One of India’s most well-known feminists KAMLA BHASIN converses with Indrani Raimedhi.

Watching the Women’s March online and on television in the most powerful nation in the world, I was curious to know just where Indian women stood as feminists. And who better to tell it as it is than Kamla Bhasin, developmental feminist, activist, poet, author,and social scientist. Nearly four decades of Bhasin’s work has revolved around gender, education, human development and the media. Her NGO, Sangat, is a South Asia network of feminists, and she is the South Asia co-ordinator of One Billion Rising and had worked as a UN representative. She is the co-founder of Jagori, a capacity-building initiative through which she fuses feminist theory with community action, working with underprivileged women from farming, working or tribal communities. Using interesting posters, plays, she reaches out to communities with low literacy rates.

“Feminism is not anti-men, it is against discrimination and sexism,” she says, “it is against patriarchy. It is absurd to brand feminists as man-haters. Our battle has been to question unequal power relations in families and communities. Patriarchy is everywhere – in Parliament, trade unions, religious bodies, in the arts, science, therefore, we feminists have to be and are present to challenge it at multiple levels. Another myth is that feminism is Western. But feminism can be said to be born the day patriarchy was created. That is why there are incidents of gender equality debates in the life of Buddha, Prophet Muhammad, Meera Bai, Rabia of Basra. Where was Western feminism then?”

She has an interesting point of view when she states that patriarchy de-humanises man.  “We talk a lot about how patriarchy has harmed women. But this same patriarchy ensures an environment in which men have no relationship with their emotions, they are not allowed to cry, not allowed to remain gentle. All of us are born to be gentle, beautiful human beings. But patriarchy turns men into nasty, hostile, aggressive, dominating beings. It is as if they are not being allowed to be gentle, caring, loving or non-violent.

Forty per cent of Indian men beat their wives. These men have no relationship with their emotions, their bodies.” Sadly, according to Bhasin, women are not only having to fight religious patriarchy or traditional patriarchy, but now, they have to contend with capitalist patriarchy. “Pornography is a billion dollar industry promoting patriarchy and masculinity.

Cosmetics is another industry that compels women to be insecure with their body image. And patriarchy is coming out of our televisions 24×7 on 300 channels. So, the corporate world is the biggest promoter of patriarchy today.”

Kamala Basin did her schooling in rural Rajasthan where her father was a doctor. Even in those early years, she was different from other girls who were confined indoors and taught home-making skills, actively taking part in boisterous boy’s games. After her higher studies in Germany, she began to work for Sewa Mandir in the Seventies, attending the Global Women’s Conference in Mexico and delivering a paper. Along with her husband, she wrote on feminist and developmental issues. She says that her initiation into feminism was at a pragmatic and non-academic level. “What we need to confront is the tenable reality of aborted female foetuses, of 35 million girls and women gone missing. If the annihilation of six million Jews has led to countless film, books and Holocaust museums, what are we doing with the systematic violence against women and girls? Indian cities are installing CCTVs to ensure women’s safety, but what about rural women, the Dalit girl? Can we protest then? Can we intervene when a man hits his wife within the four walls of the home?”

Bhasin has authored seven books on patriarchy, understanding gender, exploring masculinity, feminism and its relevance in South Asia and an endearing work that seeks to connect feminism with humour. Using quotes, jokes and cartoons, she sets out to assert that the feminist movement has produced a lot of laughing matter, but this laughter is also laced with anger, bitterness, etc. One of her most significant books is the beautifully narrated booklet on sexual abuse of children. With a child’s first person narrative, the book helps children understand sexual abuse and how to speak up about it.

It has been a long journey for this feisty feminist but as always she is focussed more on the present than on the achievements of the past. One feels every young Indian, both men and woman, ought to read her books and arrive at a clearer picture of what gender is all about.

By : Indrani Raimedhi (email id: [email protected])