Paromita Vohra: What's right(s) for women
This week, the Supreme Court ruled against Triple Talaq, following the persistent efforts of women's groups like the Bebaak Collective and Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.
When the ruling party's various arms, legs and virtual digits ascribed the judgment to the heroism of our Prime Minister, they did what people have done for decades and continue to do - pretend that the activism of women is either unnecessary ("let me explain to you how change really happens, it's the economy or something else), motivated ("Oh these women are trying to get power for themselves and misrepresenting other women in the process"), trivial ("it's just minor social work/armchair activism/ladies club stuff") as, also a mathematical problem ("in talking about women, aren't we leaving out men? In fighting for equal rights for women, aren't we making men unequal?").
Large numbers of counter-social media activists responded with "what about the Prime Minister's treatment of his wife, huh?" In doing this, they did what is often done in the face of talking about women's political work - reaffirmed that the real discussion folks like to have is about men, preferably men in power, and re-inscribed the discussion about women to somehow being perpetually important in terms of their relationship to men.
In other words, if there were a Bechdel test for discussing gender equality not only for female characters in movies talking about things other than men, but for political discussions where all genders discuss gender issues without constantly discussing men, this discussion would be fully fail. Even if PM Modi's treatment of his wife had been exemplary, it would still not make him the architect of this judgment, na. So how is it germane?
From anti-dowry law to rape law to the prohibition of Triple Talaq, the political, social and legal organising of women and women's rights activists, has brought social change that impacted the entire country. There are lessons to be learned from this organising about the enterprise of being a citizen. How did women who build support groups in small towns network with activists in cities to fight this petition? What were their strategies and what can they teach us in other battles some of us might fight or support? Many people immediately began seeing this as a step towards their ideas of rights - "now we can discuss uniform civil code/burkha/whatever I want". The BMMA, meanwhile, stated it was a step in their goal of a codified personal law - something shaped by women in the community as male religious leaders previously have. They have been preparing this draft law since 2007.
While these stories of course do appear in the media, the discussion primarily becomes about the arguments of elites, on various points of the political spectrum, about who is morally superior, hence more qualified to be a political elite, reducing the narrative to picture-ka-asli-hero-kaun.
It is not only that these limited discussions reduce feminism to a frill rather than a fundamental political imagination for overall social shifts. They also disable citizens from engaging thoughtfully with the enterprise of what it means to be a citizen in a democracy, and participating in political discourse - an education we all need and acquire slowly. Picture ka hero koi bhi nahin. Picture ki heroines are many. And the picture of democracy and equal acknowledgement and enacting of citizenship is still baaki mere dost.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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