ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
-A A +A

Provincialising Gender Justice


A society that is divided, particularly on caste and communal lines, is less likely to produce a countrywide unified response to the social and gender question. The articulation of a response, in such a society, may remain fragmentary, despite the fact that these questions do have a human and universal content. The protest response to defend the normative content in the face of the growing injustice and oppression, however, has remained confined to the social groups such as women, Dalits, minorities and Adivasis. These groups may have demographically but thinly spread across India, but their fundamental questions, such as injustice and inequality, have found articulation mostly within these groups. Thus, the Bharat bandh call of August 2018, or the countrywide protest against the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 primarily remained restricted to the socially oppressed castes. The farmers’ protests that have been taking place from time to time are entangled with a similar predicament. These protests are sociologically glued together but lack political solidarity where several social groups demonstrate this through the shared commitment to universal principles such as justice. It is politics that binds different groups into collective action against a common question such as gender injustice. The protests, such as for justice for Rohith Vemula, the Hathras victim from the oppressed caste, or Nirbhaya, however, have shown the possibility of transcending from sociological to political solidarity. The protest needs to become politically universal.

Following the broad conception of political protest against violence against women in general and rape atrocities against them in particular should generate support across political parties, whether they are ruling or are in opposition. The gravity of the question provides enough grounds to offer a unified response to the human rights violations. The protests that are the result of a certain kind of party politics lack this shared commitment thrust to a universal principle such as justice. In recent times, the ruling government has not allowed the opposition to protest and express sympathy and solidarity.

It is all the more astonishing to notice the discriminatory nature of protests that are being organised by the women’s fronts, particularly the ones affiliated to the ruling party. In the most recent times, as the electronic media showed, the women’s front of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra organised a state-wide protest for women’s safety that, according to the former, has been neglected by the non-BJP government led by the combination of Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress. The question that we have to raise is this: Can one defend the feminist response, which is provincially different but universally the same as far as the coercive nature of patriarchy is concerned?

Some of the defenders of the skewed expression of protest may choose to offer at least two justificatory points. First, they might argue against the collective efforts that are aimed at aggregating different kinds of gender injustices into one unified cognitive whole. Put differently, such a protest by the BJP’s women’s front would suggest the need for separate region-based protests that are needed to address the women’s question that is necessarily different and, perhaps, more serious than the women’s question that exists outside Maharashtra. Thus, for such a protest, the Hathras rape atrocity would be less serious than the question of the overall security of women in Maharashtra.

While no one will deny the seriousness of the women’s security question that needs to be given priority by any government, including the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the state, the question that we need to answer is: Can we assign different values to feminist questions that have universal significance to all women? For example, does not dignity, which as a collective moral good is at stake in all the cases of women, hence, have equal value that needs to be protected? If this is part of responsible protest, how can one prioritise one’s value over others? It is true that women’s protest is informed by the principle of justice and such a principle does provide normative support to such a protest. But one has to acknowledge the fact that such a universal principle also provides validity to the Hathras rape victim, and hence such rape atrocities demand equal distribution of feminist attention. One is not sure whether such generosity was present in the protest staged by the BJP women’s front. It would be completely wrong to reduce the universal value of justice to fragmentary values. It would be against the universal thrust that is put behind the principle.

Partisan politics does not have much regard for universal sisterhood. It fails to historicise the women’s question because it does not assign equal attention to women’s questions that continue to exist elsewhere in the country. It will be paradoxical to separate the principle of justice and the respect for gender justice from one’s self-understanding. But the understanding has to be genuinely self-understanding. This is necessary to put intellectual as well as practical attitudes behind the protest.


Updated On : 20th Oct, 2020


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top