Tracing the women’s movement in India

Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Modern Approach in Humanities.

Year: 2018 | Page No:97-102


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Tracing the women’s movement in India

Esheeta Hhanna



The paper tries to analyze the women’s movement in India, it’s evolution and the path it covered. It further focuses on the fact if autonomous women organisations can help further in women’s movement. The paper tracks the history when women activists participated in the independence movement and later started the activism with the burning question in 70’s of rape and later the journey of activism in the movement started. The paper views the role of state where state often is regarded as a tool in the hands of bourgeoisie and blamed for not dealing with women centric issues. It analyses the formation of various organisations and how their development shaped the women’s movement in total as a social movement for radical change. It further highlights the limitations of the movement which acted as a barrier in it’s success from achieving its goals. The paper concluded by raising other questions which the movement need to address to liberate women from oppression by a patriarchal system in the present times where patriarchy is both practised and turned punitive if not practised.
India, an extremely populous country has a large proportion of world’s womenfolk, extreme polarities of social and economic situations, a wide range of political organisations, and a history of political struggle. Women’s participation in political life dates back when organisations such as Women’s India association and the All India Women’s council was formed. The main aim of these organisations formed around 1920’s was to eradicate social problems of women. During the national struggle Gandhi used ideological prongs to mobilize women which included commitment to women’s equal rights and equal social responsibilities for the Indian struggle and established in constitutional law though discriminations not eliminated. In Tebhaga , women were valiant partners in guerrilla warfare in facing repression. Though they were partners their problems were not articulated in the same way, later the Stree Shakti Sangh members documented the history. Such struggles were initial struggle by women, where at one hand the national movement was coming on an end and on the other women problems not addressed as the need to mobilise was losing its momentum.
To begin with the nineteenth century women movement in India, the need to address this question was seen worldwide. In Europe feminist consciousness began spreading during and after the French Revolution, further taken to England, France and Germany. In Russia woman question became central issue for Russian reformers. In India the reforms began in Maharashtra and Bengal. The activism of the Indian women’s movement from early eighties came into a new phase where the most essential thing during this time was focus on a particular issue by the women’s movement on ‘violence’. Due to varied histories of women activism in India raises certain questions in troubled history of how inclusive was the women’s movement or can we see it as a single movement? How do we deal with the deep hierarchies that exist within a movement, and finally a way to address the question of differences that exist in any social movement. To find the starting point of the history of women’s movement, to establish this keeping in view the present dimensions certain overlapping and interlinking strands of past to present. Seventies the question of rape became significant for women activists

Rape not new in India, for long has been institutionalised form of violence where caste is not to be ignored, as often caste rape is most common and least addressed and gives a view of power relation in society.
Though women’s movement claims to be inclusive in nature, one of the accusations levelled against it is that it is largely middle class and urban in its nature, might not be generalised. For instance the one of the few cases that came to light in 1978 was the rape of a muslim poor woman Rameeza Bee where later the political state legislature was forced to give in to the pressure from women’s organisation and set an enquiry commission. The only people to focus on the so called women’s issue were women’s group. Though a quarter century ago state showcased itself to be more responsive to the the issues raised by women’s movement, for instance the demand for a change in law was then taken seriously and a law commission was to draft a new legislation, worked with the women’s group and legislations placed in the parliament, though when passed it was a watered down version of what the women’s group had actually demanded. The women’s movement further raised the question of dowry where though there were certain overlapping features as the women’s movement led the movement with the question of rape, there were certain marked differences as well. In the initial stages of the movement the activists belived that dowry was limited largely to urban middle class, Hindu India1. Later the changing patterns were observed and changes recognized.