Kamla Bhasin

Feminism is finely entwined with human values

By: Staff Reporter
Kamla Bhasin has been working for women rights for over four decades now. Speaking with G’nY, she discusses empowerment and the way forward that can help us acquire better human values.

G’nY. Is it possible to reserve seats for women within the reservation categories already mandated by the Indian government?

Kamla Bhasin : Yes. It is one of the proposals for a long time. Right from the beginning many people including political parties such as Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal have been saying that there should be reservation within reservations. It is definitely possible, but what can be seen is that the current political parties in power are not interested in doing this. There have been promises – all the members are promising, but still there hasn’t been any implementation. Obviously, they can find a solution. Women have received reservation in local government bodies decades ago. But for parliament and legislative assemblies  the bill remains pending.

G’nY. Do you think TV news debates assist the gender movement?

Kamla Bhasin : Most of us have stopped going to television programmes because we don’t want to shout at people, but rather have a discussion or just a conversation—I feel it is below our dignity to shout. Being aggressive is an incorrect trait, whether feminist, non-feminist, secularist, democrat, or anyone. Feminism is not rooted to biology, it is an ideology not confined to women—there are in fact many men who are also feminists.

 G’nY. What are the reasons that empowerment of women is largely seen through the prism of patriarchy?

Kamla Bhasin : The word empowerment is based on power. So what is power – what is its basis – or what gives power to you? According to me power comes through control over resources and ideologies. Empowering women according to me means having control over all kinds of resources. Resources include natural resources such as land. Do women own land in our country? No, they own an insignificant proportion. Next, what is status of women health in our country? India is the fourth worst country in the world in terms of women health. I am currently working in 150 villages of Himachal Pradesh. While conducting haemoglobin tests we found that the levels were significantly higher for boys in every single village. Next is the intellectual resource. Some women are doing well—topping in 12th boards or civil services examinations but again the numbers are small. The next vertical is financial resources. Do women have money, can they invest? And, lastly do women have access to time – leisure time, time to study or play or for entertainment and more? So, for me empowerment means that these resources become available to women – not just opening a bank account. Empowerment can thus come with  change in ideology.

G’nY. What in your view are the ideological changes needed?

Kamla Bhasin : We have to challenge traditional ideologies where women are seen as a liability for the family – paraya dhan. There are modern ideologies, which I call capitalist patriarchy, best described by a bollywood song – main tandoori murgi hun, mujhe whisky se gatkalo, equating a woman to a roast chicken, destined to be gulped down with whisky. This song from a flick incidentally made a 100 crore revenue. Another one is laundiya patayange missed call se – where laundiya is a derogatory colloquial for a young girl. These songs insult men as much as they insult women. Feminist ideology is a complex and multi-dimensional concept. It has a long-term goal and process. Also, we need to closely look what we want to achieve. Do we want women to look like men or do we want them to become aggressive or dominant? I firmly believe that feminist ideology is finely entwined with human values of justice, democracy, love, harmony and more.

G’nY. How will recent judgements such as abolishment of triple talak, capital punishment for rape of a minor and more impact our upcoming generation?

Kamla Bhasin : All these judgements will play an important role. We not only need good judgements but strict ones. However, if we could hasten the process of punishment we would not need death penalties. In my view, no civilised society should have death penalty.

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