During the historic Women’s March in Washington DC in 2017, women dressed up as ‘Handmaids’ from the cult classic The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The protesters going against President Donald Trump’s admin’s new proposed abortion and reproductive rights law found similarities to their predicament in Atwood’s dystopian imaginations. However, those fears are more urgent for women living in ‘New India’, or at least, they should be.
For those uninitiated with the ‘Handmaid’ universe, here’s a little background.
Atwood created a world where right-wing religious fanatics destroy the American democracy and take over the country. In this totalitarian and toxic patriarchal new world—Gilead, women are left without any rights or even a voice of their own. The wives of rich Commanders live relatively comfortably, as long as they simply keep to their ‘wifely duties’. The other women are all either ‘servants’ (those infertile or too old to procreate) and the rest are turned into handmaids.
The handmaids are used as servants/baby-making machines. The whole machinery of Gilead is aimed at teaching women their true role—producing offsprings for men. They are passed around from one man to another, raped, forced to give birth, then moved to servant-life when they are completely used up.
Women have no right to vote, or to work, or even walk around on their free will.
Women in 2017 used the parallels of this world to exemplify their battle for their reproductive rights. When many people in the States were voting against contraception, stripping women away from her own bodily autonomy, Atwood’s world seemed almost real.
With wage gaps, street harassment, religious prohibition, women across the world still cannot truly say that they are free. Especially in the ‘new’ India. Recently, a certain chief minister proposed a new law. Women who “go out to work” would have register themselves at their police station for “safety and tracking.” The proposition assumes the onus of any sexual harassment faced by the woman will solely be on her as she chose to go out of her Lakshman Rekha and work out in the male-dominated world. As expected, women protested.
A group of women gathered at Madhya Pradesh Bhavan in Delhi to voice their dissent against this ridiculous proposal. What happened next? They were detained.
In the sequel to Handmaid’s Tale — The Testaments, Atwood inserts brief flashbacks to the origins of Gilead. Working women were especially targeted for the roles of submission as they had become too ‘immoral’, too strayed away from their true purpose of life. When they protested the new laws, they were detained. They kept the women locked away till they lost their voice, hopes, and dreams, and a will for a free life.
When I first read these books, I had an iota of a doubt. ‘How could it happen?’, my naïve brain asked. How can millions of women suddenly be subjected to this ridiculous totalitarian authority without any protests? Would other countries do anything? What about the UN?
Thanks to the government of India, my doubts were cleared. Since 2019, beginning with the anti-CAA protests to the Farmer’s protest of 2020-21 and many other protests in between. Lives were lost, buses were burned (gasp!), international interventions, and general public outrage in the forms of cries and shout and some more cries dampened the social media. But none had any effect on the government. They carried on, because they could. We put the power in their hands, and we could not stop them from exercising their power. All these years I thought Atwood’s world was far-fetched. But what if government made it mandatory for women to be tracked? Could I have any say in it? Could I stop it from happening?
As for the role of women, when the same chief minister proposed women’s legal age of marriage should be raised to 21, a cry broke out from all factions of religions and political ideologies.
A politician went on to claim women are reproductively good to go by the age 15, so why raise it to 21?
Because marriage, as it turns out, is a contract to breed. A woman’s role, much like Atwood’s horrifying dystopia, must be dependent on her ability to procreate.
If you still believe I am letting my imagination run wild, then let me remind you something about ‘new’ India. We are gunning for a Hindu Rashtra, run on the principles of Manu. When reading the rules and regulations of Gilead, I couldn’t help but remember all I had studied about in of one my Gender classes. They are so strikingly familiar I fear Atwood might have cheated, used Manu to base her Gileadean fantasies, and not the Bible as many claim.
One of the key codes of Manu is about gender roles. I’ll paraphrase them liberally and condense them to this point—women need to follow a male, be it father or brother or husband. Women need to cook, clean, serve, and most importantly, procreate.
Now, when the religious text of the new India Warriors is considered, does the Handmaid universe still seem far-fetched?
Also read: The Handmaid’s Tale Is No Dystopia
With the government doing all it can to suppress minorities, women need to raise their voices harder and harder. With laws like Love-Jihad putting restrictions on who you can or not love, Brahminical Facebook pages with disturbing and violent memes against women’s freedom and millions of male followers, a war-cry against freedom of anyone who doesn’t follow their ideology, is The Handmaid’s Tale a reflection of America’s future or India’s present?
Anwiti Singh is a journalist, writer, and a fiction bot with a soft corner for all things revolutionary. She can be found reviewing books and films on Instagram and YouTube when she is not busy contemplating how to survive the rise of Fascism. You can find her on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.
Featured Image Source: BBC