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Nidhi Razdan’s Book has a Powerful Feminist Take by Aruna Roy

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Discrimination against women is universal. Even privileged women have had to understand oppression says Aruna Roy in her chapter An Indian Feminist at Seventy in Left, Right and Center: The Idea of India edited by Nidhi Razdan. An extract

Discrimination against women is universal. Even privileged women have had to understand oppression, and join collectives which have given them voice and space to fight for a wider vision of equality. They have strategically used their access to platforms of decision-making to challenge patriarchy and all its different structures of illegitimate power. Right from the initial days of the Indian republic, they have been able to get contentious issues tabled and even legislated. Most importantly, they have etched the right to question inequality and injustice as an undeniable part of the public discourse.

Money, class, privilege or proximity to patriarchal power structures did not succeed in fully diluting the early demands for equal rights. The dominant discourse was shaped therefore in multiple ways. Many transcended the barriers of class, caste and religion to help build the foundations of a women’s movement in India. Even as a part of the independence movement, issues of social inequality and exploitative practices such as dowry, devadasi, sati, personal laws, women’s right to property and land were taken up though they were not central to any debate. These formed the foundation for gender-based issues and continued to be part of the struggles in independent India. In some ways, the challenges were even greater, as most of the conventional political power went to men after Independence. As women faced marginalization from a very unrepresentative Parliament, they combined with many grassroots groups and social movements to try and put in place a progressive legislative framework based on justice and equality.

For a brief period of time, as laws did get passed, it looked as if a poor country would combine its urge to be upwardly mobile with progressive legislation that addressed all sections of the society, to rid itself of the stranglehold of restrictive traditions. But with the increasing commodification of women in the market economy, a new set of problems have cropped up that need to be addressed.

Also Read: Unethical Discrimination to Our Own

Social Movements in Independent India

The wider global and national political context has also had its impact. In these seventy years, India witnessed the principles and rhetoric of socialism yield to the profit-driven and so-called ‘free market’. The assaults on the weak have continued through the change. Nevertheless, the capacity to recognize, to fight and to articulate individually and collectively is stronger today than it ever was. Marginalized groups such as women, Dalits and tribals began to come out, so to speak, and demand empowerment. The struggles of the marginalized have been intrinsic to and articulated better by social movements, than the often shallow rhetoric of political parties. Eventually, these movements have had some success in playing a progressive role in the face-off between the laws of a traditional hierarchical society and a developing legal framework under the Indian Constitution. For an urban-born activist, working in rural India, the tangible and noticeable change has allowed me to internalize the value of collective principles so important to feminism and democracy.

Also Read: An Extract From Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister

Excerpted from “Left, Right and Center: The Idea of India” with permission from Penguin Random House India and edited by Nidhi Razdan, from the chapter An Indian Feminist at Seventy by Aruna Roy,  288 pages,  Rs. 599/-