2016/2017: And the fight for equality rages on…

Girls are still killed in wombs, dowry continues to claim lives and acid attacks disfigure many but the fight for equality is still being waged — whether it is for entry into holy shrines or flying a fighter jet or opposing a discriminatory divorce law.

Same is the case for Dalits who were brutally beaten up and in some cases even killed for the job they do, as the flogging actually flocked them together to fight for political space and bargain for their rights.

India is changing with the economically and socially underprivileged not shying away from a fight against the patriarchal colossus in 2016. This is the year India could boast of crossing one billion mark in mobile connections signalling a new high with more people Whatsapping and Facebooking as well as using the internet for venting their anger and anguish on issues of their concern.

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(Image Courtesy: Yes! Magazine)

One of the biggest take-away was the fight for women’s entry into holy spaces. Whether it was Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar or Kerala’s Sabarimala or Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, women were in the forefront to fight against a custom which was evidently biased. They won in Shani temple and Haji Ali Dargah but the legal battle is still on in Sabarimala.

Though religious orthodoxy helmed by men managed to keep the women away from holy spaces, the fairer sex have now managed to create fissures in it. “What right does the temple have to forbid women from entering any part of the temple? Can you deny a woman her right to climb Mount Everest? The reasons for banning anything must be common for all,” Supreme Court judge Justice Dipak Misra said during one of the hearings on Sabarimala.

Another issue that got prominence in country’s discourse was the issue of triple talaq. The debate did not restrict on rights of women but got enlarged to whether personal laws can be violative of Constitutional provisions.

It has not reached a logical conclusion in courts but those who raised it have managed to strike a chord among several people. But the question is how they could wade through the vested electoral interests of parties of all hues as well as Muslim orthodoxy and emerge victorious in their fight.

The tempers on the Uniform Civil Code also rose with the ruling BJP pitching for the idea but it still needs to gain traction as a section of Muslims and other minorities are still wary of any such moves. Though several secular and Left academicians and intellectuals are supportive of the idea, they doubt the intentions of BJP, as they believe that the ruling party is pushing forward a divisive agenda.

Dalit attrocities too hogged limelight with more and more underprivileged taking assertive political stands. Dalit rights became a talking point after some youth were beaten up for doing their jobs – skinning dead cows – in Gujarat.

One of the biggest jobs before the government will be to ensure that it there is no caste violence anywhere in the country. The signal has to go in uncertain terms that whether eating habits or once job should not be the reason for people taking law into their hands.

Shrillness in TV studios and social media, sometimes bordering on irrational and informed debate taking a back seat, were another issue that was another highlight for 2016. Whether it was a song or a scene in a film or a fiction, a censor was lurking around.

Tamil author Perumal Murugan, who returned to writing this year after his faced troubled for his novel, summed up this August, “a censor is seated inside me now. He is testing every word that is born within me. His constant caution that a word may be misunderstood so, or it may be interpreted this, is a real bother. But I am unable to shake him off.”

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 27, 2016)

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