The recent Hathras rape case threw light on the plight of women in India. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, India records a rape every 15 minutes. And these are only the reported cases. There’s no way to know the actual number.
The lockdown for COVID-19 in India saw domestic violence complaints at a 10-year high. Women in India face a long list of other issues too, which are often not given a voice.
Patriarchy has its roots set deep, which is why feminism is crucial for the country. While most people are hesitant to label themselves feminists because of the misconceptions that surround it, many have understood what it stands for. India had its own feminists even before the movement began in the West in the 19th century - Draupadi, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Sita, Gargi Vachaknavi, Bibi Dalair Kaur, Rani Velu Nachiyar, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar, and so many more.
So, what is it really? Feminism, one of the most misused and misapprehended words, is nothing but uplifting women so that equality prevails in society. It has nothing to do with ‘man-hating’ as it is often portrayed. It is about women’s empowerment and the eradication of gender stereotypes.
The following books can give you a more thorough and detailed idea of feminism.
The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler
A centerpiece to today’s feminism, this 1996 episodic play which premiered in New York, is based on real-life stories of women. It addresses women’s sexuality and creates conversation around the social stigma that comes with rape and abuse, body image, sex work, menstruation, and more.
We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This Nigerian writer argues that gender should not be a factor while raising young kids. Her personal essay also explores sexual violence, inclusivity, and awareness of feminism. Her TED Talk by the same name had explored equality of the sexes and the importance of inclusion in modern-day feminism. She also recently released a short story ‘Zikora’ that follows a volatile mother-daughter relationship.
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
This 1982 epistolary novel was published in the aftermath of the Civil Right Movement in the US. It brings to light Womanism - a term coined by Walker to prioritise women of colour.
This is the tale of a young African-American woman who suffers unimaginable hardships because of her place in society and how she overcomes them. It is set in 1930s’ Georgia and explores the life of African-American women in the Southern United States. It was also adapted into a Steven Speilberg movie that won Oprah an Oscar nomination.
The Sun And Her Flowers, Rupi Kaur
The follow-up to her first collection of poems Milk and Honey, this book delves into different sections that explore healing, growth, and identifying with your roots. Feminism has always been a big part of Kaur’s verse, and this one is no exception. She manages to capture subjects like rape culture, colourism, heartbreak, female foeticide, and self-love. Though criticised for her ‘Insta-friendly’ verse form, her raw emotions depict the strength that comes with being a woman of colour.
Seeing Like a Feminist, Nivedita Menon
Menon’s book tells the story of a 1984 judgement that said fundamental rights were not applicable to the family because the lack of a gender and age hierarchy will lead to the collapse of a family’s function as we know it. The book explores the issues Indian women face including discussions on queer politics, marriage, reproductive choice, and more. If you don’t know where to start, look no further.
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
This essay highlights the need for literature to give women a space of their own - both literally and figuratively. It examines the disadvantages women have faced through history- especially access to education, which has led women to become a marginalised section. She refutes that women are inferior creators and imagines the kind of life Shakespeare’s sister might have lived.
The Liberation Of Sita, Volga
In this retelling of the Ramayana, we see a different Sita, embarking on a journey to the self realisation after being abandoned by Rama. Along the way, she meets all the minor female characters whose stories have been untold - Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila, and Ahalya. It makes her question the injustice that was bestowed upon them all and reinforces the spirit of sisterhood. One can draw easy parallels with her questions even today.
(Edited by Athira Nair)