“Women in India” Review (Chapter in Volume 2 of Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences,
Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur,
The chapter, “Women in India”, by Dr. Gayle Kimball, provides a broad spectrum of social, economic and political situations that affect the women in India. One of the greatest merits of this study is the author’s recognition of geographical (urban and rural) and structural (gender, caste, class, etc.) specificities that affect different groups of women in India differently. Acknowledgement of difference of women helps remove any universalizing tendencies and provides better scope to equip ourselves with solutions vis-à-vis the unique situation that different women face in India.
One very interesting observation that comes out of this study is the general discomfort with the word ‘feminism’ by women in India. Ascribed narrowly to the Western counterpart, ‘feminism’ has unfortunately, and very wrongly so, has come to be equated to ‘man hate’. Owing to the exclusive participation of women in the West’s feminist liberalist movement, the sentiment still prevails that it is a movement ‘for women, and by women’ and to replace ‘men with women’. Feminism’s aim is not to replace one oppressive system, patriarchy, with another, matriarchy. Instead, feminism understands that patriarchy is an oppressive system that functions by prescribing gender roles to everyone. This is why Nivedita Menon, in her seminal work Seeing Like a Feminist, defines patriarchy as a system where few older men in power control women, younger men, and people of non-heteronormative sexualities. To put it crudely, feminism is a movement aimed for establishing equality among sexes. In fact, in India, feminism began with men like Raja Rammohan Roy and Vidyasagar who understood traditions such as sati (widow immolation), child marriage, and imposed widowhood, as detrimental to the entire society and sought to eradicate them.
Dr. Kimball’s work becomes important in understanding these nuances of gender in contemporary India and making us realize that in order to opt for equality we all need to fight together, irrespective of the sexes we belong to.