A new generation of anti-status-quoists is unapologetic about its beliefs, unafraid about whom it is taking on and unfettered by the hackneyed script
It was a year of assertion with disc jockey Varnika Kundu packing her VIP stalkers, including the son of the Haryana BJP chief, off to jail and thousands supporting her with the hashtag #AintNoCinderella.(Ravi Kumar/Hindustan Times)
No careers were brought down. No global hashtags were created. No roars reverberated throughout the world.
And yet, women in India continued chipping away at that edifice called patriarchy.
In a year that began badly with the molestation of women on the streets of Bengaluru, it might seem out of place to chalk up gender victories. But as the year ended, there was cause for hope.
This was a year when the women’s cricket team captain, Mithali Raj became a household name and a 20-year-old Gurmehar Kaur taught patriotism to nationalist fanatics. It was a year of assertion with disc jockey Varnika Kundu packing her VIP stalkers, including the son of the Haryana BJP chief, off to jail and thousands supporting her with the hashtag #AintNoCinderella.
Assertion meant reminding the Supreme Court of the Constitutional guarantees of equality. Instant triple talaq is now illegal and others too are shaking the foundations of religious orthodoxy — a Parsi woman, married outside her faith, has just won the right to worship at her fire temple and Hindu women await a verdict on their petition to enter the Sabarimala temple.
In a year of a million mutinies, the molestation of a film actress in Kerala led to the formation of the Women in Cinema Collective. Its brief includes increasing representation of women on film sets, equal pay and a safe working environment. Elsewhere, actresses dragged trolls off to the police station and hinted about workplace misogyny, including the infamous casting couch.
This new generation of Indian women, the anti-status-quoists, is unapologetic about its beliefs, unafraid about whom it is taking on and unfettered by the hackneyed script. They are everywhere.
“I am not rattled by you,” news anchor Faye D’Souza calmly told a maulana who asked her to come to work in her underwear if she wanted equal rights.
Women students at Banaras Hindu University marched not just to protest an incident of molestation but also an apathetic administration and discriminatory rules. In the end, the 101-year-old university had appointed its first-ever woman proctor.
None of this is to suggest a victory against patriarchy – far from it. To see how entrenched it was, you have only to consider the case of a 24-year-old woman who converted to Islam and married a man against the wishes of her parents.
The parents got the Kerala High Court to declare the marriage null and void, but an unbending Hadiya moved the Supreme Court to assert her right to make an independent decision. In the end, the apex court granted her wish to continue her education, but guardianship – and sadly the word still applies to adult women – has been transferred to her college principal and Hadiya must await a court decision on her marriage.
Another high court reversed an earlier guilty verdict of rape against film director Mahmood Farooqui because the rape survivor’s no was too ‘feeble’. And yet another court granted bail to three rapists – two convicted for life — so that they could pursue their studies, not a bad thing in itself, but what was the need for the judge’s moralising comments on the rape survivor?
If 2017 demonstrated one thing, it is the rage of a new generation of women.
Law student Raya Sarkar’s publication of an online list of sexual predators dismayed older feminists, but a new generation argued that it was done because ‘due process’ was broken.
More than the fissures between older and younger feminists, Sarkar’s list highlighted a global epidemic of sexual harassment. #MeToo might not have brought careers crashing down in India — perhaps the exception was TVF founder Arunabh Kumar even before the hashtag went viral — but there is a sense among women that they are no longer alone, that more and more are willing to speak up, and that a growing number of men are willing to listen.
The anti-status-quoists are done with the old rules of never complain, never step forward. They are raucous, argumentative and assertive. They use social media to amplify their voices. And they are no longer the exceptions.
At what point does a single conversation become the mainstream normal? At what point does the courage of a lone survivor spur countless other women? Five years ago, a brutal gang-rape in Delhi did not end violence against women. But we are no longer the same country that we were in December 2012.
Patriarchy’s obituary is still a long way off but notice has been served. It’s no longer business as usual.
Namita Bhandare writes on social issues and gender. She tweets @namitabhandare
The views expressed are personal