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Women's Citizenship and the Private-Public Dichotomy

Women's Citizenship and the Private-Public Dichotomy

In what way does gender mute the acquisition of citizenship? The papers in this edition of the Review of Women's Studies deal with issues of gender and political power: the power for women to live and have rights as a free citizen; the power and opportunity to participate in the public realm by loosening the fetters of tradition that bind them in the private domain. The articles also bring into focus the fact that groups of women cannot claim citizenship rights as free individuals exercising autonomy and choice in their exercise of sexuality or enter the public space, and if they do so it is within the bounds of family or as rendering service as subjects of a constructed Hindu nation.

REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1743Maithreyi Krishnaraj (maithreyi_krishnaraj@yahoo.com) has been researching issues relating to gender for many years and is currently adjunct faculty, Department of Sociology, University of Mumbai.Women’s Citizenship and the Private-Public DichotomyMaithreyi KrishnarajIn what way does gender mute the acquisition of citizenship? The papers in this edition of the Review of Women’s Studies deal with issues of gender and political power: the power for women to live and have rights as a free citizen; the power and opportunity to participate in the public realm by loosening the fetters of tradition that bind them in the private domain. The articles also bring into focus the fact that groups of women cannot claim citizenship rights as free individuals exercising autonomy and choice in their exercise of sexuality or enter the public space, and if they do so it is within the bounds of family or as rendering service as subjects of a constructed Hindu nation.Historically, citizenship is linked to the privileges of mem-bership of a particular kind of political community – one in which those who enjoy a certain status are entitled to participate on an equal basis with fellow citizens in making those col-lective decisions that regulate social life (Bellamy 2008). It got associ-ated with political participation in some form of democracy begin-ning with, first of all, the right to vote. Traditionally, citizenship meant a particular set of political practices involving specific rights and duties with respect to a given political community. Democracy became an effective mechanism to promote collective interests and to enforce on the rulers a mandate to pursue the public good. To ensure a stable political framework and implement activities, some regulators were necessary such as the bureaucracy, legal system and judiciary.Democracy was expected to offer the potential for citizen to debate issues on equal terms and to give respect to other people’s interests. Liberal democracy as a political system is marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers and the protection of basic liberties such as freedom of speech, assembly and religion and right to property.Citizenship implies a capacity to participate in the political and the socio-economic life of the community. Yet, these capacities are not uniform over time or over different groups in society. A working demo-cracy presumes some degree of trust and solidarity and a common language for political debates. There is always the danger of some free riders – like those who abstain from voting or participating in these debates but benefit from the work of others. Our recent dismay at the performance of our elected politicians’ lack of active participa-tion in Parliament as well as the apathy of the middle class in not tak-ing part in voting or civic matters is a case in point. Far more signifi-cant, however, is the way the membership of the political community excludes many – women, immigrants, ethnic groups, etc. The pre-sumed sharing of identity in the political community is today a con-tested domain. In the era of globalisation new concerns have emerged. Many public goods from security against crime to monetary stability can only be obtained through international mechanisms. In this scenario, the concept of “nation” has become blurred. Leaving aside these current predicaments, we can go back a little to trace the history of the emergence of the nation state and its corollary, nationalism.T H Marshall (1989) saw three stages in the growth of the concept of the nation: (1) state building with administrative, military, cultural unification and territorial consolidation, bureaucratic and legal struc-ture which created a strong political body possessing authority over all activities within given territorial space with those residing within it becoming its legitimate subjects; (2) emergence of commercial, in-dustrial economies leading to creation of infrastructural public goods; and (3) socialisation of the masses into a national consciousness.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly44Elections, open, free and fair, are the essence of democracy, but constitutional liberalism, on the other hand, is not about the proce-dures of selecting government but rather deals with the goals of the government. Its roots lie in the western tradition of protecting indi-vidual autonomy and dignity against coercion of people by state, church and society. Constitutional liberalism developed in western Europe and the US as a defence of the individual’s right to life and liberty and freedom of religion and speech. To ensure these rights, it emphasised checks on the power of the government, equality under the law, impartial courts and tribunals and the separation of church and state (Zakaria 2003). In economic terms, it implied a preference for the market to allocate resources; individuals should be able to exercise choice, and property rights should be protected. The belief that the market would allocate resources efficiently ignores the fact that the neutral-ity of the market is based on ignoring inequalities in society. The communitarian alternative propounded by socialist societies ex-presses a concern for social solidarity. However, despite the strong commitment to equality and social benefits, the communitarian alternative privileged over the civil, political and property rights of conservatives, the socialist societies that existed continued to share the conservatives’ endorsement of charismatic leadership to articu-late and enforce an ambitious vision of society (Elliot 2008). Femi-nism grasped the reality that politically, liberal citizenship was derived from a basic distinction drawn between the private and the public, thereby intrinsically excluding women from public life and leaving them unprotected from abuse within the family. Even today as documentation of domestic violence reveals to us, the arms of the state (police, law) dismiss abuse of women as the “private” concern of families. We cannot see politics and its preconditions as resting on a pre-political private sphere because politics and its preconditions are themselves politically constructed. While we recognise how markets promote individualism, exclusion and inequality, communitarianism has its dangers. The protection offered is at the cost of autonomy for women – often restricting and controlling women’s mobility and sexuality. The rights-based citizen-ship is in conflict with identity-based communities. Women, in particular, face a dilemma: neither community support nor liberal individualism offers them a true political identity. The philosophy of empowerment of the “individual” may sound attractive but it cannot pursue its own goals without regard to the claims and needs of others. “We need a definition of empowerment that can travel into the worlds of community as well as that of individualism” (Elliot 2008). The ideal ought to be what rights one has should be independent of the community and gender to which one belongs. Because we tend to see rights as only individual entitlements, we forget the collective dimen-sion. Rights depend on the existence of some from of political community in which citizens seek fair terms of association to secure those goods necessary to pursue their lives on equal terms (minimally food, shelter, health, education and mobility). Unfortunately, today liberal values as enshrined in the original concept have become attenuated and liberalism has come to be associated exclusively with the market under capitalism, and neoliberalism is identified with the withdrawal of the state in critical areas. A strong government is not the same as effective government. As society opens up and politicians scramble for power, appeal for votes becomes the most direct language to espouse the cause of some groups against that of other.The history of the drive for women’s human rights indicates that only when women can become literate, articulate their view of life, when they can organise and demand equality and when they can think of themselves as citizens as well as wives and mothers and when men take more responsibility for care of children and the home, can women be full and equal citizens (Fraser 2003, p 58). India has a long way to go for citizenship in practice, where women’s entitlements will be linked to citizenship.An OverviewIn what way does gender mute the acquisition of citizenship? The lead paper by Anurekha Chari in this issue of Review of Women’s Studies quotes Indian political theorists to draw the difference between active and passive categories of citizenship. The passive citizen receives benefits from the state, which include the right to protection, access to basic necessities and liberties, without play-ing any role in the public sphere, while she has a private space protected by the state and granted to her as a citizen. The active citizen, on the other hand, does not merely receive certain rights from the state but actively participates in deciding how benefits and burdens, rights and obligations are to be distributed, and how collective benefits and burdens are to be shared. A vibrant public sphere depends on active citizenship. One’s location within the social structures based on class, caste, gender, ethnicity, region and language limits the possibility of engaging actively in the public sphere and for accessing one’s rights. Citizens thus experience “differentiated” citizenship rights. The absence of a proactive state that would enforce the constitutionally given right of citizenship, and the inhibiting set of factors like sharp economic and social inequalities, prevent the emergence of full citizenship for many.The set of papers that follow deals with issues of gender and political power: power for women to live and have rights as a free citizen; the power and opportunity to participate in the public realm by loosening the fetters of tradition that bind them in the private domain. This struggle is fraught with antagonisms from men reluctant to let go their supremacy.There is an inherent ambiguity in the position of women within the constitutionally granted equality. In the debates around women’s entry into the public sphere, in literature and cinema, from the pre-independence period to the present day, notions of the rightful place for women, as the domestic and femininity as their naturally given character echo repeatedly. Shobha Venkatesh Ghosh in her critque of the film Jab We Met locates it in the emerging middle class women’s consciousness. Bollywood has been a hybrid genre where the ideologies of woman, nation and the pubic sphere are cast in a kind of time-lessness. One can add, just as the “village belle” in Hindi films has no identifiable location, cultural or geographic; she just dons an imagined “rustic costume”. She is supposedly innocent but displays considerable coquetry. Small town or real rural realities are usually erased in a mythical configuration in mainstream cinema. Ghosh sees a departure in Jab We Met in its bringing in the small town cartography. A second departure is its appropriation
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1745of contemporary discourse of feminism in espousing freedom from patriarchy as opposed to the earlier emphasis on duty and desirability. Mainstream cinema retains the feudal relationships of family and kinship. It asks the right questions but does not give the right answers. I recall, as an example, an earlier film. The protagonist is victimised by rape by a man who seeks revenge for being rejected. The victim files a case against the man. The lawyer speaks eloquently of women’s bodily integrity but the film ends by the judge asking the man to marry the woman, a denoue-ment that totally wipes out the earlier assertion of the bodily integrity. Unlike mainstream cinema where the female body is eroticised, the feminist demand is to treat the body as one that is lived in and owned by the woman. According to Ghosh, even while drawing on the discourse of wom-en’s rights, the film appears to suggest that familial matters are best left outside the scrutiny of the state and law and can be resolved through beneficence and good conscience of “right” thinking men. I recall, how in the era of the Shetkari Sanghatna’s heyday in Mahar-ashtra, men offered to grant some land for their women called “Seeta Sheti” out of goodwill – not as the right to land for women who par-ticipate in farming the family land, most often, on their own with men migrating to cities. There is a difference between something as a gift bestowed – as a largesse – and something obtained as a right.In the context of aspirations and anxieties of a new middle class, that is now shaping a new national subject and the impact of the women’s movement laying claim for women’s full citizen-ship, the right to choice and a new conjugality based on mutual-ity is emerging. There is, argues, Ghosh, a semantic shift in the notion of the nation inJab We Met, by its engagement with ques-tions of the personal, community and national identity. The hero, despite his professional acumen as a successful entrepreneur under global capitalism, is anchored in indigenous cultural identity, and lays a legitimate claim to both nation and world. Jab We Met tries to capture the new woman, economically empowered, who demands the right to choice in her life includ-ing the free expression of her sexuality. For Vaishali Diwakar, the construction of the public and the pri-vate as two distinct spheres is largely responsible for creating bar-riers to women’s public presence. Interestingly, these boundaries are drawn differently over time (for instance, middle class em-ployment for women outside the home is now not only permitted, but actively sought in matrimonial advertisements). Ironically, this also varies by class and caste. While the upper class upper caste male had an automatic right to citizenship, the right to citizenship for women had to be fought for, starting with the right to vote agi-tation of the 1920s and 1930s. In the story of Saudamani, a woman pirate, who is fearless and autonomous, she is made to succumb to the pressure to forego her power by the appeal to her “natural” feminine qualities that are not fit for political life. A woman who intrudes into the public arena is donning a masculine mask to the detriment of her true destiny as mother and family carer.Swati Dyahadroy’s article gives an interesting analysis of a move-ment launched by an institution called “Dnyana Prabodhini”, which tried to create a Hindu nation, and at the same time, distanced itself from the Hindu right wing Sangh parivar. Its project ostensibly, was not an innocuous educational endeavour, but a conscious political strategy to reclaim the lost pre-eminence of the Pune brahmin middle class and to challenge the emerging anti-caste, dalit and secular forces. It also sought to counter the new middle class women’s pub-lic identity and their new self-image generated by education and employment, by providing an alternative interpretation of the ideal Indian (Hindu) womanhood. It was not in favour of Nehruvian socialism. Its empowerment of women was a kind of paramilitarised, Hindu nationalist feminist space through bodily participation of women in public – participating in festivals, exhibition of their skill in martial arts and so on. There were separate courses for college girls and for mothers. Sex education and gender awareness were part of such courses. Youth were exhorted to channelise their sex-ual energies into socially useful activities. Women’s duty was to do “social service”. Family and conjugality was an essential theme in all discussions. Swati Dyahadroy demonstrates the strange and contradictory combination of feminist theories of women’s subor-dination along with an emphasis on inner transformation. Anagha Tambe explores the absence of agency for women in ritualised prostitution. Tracing the continuity and discontinuity in the debates about prostitution in general, she queries whether these practices can be treated as sexual violence and objectification of women, or, whether they enable women to command a space to exercise sexual autonomy and pleasure. Analysing Marathi texts that engage with the non-conjugal monetary exchange of sexual services intertwined with ritual and cultural sanctions, she demon-strates the alliance of brahmanical patriarchy with caste-based division of labour and sexual division of labour, to create not a di-chotomy of chaste wives and unchaste women but a regime of hier-archised and graded honour status. A zulva is a stable ritually sanc-tioned patron of a devadasi who provides for her subsistence. The ritually anointed lower caste woman, dedicated to god as the wife of god, on the one hand, does not suffer the encomium of being unchaste but nevertheless invites ridicule and humiliation as the wife of the village. Likewise, the jogta (the male dedicated) is avail-able to other men. The genius of the Hindu caste system concedes legitimacy to the non-conjugal sexual labour of lower caste women. Gender and caste-based division of labour makes women the property of men.These well-researched articles poignantly bring into focus the fact that groups of women cannot claim citizenship rights as free indi-viduals exercising autonomy and choice in their exercise of sexuality or enter the public space, and if they do so it is within the bounds of family or as rendering service as subjects of a constructed Hindu na-tion. Women whose sexual labour is sacralised, become the property of the village community and cannot claim any autonomy.ReferencesBellamy, Richard (2008):A Very Short Introduction to Citizenship (New York: OUP), Paperback.Elliot, M Carolyne (2008): Global Empowerment of Women: Responses to Globalized and Politicized Religion (New York: Routledge).Fraser, S Avonne (2003): “Becoming Human: ‘The Origins and Development of Women’s Human Rights’” in Marjori Agosin (ed.),Women, Gender and Human Rights: A Global Perspective (New Delhi/Jaipur: Rawat Publication). Marshall, T H (1989): “Citizenship and Social Class” in Terence Ball, James Farr and R L Hanson (ed.),Political Innovation and Conceptual ChangeSeries: Ideas in Context, No 11, Cambridge University.Zakaria, Fareed (2003):The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad(New Delhi: Viking/Penguin).
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESapril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly46SAGE Full Page

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