India has always been and continues to be a patriarchal society, inducing general subservience through the subordination of women and their disempowerment. Therefore, patriarchal binaries prevent growth or evolution from a system where women are not only denied the agency to make decisions, but the priorities and objectives that women aspire to attain are also bound within this politics of selection driven by patriarchal power structures.
Therefore, it becomes prudent to examine what is the freedom being sought. Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants; a state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. One cannot be truly free if she cannot choose for her own self, have a mind of her own or speak what she feels. Additionally, it is relevant to note that freedom as defined above is only through paradigms experienced by the writer, who is herself a product of the environment she was born into and thus this is not a definitive and universal notion of what is the nature of freedom that must be attained, but an indicator of the paradox of freedom being both an objective to be attained and yet an inherent and inalienable right that may not be conferred.
In a patriarchal society like India, a woman has no voice of her own. Her voice is crushed and muffled by the patriarchal forces active in society. She must speak only when spoken to. Due to the years of conditioning by our culture, women are not supposed to have freedom of any kind. Their world is restricted to the four walls of their houses, devoid of choice.
“She is not to be educated or else she would go out of control and nobody would want to marry her”- this was the belief of the majority of people, which fortunately has changed slightly ever since. Therefore, a deep-seated belief in the inherent inequity in India has been tackled so far through the discharge of democratically empowered state institutions coming to the aid of the oppressed and encouraging their growth and supporting their rights to equal treatment. Since the enactment of the constitution, women have always been put on a pedestal, seen as a distinct class, warranting the protection of the law and society for their own good and betterment.
This has led to the growth of protectionist laws, which consider women to be vulnerable beings, warranting protection of the laws. This has been necessary to bypass the functional and institutional bias against women but has unfortunately led to a stalemate with regards to the actual agency of women (for example, rape being chosen as the most significant offence when domestic and marital abuse are deemed lesser problems; prostitution being stigmatised and made illegal).
Theoretically, women might have been given more freedom through the recent developments but in practice, they still suffer many hardships, inhuman dignities, and unworthy treatment. Within the home, she is still not treated at par with her male counterpart. Barring a few urban educated families, a baby girl is never welcomed with as much éclat and happiness as a baby boy, hence paving way for female feticide and infanticide. Women as daughters or wives have to seek permission from their fathers or husbands for going outside or for receiving higher education. In some families, it is seen that husbands do not allow their wives of the same calibre and education to take up any job assignment of the same status outside the home.
One of the major impediments to a woman living a life which is truly free is the moral judgement that the society subjects women to. Due to the patriarchal system putting individuals in boxes on the basis of their gender, there originates the idea of who is an ideal woman and what characteristics must one have by virtue of being a woman. This essentially creates an environment of constraint on the woman as they cannot do anything without the moral judgement of society.
Being born a woman in India is an everyday struggle for independence; even if you get it easy, you have gender battles to fight every single day, irrespective of where you live, what you do and your financial status. Women are, on a daily basis, at the receiving end of misogynistic comments passed by chauvinistic politicians on their choice of clothing, on reasons why women get raped and must be given supervised or restricted freedom etc. They are cat-called upon, eve-teased, and judged for their choices of dresses, to drink or smoke, their choice of men or whoever they want as their partner, choice of profession (especially prostitution, with the honour and dignity of the women being nonexistent due to their engagement in the sex industry) among others.
After marriages, women are expected to leave their houses, change their surnames, stripping them off of their identities to assume that of their husband’s, leave or switch their jobs, manage household works as well and raise the children as well. Rape and sexual assault or harassment stats are alarming, with a rape occurring every 22 minutes in India. Dowry and infanticide related deaths are extremely high even in the so-called rich states like Delhi. If all this wasn’t enough, Thomson Reuters survey ranked India as the most unsafe country for women in the World.
Women cannot attain freedom so long as they have to “attain freedom”. It is something that one inherits by the mere reason of them being born as humans and the fact that the women in our country view freedom as a distant goal speaks volumes as to how we aren’t truly free. It is now time to transition into a society having an assumption of the rights of women such as equality of status and opportunity without resorting to induced inclusivity.
The fact that we are even asking ourselves a question as ridiculous as “Are Women truly free in India?” as we walk into the 73rd year of Independent India is proof enough that we aren’t free and though we have definitely made progress with regard to emancipation of women and recognition of their rights, there is still a lot that we need to do as a society to realise the dream of a truly free and egalitarian society.
About the Author: Amrita Nair is a final year law student at the School of Law, Christ University and the Founder of The Silent Sexism Project