Women in India Discussion (April 1996)

Status of Women in India Discussion (April 1996)

Original Query: From Manu Ahluwalia m-ahluwa@btc.uwe.ac.uk to Rehka Narula <R.Narula@sheffield.ac.uk> 26 April 1996

Hi Rekha, ... My university is UWE(Univ of West England in Bristol) ... I was trying to get some information for a brazilian student ...about "status of women in India", so I thought I'll get her some contacts. ... Do you know anybody who is doing research on ethnic minority women in India? Thanks. Manu Ahluwalia

Reply: From Dr. Enrica Garzilli, Harvard Law School <garzilli@shore.net> 26 April 1996

I am doing it. You might like to look at the electronic "Journal of South Asia Indian Women" (http://www1.shore.net/~india/jsaws/index.htm where I have published a paper on Women's Rights to Property in India, a historical (therefore, also analytical) essay from the early century A.D. until the Constitution and its latest amendments to property law.(second issue)

In the first issue of the journal there are interesting papers on Gandhi's views on women, etc. We also publish the DEB (Directory Email Book) of (mostly but not only) women on the subject from all over the world (only for subscribers to the Journal).

The subject is vast.

I have published extensively on the subject "Status of Women in India" (under the historical, social, religious, the literary, legal points of view. You might want to look at my list of publications in the cv(click on my name). If you need my papers please write to me and I will be glad to send them to you. The paper I am currently writing is the 70-80 pp. "Issues Affecting Indian Women", commissioned for a volume on Human Rights (Cambridge University Press).

I would also be very interested in exchanging material on the subject-- there is still so much to know, e.g. what economists say, historians of science and anthropologists say, etc. Regards--[ p.s. The Journal always accepts submissions for publication on South Asia Women from India to Taiwan!] EG

Response: From Heather Dell Dell@DRYCAS.CLUB.CC.CMU.EDU 01 May 1996

<<The subject is vast.>>

I thought of replying privately to this, but realized how much I miss seeing more posts on women outside of Europe and the US. I write on how class, gender and sexuality mediate interaction between the Indian women's movement and sex workers in Calcutta, 1932-1993.

Dr. Enrica Garzilli's comment on issues for Indian women in a volume on human rights sparked my interest. Dr. Garzilli, would you briefly comment on how women from different classes and casts may have divergent positions on human rights? I have been grappling with this with regard to very different views on human rights as either freedom *from* or freedom *to* sex work in light of Indian sex workers' rights associations and the pending decriminalization bill.

Great job on JSAWS! Thanks. Heather Dell

Response: From Dr. Enrica Garzilli <garzilli@shore.net> 3 May 1996

<<volume on human rights sparked my interest. Dr. Garzilli, would you briefly comment on how <<women from different classes and castes may have divergent positions on human rights?>>

You are right. In India, as well as in Western countries, there is the whole range of views on human rights, and, in this case, on freedom *from* or freedom *to* sex work. I can also say that it should be a right to do whatever a woman wants to do with her body; our body is not a limited estate (right to use but not right to alienate it) but a full estate, so to say. The right is such only in freedom: you have the right to exercise something. We women should be and feel free from any urgent need/will to make money, or any need to feel important because our body is shown in third class movies or even sophisticated magazines, free from thinking that our body is the best or the only "thing" we have to offer. It is our right to do whatever we want with ourselves (but, is our life really independent from others' lives?), but it is also our right to be not exploited, to find a decent and easier job, and in general to choose a job on the ground of a genuine wish and ability.

It should be right to study and to be protected when you are, e.g. 12, and not to be a baby prostitute in Bombay or Thailand or Naples. It was and it is our right to work(if we find one!) and now we have a double work: at home, and outside. And children in the US do not even have free kindergartens, therefore the right to work is not protected (many colleagues choose not to have children not to neglect them, or they have to pay a high price to put them in safe, educative environments -- and if you do not produce you can be fired, your contract will not be renewed, if you do not publish you do not get tenure, etc.). Mothers do not have paid full maternity leaves, therefore the right to maternity is not protected, etc, etc.

In India as well as here there are many different points of view: the issue, I think, is *to know* and to have *the means -- psychological, economic, social cultural, etc -- to decide in freedom.*

This issue is like that of fundamentalism: for somebody is a prison and a death threat (see e.g., the poet Taslima Nasrim, and too many other women all over the world). Some feminist groups claim that fundamentalism is a liberty because through it women can reaffirm their cultural identity (and their belonging to a group, I should say). It should not be forgotten that women, as well as men, in foreign countries become more conservative; e.g., London is full of Muslim women who choose purdah.

This example might well explain why women of different castes and classes have different ideas on human rights.

You might like to read one of our next issues of the JSAWS where, hopefully, we will publish two Taslima's lectures, and an interview to her(made by me). EG