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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)
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  • 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

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Section 377 : Does It Really Has Anything To Do With Indian Culture?

The modern Indian approach towards homosexuality is hardly the one derived from Indian culture

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Gay pride Flag
Rainbow Flag represents LGBT community, VOA

By Ruchika Verma

  • Section 377 of IPC is one of the most controversial matters in India
  • The law criminalises the unnatural acts of sexual activities
  • Homosexuality is illegal under the IPC Section 377

Section 377, which criminalises sexual activities “against the order of nature,” which includes homosexual relationships as well, has been a matter of debate for a long time now. In a rather progressive nation like India, this section represents nothing but backwardness.

Section 377 is one of the reasons why LGBTQ community gets harassed.
Section 377 is one of the reasons why LGBTQ community gets harassed.

The modern Indian approach towards homosexuality is hardly the one derived from Indian culture, rather it is a product of British colonialization, which brought the section into being during their rule over India.

LGBTQ rights are used as nothing but a propaganda by political parties to gain votes. The media coverage is also about nothing else, but either community members getting harassed or a politician spewing out absurdities about the LGBTQ community. The reasons which the rigid nationalists of our country give in support of Section 377 are even more absurd. they try to create a connection where there is neither scope nor need.

Also Read: Section 377 criminalising ‘unnatural sex’ may be scrapped, says Sadananda Gowda

Indian Culture and Section 377 – Is there really a connection? 

The truth is, there isn’t. Those who go against homosexuality in the name of Indian culture are surely not properly aware of our ancient texts. Indian culture, especially Hinduism has always been more fluid in its ideology than the British who ruled India for more than a century.

Indian culture has always recognised sexuality properly. Our scriptures are a great example of that. Be it the famous Kamasutra or the Vedas, sexuality was never a taboo until Mughals and Britishers came into the picture.

Indian culture nowhere says that homosexuality is wrong or unethical.
Indian culture nowhere says that homosexuality is wrong or unethical.

Nowhere in Indian culture, there is a scripture which validates the ill-treatment of LGBTQ community. What we don’t release is the fact that the weight of colonialism still hangs heavily over our heads, suspended in mid-air, dividing people who believe in totally two different ideologies.

Our ancestors recognised the need for changes in their law, sadly, our modern generation can not. Section 377 of the Indian penal code dates back to 1861, and it is now high time that a change is implemented.

LGBT community needs to be accepted just as much as any other community. Pixabay
LGBT community needs to be accepted just as much as any other community. Pixabay

It is no hidden fact that Indian culture was far more modern in its approach than the Roman or British one. However, that’s the case of the past. With time progressing, India has only regressed in the matters relating to sexuality and women.

Be it society’s way of controlling a certain section of society, or politicians who never step back from banking upon such matters, India needs to recognise that the Section 377 is totally wrong in its approach of homosexual people.

Section 377 and the problems with it

Also Read: How did Rainbow Flag attain the Prestige of representing the LGBT Community? 

Section 377 goes against the ‘unnatural’ sexual activities, which involves unnatural sexual acts performed on humans and animals. the key term in the section is “against the order of nature.”

Homosexuality, unfortunately, is against the nature in India. It is not treated as an identity or the orientation of a person, rather many radicals claim it to be an ‘illness.’ What’s more interesting, is the fact that there is no norm which defines these ‘unnatural acts.’

The IPC Section 377 is the reason why homosexuality in India is a taboo today. Despite, several protests and peaceful rallies, India’s pride just keeps on going down. Homosexuals live in a constant fear which is a violation of humanity in itself.

pride flag
The rainbow pride flag of the LGBT community. Wikimedia Commons

The law needs to be constantly modified in order to be effective. With the change in time, a modification is law is also needed. However, Indian Supreme Court seems to be ignoring the fact. It is going along with the old beliefs which are better cast away.

The IPC Section 377 needs not to get removed, however, an amendment is definitely needed. Homosexuality is not a crime, it is just human nature which needs to accept. To be or not be is not a choice, it is an orientation. And orientation doesn’t see legal or illegal.