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Issues Taken up by the Women’s Rights Movement in India Prof. Vibhuti Patel

Subject:Adult Education Paper: Women Studies
Action agenda of the women’s rights movement in India has been evolved with an understanding that:

• Men outnumber women in India, unlike in most other countries.
• Majority of women go through life in a state of nutritional stress-they are anaemic and malnourished. Girls and women face nutritional discrimination within the family, eating last and least.
• The average Indian woman has little control over her own fertility and reproductive health.
• Literacy rate is lower in women as compared to men and far fewer girls than boys go to school in India. Even when girls are enrolled, many of them drop out of school.
• Women’s work is undervalued and unrecognised. They work longer hours than men and do the major share of household and community work, which is unpaid and invisible.
• Once ‘women’s work’ is professionalised, there is practically a monopoly on it by men. For example, professional chefs are still largely men. The sexual division of labour ensures that women always end up as having to prioritise unpaid domestic work over paid work. There is no ‘natural’ biological difference that lies behind the sexual division of labour, but certain ideological assumptions
• Women generally earn far lower wages than men doing the same work, despite the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976. In no state do women and men earn equal wages in agriculture. Majority of women workers are in the unorganised sector and they barely manage to get subsistence wages.
• Women are under-represented in governance and decision-making positions: in Parliament, the Cabinet, in High Courts and the Supreme Court Women are legally discriminated against in land and property rights. Most do not own property in their own names and do not get a share of parental property.
• Women face violence inside and outside the family throughout their lives. Casteism, communalism and ethnic chauvinism institutionalise violence against Dalit, religious minority and tribal women.
• Women who don’t adhere to heterosexual and endogamous marriage get punished severely by family, community and the criminal legal system.

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Comment by Prof. Vibhuti Patel on May 21, 2018 at 7:52pm

Campaign against Violence against Women:

In 1980, the women’s rights movement got momentum with the nationwide anti-rape campaign against the Supreme Court of India's judgment against Mathura, a teenage tribal girl who was gang-raped by the policemen at the dead of night, in the police station in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra in 1972. After 8 years of legal battle in the Session's Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court by her sympathetic lawyer Ad. Vasudha Dhagamwar, Mathura lost everything - her status, her self-esteem and her credibility, the Court declared that Mathura was not raped by the men in uniform but Mathura being a woman of ‘an easy virtue' gave a willful consent for sexual intercourse. Vasudha and her three colleagues in the legal profession wrote an open letter challenging the Supreme Court's verdict in an extremely poignant and logically convincing style. This letter was widely publicized in the print media. Two major points concerning this issue were: Reopening of the Mathura Rape Case and amendments in the Rape Laws that put burden of proof on women and had a narrow definition of rape. Around these demands, the women's groups were formed. They collected signatures on their petitions, conducted study-circles where experienced lawyers spoke, organised rallies, sit-ins, demonstrations in front of the offices of the concerned authorities, prepared poster exhibitions, plays, skits, songs, slogans against violence against women, wrote letters to the editors of different news-papers, wrote articles in newspapers and magazines for the first time on women's problems. (FAOW, 1985)

Initially they concentrated on the women- specific issues such as wife-battery and dowry-murders, rape and eve-teasing, pornographic films, plays and literature on harassment of women at the work place. Militant actions, social boycott, gherao of tormentors, raiding of the matrimonial homes for retrieval of dowry had to be resorted to because of antipathy/lethargy of the state apparatus. From these experiences of direct action the activists of the women's groups got to know the power relations operating within modern families (working class, middle class and upper class), different religious communities and various caste organisations. (Patel, 1985)

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