The recent push for the nationalisation of the Indian army as departure from its colonial legacy seems a perfect time to review the problematic systemic practises that have existed for decades. However, the inability of the organisation to accept that sexism exists and the subsequent attacks on women who complain has its own misogynistic history, and it might be time for reform on that front as well.
Women’s bodies are the battleground where political agendas are explored and social values are determined. Various colleges in Karnataka are currently denying entry to female students in Hijabs in response to “Saffron Shawl” protests by male Hindu students. Our leaders say religion has no place in education, but why is that limited to just one religion?
Outspoken women who call out the patriarchy, lodge frequent complaints and seem to have an endless repository of stories to demonstrate casual sexism are often referred to as “problematic” but have you ever wondered where problematic women are made? Where do we come from?
I wrote a piece about the unfortunate harassment and exploitation, “army wives” face as a result of the structure of the organisation. That piece got a lot of attention, and a lot of people asked what we can do to make it better. This is what you can do.
The Indian Army is one of those untouchable bastions that cannot be criticized because, “Siachen me humare jawaan ladh rahe hai, but it has a long history of treating women like they’re entitled to our labour. AWWA, an NGO that officially is to have no bearing on the functioning of the army is used to pressure women into participating in norms and traditions like they’re law. How long as we expected to bear that with silence?
If you are a successful and possibly intimidating woman, the chances are that at some point in your career someone has accused you (to your face or behind your back) of sleeping your way to the top. This reduction of a woman’s professional accumen to sexual privilege is just another male fantasy, why then do we never discuss the male behaviour that causes it to come up so often?
I don’t have a daughter, though I’ve often said my sisters are my children, but if I did have a daughter, I would want to talk to her about womanhood. This is what I would say. (PS: I write this letter regularly, not because I am pining for a daughter but because it helps me navigate how my understanding of gender changes and grows over the years, I highly recommend it).
Women are praised for being beautiful, sensitive, socially-skilled and gentle all the time, but throughout our lives we are discouraged from brandishing our intelligence. With the wage-gap and self-esteem crises facing a disproportionate amount of women, why is it such a radical idea to value a woman’s intelligence?
Two days ago an officer of the Indian Army committed suicide in Pune while in the midst of a Court of Enquiry over allegations of sexual harassment, ever since then the endless hate and unverified information directed at the alleged complainant has varied from shameful to just pure disturbing, and a lot of it has been disseminated by the same people who won’t let their daughters out at night because India is not a safe place. Read how this dichotomy is at the heart of why we don’t believe victims in India.
Men love to tell women that if we truly want equality we should be able to sacrifice all the privileges that society has extended to us through the years. Apparently expecting to have a door opened for you is too much privilege and this culture of “equal rights and unequal privilege” isn’t working for the men. So, what is this female privilege? Does it really even exist?