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fem (inDIA) ism

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Being in India makes me incredibly aware of how i am not a man.
not only do i have to be conscious of how I act in public (ex: no running, no laying), what i wear (big, baggy is my go to), who i am walking next to (sorry boys), how late i stay out, what i wear to the pool if i were to find a pool to go to, but I also have to adjust who i look in the eyes, who i say hello to, and how I ask for things (when in doubt, just throw in a whine with your request). all in all, its a shift in how i carry myself.

Drishti prides itself on being gender conscious (note: they never say feminist). We have many strong woman leading Drishti, we seek out women and girls to train in the field, we ensure that women are not a minority in the rural community governing bodies we set up, and we even had our website designed by Feminist Approaches to Technology. However when i say the word 'feminist' around the office, the room goes silent. There is something to this reaction...sadly I haven't figured it out yet. My hunch is that young woman here no longer identify with that term. Just like the common conception that Indians today are weary of Non Profits (because of past experiences with organizations that claim to be working as a Not for Profit but are really doing shady business and enjoying the tax subsidies of those that fight the good fight), young woman shy away from being refereed to as feminists because the word has been abused, overused, and never made itself relevant to the woman of today.
What is the woman of today? Especially in India where there are so many lives colliding together- rural woman moving into the city to work in construction, traditional perceptions of what a mother is in a time when moms no longer stay home, Women's Reservation Act passing, girls leaving home to work and live independently while sending money home for their "dowry". How can anyone capture the experience of women today when there are so many classes/castes living one on top of the other in a deeply collective society that puts immense pressure on adhering to social norms?

Big questions. No one is giving me answers and these 7 months have taught me to not assume I know anything, so i care not to speculate much more. I just read an interesting blog post by jaded16 and thought she was worth sharing:

I am an Indian and I live in India. How convenient. At the same time, I’m not really sure what an Indian feminist is.
I have read about Vandana Siva, presented a paper on Mahashveta Devi, fallen in love with words of Kamla Das, Nabneeta Dev Sen, Gauri Despande, Eunice D’ Souza, Pandita Ramabai to name a few. There are resources that guide me to archives of Indian women who lie buried deep in local histories. The problem that faces me is a different one – I cannot seem to identify entirely with any one of them. I don’t feel victimised by the alien western culture nor do I feel like I’m treading in unknown space when writing or thinking in English as these feminists did. As a child born on the brink of the era of globalisation, my first language IS English. Like Bhalchandra Nemade , I don’t see myself as a pawn of the Colonial language. I am equally fluent in my mother tongue Gujarati as I am in English. This rules out many issues and debates Indian feminists bring up time and again. I feel like an outsider when I read yet another essay about how alienated the author feels when faced against the Colonial giant as she goes on to equate the oppression she feels when writing in English with mainstream patriarchal oppression. As much as I respect her words and opinions, they don’t resonate with me.
These feminists talk of forced marriages, oppression at the hands of their in-laws and society shunning them for the smallest social transgression – as a teenager living in Mumbai, these issues seem like fairy tales. I can agree I am speaking from a privileged stance, yet, as it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Most students my age feel the same disconnect with radical writers and feminists of the 80′s. We’ve grown up in somewhat liberal households, working parents aren’t a novelty to us, we’ve been exposed to mainstream Western culture all our lives. We have gay, lesbian and trans-sexual classmates and friends. This doesn’t make us liberal or progressive, but just the current demographic of the Indian youth.
We do hear horror stories of child marriages, of honour-killings, of female feticide, the daily rapes in Delhi ; there are many, many issues that need immediate attention — from reproductive rights to the need for liberal expression of sexuality — but again, all of this just translates to white noise. There is no reaching out to the afore mentioned demographic of Indian youth. This is not because they are apathetic (I agree some thick skinned idiots simply don’t give a fuck) but because of this disconnect we feel; the very same disconnect that borders dangerously close to assuming we live in a “post-feminist” world (to the delight of the omnipresent patriarchal douchebag). We don’t need a role model that ‘gets’ us, nor do we have the stereotypical need to be Americanised.
Most Indian teenagers have to negotiate their Indian identity into either blending in with Western values and immediately being liberal or retaining their Indian-ness and try to re-negotiate what norms they accept, for what purpose etc. To add to this existential burden, if the teenager is also (unfortunately) a feminist, then said teenager has to again see what norms of Western feminism to pick and which ones to leave out. There is no point in expecting a sexual revolution from a culture where parents would die of mortification being caught holding hands in public – there is a lot we have to filter and adapt to what suits us best while remaining true to the core beliefs and ideals of feminism. If I don’t then I’ll be sprouting Solanas in her original tone and next thing I know I am in an asylum. To make it simple – it’s a hard job being an Indian feminist.
I still resent and speak out against patriarchal norms that dictate many of my actions, I try to de-condition the bias we have against Muslims and point out the fallacies in pop culture and media. I can do that in the terminology I am comfortable in to drive my point home to you. So just because I talk of Nora Ephron instead of Gurinder Chadha, Maya Angelou instead of Gauri Despande, Alice Walker or Toni Morrison instead of Taslima Nasrin, Margaret Atwood instead of Arundhati Roy, harp praises about P.J. Harvey instead of Kavita Krishamurthy, bring up Gilmore Girls instead of Ladies Special – the list never ends – my Indian-ness doesn’t fade away in the Western hoo-ha. If I talk using ‘Indian’ terminology (case in point: rotis, chai and dhobis ) I’m not being any more Indian than I am now.

Comments

This is a wonderful post. When I was in India I found that negotiating being a woman was something very different than anything I have encountered. However, does this mean that the women are not feminist if they participate in the cultural norms of where they are? Of course not! I think that another important aspect of this post is the fact that western feminists need not prescribe what feminism means to non-western cultures.

Being here at world pulse, I feel that most people who participate understand this. Connecting with other people that feel the same way about empowering women where they are with what they need (not what is prescribed to them) is something very very uplifting.

I look forward to reading more about your journey and your activism :)

Much Peace and Love,

Sharese

Rita Banerji's picture

sorry!

Unfortunately Sharese, I disagree. Not just women but men around the world need to wake up to what is happening in India. In 3 generations more than 50 million women have been systematically annihilated from the population -- killed at every stage of life. The world needs to sit up and say "no more" -- the way they have for every other genocide in human history. Check out our website at www.50millionmissing.in Do also visit our blog Gender Bytes.

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

Rita Banerji's picture

indian feminism

Ultimately the aim of global feminism is to recognize women as having the same human worth as men. It is not about what you do, but what you are.

I run a campaign called The 50 Million Missing www.50millionmissing.in that is fighting female genocide in India.

Do check out the site and our blog Gender Bytes.

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

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