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CJI Bobde Hails The Idea To Keep Women Out Of Protests: Where Is Our Right To Dissent?

Women farmer's day

The Supreme Court in a hearing on Tuesday stayed the government’s three controversial farm laws, against which Indian farmers have been protesting since 2020. The apex court’s decision potentially brings momentary respite in the back and forth between protestors and the centre. however, while presiding over the farm legislation session, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Aravind Bobde stated that the court was in “appreciation” of the stand that “elders, women and children will not participate in the present protests.” The CJI’s comment has opened a whole new can of worms.

 Throughout the pages of history, in India and across the world, women have spearheaded powerful protests to successful fruition. Only a cursory glance at the feminist discourse is needed to realise that much of the progress women have carved for themselves over the years has come by way of active protesting – for our rights and rightful place in the world.

Why then must protest sites be made exclusive to men? Isn’t the idea of protests founded upon the very idea of inclusivity that cuts across class and gender? In clubbing women alongside elders and children – age groups that may be vulnerable healthwise – didn’t the court diminish our strength basis physicality? Didn’t it also uphold the false notion of women having tolerance levels lesser than men? Do we need this false saviour complex? Going forward, are women expected to hold back from protesting for their fundamental rights? 

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History Is Witness To The Power Of Women’s Protests

From the 20th-century Suffrage Movement in the United States to the 2020 Shaheen Bagh protests in India, women have traced a consistent chart of actively making their concerns heard in a bid for equality – on the streets, at home, in colleges, on the battleground, you name it. Our national history, which is now often misconstrued to be held up as a ready testament to justify injustices, speaks proudly of women taking the fore in making India what it is today.

Rani Lakshmibai, Uda Devi, Sarojini Naidu, Aruna Asaf Ali – the unparalleled contribution of these freedom fighters spanned sword-fighting to poetry. How then, in 2021, can the SC even think of decimating the capability of women at protests, in whichever capacity?

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Through all of 2020, a year bookended by protests, women were the face of protests everywhere. From the girls at Jamia Millia Islamia who shielded a man from violence to JNU student leader Aishe Ghosh who suffered a head injury, to 82-year-old Bilkis Bano who made TIME and BBC’s global lists as the Shaheen Bagh Dadi. Read a detailed report here. 

According to a 2018 Oxfam report, women in India comprise 33 percent of the agriculture labour force and 85 percent of rural women are engaged in agriculture. And their irreplaceable contribution has reflected visibly at the farmers’ protests at Singhu Border, where women are participating against the centre’s legislation in large numbers. Where women of Haryana are learning to drive tractors, widows of farmers joined the agitation in large numbers. Need the competence of women farmers be thus doubted?

Social Media Reactions Call the statement “Sexist”

The court’s statement has drawn criticism that, in my opinion, is well-deserved. Netizens are pointing out what should be transparently clear to everyone: that in upholding the idea of keeping women out of protests, India’s top court has inadvertently pulled women several steps back in the ongoing fight for gender equality itself.

Here are some social reactions to the top court’s appreciation of keeping women out of protests: 

Image courtesy: Kisan Ekta Morcha/Twitter

Views expressed are the author’s own.