Oration on the occasion of 160th Birth Anniversary by University of Mumbai at Sophia Poly technique on 9-12-2016.
The first wave feminism, the phase was marked by the first generation of English educated women’s struggles against child marriage, widow burning, female infanticide and efforts for education for women and voting right. Its gender politics touched only women from upper caste and upper class. In the second wave of feminism that began in the mid- 1970s, the educated middleclass women who were actively involved in different social movements of students, youth, workers, peasants, tribals, Dalits and civil liberties played central role. They abhorred paternalism of benevolent males and upper-class women’s ‘charitable’ and ‘philanthropic’ social work and declared themselves as fighters for women’s rights. Here the gender politics was focused on ‘women’s agency’ and women to seen not merely as passive and mute victims of discrimination, injustice and exploitation but women as active agents challenging gender based discrimination and gender violence in all spheres of their lives. The third wave essentially covers perspectives from those marginalized or excluded from previous 'waves' of feminism – Dalit women, tribal women and women of colour, women from the post-colonial, young women, differently abled women, women from ethnic and religious minorities and women with alternate sexuality. This wave has deepened the discourse of discontent. 'Third Wave' acknowledges the benefits of second wave feminism and provides the world-view of a young feminist from the global South.
Current stage of Gender Politics is informed by a third wave of feminism whose ideological moorings lay in post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality. Here disciplines such as literature, politics, art, cultural criticisms, history and sociology have played dominant role in defining gender politics. They critique male-female binaries that are seen by them as artificial constructs created to maintain the power of dominant groups. Proponents of third-wave feminism claim that it allows women to define feminism for themselves by incorporating their own identities into the belief system of what feminism is and what it can become through one's own perspective. Contemporary gender politics encompasses macro-micro and meso realities in all spheres, economy and polity, jurisprudence and policy making, local-national-regional-global governance.
While the diversity in the social fabric of India has historically seen continuities and contestations, interactions between different social segments have increasingly come to be mediated through socio-economic processes, where the needs and principles of a marketized economy prevail. This has been all the more so apparent since the 1990s. While the years after independence saw significant attempts to negotiate these rights in different spheres with the aim of keeping alive the guiding principles as laid out in the Constitution; current policy frameworks and paradigms of development pose serious challenges to these efforts.