Former PWD minister and senior Congress MLA from Madhya Pradesh Sajjan Singh Verma’s sexist comment once again proved our politicians’ sexism and insensitivity towards women. Opposing his political rival’s claim that women’s marriageable age should be increased from 18 to 21, Verma said, “Why increase a woman’s marriageable age when they can reproduce at the age of 15?” Not only this, he further asserted his claim that 18 is the suitable age for a woman’s marriage by saying girls should go to their sasural (in-laws home) and be happy for life after they turn 18.
Verma’s comment is problematic on so many levels that it makes one wonder that is it the same system that proposed to increase a woman’s marriageable age last year? Is it the same country where women ministers, entrepreneurs, writers and actors are earning accolades from all corners of the world? Verma once again reminded us that society still thinks that a woman’s primary aim is to reproduce progeny. His comment pulled every woman out of their struggles to achieve dreams, equality and empowerment and bound them in the roles of patriarchal marriage and motherhood. And then there are people who oppose feminists claiming that patriarchy is an old story. Verma’s comment has confirmed that we as feminists must continue to ask questions that have been raised before a million times but remain unanswered.
Are marriage and reproduction the only duty and aim of a woman in India? Is the ability to conceive the only deciding factor if a woman should get married or not? Does India care about a woman’s health, choice, education and empowerment? Does our country even consider women as humans who deserve to be independent and happy for themselves? Why time and again political rivalries or any kind of battle is fought on the bodies of women? Until when the people who govern us will be governed by patriarchy?
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Verma’s claim that women can reproduce at the age of 15 clearly supported early pregnancy and hence early marriage. It points out to his insensitivity to women’s health and utter negligence towards the worst consequences that early pregnancy causes to the women and the country. In rural areas, 1 in every 10 women who had no schooling started bearing their first child at the age of 15 to 19 years. This led to a rise in the maternal and infant mortality rate due to complications in pregnancy and lack of awareness about child care. Pregnancy-related complications are the number one causes of death among girls between 15 to 19 years of age. The number of women and girls who died due to issues during pregnancy and childbirth in the year 2017 was as high as 35,000.
Moreover, Senior Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Suruchi Desai told SheThePeople that the physical growth of a girl completes when she turns 21 and only after that she is physically and mentally in a better zone to marry or conceive. So is the minister not aware of the data of the country that he is apparently managing? Or is he blinded by his patriarchal mindset that doesn’t consider a woman’s health and life human enough to care about?
And it is not just the right age of pregnancy or marriage that women empowerment fights for. The fight is to provide women with the avenues to dream, receive education, empowerment and to choose whether they want marriage or pregnancy which is the basic right of every human in our country. If society still harbours mindset like that of Verma and expect women to marry at 18 and then get pregnant immediately, will a woman have the choice and freedom to continue her education? Will her empowerment even be taken seriously when the dominant ideology is that a woman can depend on her husband’s income and live happily ever after as a daughter-in-law?
It is the same perception that I and you are battling against in our houses even today. Many of our parents believe that it is more important for a woman to get married than study and earn because financial independence or any kind of independence still remains a male domain. They force their daughters to drop out of schools and get married irrespective of the fact that she is still a child or might be subjected to domestic violence or dowry harassment. But when a minister who has been elected to make the decisions for our country and for us propagates such stereotypes, will our parents even listen to us? Will our battles even end?
The decision to raise marriageable age should encourage society to go a step forward in women empowerment by encouraging women’s education and employment, removing the divide of rich and poor, ensuring her safety and curbing oppressive practices. But we cannot afford to go a step back that restricts women in the same glass ceilings that they shattered yesterday. It is only numbing that our politicians feel free to ignore a woman’s health and welfare to strengthen their parties and vote bank. Vote bank? Are there people amongst us who believe him and continue to vote him to power?
Views expressed are author’s own
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