Naari Bachao, Naari Dabao!

by Saumya Singh

The new Love Jihad legislation has once again given rise to a series of hot debates in India, revolving around growing anti-secularist sentiments in a secular country. The legislation aims at curbing allegedly forced conversions of Hindu women into Islam, through fraudulent ways by Muslim men. However, there is more to the Love Jihad legislation than just its anti-secularist nature. Misogynistic gender roles have struck once again, and this time in a religious pretext. In the name of protecting her honour and dignity, the supposedly naive Indian woman has yet again been brought under the protective radar of men, with no say of course. It might seem odd at this point to talk about the position of women in this entire fiasco when it should be the threat to a secular country that needs to be talked about. However, precisely because the former doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue, it needs to be urgently addressed.

The legislation degrades women by assuming them to be gullible, dependent creatures that need protection. Not only is it anti-secular in nature, with women conveniently being put as the main source of contention, but more importantly, it also suppresses women by bringing into question their ability to have ‘free’ choices or desires. At the core of all issues, lies gender roles, misogynistic gender roles to be more precise.

Gender roles are nothing but a social construct, which over the years have come to be framed in such a way that justifies the subjugation of women to men. They have come to be normalised so much that one does not even realise their influence in their social surroundings, such is their power. They are embedded in every sphere of life, be it religion or politics, and in turn, are further normalised.

The role of religion, with the kind of gender roles embedded in it, is particularly influential as it is more often than not used by communities that identify with, to theorise a woman’s place in society. Religion can be manipulated, as per convenience, to subjugate women in order to fit into the preconceived notions of a patriarchal society. Especially in a society like that of India, where people deeply identify with their religions, misogynistic gender roles can be played upon in order to use religion to one’s advantage. Love Jihad legislation too, in the name of providing against malicious intents of an opposing religion, plays on the kind of gender role that gives the idea that women can be easily manipulated and thus need urgent protection.

Why do women have to become the subject of communal conflicts? Why do some if not all faiths help perpetuate the unethical suppression of women? Patriarchal society, being based on specific gender roles that give a dominating position to men, justify women being reduced to mere pawns in the war of men. On the pretext of being elevated to some honourable status, women are made the ‘makers’ of their communities. They are restrained and suppressed as repositories of honour and dignity. Why, in a so-called progressive world of today’s, are gender roles continued to be given so much importance that they go straight down to the roots of powerful spheres like religions, and society in general?

One can conclude that the Love Jihad legislation is, in fact, not a step towards the protection of women, but rather a way to suppress them. The main problem lies not only in the polarisation of religions in a secular country but in the fact that no one seems to question how the ‘non-opinionated’ woman has become a convenient subject for assertion and enforcement of a political agenda. It is necessary to be critical of the events that happen around oneself, in order to notice the underlying themes like gender roles that are often allowed to grow stronger in the general atmosphere of ignorance. What is significant at this juncture is to question why, instead of progressing, the modern society has allowed itself to regress to a point where the very fabric of it’s being is inseparable from restrictive gender roles, that prove to be a hindrance to its advancement.

About the Author:

Saumya Singh has done Masters in International Relations and Politics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is passionate about writing on the condition of womanhood in the subcontinent and probing international issues. She is also an avid reader, debater, and food enthusiast.

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