Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gender Inequality

The most egregious of all inequalities is that between men and women. Feminist sociologists have pinpointed the dominance of men in society as the prime reason for this and termed this phenomenon as patriarchy. Analysing all the main institutions of society like the family, marriage, kinship groups, media, religious hierarchies, business entities and the organs of the state, they have shown that all these play a role in maintaining the overall patriarchal structure of society. Over thousands of years this structure has become so well entrenched that to most people including women it seems quite natural instead of being the social construct that it is.
As a result traditionally most women in India have had to work more, they have been denied the right to inheritance of property, they have had to assume total responsibility for house work and the care of children and the elderly and this work is not counted as of being of any economic value, they have had to go underfed and have been subjected to domestic and external violence of the worst kind. As a consequence of this secondary status, women have to bear more babies to ensure that there are male progeny who will inherit the property of their husbands and provide security in old age. This is in fact the prime reason why we are a country of a billion plus population presently because no woman given a choice would bear and rear so many children. Along with this there is social control over the sexuality of women so that men can be assured that the children born to their wives are truly theirs and so ensure the purity of their descent. Naturally all this affects the overall physical and mental health of women adversely and especially their reproductive and sexual health. Since there is a taboo on the discussion of these issues women have to suffer their troubles in silence and this leads to mental problems. Thus, there is a deafening culture of silence surrounding women's reproductive and sexual health problems. The biggest irony is that the menstrual cycle which is an integral part of the reproductive process is considered in the prevailing patriarchal system to be the cause of various  negative things and has been given a dirty connotation in India. This affects the ability of women to maintain personal hygiene and results in their being afflicted by various diseases of the reproductive tract. A very sorry state of affairs that does not speak very well of our country in general and the men in particular.
The central problem, with regard to the health of women, is that they are seen as child bearing and rearing machines and the State in India is also mainly concerned with ensuring that they do bear and rear children safely rather than with enabling them to develop as independent individuals who can participate freely in their own and society's development. This despite the fact that as early as in 1975, India signed the declaration of the first World Women's Conference held in Mexico which inter alia had this to recommend to all Governments - "recognise the health needs of women of all ages and situations, those with children, girls who were yet to reach child bearing age and women who had passed the child bearing age range and also those living singly or as couples, give women the right to choose the number of children they wish to have and also the spacing between them and prevent any such discrimination and violence that is against the welfare of women, that prevents them from taking active part in the social, economic and political development of their societies and that violates their human rights". Subsequently the Government of India has also signed the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1980. The dismal situation of women, arising mainly from their patriarchal oppression, can be understood from the following data culled from the National Family Health Survey III conducted in 2005-06 -
Selected Reproductive Health Characteristics of Indian Women
Characteristic
Female
Male
Adults with below normal Body Mass Index (%) 
33.0
28.0
Adults with anaemia (%)
56.2
24.3
Mothers with complete Ante-Natal Care (%)
50.7

Mothers with complete Post-Natal Care (%)
36.4

Institutional Deliveries (%)
40.7

Women 20-24 yrs married before 18 years of age (%)
44.5

Women15-19 yrs who were pregnant/had child (%)
16.0

Women who have suffered Domestic Violence (%)
37.2

Total Fertility Rate (%)
2.7

Source: National Family Health Survey III conducted by International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai, 2007. 
 A comparative study of the data from the first, second and third National Family Health Surveys has come up with an extremely disturbing finding ( Shrinivasan, K, Chandra Shekhar & Arokiaswamy, P (2007). Reviewing Reproductive and Child Health Programme in India. EPW Vol 42 No 27 & 28).
Even though the spending on family planning by the Government of India after the initiation of the new reproductive health approach in 1996 in the years 1998 -2004 has been double that in the earlier period from 1992 - 1998, the improvement rate in the case of many characteristics given in the table above has been less during the later period. This means that the Government is not following the correct approach towards solving the problems being faced by women. 
The correct approach that has been established through feminist practice the world over in the last few decades is that of Reproductive Health and Rights which "enables women and men, including adolescents, everywhere to regulate their own fertility safely and effectively by conceiving when they desire, terminating unwanted pregnancies and carrying wanted pregnancies to term; to remain free of disease, disability or death associated with reproduction or sexuality and to bear and raise healthy children." (Germain, A & Ordway, J (1989). Population Control and Women's Health : Balancing the Scales, IWHC, New York.).  Specifically, this approach entails the following (Correa, S & Petchesky, R (1994). Reproductive and Sexual Rights: A Feminist Perspective in Sen, G & Germain, A & Chen, L ed Population Policies Reconsidered: Health, Empowerment and Rights. Harvard University Press.) -
1.    Bodily Integrity - All women have the right to protect their bodies and have control over them. Women can't be deprived of their sexual and productive abilities by men or the state and they can't be made to use these abilities according to the latter's whims and fancies.
2.    Personhood - Women will take their own decisions regarding reproduction and sexual behaviour and nobody can interfere in this.
3.    Equality - Women are equal to men in all respects and so the gender division of labour under which women have been given the work of exclusively tending the children and the elderly and also doing housework has to be abolished and men should also take up these responsibilities. Apart from this women's health issues should be better addressed on par with those of men.
4.    Diversity - The differences arising from difference in values, culture, religion, class, nationality and the like should be respected.

Except for a few NGOs across the country nobody else and least of all the Government is following this approach and so women continue to be in the doldrums.

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