Are We Scared Of Freedom?

By shalinighosh | Oct 17, 2018

70 years ago, India was delivered Independence. The constitution of India proudly included pronouns like “I”, “you” and “we” and granted the Indian citizen 6 fundamental rights to freedom and equality to use to their advantage.

Somewhere along the way, the archaic laws of the land forgot that women are very much Indian citizens too.

Even after several women-empowerment movements like the Beti Bachao Andolan and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, it seems that the only thing the average Indian woman really has full control over is what’s being cooked in the kitchen. Reports show that even as little as six years ago, 74 percent women needed permission to visit a health centre. In fact, even environmental tragedies seem be brought on by women these days. Remember when Kerala got washed over by those horrific floods? Yeah, apparently, that had nothing to do with rampant urbanization or global warming. It was because Lord Ayappa was thoroughly pissed at his privacy being disturbed by women of menstrual age, being allowed to enter the Sabarimala Ashram.

But that’s not even the strangest part here.

Freedom Is Twisted Within the Framework of Patriarchy

When I read this piece of news out to my household help, she promptly replied in Kannada “why don’t these people just let sleeping dogs lie, as if we’re not taunted enough already!” She even proceeded to talk about how the women in Kerala actually look forward to the men going away to this ashram on a pilgrimage, because they can choose to enjoy a little time for themselves without having to dote on anyone. That, according to her, was freedom.

After the Nirbhaya murder case, videos went viral, not just of lawyers but also of women teachers stating that it was the girl’s fault for stepping out so late in the night with a boy who wasn’t her husband. Was this ignorance accidental or deliberate? Could it be that she is one of the many women in this country who didn’t want to be free from patriarchy?

As educated feminists, we often get annoyed that some women continue to remain “meek” and “submissive” without realizing that in a country where patriarchy is so deep-rooted, women are often confused whether to rebel or reconcile. Because you see, one of the “benefits” that patriarchy has to offer is security. And without the support of her father or brother or husband, a woman could lose everything - her home, her children and even her dignity. And what does freedom even mean when it comes with a loss of security?

Laws That Reinforce Our Notions

After 70 years of independence, adultery has been decriminalized. Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code was technically nothing but an ego tussle between two men which clearly states that while sex with a married woman is punishable by law, it is no problem at all as long as the husband of the “adultress” has given his consent.

Another point to be noted? The law does not allow a woman to prosecute her adulterous husband. And if this wasn’t already bad enough, Section 18(3) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956 clearly states that a wife who indulged in adultery is not entitled to ask for maintenance. Even the slightest doubt in the virtue of a married woman, is enough to deny her maintenance if the couple is involved in divorce proceedings. In layman terms, all a husband needs to do in order to rid himself of the burden of maintenance of his wife is to prove that his wife was guilty of adultery.

Recognizing this as sexist rule where the “wife” is merely considered as the “chattel of the husband”, the Supreme Court finally struck down Section 497. This is a very clear, marked step that India has taken towards feminism which gives a woman the right to own her sexual decisions and recognizes her to be responsible enough to deal with the consequences of her actions.

What we call freedom, however, many women refer to as an “existential threat”. For years, these women have been coached through fear into believing that they’re nothing without men. They’re unaware of their own strength and spirit. And this is why we have so many women today who give up their education and their jobs, only to follow their husbands’ footsteps and end up limiting themselves to matters of the home.

We Gotta Start Somewhere

In times like these when honour killings, female infanticide, love-jihad violence, and Saffron wars on Valentine’s Day are still rampant, it’s not going to be easy for many Indians - men and women both, to overcome cognitive dissonance. As a result, we have so many unhappy independent women - because having the freedom to work and contribute to their household income while at the same time, not really having the freedom of choice to do so, is a difficult, not to mention, confusing way to live.

So where do we go from here? We can start by teaching our daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends to be assertive and assure them that they have every right to choose what’s best for them. That fighting against patriarchy is nothing to be afraid of, but it is, in fact, the only way to lead a happy, fulfilled life.

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