25, Nov 2017 | Kiran Manral | Join Us
Feminism has had its own journey across the Indian subcontinent and touched different women differently. In this exclusive blog, author Kiran Manral examines the evolution of feminism and its impact on the Indian homemaker.
The feminist movement, a movement for the equality of genders in all aspects, is not new to India. In fact, the first phase of the feminist movement in our country began in the mid eighteenth century when voices began to speak out against the barbaric practice of Sati, followed by the initiation of women into the freedom movement, and interestingly, seeing the participation of women not just in the non violent movement but also in the combat positions with the Rani of Jhansi regiment in the Indian National Army. This was followed by the post independence movement, which sought to give women the right to equal wages for equal work, right to education, equal political rights, as well as the right to inheritance and property amongst others.
The post independence generation slowly began reclaiming their piece of the sky. But still, 70 years post independence, Within most homes in the country though, the Indian homemaker by and large is still battling patriarchy in all its obvert and insidious ways. The modern Indian homemaker still faces many glaring issues where she has to contend with patriarchal subjugation. The feminist movement in India has primarily been a movement of the urban privileged. In small town India and the villages, housewives have yet to be impacted by feminism of any kind.
The inequity begins with the basic premise of sexual consent within a marriage. Given that in our country marital rape is not a crime, a woman, by virtue of being married to a man, has completely no agency over her own body. The lack of recognition of marital rape as a crime by our lawmakers is a harkener to the hold patriarchy has over the institution of marriage. A woman is considered property once married, for the husband’s pleasure. Her wants, desires, likes, dislikes and most importantly, consent, does not matter at all. What does matter is only that she is a wife, and therefore must be sexually available to her husband at all times whenever he desires to have sexual relations. Until marital rape is criminalised, we do a disservice to every young girl we talk to about agency over her body and consent in a relationship.
For most marriages, very often reproductive choice is not always a mutual decision. The woman more often than not bears the sole responsibility for contraception or risks consecutive pregnancies that could weaken and debilitate her, and lead to underweight births. When she does conceive, there is the demand for the male child, which has families compel the woman go through invasive sex determination procedures and late medical terminations of pregnancy, often risky and illegal. Female foeticide is a real and present evil, which has resulted in the appalling gender imbalance in some states in the country, leading to the need for the young men of the state to ‘import’ and ‘buy’ brides from other states, because there are absolutely no women they can marry. When permanent sterilisation is decided upon, the women tend to go in for invasive tube tying procedures. The men resist sterilisation procedures for fear that any surgery in their sexual organs will lead to an inability to perform sexually.
Reducing a woman to a sexual receptacle and a womb is what marriage seems to offer for most Indian homemakers. Often, homemakers have little or no financial parity with the man of the house, simply because they don’t earn an income. Therefore, they are not considered decision makers when it comes to most of the major financial decisions of the household. Property is not purchased in their names, and more often than not they might not even have bank accounts. Things are changing though, as more women get aware of the schemes and benefits offered to women by the government and are getting financially literate. In rural areas, very often women work the fields in addition to their domestic chores, and yet have no financial security of their own.
Most Indian homemakers negotiate their power within a marriage through their reproductive abilities, more specifically, that of producing a male child. Except for a few matriarchal clans, like the Nairs in Kerala and the tribes in Manipur, the family unit is by large headed by the oldest male in the joint family system that prevails in our country. Then there is also the daily sexism to contend with, even on things as quotidian as division of In India, daily sexism within a marriage is a cultural reality. Take for instance, the issue of housework. Most marriages have a completely skewed division of household chores and childcare, with the bulk of the tasks the responsibility of women. While patterns of housework might have changed over the years with many women using domestic appliances and outsourcing chores to household help, especially in the urban and small town India, the primary responsibility for getting these chores done continues to be the woman’s. Childcare continues to be exclusively the preserve of women, with only a miniscule percentage of the men bothering to chip in with diaper changing and night feeds. I speak for myself and most women I see, when I say that child rearing continues to be the primary preserve of the woman, homemaker or not. While men are definitely becoming more involved than our parents’ generation did in child rearing, we still have a long way to go for complete parity. As a mother who travels on work much more than my husband does, thanks to the very differing nature of our professions, I often faced conscious and unconscious bias from other women about my ‘irresponsibility’ in travelling for conferences or events when the child has his examinations, even though the child’s father is right there at home to supervise and help with his studying.
The traditional breadwinner and homemaker roles are a disservice to women because there is no economic value attached to housekeeping, domestic chores and childcare. A woman’s work, in this sphere, therefore is devalued and not considered as part of the economic wealth that empowers nation building.
Feminism for the Indian Homemaker is still a work in progress. Perhaps, we begin with feminism for our young girls, and when they do grow up into young women they can bring feminism into their marriages, whether or not they choose to be homemakers.
Kiran Manral is the author of eight published books across different genres. She is a TEDx speaker, mentor and a columnist.