What are the shortcomings with Indian feminists

Renate Syed. Dr. phil. Dr.habil.

Women in India: Laws, Desire, and Reality

Renate Syed

From a western, also from a German perspective, India is considered a misogynist country. The German press never tires of reporting on rape, dowry murders and the abortion of female fetuses. Nobody will deny that there is violence against girls and women, but the sense of proportion is often lost. The following is about this sense of proportion.

Even the serious press does not skimp on exaggerations; For example, in the 2nd edition of ZEIT in 2013 an article about India with the headline “The murder of women” appeared and on March 21, 2013 ZEIT read “India is murdering its women”; the headline of the Mittelbayerische Zeitung on December 31, 2012 was “The land of undesirable daughters. Where equality is a foreign word ”and the Süddeutsche Zeitung put an entire subcontinent under general suspicion:“ On the move in horror ”(8.2.2013). An article in ZEIT from June 12, 2014 asks: "What's wrong with the Indian man?"

In contrast to science, journalism likes to work extensively with the means of dramatization and demonization. Those who exaggerate have sympathy on their side, because indignation at grievances is the attitude of good people. On the other hand, those who urge differentiation and moderation are quickly seen as trivializing who want to deny the misery and behave irresponsibly; Understanding a foreign culture by abandoning Eurocentric standards, the culture-relativistic method, is frowned upon.

A sense of proportion and composure are apparently just as little tolerated in the debate about “Indian women” as the reference that India has more than 1.2 billion people, of whom the overwhelming majority of men are not perpetrators and the majority of women are not victims. [ 1] The statement made in a radio conversation by the author of this article that the rape of a tourist was to be rated as an “isolated case” in view of the millions of visitors who have traveled to India annually for decades and also last year, aroused indignation: “How could one To play down such a bad case? ”However, it was not about playing down, but about facts. Emotion seems more important than factuality.

The sentence quoted from the German press "Where equality is a foreign word" is not correct. Equality is not a foreign word in India, but guaranteed by the 1950 constitution. The fact that legally guaranteed equality is not always and everywhere a reality is true for India, but not only for India. It is a fact that a large proportion of Indian men, but also women, believe in a natural inequality between men and women. The ancient Indian, strictly patriarchal culture was based on this thinking, which still prevails today.

Unlike tradition, Indian law is extremely women-friendly, writes Indian journalist Shikha Dalmia: “If proclamations of such rights were enough, Indian women would be among the most liberated in the world. Indian law and constitutional traditions are something of a feminist’s dream. Women obtained full voting rights immediately after the country obtained independence from British rule in 1947. Three years later, India's constitution was ratified, which University of Chicago Law Prof. Martha Nussbaum, a committed feminist, has dubbed “remarkably woman-friendly” and an example from which America could learn. ”[2]

The secular state of India did not stop at the equality of men and women guaranteed by the constitution. Since independence, the Indian state has passed a multitude of laws for the welfare and advancement of women; Mention should be made here of the "Dowry Prohibition Act" (prohibition of dowry, 1961), "Maternity Benefit Act (Mutterschutzgesetz, 1961)," Prohibition of Child Marriage Act "(2006)," Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act " (Domestic Violence Act, 2005), Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques, Prohibition of Sex Selection Act (1994), which prohibits the sexing of the unborn child and the abortion of female fetuses. Of particular importance is the "Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005/06 (PWDVA)", which protects women from rape by husbands: "The Act provides protection against marital rape or other forms of sexual perversions and domestic violence."

The huge gap between legislation and reality is to be lamented. Numerous traditions, including the patriarchal concept of the sexes that has existed for thousands of years, according to which the man as father, husband and son rules over daughter, wife and mother, but also the system of castes (jati: Community of origin, marriage, food, e.g. T. profession and religion regulates) cannot be abolished within a few decades. Both systems, that of the sexes and that of the castes, are based on the inequalities claimed to be natural in almost all ancient Indian texts. A large part of the Indian population orients itself towards these traditions of inequality, lives, to put it simply, past modern liberal laws, hardly takes notice of them or ignores them in a kind of passive resistance. The state is powerless, as two examples may show: 1. Schooling is compulsory, but not all parents send their children to school because they have to tend the cattle or supervise their younger siblings. As a rule, these parents are not punished, also because they cannot pay the fines at all. 2. A woman can easily get divorced and the children can be awarded to her. Yet many women, raised in submission and obedience, persist in painful marriages or, in the event of divorce, forego having children. According to traditional thinking, the children “belong” to the husband and his family. This means: The state offers its people modern laws, but it cannot force them to adopt them. The state can tighten laws, it cannot change the minds of its citizens. 3. The dowry has been banned for decades, but it is estimated that 85-95% of all Indian parents (in India as well as in the USA, Canada and Great Britain) provide their daughters with a dowry which, however, is often not "dowry" called, but as "presents", is declared. The high number means that educated people and academics, i.e. lawyers, doctors and professors, also practice the forbidden practice of dowry. So who should the state punish?

The fact that there is violence against girls and women in India has not only been known since December 16, 2012: The case of the young woman known as "Nirbhaya", who died as a result of rape and abuse by six men, made India, its public, his media, and ultimately also his politicians under public pressure from demonstrations and protests, were shaken and shaken for a long time. [3] The Indian media, which previously hardly discussed violence and rape, reported non-stop on the case and its reception. The demonstrations and protests did not end; Noteworthy was the participation of young and older men who showed solidarity with women. The anger against the police, who are often inactive and, if at all, negligent and only determined against the payment of bribes, known as "speed money", was immense and has not subsided to this day. The anger was also directed against the politicians, who initially refused to take the demonstrators and their outrage seriously and take them seriously.

The public perception of the "Nirbhaya" case and its discussion was immense. From the beginning there have been two discourses within India (but not outside the country), to put it simply, about the causes of the high number of acts of violence against women. While many educated Indians, including activists and feminists, blamed the misogynist tradition of Indian culture, which is more than three millennia old, conservative politicians and gurus, saints and traditionalists denounced the West and modernity for the grievances: globalization, " Westernization ”and modernity, including the Internet and increasing liberalization and pornography, the reinterpretation of sexuality and gender relations in the western sense are to be blamed for the violence. In this context, religious and conservatives postulated an existing dichotomy in Indian society along the lines of tradition: one would find where “Bharat” and its old traditional values ​​existed (“Bharat” is India's old self-name and that is what the Indian Republic is officially called today) neither contempt for women nor violence, but where there is “India” due to Western influences (fashions, lifestyles, means of communication, language etc.) (“India”, “Indiae”, “India” etc. are the old Persian, Greek, Latin, British and Western foreign names), there is oppression and discrimination, brought into the country by strangers through individualization, secularization and liberalization and imposed on the local culture like the false name "India".

A sober consideration sine ira et studio must lead to the conclusion that both discourses contain true and false. If tradition alone were responsible for the grievances, there should be no violence and rape in modern secular societies without strong traditions. However, this is not the case. On the contrary: In western, secular and (allegedly) enlightened societies, the number of rapes is higher, even if one assumes a high number of unreported cases for India (for statistics see below). The Indian tradition is actually responsible for a high preference of sons over daughters and for a general high esteem for the male sex over the female. But above all the latter is, and still is today, the case in all patriarchal cultures (and which are not?) And (almost) everywhere in the world. And isn't there a contradiction between desire and reality in many Western countries?

Are those Indian traditionalists and fundamentalists who hold the West and its culture responsible? Are (also) the economy and social change to blame? In addition to the patriarchal tradition, there are also economic and social causes for the increase in violence in a society. India’s economy, which has been growing (and just declining) for twenty years, and the resulting prosperity benefit only a few. While the urban middle class is becoming wealthier and able to secure a financial surplus that goes far beyond the satisfaction of basic needs and is invested in real estate, status symbols and the education of children, a large proportion of Indians live (I do without numbers because depending on the source, these are very different and often tendentious) on the verge of subsistence level: Many can just pay for basic needs, i.e. food, clothing, housing, and many cannot even pay for this. Due to the impoverishment of many peasant families, unemployed sons are forced to flee to the cities, where they vegetate without work and without a future in the ever-growing slums, perceive the prosperity of the few and often turn the resulting frustration and anger into violence. These living conditions are partly to blame for the increasing violence within civil society.

But is violence against women really greater in India than in other countries? The statistics show the opposite. In his article "India's Women: The Mixed Truth" [4] Amartya Sen points out that according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2010 there were 1.8 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants in India, 27.3 in the USA and 28 in Great Britain ,8th. in Sweden 63.5 and in South Africa 120.0. It is clear that the number of unreported acts in India and the number of unreported cases must be much higher, but Sen writes: “The number of recorded rapes in India is certainly a substantial underestimate, but even if we take five times - or ten times - that figure, the corrected and enlarged estimates of rapes would still be substantially lower in India than in the USA, the UK, Sweden, or South Africa even with the assumption that there is no underreporting in these other countries. " (P. 24) [5]

In the ZEIT of June 12, 2014, which asked what was "the matter with the Indian man", there is another article under the heading "Touched and harassed", which reports that "every fifth female student at US universities sexually abused. That was ignored for a long time. Only now are the victims heard. ”In the United States there are problems similar to those in India: 1. Girls and women are viewed by many men as“ fair game ”because these men feel superior because of their gender, 2. The victims are ashamed himself: “Only every 8th victim dares to report the crime to the university or the police”, according to the article, and 3. The university administrations and the police do nothing or too little, the laws are too lax or are not applied.

In April 2013, the laws on rape in India were tightened and the penalties increased. According to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, “both penile and non-penile insertion into bodily orifices of a woman by a man” are punishable. It also says: “Acts like penetration by penis, or any object or any part of body to any extent, into the vagina, mouth, urethra or anus of a woman or making her to do so with another person or applying of mouth to sexual organs without the consent or will of the woman constitutes the offense of rape. " According to this law, rape also occurs if a woman cannot defend herself: “Lack of physical resistance is immaterial for constituting an offense. Except in certain aggravated situation the punishment will be imprisonment not less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine. In aggravated situations, punishment will be rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine. "

Article 376A is new, according to which the perpetrator can face a twenty-year prison sentence or even the death penalty: If a perpetrator "inflicts an injury which causes the death of the person or causes the person to be in a persistent vegetative state, he shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than twenty years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, which shall mean the remainder of that person's natural life, or with death. " In the case of group rape, the following applies: “Persons involved regardless of their gender shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than twenty years, but which may extend to life and shall pay compensation to the victim which shall be reasonable to meet the medical expenses and rehabilitation of the victim. "

The law also stipulates that consent to sexual intercourse can only be given from the age of 18, "which means any sexual activity irrespective of the presence of consent with a woman below the age of 18 will constitute statutory rape." The three adult rapists "Nirbhayas" were sentenced to death, one adult perpetrator committed suicide in prison, and the fifth perpetrator was sentenced to imprisonment under juvenile law.

Many cases are not reported because, according to traditional understanding, the victim has been "violated" and has dishonored his family. And how is a raped girl supposed to get married? This is why Indian parents often make a “deal” with the perpetrator, from which the police also make money: the perpetrator or his family pay a “hush money” and the girl's “honor” is saved.

India has a strong civil society and courageous and determined activists and NGOs and an alert youth who are able to cope with the country's problems. The women understand that they need to speak and not be ashamed of being raped. Families understand that rape of a daughter is not a disgrace, but rather that they must enforce their rights, call the police and press for an investigation. Police officers are punished if they do not take up the cases and do not pursue the perpetrators; Corruption can now be displayed more easily and more effectively. More and more young, but also older men are fighting on the side of women. Politics and the media take care of the problems. So there is much to suggest that the gap between liberal legislation and the realities of life will slowly but surely close.

Still, India is not going to give up its traditions anytime soon.A decisive element of modernity and globalization is the Western concept of the free "I", that is, the emergence of the individual and his needs in relation to the other, the family and community and their demands; the western self is ego-centric. For millennia, however, India has attached importance to the subordination of the individual to the demands of marriage, family, clan and caste; the Indian ego is family-centric. Tradition and identity are so closely intertwined and intertwined in India that the abandonment of tradition, even if it brings personal disadvantages and grief, is mostly perceived as a loss of identity. The detachment from tradition, which determines and organizes the life of the individual and the group, brings about the social isolation of the individual and a vacuum in him that is difficult to fill. That is why the vast majority of Indians, despite the use of western-modern utensils and toys (they eat burgers, use cell phones, wear jeans), ultimately cling to the traditions, i.e. to caste, arranged marriage, dowry, hierarchy of the sexes, etc., especially when it is is about the "things in life" that affect the entire family. It may frustrate legislators, western-oriented, "modern" Indians may be angry, western observers may be amazed, but nobody can change it. Maybe the time.



[1] On June 18, 2014 at 4:32 p.m., 666,461,575 boys and men lived in India out of a total population of 1,290,775,703 people. The male population accounts for 51.6%, an indication of a lack of women as a result of the high number of female fetal abortions. See countrymeters.info/de/india

[2] Shikha Dalmia: "Feminism Can`t Cure India`s Rape Epedemic" in: Reasons.com.

[3] See my article “Nirbhaya: Symbol and Turning Point” (Article 2) on my website www.renate-syed.de

[4] In: The New York Review of Books, October 10, 2013.

[5] This result shows on the one hand that the western exaggerations and demonization of India are unjustified, on the other hand that such interpretations of statistics are pointless in view of the violence actually exercised and suffered: nobody knows the real numbers.