Why Feminism is just a word for the Rural Women in India? Find out!

“Indian feminism is for the maid who is working for those bob-cut walis for 30 rupees a day. That woman needs feminism"

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Indian villagers carry their belongings as they flee from the village of Tenganala in Sonitpur District, some 250kms east of Guwahati on December 24, 2014, AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Sex and sexuality have always been central to the works of Hoshang Merchant
  • Women issues in India are different from western countries
  • Indian feminist scholars and activists have to struggle to shape a separate identity for feminism in India

The fallacy of male-dominance and women’s role in society tell that feminism was theorized differently in India than in the west. Our history books are filled with references of women being forced to partake in Sati or self-immolation, cases of wicked oppression by the male gender, countless crude examples of coercion into child marriage, among myriad other social evils that persisted during the middle age. There are several issues which damper women empowerment in India- dowry, sexual abuse, gender inequality and many more.

Although, there are several communities in India, such as the Nairs of Kerala, certain Maratha clans, and Bengali families with the head of the family being the oldest women rather than the oldest man. Sikh culture is also regarded as relatively gender-neutral.

According to Firstpost.com report, the retired professor emeritus of the University of Hyderabad was one of the first men to come out as openly gay in independent India. Yaarana (Penguin, 1999), a collection of gay writings from India edited by Merchant, remains a significant intervention in queer studies.

Sex and sexuality have always been central to the works of Hoshang Merchant. His Forbidden Sex, Forbidden Texts (2009) discards the understanding of homosexuality as a monolithic identity emphasising on its heterogeneity in the Indian context. Merchant has authored several collections of poetry and his latest commentary is titled Secret Writings of Hoshang Merchant (OUP India).

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In an interview with Rajorshi Das, published on firstpost.com, Hoshang Merchant said, “Indian feminism is for the maid who is working for those bob-cut walis for 30 rupees a day. That woman needs feminism. When that woman is empowered by that bob-cut wali, that will be Indian feminism”.

Hoshang Merchant. image source: The Hindu
Hoshang Merchant. image source: The Hindu

No doubt women issues in India are different from western countries. Indian feminist scholars and activists have to struggle to shape a separate identity for feminism in India. And sadly, the truth is that we still exactly do not know what feminism exactly stands for. The definition of “being feminine” has been moulded by people for either a purpose or they simply abide by the so-called rules set by the society.

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When asked about the future of the [Queer] movement, Merchant said, “Firstly let’s recognise class in urban spaces. What does gay liberation mean for that chakka who has to show his organs for 50 rupees? What movement are you talking about? Thirty years I have fought and taught for them. Did I deserve this? They came yesterday. Where were they when I was screaming in the wilderness?”

Rural women in India Image source: www.saddahaq.com
Rural women in India Image source: www.saddahaq.com

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, criminalises ‘unnatural sex’, which include gay liaisons. It says, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal inter­course against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

He confronted the tag of the “anti-national” as homosexuality is criminalised by the IPC by saying, “What is anti-national? Homosexuality is doing the greatest service to an overpopulated nation. Else I would be labelled as the mother of this nation. I would have been given a gold medal! We are imitating the West. Our society is different. That’s why Ashley Tellis does not go to these Pride Marches because he feels our society is poor. We are not a consumerist society [like the West].”

When asked about the purpose of writing and poetry in general, he replied, “Poetry sweetens human beings. It gives hope to the defeated. The first sentence of my new book Secret Writings of Hoshang Merchant is from (Martin) Heidegger –“What are poets for? Poets are there to sing the night of the world”. Coming to the second part of your question, writing is to change the mind and heart of these stupid people. They reject me because I don’t use jargons, read (Jacques) Derrida or conform to labels like Queer.”

-This article is compiled by a staff-writer at NewsGram. 

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  • Vrushali Mahajan

    ‘Feminism’ is a word which has its own meaning and different people interpret it in different manner