On women's terms

Updated: Aug 04, 2019, 11:28 IST | Paromita Vohra

That is why, when women ask for rights, they are often either told to think of family, country, community, or told that they must denounce and renounce their community in exchange for the right and so, endorse the superiority of the saviour

On women's terms
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraThe criminalisation of triple talaq, through a bill passed in the Rajya Sabha last week, replays a familiar history of subverting what women want, into the right of men to rule over other men and 'their' women.

We have seen it with Afghanistan and a US invasion justified by Talibanisation and what it means for women's freedoms. We have seen it with colonial claims about how colonised races don't know how to treat their women, and so, need to be ruled by more 'civilised' races. In a different context, we see this with the issue of sex-work from which people always want to 'rescue' women, frequently leaving them to languish in homes, ignoring the demands of sex-workers for legalisation and better rights, in favour of civilisational pieties.

At the heart of these stories is the telling term 'their' women, as if women belong to others, and are not autonomous citizens who have the usual layered identities of all people, which include gender and community. That is why, when women ask for rights, they are often either told to think of family, country, community, or told that they must denounce and renounce their community in exchange for the right and so, endorse the superiority of the saviour.

Muslim women's collectives from across the country fought to push this bill forward. They asked for triple talaq to be made void in law. They did not ask for men to be criminalised. What is gained by that? As these collectives have pointed out, this move will impoverish families and it will make men find ways not to divorce wives, but to abandon them instead. It might punish men unreasonably, and it will certainly not help women.

There is needless cruelty to all members of the community in this. But, there is an added morality of marriage tied to this, which lays the grounds for hopelessness in human relationships, too.

They say you can learn a lot about people from the way they leave a relationship. Do they do so with decency, an acknowledgement of the relationship, taking responsibility for their part in the ending? Or, do they slink away indecently, without a care for the other people involved? In other words, do they do this with civility or not? These are important questions and they should not be confused with the idea that it is inherently wrong to want to leave a marriage or change their mind about a relationship.

When you do that, you actually engender indecency. You compel people to leave indecently. Those who continuously mock the Prime Minister for leaving his wife as a young person, perhaps, with little say in the matter, also play into this discourse. That men can somehow leave marriages of compulsion, while women are abandoned to a limbo for social and financial reasons, has caused so much suffering.

This is why it is imperative to keep the ending of all marriages in the domain of civil law, to constantly debate the civility with which we can conduct and end our relationships. Fairness for all means acknowledging choice for all. This was not the choice women asked for: for the state to punish men. Women asked for the choice to be treated with greater respect, and like all civil agreements, this should happen on their terms, too.

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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