The Woman Question

The tragedy of the unnamed woman has sparked off a movement across India which is indeed unusual in its political reach. Unlike many recent movements, it does not seek a backward status for women, which the political system is well adapted to handle, but equal status. As such, it points to a huge missing dimension in India's national liberation movement.

The fight against the British was carried out by Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi deliberately eschewing a fissure within Hindu society. Gandhiji compromised on the Dalit issue by seeking a consensual approach from Hindus to eradicate untouchability and as such the attempt was doomed to failure. On caste, he was conservative. Independent India was politically radical in granting universal franchise and seeking socialism in its economic life but silent on the many structural faults within Hindu society. Leading CongressmenóPatel, Prasad, Tandonówere orthodox caste Hindus opposed to radical change as Ambedkar and Nehru found out soon enough.

Mandal has allowed a better status for OBCs within the unreformed Hindu society. The Dalit movement has managed to breach orthodoxy by securing a better, though far from equal, status for the most exploited among the Hindus. The women however have never had any political party that was willing to champion their cause. So we have female foeticide, dowry deaths, domestic violence, maternal mortality and a gender ratio which should shame a nation which calls itself civilised.

The upsurge now is focused on rape and its low priority in police attention. It shows far too much faith in the efficacy of passing laws and toughening punishment. But the larger issues span across all the many activities in which women take part from birth (indeed, even before birth) till death. It requires a comprehensive critique of women's situation in India's culture, economy and politics.

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