India and Feminism

A few months ago, in one of those random encounters where you happen to be sharing a bench with a stranger while waiting for something and end up talking, I met a guy from the USA who had been living in India for a year, and before that Turkey for another year, and before that many other places around the world. He was here as a fellow for the one of those bog money foundations, and I met him in an NGO context, but he definitely wasn't your stereotypical "NGO dude." He was a lot of fun to talk to — don't get me wrong — and I think he pretended to be less compassionate than he was when he talked about rural life, and perhaps he didn't really mean it when he told me he was cutting short his work here and returning home to the USA because he needed to eat lots of beef and pick up women at bars (Then again, maybe he did mean it — the organization he was working with was really not a great or very meaningful workplace at all, and when you have nothing in particular holding you to a place, a really random thing like that can be your pull away from the place... and who am I to judge what people miss?) At any rate, that isn't the point. As we were chatting, he told me "I was never a feminist growing up. Turkey made me a feminist. India is making me a stark raving feminist." In particular, he told me how he couldn't get over the fact that he had drunk hundreds of cups of tea made by women whose faces he would never be allowed to see, and in general, we talked about Delhi and how difficult it could be for his female colleagues and also for him because of how women in the city generally imagine and respond to strange men. It was a conversation I've had many times, in many contexts, and with many people. But that thought in particular "I was never a feminist... India is making me a stark raving feminist" stood out and stayed with me.

Perhaps because I'm feeling a little bit of that myself and discovering it everywhere around me lately. I'm not going to get into a rant about safety and molestation ont he streets and things like that — all of that is important, and you've probably heard all of that already. But I do want to share this absurd and incredibly scary day in court for a victim of domestic violence, seeing as the news simply doesn't seem to be covering this enough (I'm still trying to figure out why this didn't get the kind of mad news coverage that the Tehelka expose on the cops did — is it because he is a judge? Or is it more?).

A victim of domestic violence approached the Karnataka High Court seeking divorce, and the judge told her:

“Women suffer in all marriages. You are married with two children, and know what it means to suffer as a woman. Yesterday, there was a techie couple who reconciled for the sake of their child. Your husband is doing good business, he will take care of you. Why are you still talking about his beatings?" 

The article goes on:

"The woman, who had come with her younger son, stuck to her stand of not going with her husband. Upon this, Justice Bhaktavatsala told the man to take his her and their son out for lunch. “Take them and eat Davanagere benne dose. Everything will be alright,” he advised. The court asked the woman if her parents were present, at which her father walked up to the bench. The judge remarked, “Ask your father if he has never beaten your mother!” When the woman said her husband would beat her in the open, in front of everyone, Justice Bhaktavatsala remarked that it was she who was bringing it out in the open. The court was told that the husband would beat her in the middle of the night and had thrown her out of the house. Justice Indrakala said their child was in court and should not have to hear about it."
And on. You can read the rest of it at this link
I don't know what to say about any of this. I cannot put words to the anger and outrage and plain old bewilderment. Really? Go eat dosa and everything will be all right? Really?
But today, even as I am thinking about this kind of blatant injustice and violence that women in my country and city deal with on an everyday basis, I am also thinking about all of the feminist spaces I have encountered in Delhi over the last few years. Spaces like the Zubaan Talkies are, of course, statedly feminist and completely wonderful, but there are also so many others. Many of these aren't activist spaces in the traditional sense of the word, simply spaces that women are creating — with or without the support of male allies — and using to create community, support voice, and come together as strong and independent individuals. I have, even just in the last year, met several wonderful and inspiring women in their 40s and 50s, with whom I've felt an instant connection and a sense of reassurance... a sense that I can veer off the traditional womanly paths and roles, or stay within them, or take a more midway stance in that spectrum, and still build a beautiful and meaningful personal and professional life.
Women's groups have stood up to fight for justice for this survivor of violence. My thoughts and prayers and petition signing will always be with them, and with her, and I hope that we can figure out a mechanism to make our judiciary accountable and responsible in such situations.
But just as importantly, the amazing women whom I am getting a chance to talk to and work with and learn from are showing me that while protests and lobbying for specific legislations are an important part of feminism, they are not its only face... that we, as women, can challenge patriarchy daily through using our voices, following our dreams and working in solidarity. That we can challenge oppression with our laughter.I'm curious to see where the next few decades take our cities and country... which way this balance tips.