisan to historical oppression towards women and are toleratingthe entire pro-woman government stance.

According to the Global Gender Gap Index (2014), India ranks 114 out of 142 countries, with a score of 0.646 (0 = inequality, 1= inequality). This report chiefly measures indices of economics participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, health and survival.

We score flying colours on political empowerment and that is no surprise to us. Sadly, this one indicator is often used for the argument that women have it all in India. The Indian urban middle class, the “Shining India” would like to believe that there is no problem in Indian society because they are not the ones who kill their women.

When we look into the apalling facts and figures against women in India, we also need to look into where they happen. Which class, which caste, which sect, which regions? Indian feminists are often seen to conflate figures and responsibilize all Indians. And a majority of Indians remain oblivious to the privilege patriarchy attributes to them.

In my experience, this is a difficult lag to bridge, but having a conversation and dialogue often helps……because as I said….a majority of people are eager to be seen as do-gooders and want to help as long as the label of feminism isn’t there.

I recognize the limitations of Indian Feminism

The role of gender, class, caste, region and sect in violence towards women are too downplayed by Indian feminists, who in a desperate attempt to get accepted, sometimes declare: “Why should women consider maternity, motherhood and household work as a burden? That is our privilege, a source of power […]” (Ela Bhatt, Interview in Anyone can be a feminist – The Times of India).

People like Bhatt who emphasize the functionality of a good wife and the good female often forget that while motherhood and household work are not burdens, imposing these roles on women at the expense of their priorities, just because they possess the XX chromosome is a problem.

In my language, there is a saying “Meyera Ma-er jaat” (Women are the species of mothers). There are other sayings that used to be embroidered on pieces of cloth and used to be shown to prospective groom when they came looking for a bride: “Poti’r punye sati’r punyo” (The virtue earned by a husband also belongs to the wife) and the classic “Sangsar Sukher hoi Ramani’r guun-e” (A household becomes happy due to the virtues/qualities of a woman).

These sayings that specify(or prescribe) the role of women as embedded in their reproductive and nurturing capacities still exist in people’s minds and Indian feminism does little to nudge these beliefs out of the system.

This in turn makes the work of Indian feminists appear overly militant, western and unnecessary, because they are actually working on the surface.

The prejudices of the collective conscience in Indian society are seldom criticized and that task is much tougher to do than going to the streets with banners and slogans when anybody from middle class or upper class India is raped/molested. The lower class, the marginalized in India are still without a voice. Nobody takes to the streets for them, unless some political party sees some mileage to be gained from such incidents.

How do I deal with it?

By practicing what I preach. As they say, actions speak louder than others.

Change always happens slow but does so when it’s steady.


Further Reading if interested: