As we enter a new decade, women’s movement in India has a glitter of hope – the change has begun! Although gender equality remains a distant dream, it can’t be denied that there is more awareness on women’s rights today. MAKERSIndia revisits the major events in the past 10 years which have added momentum to the women’s movement in the country.
1. Nirbhaya Case (2012)
The brutal gang rape of a young woman in a moving bus by six men in Delhi, which led to her death two weeks later, had ignited unprecedented protests about women’s safety across the country. National and international media watched every step of the investigation, till the culprits were caught and sentenced to death (except one, who was a minor and was sentenced to three years in juvenile prison). The case shook the nation unlike anything in India’s living memory, and a recent web-series named Delhi Crime (2019) threw light on the convicts whose sentiments reflected India’s orthodox mindset.
The incident led to widespread debates around gender violence and the need for gender equality in India. The Central government also launched ‘Nirbhaya Fund’ with a corpus of Rs.10000 crore in 2013, although its implementation has been criticised for its inefficiency.
2. Metoo (2018)
What began as an activist group in the US in 2006, to help women survivors of sexual violence, has become the next wave of feminist movement across the world. The movement, which empowered many sexually harassed women, to call out their harassers, took its time to reach India, even after former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal was in the news for sexually harassing a female colleague in 2013.
But in October 2018, when Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta called out actor Nana Patekar for sexually harassing her, it ignited the movement. Women from various sectors spoke up. Many big names from male-dominated industries of media, entertainment, and journalism, were revealed as harassers, and the movement also provoked debates around strengthening the POSH (Prevention Of Sexual Harassment) Act.
3. DarkIsBeautiful campaign
It’s been centuries now that our country has been besotted by the ideal ‘fair and lovely’ skin but in 2009, Women of Worth – an Indian NGO working against skin colour bias– launched the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign.
In the 10 years since its inception, the campaign has gained international recognition and garnered support from celebrities including actor Nandita Das. The campaign encouraged women from various sections of society to come forward and share their experiences of colour-bias across society – right from their family/homes, schools/colleges, even workplaces. The change is for everyone to see! Many organisations, beauty pageants, fashion community and social media profiles can be seen celebrating the dark, beautiful Indian women now.
In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that pilgrims, regardless of gender, should be allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple, which had prohibited the entry of women in the 12-60 age group till then. (The tradition, which was based on the idea that the Kerala temple’s deity is celibate, was made legal by the Kerala High Court in 1991.)
Although many ‘believers’ protested against the judgement, Kerala government guaranteed safety for women trying to visit the temple at the time. On January 1, 2019, around 35 lakh women stood shoulder to shoulder across national highways in Kerala to form a 620 km-long ‘wall’ to uphold gender equality, specifically upholding the Supreme Court’s judgement. Although the judgement continues to create controversy, the move is seen as one in the right direction for gender equality.
5.Ban of Triple Talaq
Under the primitive practice of Triple Talaq, Muslim men could divorce their wives orally and out of the court, leaving them with no alimony or other rights. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2019, passed on July 30, 2019, put an end to the plight of these women. The Bill declared that triple talaq is a 'cognizable offence' and convicted men will also face three years of imprisonment with a fine. The women who are victims of triple talaq, will now be liable for getting maintenance from their husbands for themselves and their children. Furthermore, the Magistrate decides the allowance that she will receive.
However, the Bill drew its share of controversies too. Since the Supreme Court had nullified Triple Talaq in 2018, thereby making the ‘divorce’ void, the marriage continues to be valid despite husband saying Triple Talaq. Many argue that the new Bill aims only to target Muslim men, as the practice has no legal stand point.
6.Supreme Court action on acid attacks
According to a 2011 report published by the Cornell Law School, Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia have the highest incidences of acid attacks in the world. The study had found that 88 percent of the acid attack perpetrators were men and 72 percent of the victims were women. Cheap and easy availability of acid in India made it harder to curb the crime.
In 2013, following the ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ campaign by acid-attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, the Supreme Court order to punish acid attacks’ perpetrators with minimum 10 years imprisonment. The apex court also ordered the government to give license to sell acid only to select retailers, who were mandated to give details of the buyers to police stations concerned. Although the crime has not been eradicated in India yet, this was definitely a big step towards protecting women from violence by acid.
7. MyChoice Video
In 2015, Vogue’s campaign MyChoice, which featured Deepika Padukone as the main lead in a two-minute video, got the netizens talking and how! The video directed by Homi Adjania (of Being Cyrus and Finding Fanny fame) was all about establishing women’s freedom of choice – a basic human right which is often denied to Indian women.
While a large section of women and men applauded the ‘daring’ message in the video, it was also criticised for being elite in its portrayal of marriage and infidelity. However, the viral video – which garnered more than a million views in a few days – did succeed in starting a conversation about how we define women rights and how we judge them.
For the longest time, the average Bollywood heroine was a prop, for the hero to stalk/romance/abuse. But the last 10 years have seen a wind of change. Movies like Pink, Queen, Kahaani, Highway, and Piku paved way for a new mould of Bollywood heroine: strong, determined, and independent. This new wave also brought the topic of women empowerment into our drawing rooms, starting a conversation at grassroot level.
On the other hand, 7 Khoon Maaf and Raanjhanaa showed women as real, vulnerable, flawed human beings that they are, rather than the Mother India figures they are often made out to be. Of course, movies like Kabir Singh and the Housefull series continue to disappoint; but the rising number of women-focused movies give hope for gender equality on screen at least.