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Why Karnataka Ministers’ Concern Around ‘Modern Women’ Reeks Of Sexism

karnataka modern women remarks
Karnataka modern women remarks: When the world stood in somber recognition of World Mental Health Day on October 10, Karnataka Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar chose to make a distinction between women and “modern women” from the podium of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences (NIMHANS). He said there was a “paradigm shift” in the way women were living their lives – vis-à-vis on if and how they embraced motherhood – and that it was “not good.”

“A lot of modern women in India want to stay single. Even if they get married, don’t want to give birth,” he said.

His statements enraged a large section of citizens and simultaneously won support from some. A day after he appeared to burden “modern women,” micro families and Western influence with responsibility for changing domestic structures in India, Sudhakar offered a lukewarm, formulaic clarification saying his words were taken “out of context.”

“The only point I was trying to convey was that our youth can find solution & solace to mental health issues in our traditional family & its value system,” ANI quoted him saying.

First off, talking mental health by pinning women, progeny and motherhood to the nucleus of it comes across as a deeply disturbing approach. Can factors of physical and emotional abuse, stress, detrimental behavioural impacts of large family structures be forgone in the conversation? Secondly, are families apt substitutes for mental health rehabilitation or therapy? Does Sudhakar want to imply that people people living in joint setups do not have mental health issues? Does he even realise how detrimental his statement could be for mental health conversation in India, that is already shrouded in stigmas?

By this time, CT Ravi, Sudhakar’s ministerial colleague in the Karnataka government, had stepped up to lend support and defend to him. “Every woman is not like this,” he proclaimed, reiterating the micro families argument. Ravi’s “like this” put-down carries sharp tones of disdain for women choosing to stay single or childless or away from what he believes is the traditional Indian family structure.

But these women are like what exactly? Independent? Aware of their rights to choose? Asserting agency over their bodies? Why is that undesirable? Precisely to whom is that undesirable?

The idea that women are the be-all and end-all of families in India, shouldered with the task of keeping domestic setups up and running smooth, has long been sold as the pinnacle of reverence for our gender. The self-sacrificial maa, the superhuman devi. 

And until politicians like Sudhakar or Ravi make remarks that indicate holding up women who conform to such ideas and bringing down those who don’t, this false notion will continue to be bartered for women’s dignity and choices. Do women want to be atop the pedestal of all that men make them out to be? Has the patriarchal narrative considered that women just want to be… women?

Where majority families run on patrilineal structures in India, how hypocritical and self-serving is it to hold women responsible for keeping them together?

There are many things to break down in follow-up to the two ministers’ jarring remarks. Who really is a “modern woman“? Why is the term at times used encouragingly as proof of Indian women progressing through employment and empowerment but other times used disparagingly for women choosing to go against the tide?

What is the measure used to determine how “modern” a woman is? Does she draw from Western influence – of clothes, jobs, lifestyles – and if she does, what is the bother? Does that then also mean a mother who is married and managing domestic and professional work together in a saree is not modern?

Why are men finding themselves entitled to decide for women? When will India stop putting the bulk of all its conscience of failure inside women’s bodies and minds?

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

Images: Deccan Herald


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