Sunday, August 17, 2014

Live-in relations in India: The legal issues

-Anuja Agrawal

If one was to believe reports in the popular media, it would appear that western style non-marital live-in relations between heterosexual adults were becoming quite common in urban India. If this is indeed a newly emergent pattern it could well bring a new twist in the long standing academic and popular concern with love/arranged marriage. Unfortunately, there is as yet no large scale study available to allow us to gauge the nature and extent of such living arrangements in India. In this article I will focus upon a related issue that is also very prominent in the media reports.  These reports suggest that heterosexual live-in relations increasingly enjoy a legal sanction in India. Is it the case that there has been a new legal sanction accorded to such relations in India? If so, is this comparable to the legal status such relations enjoy in many western countries? What are the specific conditions which have led to a legal posturing on such relations and what does this reveal about legal status of women in marital and non-marital relations with men?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A feminist in post-feminist times……

-Sudha Vasan

Feminism is a belief in the right of all human beings to have political, social, and economic equality.

Who is a feminist? This is a question that seems to provoke a peculiar set of images in people’s minds; an image that is certainly unflattering and decidedly unfashionable. Over the last few months I asked various groups of young university students in Delhi University and JNU this question, and perhaps unsurprisingly, very few among these educated intelligent youth would admit to being feminist. Why?  Are so many of our youth really against the very idea equality stated above?  The answer seems to lie not in the death of feminism, but in the success of a hegemonic image of feminism that is antithetical to the very foundations of feminism.

I confirmed through a quick Google search that my experience among youth in the elite universities of Delhi was not unique or isolated.  Other feminists across the world have also commented on this trend.  The sixties were a time when feminism was a badge progressives wore with pride while struggling for a humane society.  Feminism set the terms of debate for society.  The seventies and eighties were times of recognition of the historic changes wrought through struggle.  The nineties brought the beginning of times that attempt to erase history.  A young woman from Yale writes, “I’m a feminist, and yet sometimes even I resent the word.” What is it that makes feminism such a bad word?  What do people imagine when you say you are a feminist?

Curiously, when people think of feminists, they think of fashion.  Feminists are prone to stereotyping at either extreme of the fashion spectrum  In India, some imagine feminists as “modern” and “western,” using both terms pejoratively; i.e. women who cut their hair short, and wear lipstick and western clothes. Others think of them as decidedly unfashionable – dowdy, no make-up or anti-fashion types.  A middle ground image clothes them in Fab-India fashions and ethnic jewelry. Fortunately, the  reality is more diverse and we find feminists in all three fashion categories and many more.

The other image feminism brings to mind is men and sex!   In defining oneself as feminist, one’s gender identification, sexual choices, and sexuality seem to matter significantly. Starting from the most banal, the predominant view of feminists is as women.  Is it really so impossible to imagine human beings – men, women, both, neither or irrelevant – as believing in the concept of equality.  Can fighting against discrimination and oppression be an essential characteristic of one gender? 

Some imagine feminists as over-sexed (given their support for free sex), and others imagine them as frustrated (since they are man-haters) or as homosexual.  It defies logic as to how any of these choices in themselves can make one feminist or un-feminist. Can one not have any or all of these characteristics and still be against gender-based oppression?  But the image that emerges most of all is one of a person who is opinionated, difficult and has no fun. This of course implies that we define fun as inherently vacuous and always sexist. While what gets labeled as humor in our popular culture often is sexist, is enjoyment really that limited? 

Women who receive the best of educational and career opportunities, the section that has perhaps benefited the most from the history of feminist struggles that have made space for women in these spheres, are often the most reluctant to define themselves as feminist.
For successful women in this competitive world, accepting feminism seems to suggest that you are a loser – that you see yourself as weak, that you are asking for special privileges because you are less capable.  A good example of how powerful hegemony is - intelligent and perceptive people still miss the point that being less powerful is a factor of structural, institutional and cultural impediments, not a comment on capabilities. This is precisely what feminism and the many other “isms” that people love to hate have shown us. 

Feminism seems to have fallen into the same post-modern trap of rejecting all “isms,” and living in a vacuum where nothing exists. So I think the simple question to ask oneself is this: Do I believe in the right of all human beings to have political, social, and economic equality? I am an optimist. I am certain that we will find many more feminists in these post-feminist times.