Women should not allow men to hide behind their bangles
As a student in the 1970s, I recall members of a labour union presenting bangles to officers who had failed to meet their demands for a wage hike. The responses of two of those officers have shaped my own feminism ever since.
One of them burst into tears and wailed, “This is such an insult to be equated with a woman! How will I face my wife after this?”
The older officer looked at him sternly and said, “Your wife runs your house and your family. You will never be able to make it in life without her support. So why should you feel insulted? Take those bangles home to your wife and buy her some more if you haven’t done before. I am going to do the same.”
For the 1970s, that attitude was pretty modernist and, without much conscious thinking, it impacted my own responses to gender equality.
So I am very troubled to come upon not just men, but even women, in this day and age who respond to their failures by presenting men with bangles, as has been happening over the past few days. Ever since the Supreme Court overturned the Maharashtra government’s closure of dance bars in Mumbai, calling it unconstitutional and a violation of equal rights and those to livelihood, across the state, the women’s wing of the Nationalist Congress Party has been presenting bangles to various collectors to register their protest against the re-opening of dance bars.
This makes me wonder if they are aware of the paradoxes and ironies in their action.
NCP leader Sharad Pawar, whose policy for women while he was chief minister in 1994 to liberate them from male bondage in various forms, is still regarded as a progressive and landmark legislation. Pawar has always been the least patriarchal leader of our times and never discriminated against women — if anything, he made sure that women were at the centre of economic activity in rural areas and not dependent on men.
For example, on his private enterprise in Baramati, women were preferred for dairy farming. Much early in his political career he recognised the perils of male domination and privilege and, while in charge of the employment guarantee scheme, converted it into a ‘food for work’ scheme so that women could take the rations home for their children and not be vulnerable to their husbands snatching their cash earnings and blowing it on drink or other vices.
Recognising their husbands’ addiction to liquor as the singular source of misery and economic deprivation, he gave women in rural areas the right to shut down the local liquor store overnight despite the revenue loss that banning the sale of liquor cost the government.
So why is the NCP now encouraging women to run amok across the state propagating patriarchy? Are these women not demeaning themselves by declaring bangle-wearers (including many among them) as weak and ineffective?
Pawar himself has not commented on the dance bars over the years but this moral policing was an initiative of the NCP in 2005 and, more particularly, of former state minister for home, RR Patil. The Congress-NCP government then had a surfeit of patriarchal Marathas who were upset at the modern dance bars spreading even to rural areas, cutting into the business of tamasha artistes (tamasha centres can be described as village dance bars).
Young boys found lavni too dated and passè. Moreover, patronage of tamasha artistes was a longer lifetime commitment they were not prepared to make. Dancing girls at these newer bars had no such expectations.
Patil was wrong to declare these bars as dens of prostitution – while many women may have taken to the profession, for quite a few without education or better sources of income, dancing was often the only means of livelihood.
But hidden in the NCP agenda to shut down these dance bars was another bit of parochialism — most of the girls dancing at these bars were migrants from north India or Bangladesh. Their existence cut into the income of local lavni dancers who were no match for the charms and lures of the modern dancers.
So the NCP was just wearing the garb of the Shiv Sena, while hiding behind the skirts of women.
They are still hiding behind women to cover up their failure to shut down the dance bars in their time. It is the women, lending their bangles to further such patriarchy, who should think again.