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Essence of freedom: What independence means to women of India

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By Ridham Gambhir

Freedom and liberty are two expressions that come to mind when one thinks of the word independence. India’s struggle for freedom entails myriad men who starved, fought, argued and defeated the Britishers. But while all this was happening, where were the women? What were they doing?

Then..

The pre-independent India is notorious for its anti-women practices like Sati, Child marriage and the Purdah system. For men, women were either harbinger of offspring or a dutiful attendant to them and their family. However, though no kind of Feminism broke out in that epoch, yet many women took that one step that made a significant difference to the stature of women in India.

With Congress being initiated in 1885, women started participating in their sessions. While ten women attended the fourth session of Congress in Bombay in 1889, the count started escalating each time. Swarna Kumari became the first woman to speak from Congress’ platform, she was further joined by Pandita Ramabai, Manikjee Arbtejee and Shevanti Bai.

Not many know about Swarna kumari Devi, sister of Rabindranath Tagore who started the Ladies Theosophical

Swarna Kumar Devi
Swarna Kumar Devi

Society (a multi-religion association of women) in 1882 and later became a member of the INC. Her daughter, Sarla Devi was an active member of the nationalist militant struggle and started training women in lathi and sword in 1903.

In 1916, the Begum of Bhopal established the All India Muslim Women’s Conference with her primary aim being education of women. She also directed her attention to the eradication of the complex polygamy system.

Within the domestic precincts, women wove Khadi and other indigenous goods in order to boycott the foreign products and in the so-called ambit of men, they too made speeches and wrote articles to disseminate the freedom movement. Kumudini Mitter, a nationalist published revolutionary ideas through Suprabhat, a Bengali magazine. Sarla Devi opened Lakshmi Bhandar, a stall to popularise swadeshi goods.

Movements such as Bardoli Satyagrah and Civil Disobedience brought women from different parts of India together to fight the dominion of the English men. In fact, the civil disobedience movement in Punjab was launched by 5000 women.

sucheta-kriplani
Sucheta Kriplani

While Gandhi and other “men” are famous for going to jail while revolting, there was Sucheta Kriplani, in-charge of the women’s wing of All India Congress Committee since 1939 who got arrested in civil disobedience movement. Usha Mehta, in Bombay operated an underground radio station and broadcasted regular news about Congress from it. She was later arrested and imprisoned for 4 years.

At that time when Annie Besant was fighting on the front, women like Sarla Devi, Kamladevi Chattopadhyay and Usha Mehta were fighting in other ways possible to carve a niche for the natives and especially women.

Now..

With gender equality propagandas being portrayed though different advertisements, texts and real life incidents one cannot fail but mark the progress and emancipation that women have achieved for themselves today.

While school textbooks promulgated Kalpana Chawla, Sheila Dikshit and Sania Mirza as role models for the

Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla

upcoming generation, every household in India now has a hero, rather heroine in it.

It is not just self-motivation that fuelled the progress of women. With various amendment in the constitution laws and Acts being introduced, the stance of women ameliorated significantly. For instance, The Hindu Succession Act (1956) empowers a woman by making her an equal and a legitimate inheritor of the family property. The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 states that there be no difference in the wages of men and women.

Chanda-Kochhar-3
Chanda Kocchar

A thorough patriarchal nation like India is getting a fresh taste of feminism. Ranging from matriarchal families to women like Chanda Kochhar who run affluent business, this nation is accelerating not just its GDP but its gender roles as well.

Women are not fighting men,they are fighting their supremacy which  has been established allegedly. While India got its independence 68 years back, a majority of women in India are still under the oppression of not Englishmen, but their own men.

 

 

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The Attention Shifts To The U.S. As It Strikes Down FGM Law

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

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FILE - A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016.Image source: VOA

When a U.S. district judge last month ruled a federal ban on female genital mutilation unconstitutional, he undercut the federal government and alarmed anti-FGM activists, who hope to eradicate the practice.

The World Health Organization calls FGM, also known as female circumcision, a human rights violation of women and girls, with no health benefits.

Some 200 million women and girls around the world, mainly in Africa, have experienced FGM, the WHO says.

In his opinion, Judge Bernard Friedman called FGM “despicable,” but also “a local criminal activity” that must be addressed at the state level. In enacting a federal law, he said, Congress overstepped.

Now, local lawmakers, advocates and newspapers are calling for state bans that equal or surpass the scope of the federal law that was struck down.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, judge
A badge reads “The power of labor against FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 6, 2018. (VOA)

‘Never again’

The case Friedman ruled on centers around Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, an emergency room physician accused of performing FGM on at least 100 girls in Michigan for more than a decade.

Prosecutors have focused their case on nine girls, aged 7 to 12, from three states. The girls allegedly were subjected to FGM with the aid of Nagarwala and seven others, including the girls’ mothers.

Defense attorneys say the procedure amounted to only a “nick” on the girls performed as part of a religious ritual — not FGM. But they also argued in July that the federal law banning FGM is unconstitutional.

State Senator Rick Jones, who represents Michigan’s 24th district, told VOA by phone that he was shocked to learn about Nagarwala’s case and strongly disagrees with Friedman’s ruling.

Last year, Jones became the spokesperson for a package of bills outlawing FGM statewide. The legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Female Circumcision, FGM
The barbaric practice of genitalia mutilation has been banned in developed nations. Wikimedia

Now, Michigan has some of the toughest FGM laws in the country.

Health-care providers convicted of performing FGM face up to 15 years in prison, along with the permanent loss of their medical licenses. Parents who take their daughters to doctors to be cut can lose custody.

The 1996 federal law, meanwhile, stipulated up to five years in prison and fines for medical providers who perform FGM.

“We wanted to send a strong message around the world: Never again bring your girls to Michigan for this horrible procedure,” Jones said.

Across the U.S., 27 states have passed laws banning FGM, many of which have been written in recent years and include penalties that go beyond the federal law, which also criminalizes so-called “vacation cutting,” the practice of taking girls out of the United States to have FGM performed overseas.

News organizations are among those pushing for an expansion of state laws. Last month, the Seattle Times editorial board called for a ban in Washington, one of 23 states yet to outlaw FGM.

FGM
A doctor checks her phone as she poses for a photograph in Mumbai, India, June 8, 2016. The 50-year-old woman defends what is widely considered female genital mutilation within her small, prosperous Dawoodi Bohra community in India. VOA

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times editorial board said all 50 states should ban the “barbaric” practice, in light of Friedman’s ruling.

Religious ritual?

The health-care providers and families involved in the Michigan case belong to Dawoodi Bohra, a Shi’ite Muslim sect based in India with about 2 million followers worldwide.

According to a study published earlier this year, FGM, called khafd in Dawoodi Bohra communities, is widespread in the sect and involves cutting the clitoral hood or part of the clitoris, without an anesthetic, when girls turn seven.

The study, commissioned by WeSpeakOut, an advocacy group focused on eradicating khafd, also found that three-quarters of Dawoodi Bohra women have experienced FGM.

The severity and nature of FGM can vary.

Health-care providers have identified four types of FGM. Khafd involves Type 1 FGM. Other types involve removing all of the external genitalia and narrowing the vaginal opening.

Jones rejects the idea that there’s a religious basis for the procedure, however it’s performed.

FGM
FILE – A counselor holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM). VOA

“Across the world, this has been practiced by Christians, pagans, Muslims, even a small Jewish sect in Ethiopia,” he said.

“This is not about a religion,” he added. “This is about men attempting to control women’s behavior by this horrible procedure.”

The WHO identifies both short-term and permanent harms associated with the practice. Immediate concerns include severe pain, infections and, in some cases, death. Long term, women and girls subjected to FGM face a range of physiological and psychological complications that can affect menstruation, childbirth and sexual health.

The United States has been unequivocal in condemning the practice, saying “the U.S. government considers FGM/C to be a serious human rights abuse, and a form of gender-based violence and child abuse” on a fact sheet posted to the Citizenship & Immigration Services website.

Education and legislation

Friedman’s November decision is the latest in a series of setbacks for prosecutors.

Nagarwala spent seven months in 2017 in jail before 16 friends posted a $4.5 million unsecured bond, against the pleas of prosecutors, who argued Nagarwala could silence potential witnesses or even flee the country if released.

FGM
KAMELI, KENYA – AUGUST 12: A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. Maasai are a pastoral group mostly clustered in the Rift Valley. They practice circumcision on both boys and girls during puberty years as a rite of passage to adulthood. VOA

And in January, the judge dismissed charges that Nagarwala and a second doctor, Fakhruddin Attar, transported minors with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, an offense that carries a lifetime sentence.

Nagarwala still faces conspiracy and obstruction charges that could result in decades in prison.

The trial is now set to begin next April, the Detroit Free Press reported last month. However, the prosecution could appeal last month’s decision, drawing the case out further.

Also Read: Somalia Calls To Outlaw Female Genital Mutilation

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

“What we have to do is continue to fight this worldwide. This is a global problem,” Jones said.

“It is a violation of human rights,” he said. “And I’m going to continue speaking out worldwide against this horrible, horrible practice that must end.” (VOA)