Posted by Sruthi Dixit
As the farmers’ protests continue, the Chief Justice of India (CJI), SA Bobde, staying the three controversial farm bills introduced by the Indian Government, remarked that the Court would appreciate that if the “elders, women and children will not participate in the present protests”. This infantilising remark from the apex court of the country has been heavily criticised as sexist and ableist. Countering this statement of the court, senior advocate Dushyant Dave aptly pointed to the Court that the reason for women and elders participating in the farmers’ protests is because “it is a question of their very existence”.
Under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, all citizens have the right to protest against any dissatisfactory statement, action, policy or law of the government. Despite this constitutional guarantee, most spaces of conflict and dissent are portrayed as spaces which are solely the prerogative of cis-gendered men.
Historical Invisbilisation of Feminist Priorities During Emergencies
The CJI’s comments on the farmers’ protests are not out of the blue and are only a distasteful depiction of how gender non-inclusive our responses to unrest, political turmoil and natural disasters are. There has been a historic devaluation of the interests of women and LGBTQ+ communities in times of political crises which has led to most of our modern responses being centric only to men. For example, if we look at history surrounding the world wars and their aftermath, there is a lot to know about the role that men played: as soldiers as well as leaders. This however, is not true for women, let alone the queer community, the history of whose roles as caregivers, frontline support persons and even as soldiers has consistently been invisiblised. Research on the subject of trauma on women combatants has only received funding and importance as recently as in the 21st century: another key indicator of how women and the queer community are treated as ‘lesser-than’ men and hence, excluded from post-conflict and disaster rehabilitation programmes.
While specific provisions present in the 2020 Vienna Discussion Forum concluded that the rights of women and girls cannot be compromised in emergencies, the response during the pandemic has not been any better. Even as the world copes with the disastrous effect of the pandemic, women and queer youth continue to be left out of key safety and rehabilitation discourses. Almost all response packages from countries around the world have ignored issues specific to these sections of the society such as a lack of financial and social security, increased vulnerability and burden associated with care-giving roles and domestic violence. The sudden announcement of the lockdown in India only made things worse, giving very little time for citizens to cope with the situation and put the lives of many women and people from the LGBTQ+ community in danger. Institutions including the judiciary and the police failed to provide any concrete protection either. In hindsight, many simple and realistic steps could have been taken to prevent such consequences. However, many repercussions of the lockdown were only further exaggerated because of a non-gender-inclusive response to the crisis. The United Nations has acknowledged and urged for a gender-inclusive response to the pandemic, citing that indifferent responses of state structures will only widen the existing issues of gender-inequality.
Feminist priorities necessarily revolve around inclusive decision-making driven by inclusive leadership, a focus on expanding social security nets for all and reimagining self-sustained communities for the future. 2020 has been India’s year of revolution and protests. Not just at the farmers’ protests, we have witnessed women being at the forefront of leading dialogues in the past couple of years, whether it is Shaheen Bagh’s Dadis, Aishe Ghosh from the JNU protests, or Safoora Zargar, among many, many others, who is the face of political prisoners in India, have showed up and asserted their place in the revolution. The CAA protests are a remarkable example of how collective leadership of women can shape integral moments in India’s political and legal history.
Why Including and Recognising Women’s Efforts is Essential
A report by Women’s Media Center found that 63% of girls between 10-19 years of age believe that there aren’t enough role models with the same gender identity for them to look up to. When media representation of women is so low, their identities often get ignored even in mainstream conversations about politics, law and rights, all of which directly impact their day-to-day lives. In such situations, claiming spaces and representing themselves in itself can become a political stance. There is a need to normalise the existence of women and minorities in public spaces and within democratic institutions. Speaking on this issue, Amnesty International stressed on the failure of judicial systems to provide protection to women who dare to raise their voices and speak out. While International guarantees for women’s right to claim public spaces exist, very little is done to ensure the practical application of these rights.
The recognition of women’s efforts in all revolutions but also in the farmers’ protests in India is non-negotiable. This is true not only because women are equal participants in political discussions as a matter of right but also because it truly concerns their existence. Women predominate in the world’s food production (50-80 per cent), but only own less than 10% of the land. Almost 73% of rural Indian women are directly engaged in agriculture. Despite having high stakes, the women’s place in the farmers’ protests have been devalued repeatedly.
There are key gendered concerns with the farmer’s bill which run the risk of being ignored without the presence of women farmers whose lived realities shape their resistance. Women farmers who are protesting against these bills are also raising concerns of the possibility of the farm bills deepening the existing gender inequality within India’s agriculture sector. They also usually do not have the bargaining power and fear that the abolition of a Minimum Support Price (MSP) puts them in a more vulnerable position to negotiate agreements with traders. Women farmers have expressed their inability to actively join the protests as a result of having to take up domestic and agriculture work while the men of the family join the protests.
There is no disputing the fact that a woman’s place is as much in a revolution as it is anywhere else. Because of how gendered all social movements are, the exclusion of women, their concerns and lived realities stand a high chance which in turn, denies them true social justice. Denying the women’s right to protest, on the basis of their gender, takes away agency from a large section of the population to represent themselves to their elected representatives. To secure representation it is important for women to claim these political spaces and for democratic institutions to support such claims.
Sruthi Dixit is a Research Associate for the FemJustice Center at One Future Collective.
Featured image source: livemint