The Fear of Fundamentalisms
Wednesday June 06th 2007, 9:52 am
Filed under: 50:50, India, feminism

by Anasuya Sengupta


My day (and sometimes night) job is working with police officers in India on issues of violence against women and children; I coordinate a UNICEF partnership with the Karnataka State Police. One of the most critical aspects of this work is, as Anindita so succinctly described elsewhere on this blog, analysing the impact of our socially entrenched gender-based norms. The lack of value for our girl children – and if they’re lucky, for the women they grow up to be – has meant that we have lost, in our female population, the size of a small to middling European country.

But this post is not about genderocide. It is about that and more. It is about asking our governments – particularly the all powerful G8 – that in this context of ‘terrorism’, of an almost universal culture of production and consumption around ‘fear’ and ‘mistrust’, they analyse honestly and courageously their own contributions to a growing set of fundamentalisms: economic, religious, cultural, social and sexual. Women (and children) are often hit hardest by these fundamentalisms.

Identities are complex; we acknowledge that readily but seem willing to sacrifice that complexity for simplified categorisations and easy classification. More than ever, our language of ‘us’ and ‘them’ divides us over and over again, in the conversations we have, the advertisements we watch, the TV series we devour. And our politicians, our priests, our ulemas, our leaders – those who claim to represent us in all our complexity – speak the language of divisions, of fissures, best of all.

A young Muslim friend of mine lives in Gujarat, India. She explores, every day, what it means to be a woman, a Muslim, a young person, an artist, in the maelstrom of fundamentalism that is the Gujarat of today. She struggles with what it means to be a citizen: either of this country or of the globalised world. What does citizenship mean if you live constantly in the shadow of fear? Not just the fear of physical abuse, but worse still, the violence attached to labels? For her, wearing the hijaab is both an act of courage and a unintended performance: she is just never quite sure of her audience or its response.

There is complexity in hate-mongering too. In India, as possibly elsewhere, it seems as though the language of ‘empowerment’ for women has been claimed and reconstructed to mean ‘power’ rather than ‘dignity’ or ‘equality’ or ‘pluralism’. Not all our women politicians are feminist, and not all our fundamentalists are male.

These are not only issues of government. But they are issues for governments; our states are contributing, in no small measure, to these voices of fundamentalisms, of alienation. And worse still: sometimes it is they who create the vocabulary.

Anasuya Sengupta works on issues of gender justice in Karnataka, India. She blogs at Gladly Beyond Any Distance.

Picture via FlickR

Stop India’s Gender Cleansing
Tuesday May 22nd 2007, 12:39 pm
Filed under: 50:50, India, abortion, feminism, genocide

by Anindita Sengupta, freelance journalist and writer, India


There are plenty of murmurs but not enough people are talking about it. Something deeply horrifying is happening in IndiaGender Cleansing. India is systematically wiping out her female population. This is not an exaggeration. This is not a joke. I am not being clever. According to a 2006 UNICEF report, 80% of India’s districts have recorded declining child sex ratios since 1991. Thousands of girl-children are killed before or at birth. The all-India sex ratio is 927 girls for 1,000 boys, which puts the country right at the bottom of the global charts, worse off than countries like Nigeria (965) and neighbour
Pakistan (958). 

Gita Aravamudan whose book Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide has just been published talks in her book about how our hugely skewed sex ratio is due to advanced pre-natal diagnostic techniques. But the real revelation is that educated people are more likely to kill their female fetuses, not less. According to Aravamudan, two generations of girls in India have already been murdered in the womb. This is not “family planning”. This is organized genocide, aided and abetted by sophisticated medical technology. 

The only women likely to keep their daughters are the truly independent-minded women, not just the financially independent”, she told me over coffee when we met to discuss the book. “Often women have abortion after abortion, even when they don’t want to” she said, recounting her meetings with women in different parts of the country. Mostly, this is because of pressure from the husband and in-laws. Women are scared of facing anger at home. They are scared of being thrown out of their houses. They are tired, defeated and trapped by the need to retain a modicum of peace in their domestic lives. It is tragic that in a country where God is often female, there is no place for girls in the home. Dowry is a large part of the problem, but so are issues of lineage, family name, inheritance, social attitudes towards women and the deeply ingrained belief that women are inferior.  

“This is genocide. This is gender cleansing. There is no doubt about it,” said Donna Fernandez of Vimochana, an organization that works against violence against women, and a stalwart of the women’s rights movement in India. Fernandez believes that we need to begin by referring to it truthfully instead of euphemizing the problem.  This does seem a necessary first step—to accept the magnitude of the problem and find the words that will adequately express the tragedy, evoke the horror and the devastation. This is as bad, or worsethan any holocaust that humankind has known. Why aren’t more people talking about it? Why aren’t world leaders declaiming it? Why isn’t there visible the shock, the fury, the sadness that usually accompanies any mass murder? Why is it important only to a handful of academics and development workers? 

India needs to be taught, encouraged, cajoled, coaxed and, if necessary, compelled to value its women. It is imperative that we the Indian woman’s self esteem, her strength, her ability to feel safe, to live, to thrive is built. Every tool we have at our disposal—art, entertainment, popular television, media, religion, spirituality, law, policy and education must be marshaled to say just this: the woman is important. She is necessary. Value her. 

India must be stopped from killing her women.  

Anindita Sengupta is a freelance journalist and writer in Bangalore, India, and blogs at Noah’s Ark Broken.   

Women and Access to Technology
Saturday May 19th 2007, 6:19 am
Filed under: 50:50, G8, India, feminism, technology

by Veena Hassan, Human Institutional Development Forum (HIDF) in Bangalore, India

It is rather a coincidence that I have been thinking about women and technology from past few days. Actually, the process began with filter paper for making coffee. Here in India, we were using a piece of cotton cloth specially kept for filtering coffee. Later came the percolator and the most popular metal filters. The metal filters, manual or electrical are a kind of permanent(or at least for a decade!) investment. After the use it is cleaned and kept ready for the next use.

Recently, I discovered that there are filter papers available for the same purpose. In this filtering is faster and washing is much much less. But every time I make coffee, I shall be throwing away a piece of paper without being able to contribute towards growing trees in any way.

This led me to thinking how do we arrive at technology for women? (Coffee making is not an exclusive technology for women!). I believe that how do we percieve physical action and mental activites guides our invention or for a lay person, selection of particular tecnology. The attempt here is to arrive at a balance. Balance between the body and the mind.

From times immemorial, housework has been mostly a women’s domain. A spere where most of the “reproductive” activites are carried out. First of all these reproductive activities were called “drudgery.” This definition, according to me has largely misled our approach to technology that is so-called related to women.

Reproduction as in procreation has been the essence of human existence on this earth. So are other reproductive activities. The question here is that how can an essential activity be termed as drudgery? As I have to use more and more of electrical appliances in the kitchen like mixer grinder, I am getting more and more nostalgic about how much I enjoyed grinding in the stone! Use of electrical appliances especially in the kitchen in the beginning used to be a matter of choice. With increased demand for physical space, increased importance for the activities that bring returns in financial terms, and the lifestyle resulting from it, there is no choice, it is inevitable!

As I am I writing the above lines, another thought crosses my mind. Haven’t women moved out of the kitchen long ago? Does technology for women essentially mean kitchen appliances? The anwer is ‘yes’ to the first question with a slight correction. Women who have moved out of the kitchen are very few. But most women if not all have moved out along with/despite kitchen. So how do we consider the entire topic of “women and technology” matters most.

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Women handloom workers facing the brunt of economic reforms in India
Thursday May 17th 2007, 10:13 am
Filed under: 50:50, India, feminism, handloom, women's rights

by D. Narasimha Reddy, Centre for Handloom Information and Policy Advocacy


Note: One of the points high up on Angela Merkel’s agenda is the development of three-way economic partnerships between G8 countries, African countries and ‘emerging economies’ like Brazil, China and India. Is this a good idea? Here, Narasimha Reddy from the pioneering Centre for Handloom Information and Policy Advocacy in India describes how this unique woman-dominated industry is affected by globalisation, liberalisation and economic reforms, adverse government policies and discriminatory competition…

The handloom sector is unique in India. It has been the most popular manufacturing sector in the previous centuries, and has been the mainstay of rural industrialisation in India. Handloom sector has been catering to the clothing needs of India, and various other countries for centuries altogether. Modern textile industry has grown on this sector, through mechanization and modernization. However, the most modern industry follows the principles of weaving set by the traditional handloom weaver. Unlike any other industrial endeavour, handloom sector still continues alongside the most modern textile machinery.

There are number of factors that have contributed to such resilience. Principal among them is that the weaving is household profession, passed on through generations. In these households, women play an important role. Women weavers have been the principal stabilisation force through years of crises and problems for the handloom sector.

The handloom sector is only the manufacturing sector wherein one finds large number of women producing products which are worn by large number of women. Women producing for women is a unique feature of the handloom sector.

Despite such features, which are outwardly unique, women weavers were never given the primacy they require. Their role in production was never acknowledged beyond the confines of the home. Their work most often went unpaid. Governments never recognised formally as a target group. Even the private initiatives of NGOs, or fashion boutiques, tend to ignore their contribution and role. The most radical to rightist political mobilization structures in handloom sector are devoid of any issues and participation of women. Women participation in political mobilization is completely nil.

Women constitute a major workforce in the handloom sector. Also, most of the handloom products are meant for women. Thus, handloom sector is the unique sector, wherein 60 percent of the women produce almost 70 percent of women products. However, their working, living and wage conditions need to be improved. They need to be empowered in various ways. Almost all the government schemes, projects and programmes on handloom sector have been and continue to bypass this major workforce through various means. They do not have identity cards, which are the principal means through which government welfare measures are sought to be implemented. There is no scheme, or project, or programme which addresses their needs.

Women weavers have been subject to domestic violence and victims of violence in many places. They have also been at the receiving end of discrimination of all types. Whenever handloom sector is in crisis, the burden of carrying through the crisis is the most on women weavers, through increase in physical, psychological and social pressures. Their health condition is a major concern, as also their role in relations of production and also the future of girl children. While performing critical functions in production, their role in decision-making is rather poor.


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