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Saturday, March 27, 2010

DELOCATING THE SPACE OF WOMEN’S MOVEMENT IN KERALA’S PUBLIC SPHERE

GAYATHRI O,
LECTURER IN POLITICS,
GOVT. COLLEGE MADAPPALLY.


Seminar paper presented at national seminar organised by St.George College,Aruvithura,Kottayam,18/09/09

Social movements have enabled the development of wide ranging alliances that have led to tremendous social, political and economic changes. Social movement and their social bases are not recent, new and modern data of human society. Social movements have an existence independent of their social biographers and historians. The imminence of social movements and the basic social conditions of which movements are expressive extensions tend to lie deep in and are inalienably linked with certain relatively permanent, generally inevitable and stubborn social structural contradictions and conflicts in the make-up of society. Social contradictions and conflict are in the very nature of the founding of human society and social organization


Discrimination, deprivation, exclusion and exploitation are endemic to every society, which leads to frustration, anger and aggression. Those who are subjected to injustice and oppression tend to rebel and revolt. These reactions culminate in assertion which give rise to people’s movements. But social movements are not an everyday phenomenon. Discrimination and deprivation always do not lead to protest and aggression. Only when people become conscious of these inequalities and injustices and mobilise and organise themselves to struggles against those who subject them to servitude and bondage, people’s movements takes place. Moreover when the disadvantaged and the downtrodden see that another alternative is both possible and viable they try to overthrow the existing social order.


The Genesis of Women’s Movements


The assumed interest in this paper proposes that women’s movement originate not as an opulent and elegant group with a sole women’s agitational consciousness but as objects of massive struggles for colossal social change. In the due course, women preserve and promote an “interest”. Similarly, the fashionable idea of “Women’s interest” affiliates to identity and gender and assume a twist. In the meantime, gender become the sole motivational spirit and receives some unique characteristics peculiar to women’s movement. The demand will be to engender every aspect of social, economic and political existence. This may be called “gender syndrome” and will be the nemesis to all forces impeding women’s insurrection.


Only a couple of social movement have proliferated in as many parts of the world as women’s movements have for all these, movements share certain broad commonalities they differ radically along many dimensions. Paradoxically, women’s movements that ultimately define themselves as autonomous from male-dominated political parties, institutions, national freedom movements, social reforms movements as spoted in different parts of the world are often closely intertwined with broader movements for social change. For, women’s movements are associated with a broad range of struggles, for national liberation, human rights, democratization, serial reform and political self-rule.


Women have increasingly vocalized their demands in the course of nationalist struggles. It grew out of the movement for self-determination. Similarly, women’s movements have often been closely connected with working- class struggles. Women played important role in struggles against class and gender inequality in many industrial sectors. Were they took active involvement in peasant organizations. Their joint actions instrumental in bringing about some beneficial legislation – higher wages, health benefits, longer materially leaves and equal pay for equal work.


Women’s movement in india


The Indian women's movement has a long and rich history linked to the social reform movements of the nineteenth century and the political challenge to British colonialism in the twentieth, with the first all-India women's organizations being formed in the 1920s[i]. The beginnings of the contemporary women's movement are usually traced to the early 1970s, when women were particularly active in radical protests against the Indian state. The first new groups comprised women from Maoist movements in Hyderabad (Progressive Organization of Women) and Maharashtra (Purogami Stree Sanghatana and Stree Mukti Sanghatana), while women's issues were given national legitimacy by a report on the status of women published in 1974 and by the United Nations Declaration of 1975 as International Women's Year. Driven underground, along with other political organizations between 1975 and 1977, with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's declaration of a state of emergency, the women's movement really exploded on the Indian political scene after 1977. Today the movement exists in highly decentralized form with hundreds of organizations in both urban and rural areas throughout the country, including the women's fronts of socialist and communist parties, independent trade unions, women's wings of mass organizations such as Shetkari Sanghatana in Maharashtra and Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini in Bihar, and smaller autonomous counseling centers and agitational groups.[1]


Space of Womens Movement in Kerala’s Public Sphere


Kerala, a federal state in South India, is a unique location to investigate and deepen the understanding of the relationship between gender and power. The state of Kerala has achieved the highest status of women in India. Inspite of this there is a considerable low participation of women in the political sphere and an increase in social problems, such as violence against women, and high suicide level. This questions the liberal assumption that formal equality, in terms of women’s high status, produces changes in the power relations between women and men. This chapter discusses this paradox and looks at the two collective actors that are politicising gender relations: the left women’s movement and the autonomous feminist network. Their processes of framing and articulating gendered political discourses reflect the tension and contradictions between identity politics and party politics, between the civil society and the state and between women’s status and power.

The space of women in every epoch of social moments in Kerala has been hijacked by the prevailing dominant sentiments. These sentiments are fabricated out of a combination of conflicting elements. These elements are constructed either deliberately or naturally evolved. All these constructed elements are picked-up in linear upward tendencies. In fact, the women question is projected out of a binary opposition of good or bad framework. Whether in tradition or in modernity or in globalized world, the plight of women is not decided solely by women, but by force beyond her comprehension.

The west –inspired ideas of social reforms in Kerala were a full articulation of liberal values in social institutions and practices, and questions whether such articulation was infact at all possible in the socio-political conditions created by colonialism. The frame work in which reform was initiated and it’s limited agenda was itself inadequate to bring about radical changes in the position of women.For instance,almost all indicators of empowerment measure an amazing and surprising status for women in Kerala. Whether, it is education, health, sex ratio, sex preference, life expectancy, all tools of measurement of empowerment place women at high echelons of Social hierarchy. There are no social impediments, which prevent women from enrolling in engineering, medicine, B-School, liberal arts and in a couple of technical institutions. Women even outnumber their biological counterpart in certain layers of education especially liberal arts and science. The prevailing gender status of women in Kerala has been conspicuously decorated and upheld in high esteem by popular and mainstream literature, mini-screen and historionics, and arts and sculpture from very early period. In Kerala, there is no seeming social taboos which prevent women’s entry into the mainstream society. In short, Kerala has the elementary pre-requisites for women’s equality, literacy, education, and freedom from legal inhibition against women’s education or employment.In fact,through a series of agitations and confrontations, Malayalee women who were on a receptive mood to the twenty first century, remained under the guise of a pseudo projection and hollow model which was built- in by reforms, political activism, vigilantism, education and uprisings.


The “women in movement syndrome” of various social movements had highlighted droves of issues. Most of these ventilations were concerning inferior social position, employment, ideology, political awareness, family and other social problems. Unfortunately, the ‘women interest’ has been subsequently hijacked by powerful male articulations and concealed patriarchal tendencies. In other words women did not organize their own with ideology and identity. From the outset women’s movement in Kerala has been defined in the larger frame of social reforms.It has been subsequently affiliated and co-opted by political parties,organizations of all sorts etc.Hence women question has been always defined in terms of what she is denied and deprived.In the process of giving meaning to women’s movement it faces an absence in itself.It has not been self revealed and self present. The movements neither affiliated an identity to its fore, nor cultivated an agency for women. Instead,women’s movements remained dormant and static.


Simultaneously there exists stark contradiction in the dominant discourses of the empowered women in Kerala. It is found that in Kerala women assume new roles without having confronted or questioned the ideologically or socially constructed basic inequality of the structure in which they found themselves. A woman’s identity and the course of her life are normally to be determined by her husband and his family and therefore, marriage is the single most determining event in a woman’s life. For, the Kerala society has created differential norms and practices, structures and institutional images and perception of women. In this process, women have been subordinated to men through denial of dominant areas of expressions, creativity and acquisition or power.


In the literature on international women's movements, politically affiliated women's groups (particularly groups on the left) are seen as having a tendency to focus on general issues of poverty and inequality, including gender concerns when convenient, but often subordinating the "strategic" interests of women to the larger interests of class. Politically autonomous groups, on the other hand, are considered to be more explicitly feminist. They do not have to subordinate women's interests to those of the party or for political expediency, and are thus able to focus on issues most threatening to men and patriarchal institutions, above all issues of the body, sexuality, and violence (Kruks, Rapp, and Young, 1989; Alvarez, 1990; Molyneux, 1989). Assumptions commonly made about party-affiliated women's groups are, with their focus on work, poverty, literacy, and ideology, while assumptions about autonomous groups are confirmed by their emphasis on violence against women. It makes manifest that the outcome of one or another form of organizing can only be evaluated within the context of the localized political field. Some fields will be more receptive to autonomous organizing and others less. Some fields will impel party-affiliated organizations to be rigid about women's issues and others will not. There are clearly trade-offs involved in choosing one form of organizing over another. A focus on fields allows to avoid simplistic and one-dimensional conclusions about the kinds of organizations and activism that best represent and promote women's interests. For it is the nature of the field, as we can see, that shapes the effects of organization type, be it autonomous or affiliated; the type of organization does not necessarily have independent effects. If the divergences in the two women's movements are better explained by differences in political fields than by differences in lived experiences, we need to ask how the two fields are structured and how they affect the organizations and movements within their influence.


Conclusion


The women’s movements and its space has been hijacked by the prominence of party politics and co-optation strategies of state and other organizations in kerala. The tension between autonomous women's organizations and politically affiliated women's organizations is one of historic proportions.The debate between autonomous and affiliated organizing includes problems of political loyalty and the role of men in women's organizations. In particular, the struggles between women working within the parties of the left and women organizing autonomously have been of decisive importance in the ideological debates that rocks the women's movements all through kerala. Despite women had been mobilized in all walks of life in kerala , the space of women in kerala apparently remains almost congested and suffocated. The space of women is marginalized, distorted or negated within various masculinist practices in the public sphere.



[1] Raka Rai.,Fields of Protest:Women’s Movements in India.London:University of Minnesota Press



Endnotes


[i] . The first women's organization was the Bharat Stri Mahamandal, formed in 1917, followed by the Women's Indian Association (WIA) and the All India Women's Conference (AIWC) in 1927. Both the AIWC and the WIA began with "women's issues" such as education and social and legal reix>rm, but refused to admit any alliance with Western feminists. Although officially apolitical, there were always strong links between these organizations and the nationalist movement. The AIWC became the best-known recognized organization representing women and grew from an initial membership of 5,000 to over 25,000 in 1945 (Omvedt, 1987). While they were surely influenced by the tradition of male reformers, their demands were eventually far more radical. Particular victories for the AIWC included the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, struggles against purdah, and the campaign for women's suffrage (Forbes, 1981). Alongside the AIWC, however, there grew a Communist-led women's movement. In Bengal, they formed the Mahila Atmaraksha Samiti; in Punjab, the Women's Self-Defense League; in Andhra, the Mahila Sangam (Chakravarty, 1980).


Bibliography


1.Alvarez, Sonia E. 1990. Engendering Democracy in Brazil. Princeton, N.J.: PrincetonUniversity Press

2.Garner, Roberta Ash, and Mayer N. Zald. 1985. "The Political Economy of Social Movement Sectors." In Social Movements in an Organizational Society, edited by Mayer N. Zald and John D. McCarthy. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books.

3.Kruks, Sonia, Rayna Rapp, and Marilyn B. Young. 1989. Promissory Notes: Women in the Transition to Socialism. New York: Monthly Review Press.


4.Molyneux, Maxine. 1989. "Women's Role in the Nicataguan Revolutionary Process: The EarlyYears." In Promissory Notes: Women in the Transition to Socialism, edited by SoniaKruks, Rayna Rapp, and Marilyn B. Young. New York: Monthly Review Press.


5.Omvedt, Gail. 1979. We Will Smash This Prison. Bombay: Orient Longman.


6.Forbes, Geraldine. 1981. "The Indian Women's Movement: A Struggle for Women'sRights or National Liberation." In The Extended Family: Women and PoliticalParticipation in India and Pakistan, edited by Gail Minault. Delhi: Chanakya.


7.Chakravarty, Renu. 1980. Communists in the Indian Women's Movement. New Delhi:People's Publishing House.


8.Rai, Raka .1999.Fields of Protest:Women’s Movements in India.London:University of Minnesota Press

1 comment:

  1. This is not the good thing.In Public Movement the support from the Public is very Important.

    ReplyDelete