University of East Anglia

Feminism in India with Kavita Krishnan | University of East Anglia

On February 2, the amazing Kavita Krishnan, who is Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), visited my university and talked to us about the situation in India regarding feminism and race, and explained how feminism has now become a global thing.

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Photo from her Twitter profile

Her talk was so amazing that I don’t even know where to begin. It’s a shame that very few people attended it; I would have given her an entire lecture hall, but she just spoke to a small group of maybe 15 people, all sitting on chairs in a circle. But on the positive side, that made the event feel more personal, and it gave her more time to answer questions in-depth.

She is an incredibly intelligent woman, and usually when I go to events like these, the person who is talking can’t answer everything, but she gave amazing answers to every single question, and the questions some people asked were quite specific and difficult to answer satisfactorily. She started off by talking about feminism in India in general, explaining how the class system works, how women are living these days, and how the government functions. I didn’t know much about India going in, and to be honest I am still very ignorant, but she did a wonderful job explaining everything in an easy and understandable way without being patronising at all.

The discussion then got much more specific, especially when people started asking questions, and she talked about so many interesting things. She told us about a case of custodial rape that happened a while ago in India and that changed the way rape is seen both in life and by the law; she discussed Islamophobia; she taught us how sex-selective abortion works and how the government is trying to change the laws to make abortions very complicated for women; and she also talked about violence towards the indigenous communities in India. Everything she said was fascinating and horrible at the same time, but throughout all of it there was an underlying sense of hope and strength, and she made sure that we all left the conversation knowing that Indian women are not victims and that the feminist movement in India is very strong.

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A really low-quality picture I took at the event!

One story she told stuck with me in particular. It was about a woman, a friend of Kavita’s I believe, who went to a gas station in her car, and when she got out of the car, a man walked up to her and starting beating her up for no reason, and when he stopped and drove away she screamed to the people standing by and watching to write down his registration plate number, but no one did. When she walked up to them and asked why no one had written anything down, they simply said: “We thought he was your husband.” When Kavita told this story, she explained how this kind of view of violence against women being okay when it happens at home, when it’s done by your own husband, is incredibly damaging and unfortunately quite common. However, she added that one time in court someone was asking men if they thought rape should be legally punished if it was committed in the home, and while a lot of older men said no, younger men were appalled at the question and said that they did not want to be married if it meant having that much power over their wives. So again, she ended the discussion on a positive note.

Another thing she talked about a lot and which I thought was both important and really interesting is victim-blaming. So she told us that when there started to be more awareness of sexual assault in India, the government thought that to increase safety for women they would tell them to not go outside alone, at night, or at all. This, of course, is the completely wrong way of handling things, and women got angry. A really cool movement was born, called Why Loiter, and it consisted (and still consists) of women and girls hanging out in public places and posting pictures of it online. There is even a book about this movement, written by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa Ranade, and I am definitely going to pick it up at some point, because the whole movement sounds absolutely amazing.

Finally, she said that something we, as people living in England and in the western world in general, should remember, is that whatever is going on in India should never be diminished as “a cultural thing”; this is neither an excuse nor a valid way of talking about real problems that affect people globally. A lot of the things that are happening in countries that were once colonies are consequences of Europe’s invasion, and we have to find better ways of solving these problems, being both efficient and respectful, and without forgetting that India is not just “a poor country”, but full of people capable of taking matters into their own hands and fighting for their rights.

 

To keep up with Kavita, follow her Facebook and her Twitter. And if she ever comes to speak at an event near you, make sure you attend – I promise it will be worth it!

‘Till next time and happy reading!

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