INTERSECTIONALITY IN THE INDIAN CONTEXT
August 10, 2020
India’s feminist movement, ever since its beginning 200 years ago, has always struggled to create space for women to fight against cultural impositions and religious restrictions, which underline and reinforce the economic, social, and political suppression. The native ancestry of inequality can clearly be relived through the omnipresent stereotypes and discrimination that exist in the world’s largest patriarchy. India is progressive in its approach to female empowerment and equality but only in theory. Why is it that our ideas are ineffective? One fault can be found in ignoring the underlying mechanism of Intersectionality. Intersectionality (n): the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
First defined within feminism, intersectionality examines social hierarchies that favour and discriminate people based on overlapping aspects of their identity such as race, gender, class, caste, sexual orientation, disability etc. Your characteristics and aspects may add up to bring you more privilege or discrimination.
Taking, as an example, two of the many hierarchical systems in India; the patriarchy, based on gender, and the historical caste system. Though the caste system no longer formally exists, its norms and repercussions are prominent within Indian communities. Examining those that are the most vulnerable in either of these systems, women and Dalits(Untouchables), we see the resulting disadvantage is compounded. Studies show that Dalit women are disproportionately exposed to sexual violence, domestic abuse and lower literacy levels. The conviction rate for rape cases against all women in India is just 25%, but when specifically watching the Dalit women the conviction rate drops to an astonishing 2%. Women in urban and more educated regions of India experience domestic abuse at an 18% rate compared to a 40.8% in rural India and increasing as we go down the social ladder. Conviction rates for such abuse are almost non-existent amongst the Dalits. Literacy rates stand at 72% in contrast to 31% despite similar educational programmes being employed across different regions of the country.
An effective solution to the above problem is dismantling the Kyriarchy-A system of ruling and oppression in which many people may interact and act as an oppressor or oppressed. By not advocating for the women whose realities do not look or feel like our own, we are indubitably a part of the problem. Unintentionally, we choose the side of the oppressor.
Indian Feminism has been most effective in reducing the gap between men and women in middle-high income backgrounds but further marginalizes the poor. We see the effect on a micro-level. As a feminist, my fight doesn’t stop at breaking down the patriarchy, it’s against all systems of oppression. The key to our freedom is ensuring everyone has an equal chance at success and happiness. It's consciously choosing to be open-minded and inclusive. A country as dynamic and multicultural as India will always short on their efforts on the front of feminism if we are not able to fix oppression on a larger scale. It is about recognizing and fighting our privilege for those who we unintentionally oppress, realising that in the long run, it hurts us too. And understanding the simple idea that no woman is free till all women are free.