Thursday, January 03, 2013

The End is the Beginning

                                         (Photo Courtesy: Indian Express)

In the wake of the gang rape of a student on a moving bus in Delhi, on 16 December 2012, the public anger in the form of protests took place at India Gate, Raisina Hill, and Jantar Mantar in the Indian capital city of Delhi, and in other urban and rural areas of the country. These are the first mass agitations to support women’s right. For too long, women in India have been viewed as second-class citizens, always expected to walk a few proverbial steps behind their male partners. Not only in public, but in homes as well, violence against women is an all-too-common occurrence. But still feminism is not a popular term in India.

On the other hand, different governments in India have claimed that their steps to empower women have been successful. I remember few months ago, seven women entrepreneurs proudly declaring in front of the public that there was no need of any feminist ideas anymore because the Indian women have already been empowered.

In my articles, I have discussed at length that Indian feminism needs a different perspective from the one that is applied in the Western countries. The Indian feminism should be rooted here.


The topic of sexual violence against females has never received a serious thought. In the Indian Penal Code – rapes, kidnappings and abductions, dowry deaths, domestic violence, torture (both mental and physical), molestations, sexual harassments are some of the crimes that come under VAW or Laws Relating to Violence Against Women. Other offences like determining and aborting of female fetuses, and demanding and harassing for dowry falls under the Gender Specific Laws. Indian Constitution, under Article 14, guarantees “equality before the law” and “equal protection of the law”. It empowers the State to take affirmative measure for women under Article 15 (3). All gender specific laws find their genesis under this Clause. Article 21 guarantees the right to life with dignity and without violence for every citizen. Directive Principles of State Policy, under Article 39, enjoins the State to provide adequate means of livelihood for men and women, equal pay for equal work for both men and women, and ensure just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief for women.
Despite the ostensible acceptance of women’s rights in the eyes of law and Constitution, the violations against women do not only exist, but are also on the rise. The latest available statistics compiled by the home ministry's National Crime Records Bureau show that between 1953 and 2011, the incidences of rape rose by 873 per cent, or three times faster than all cognisable crimes put together, and three-and-a-half times faster than murder. In India, a woman is raped every 22 minutes, and a bride burnt for dowry every 58 minutes. The police last year registered 42,968 cases of molestation of. The number of crimes recorded against women, including sexual harassment, cruelty by husband or his relatives, kidnapping or abduction, and human trafficking, exceeds 2,61,000. Shocking as these figures are, they are actually a gross underestimation of the actual number, because crimes against women are highly under-reported.

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines that if a man has sexual intercourse with a woman below the age of 16, with or without her consent, he is guilty of rape. A nominal punishment is provided if the wife is between 12 and 15 years of age, or is living separately from him. Apart from ‘consent’, the other determinant for rape, according to the law, is that there must be a penetration of the woman’s vagina by the penis only. Penetration with any other object, be it life-threatening (a knife, an iron rod, etc), though more physically harmful, is not to be considered a rape. In that sense, the penis is accorded a privileged position in comparison with other objects. The act of penis penetration is based on the control men exercise over their women. In other words, the priority given to penetration by the penis, over all other forms of penetration, is historically based on the need to defend the rights of the legitimate father, rather than the woman’s physical integrity. The act of rape violates the father’s rights, as it leads to pregnancies by other men, and threatens the patriarchal power structures.

This fallacy of our Penal Code is responsible in lessening the importance of violence. Despite the fact that rape is an extreme form of sexual abuse, sex is not seen as the main issue-in fact, rape has more to do with the notion of chastity, purity, virginity and fertility. A rape also can obliterate a normal life of a woman when society holds her responsible her “impure” character. This accusation makes her life miserable. 

The infamous rape case of Mathura in the late-1970s is one of the main examples of such injustice caused by our legislative system. Mathura was a 16-year-old tribal girl from Maharashtra who was raped by a policeman in a police station. When the case went to the lower court, the accused police constable was acquitted on grounds that since Mathura had eloped with her boyfriend she was used to sexual intercourse and hence could not be raped. The court further held that Mathura had consented to sexual intercourse with the policeman because she was of loose moral character. On appeal, the high court convicted the policeman and held that mere passive submission or helpless surrender by threats or fear could not be equated with consent. However, the Supreme Court acquitted the policeman again. It held that since Mathura had not raised any alarm and there were no visible marks of injury on her body she had indeed consented to having sex. Later, after a massive protest, Government amended the law with The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983, which states that if the victim says that she did not consent to the sexual intercourse, the Court shall presume that she did not consent. 

The attitudes of society, state, law are never in favour of a rape victim. After an actual rape, a victim goes through several other rapes, such as police investigations; court prosecutions; neighbours’ presumptions; society’s speculations, etc. She is constantly reminded of the most heinous act she is desperately trying to forget. 

Till now, the definition of ‘rape’ has been seen as a physical sexual abuse or so called ‘penetration’ as described in the language of law. A rape is much more than that-it is a psychological trauma, in addition to the physical torture. We must realize this truth.
The patriarchal views always tend to support a rapist and try to find woman’s faults. Never does it once think that a rapist should be punished. Sometimes the religious gurus or even police advises the victim to marry the rapist. What a pitiable mentality!

Now Sube Singh Samain, the spokesperson of the Sarv Khap Mahapanchayat of Haryana, has come out in opposition to the capital punishment for the rapists. His argument: such incidents have occurred in rural areas in Haryana and UP (Uttar Pradesh) but the people have never come up with such reactions. In one of his TV interviews, I heard him using the word ‘simple rape’. Did Khap Panchayat think a rape, which always obliterates the rest of the life of a victim, can be called as ‘simple rape’? Another outrageous thing he claimed: “Even women indulging in 'immoral' acts later allege rape on being nabbed."

False reports are sometimes filed. According to IACP (The International Association of Chiefs of Police) guidelines: ”The determination that a report of sexual assault is false can be made only if the evidence establishes that no crime was committed or attempted. This determination can be made only after a thorough investigation. This should not be confused with an investigation that fails to prove a sexual assault occurred. In that case the investigation would be labeled unsubstantiated. The determination that a report is false must be supported by evidence that the assault did not happen.”

False reports count in a single-digit percentage of the total reports. Besides, the total reports are a massive undercount of all the sexual assaults that took place. And there is a reason for that: the majority of the rape survivors simply decline to report. The incidence of false reporting is simply not high enough to justify the propaganda put forth by the pro-culprit lobby. I want to clear my stand that by saying ‘patriarchal’ I am not idiosyncratically pointing out masculine mass at all. There are many men who are not part of the patriarchal system. There were huge number of male protestors gathered during the protest against the inhuman deed of December 16. We should not forget that the one who reported first to the police about the injured girl and her friend was a man. Actually these agitations are not a war against masculine gender. These are agitations against patriarchy. And patriarchy never consists of masculine community only. A great number of women are also part of this patriarchy. The mothers in law and daughters in laws who burn the bride for dowry, the females in rural India who pursue their husbands to stand against a woman with an allegation of witchcraft, those women who always try to limit the freedom of a girl in the name of religions, traditions, and inheritances, all are the part of this patriarchal society.

In a seminar, arranged by police on ‘Sensitivity towards women' in Kharagpur, Dr. Anita Shukla, Secretary of Lions Club and an agricultural scientist by profession, opined that the rape victim herself was responsible for her pathetic condition; she should have surrendered herself to the rapists because that would have been the best option for her survival. She also raised a question as to why was the victim out of her house after 10 pm. She further said that such situations are bound to happen when a girl wanders late at night with her boyfriend. However, when the statement was delivered most of the senior police officials remained mute spectators. This saga continued with Shukla asserting in defense of the police that it was not possible to give protection to every citizen at all times. Such blithering idiotic women are the ones who unknowingly accept patriarchal subjugation as part of their ‘subjectivity’ for two minutes of fame.


Many commentators shared with a cynical tone that this leaderless, spontaneous over reactive mass movement may become a part of fading memory and, after few years, many would find it hard to recollect what exactly happened! Yes, it is true that this might happen. But the positive aspect of this movement is that there is also a possibility that it can change people’s mind-set and make them think that gender equality is not only good for the development of prosperous and happy society, but is also good for the future of children. It is important that people should not underestimate women’s rights and gender equality.

This is the proper time for these rights to be institutionalised with the support of the law. Those who try to bypass women’s rights and gender equality with an excuse that they are not part of Humanism (see my last article ‘Feminism is Humanism.So Why the Debate?’) must remember that it is an inseparable wing of Mankind.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Bird In Search of A Nest

“This is not a revolt against religion, or a plea for any religion. This is only a wailing. This is only a cry.”
These are the last few lines from one of Kamala Das’ short stories “An Incomplete Love Story.” It is a sad love story about a love between a Muslim and Hindu, which was first published in Malayalam and then translated into English by the author herself.
Being short-listed for Nobel Prize in1984, Das possessed a significant position in the Indian literary scenario. Writing in English and Malayalam, Das authored many autobiographical works and novels, several well-received collections of poetry in English, numerous volumes of short stories, and essays on a broad spectrum of subjects. Since the publication of her first collection of poetry, Summer in Calcutta in 1965, Das has been considered an important voice of her generation who exemplified a break from the past by writing in a distinctly Indian persona rather than adopting the techniques of the English modernists.
In her life, Kamala Das was also put into controversy for her inclination for Islam and for the man behind this inclination, Sadiq Ali, who was an Islamic scholar and a Muslim politician who became an MP from Malabar. Needless to say, there was a strong love relationship between them despite a significant difference in age and a bar of religion in between them. Eventually, they decided to marry and for that, Kamala Das changed her religion and then became known as Kamala Suraiya. The wedding hall had been booked and plans had been made for a ceremony but strangely enough, Ali absconded before their wedding day.
Kamala Das had written “An Incomplete Love Story” before the failure of the scheduled marriage but ironically, her last love actually did become an incomplete one.
Here, we will discuss the pathos fate of female sexuality with respect to Kamala Das alias Kamala Suraiya’s life.  The poetess herself describes the myths and facts regarding female sexuality through this autobiographical observation in one of her poems:

“I was child, and later they
Told me I grew, for I became tall, my limbs
Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair.
When I asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the
Bedroom and closed the door, He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten.
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me.
I shrank Pitifully.
Then … I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit
On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows.
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.”

[‘Composition’ by Kamala Das]

An Introduction to Kamala Das

Poet K. Satchidanandan elaborated on Das’ views explaining that “the woman cannot change her body; so the poet changes her dress and tries to imitate men. But the voices of the tradition would force her back into sarees, the saree becoming here a sign of convention. She is pushed back into her expected gender roles: wife, cook, embroiderer, quarreler with servants: the gender role also becomes a class role.” (Satchidanandan, K., “Transcending the Body” Only the Soul Knows How to Sing by Kamala Das. Kottayam [DC Books, 1996])
Merrily Weisbord, a Canadian non-fiction writer wrote a book in 2010, The Love Queen of Malabar:  Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das (ISBN: 0773581413, 9780773581418, published by McGill-Queen's Press) based on her decade-long friendship with Das and in a chronological narration which travels through pain, desire, hope and despair, has documented a riveting decade in the life of the great Indian poetess. Weisbord first met Das through her poems and found the verses resonating with a kindred spirit. In a brave moment, she decided to pursue a further connection and visited Das in Kochi in1995. In return, Das visited Canada twice.  Weisbord visited Kochi six times between 1995 and 2005 with the idea of writing a book on her friend poetess. In the process, she got closer to the writer and the woman in Das like no one else.
Nominated for the 2010 Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize, this book is not only an intimate portrait of Kamala Das but also a truly original example of cross-cultural adventuring, typically with an Asian focus. In these memoirs, Weisbord pries open a hermetic Asian culture and exposes it to broad view with real understanding and style.
Who Was Kamala Das?

Daughter of the renowned Malaylam poet Balamani Amma, Kamala Das had writing in her genes and was further deeply influenced by her uncle Nalapat Narayan Menon, a prominent writer. Her formal education was limited to a short span of schooling – a European School in Calcutta. Married to a quite matured man (more than double her age) shortly before her 16th birthday, Das never enjoyed sex with her husband, though became mother of three children from that marriage.
According to Weisbord, her husband consummated the marriage with a penis longer than most and consequently, Das bled profusely and needed surgery. What Das experienced in her sexual life is not new for many women. At this juncture, we are reminded of Sylvia Plath, another woman writer who also underwent the same trauma as Das did. In one of my stories in Odia “Doora Pahadara Chhabi” (the story is yet to translated into English), I describe how the protagonist gets raped by her lover husband during their first night mating, causing bleeding of her vagina.
Most women are taught to suppress their libido and it is thought to be the conspiracy of patriarchy in order to maintain its hierarchy. Women are valued for their unique qualities and "rulers," either from the religious or socio-political spheres, tell us, in essence, what a woman should think and do. Once again, the question of women empowerment deteriorates into another form of what it is intended to eliminate. Direct about sex and uninhibited, a woman cannot approach a male if she so desires. She doesn't need the hierarchy to tell her when it is right. She doesn't play games, because the games are meant to limit her to begin with. Taboos and myths are shattered. The truths about sexuality are not important for a woman; they are only meant for men.
Das had a very vague idea about female sexuality in her teen days before her marriage. In my college days, like Kamala, I was not taught what ‘sex’ actually was. Madhav Das, the husband of Kamala, was actually a homosexual who brought boys to his bed but would also introduce her to his bosses to help him to get job promotions and encouraged her to share their beds with her; he would ask detailed questions later about her activities with them. When Kamala was 37, her ovary was removed for constant hemorrhage and she was under the treatment of estrogen hormones, which lead her to experience a heart attack at a young age.  (Weisbord, M, The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das, McGill-Queen's University Press | September 30, 2010 |)
She was not an academic nor could she be placed with enlightened writers if we measure her writings from a metaphysical point of view. What we can say is she was a trendsetter in her own style and her own conviction.  She was an original poet and writer known for the intensity of her emotionally charged diction. Even Linda Hess, a ruthless critic of Das, also concedes the poetess had “a genuine poetic talent” in her poems. (Linda Hess’ essay "Indian Poetry in English," Quest 49 April - June 1966, 37-38).
We cannot catagorise Das with her contemporaries. She is not a feminist if we apply feminist methodology to all her poetic works.  Rather, we can place her along with this articulation of feminine concerns.
Examples from Das’ Works Regarding Her Identity as a Woman

Kamala Das’s poems are a very strong expression of her femininity:

“I am every woman
who seeks love
I give a wrapping to their dreams
A woman voice
And a woman smell”

[‘Glass’ by Kamala Das]

Her poems “Jaisurya” and “The White Flowers” are expressions of her maternal instinct and celebration of filial love. The poem which best expresses her consciousness of identity as a woman is titled “Gino.”  As a patient lying in a bed, she is ‘dreaming of home’ and imagines herself performing all traditional feminine chores and roles:

“I shall be the fat-kneed hag in the long bus queue
The one from whose shopping bag the mean potatoes must roll across the road
I shall be the grandmother-willing away her belongings, those
Scraps and trinkets
More lasting than her bones.”

[Gino by Kamala Das]

The same tone can be encountered in her prose. She writes:

“First I will strip myself of the clothes and ornaments. Then I will peel off this light brown skin and shatter my bones. I hope at last you will be able to see my homeless, orphan, intensely beautiful soul, deep within the bone, deep down under, beneath even the marrow…will you be able to love me, will you be able to love me someday when I am stripped naked of this body…” (from “Ente Katha,” the Malayalam version of “My Story”)

Das on Religion

Kamala Das was seriously and creatively concerned with her own identity as woman. She met the definition of ‘confessional poet’ who pours out her agonized heart, tortured feelings, sufferings, and psyche in her prose and poems. When we read her writings, we encounter a common woman’s life.  Her entire life and writings were a quest for true love which she could neither get from her husband nor from any other lover. Her concept of love was all-inclusive where she wanted not only physical but also emotional and spiritual fulfillment as well.
For her, religion didn’t have any distinct meaning. To her, there were no differences between Krishna or Mohammad. She once told an interviewer she was going to take Krishna from the Guruvayur temple, rename him Mohammed, and make him a prophet. She relied more on Krishna than his lovers because she never found true love from any man. She only agreed to convert herself to the Muslim religion because Sadiq Ali, a much younger man, came into her life and assured her he would marry her if she joined Islam.  What attracted Das, however, was not really Islam but the love for which she longed her whole life.
After her conversion to Islam, Das wrote the following letter to her aforementioned friend Weisbord:

Dearest Merrily,
Life has changed for me since Nov. 14 when a young man named Sadiq Ali walked in to meet me. He is 38 and has a beautiful smile. Afterwards he began to woo me on the phone from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, reciting Urdu couplets and telling me of what he would do to me after our marriage. I took my nurse Mini and went to his place in my car. I stayed with him for three days. There was a sunlit river, some trees, and a lot of laughter. He asked me to become a Muslim which I did on my return home. The Press and other media rushed in. The Hindu fanatics, Shiv Sena, and the RSS pasted posters all over the place, “Madhavi Kutty is insane. Put her to death.” I refused the eight policemen sent to protect me. There are young men, all Muslims, now occupying the guest flat and keeping vigil twenty-four hours a day. I have received court orders restraining me from going out or addressing more than six people at a time. Among the Muslims, I have become a cult figure all dressed in black purdah and learning Arabic.
My Hindu relatives and friends keep a distance from me. They wish to turn me into a social outcast. My sister visited me twice but wept all the time. I cannot visit my old mother. Otherwise life is exciting…
Kamala Das (Suraiya)

But alas! Das couldn’t marry Ali. Here again, patriarchy was at work. Ali could sleep with a 67-year-old woman when he is 38 but could he marry such an old lady? Personally I can never differentiate anything between Madhav Das and Sadiq Ali. And I can realize the pathos of her poetess heart when she wrote:

“The only secrets I always
Are that I am so alone
And that I miss my grandmother.”

(“Only the Soul Knows How To Sing,” page 23)

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Woman Has No Religion

Perhaps a Baul saint Lalon Fakir (1774–1890) of Bangladesh declared first the notion in his song:
 “Shob loke koy lalon ki jaat shongshaare
Aar lalon bole jaater ki roop,
Dekhlaam-na ei nojore.
Sunnath dile
hoy mussalmaan
Naari jaatir ki hoy bidhaan?
Aami bamun chini poita proman
Bamni chini kishe re?”

(The English translation of that song is like this: “Everyone asks, ‘What religion has Lalon in this world?’ And Lalon says, ‘What the shape of religion is, I have not seen with my eyes’. The religion he speaks of encompasses and surpasses not only religious identity, but also notions of gender. ‘If circumcision makes you a Muslim, what then is the dictum for women? If a Brahmin can be identified by his sacred thread, how shall I know a Brahmin woman?’  asked Lalon.)
Any honest, thinking person cannot ignore the blatant misogyny and barbarity of any religion towards women. The powerful Creator Gods were the product of a patriarchal, tribal, violent, intolerant society. They reflect the ignorance and brutality of that society and at the dawn of a new millennium, fundamentalists insist that we should all abide by their religious law. Here are some examples how some of our prominent religions are misogynistic and sexist in their attitudes.

Women in Hinduism
All women are liars, corrupt, greedy, and unvirtuous. (Manu II 1)
·         It is the nature of women to seduce men in this (world); the wise are never unguarded in the company of males (Manu II. 213).
·         Killing of a woman, a Shudra, or an atheist is not sinful. Women are an embodiment of the worst desires, hatred, deceit, jealousy and bad character. Women should never be given freedom (Manu IX. 17 and V. 47, 147).
·         One should not sit in a lonely place with one's mother, sister, or daughter, for the senses are powerful and master even a learned man (Manu II. 215).
·         A Brahmin male, by virtue of his birth, becomes the first husband of all women in the universe (Manu III. 14).
·         Though destitute or virtuous, or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife (Manu V. 154).
·         At her pleasure, let her (i.e. widow) enunciate her body by living voluntarily on pure flowers, roots, and fruits, but let her not, when her lord is deceased, even pronounce the name of another man (Manu V. 157).
·         A woman must always maintain her virtue and surrender her body to her husband only, even if she is married off to an ugly person or even a leper (Manu IX. 14).
·         Women have no right to study the Vedas. That is why their Sanskars are performed without Veda Mantras. Women have no knowledge of religion because they have no right to know the Vedas. The uttering of Veda Mantras, they are as unclean as untruth is" (Manu IX. 18).
·         None of the acts of women can be taken as good and reasonable (Manu X.4).
·         A woman shall not perform the daily sacrifices prescribed by the Vedas. If she does it, she will go to hell (Manu XI. 36/37)

Women in Islam
·         Men are superior to women (Surah 2:228).
·         Women have half the rights of men: a) Half rights in court witness (Surah 2:282), b)Half rights in inheritance (Surah 4:11).
·         . Women are a possession (Surah 3:14).
·         Women are unclean (Surah 4:43).
·         Women to veil themselves always when they are outside their home (Surah 24:31).
·         Women are lacking in mind and religion (Al Bukhary Vol. 2:541).
·         They [women?] are a bad omen (Al Bukhary Vol. 7:30).
·         Women are harmful to men (Al Bukhary Vol. 7:33).
·         Men are free to polygamy (Surah 4:3).
·         Men are free to divorce his wife by oral announcement (Surah 2:229).
·         When a husband has pronounced divorce three times on his wife, she then may not lawfully remarry her husband until she has married and been divorced by another man (including having intimate relation with him) (Surah 2:230).
·         A wife is subject to punishment by her husband (Surah 4:34).

Women in Buddhism
·         Women are irritable, jealous, greedy and unintelligent, thus undeserving of any worthy undertaking (Anguttara Nikaya 4:80, in Nyanatiloka/Nyanaponika, 1984).
·         They snare of Mara, the Evil One (Anguttara Nikaya 6:55).
·         can never become fully enlightened (Anguttara Nikaya 1:15).
·         Women are compared with a chain of bones, a lump of flesh, a grass torch, a pit of glowing embers, a slaughterhouse, spears, swords and a poisonous snake (Anguttara Nikaya 5:76).
·         Women are the source of disorder; they are foolish, lowly and weak; their sole duty is to serve their husband (see Confucius' Analects 8:20, 17:25, 18:4).
Women were not allowed to become members in a ‘sangha’ during Buddha’s time. But it is the attempt of Ananad, a disciple, Buddha at last agreed to have female members in his ‘sangha’ with the following conditions:
·         A Bhikkuni (nun) even if she was in the Order for 100 years must respect a Bhikkhu (monk) even of a day's standing.
·         A Bhikkuni must reside within 6 hours of traveling distance from the monastery where Bhikkhus reside for advice.
·         On Observance days, a Bhikkhuni should consult the Bhikkhus.
·         A Bhikkhuni must spend rainy season retreats under the orders of both Bhikhus and Bhikkhunis.
·         A Bhikkhuni must live her life by both the orders.
·         A Bhikkhuni must on two years obtain the higher ordination (Upasampatha) by both Orders.
·         A Bhikkhuni cannot scold a Bhikkhu.
·         A Bhikkhuni cannot advise a Bhikkhu.

Women in the Bible
·         Eve created from Adam's rib. (Genesis 2:22).
·         Cain marries sister (Genesis 4:17).
·         Man marries two wives (Genesis 4:19).
·         Keeping many concubines is OK (Genesis 25:1-6).
·         Samson gives wife to another man (Judges 14:20).
·         Samson visits prostitute (Judges 16:1)
·         David took many wives and concubines (2 Samuel 5:13).
·         Ammon rapes his own sister (2 Samuel 13:14).
·         Absalom sleeps with his father's concubines (2 Samuel 16:21-22).
·         Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3).
·         Women are property of men (Exodus 20:17).
·         OK to sell daughters. Female slaves can be used for sex. Polygamy permitted. Unwanted female slaves can be set "free" without payment of money (Exodus 21:7-11).
·         Burn daughters (Leviticus 21:9).
·         Rape victim must marry rapist; rape victim's father compensated for depreciation of his property (Deuteronomy 22:28).
·         Woman's vow invalid unless approved by her father or husband (Numbers 30:1-16).
·         Do not waste strength on women (Proverbs  31:3).
·         Woman created for man (I Corinthians 11:2-10).
·         Women must be silent in churches (I Corinthians 14:34).

And lastly, my two cents:
Religion, I think, is always a patriarchal concept, though it's my personal assumption and I adhere to it.  But I am against this. I am looking, myself, at the point where Lalon Fakir once placed himself.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

At the Gray Borders of Female Sexual Mutilation and Porn
(Saturday 10th December, 11.30 am Harley Street, London)

The following headlines are very common regarding to news for Asian African females:
Bohra women go online to fight circumcision trauma
International NGO seeks to raise awareness on female genital Mutilation
Kenyan villagers battle police in defense of female circumcision
Villagers ignore the law and go on a girl circumcision frenzy
What Is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision is a religious tradition of female genital cutting among some sects of Muslims mostly from African countries and in some very rare cases, in Asian countries. The first attempts to forbid this practice were in the 1920s and later in the 1930s by Christian missionaries in Kenya. And till then, the fight against such sexual violence against females has been originated from time to time. The practice has been condemned due to serious long-term health hazards by medical practitioners. Because the urethral opening is covered, repeated urinary tract infections are common, and stones may form in the urethra and bladder because of obstruction and infection. If the opening is very small, menstrual flow may be blocked, leading to reproductive tract infections and lowered fertility or sterility. One early study estimated that 20 to 25 percent of cases of sterility in northern Sudan can be linked to such genital cutting.( Source: A.Z. Mustafa, "Female Circumcision and Infibulation in the Sudan," Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the British Commonwealth, 73:302-306, 1966.)
Feminists see this attempt of genital cutting as a misogynist violence and have launched protests from time to time against this inhuman practice. Different agencies of United Nations (UNICEF, UNFPA, and WHO) have issued a joint position paper and are increasing their efforts to eradicate FGM. WHO recently launched a 15-year strategy to accelerate these efforts.
Whilst this is a common scenario of so-called ‘undeveloped’ or ‘developing countries,’ it also exists in the so-called ‘developed’ countries.
On December 10, 2011, feminists in the United Kingdom gathered in Harley Street in London and staged a protest wearing fake "muffs" and demanding that pornography and cosmetic surgery industries "keep their mitts off our bits." They condemned the rise of female genital cosmetic surgery in Western countries. They named their protest “Muff March,” aimed at blaming the pornified culture promoted by global commercialism which drives women under the knife to get a "designer vagina."
But what is female genital cosmetic surgery anyway? It is actually cosmetic surgery to reconstruct the shape, size and design of the vagina by vaginoplasty (vaginal rejuvenation and tightening) and labia surgery by labiaplasty (labia reduction and beautification), hymenoplasty (reconstruction of the hymento return the ruptured hymen to a pre-sexual state).
Labiaplasty and vaginoplasty can be performed at the same time or in combination with other common plastic and cosmetic procedures such as rhinoplasty, breast enhancement or reduction, abdominoplasty, or liposculpturing. The supporters and promoters of this surgery claim it aims to recreate sexual excitement, restore self-esteem and rejuvenate the love lives of women. But does it?
The Differences Between FGM in the East and West
What is the difference between then these Eastern FMG and Western FMG?
According to WHO, female genital mutilation is classified into four major types:
Clitoridectomy - partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Excision - partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).
Infibulation - narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
Other - all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area. (Source:
The only difference between Eastern FGM and Western FGM is that the former one is done without any anesthesia and without any expert doctor and the latter one is done with all developed medical methods in a sanitary environment. But both have no health benefits, and they harm girls and women in many ways.
In one of my earlier articles, I condemn the Eastern practice of FGM (though as a result of immigration, FGM has spread to most Western countries) as it is another attempt to control female sexuality by male-dominated societies. But one wonders if Western FGM not becoming a tool for the global commercialism? In 2009, plastic surgeons, not gynecologists, in the US earned an estimated $6.8 million (£4.4 million) from vaginal rejuvenation and labiaplasty while in 2008, the National Health Service in the UK carried out 1,118 labiaplasty operations, compared with 669 in 2007 and 404 in 2006. (Source: The Observer, Sunday, 27 February 2011
The Role of the Media
Even the media are used by the commercial houses to subjugate women to make them pornified so that they could be utilised for income. Channel 4, one of UK’s popular TV broadcaster, in its programme “Embarrassing Bodies,” encourages the it female viewers to soothe insecurity about common bodily issues, refers a woman to a cosmetic surgeon to have her perfectly healthy labia sliced off.(link:
Commercial cosmetics business houses try to propagate that such cosmetic FGM is safe reporting 71 percent of women having the procedures report an ‘improved sex life’ and 23 percent report they could reach orgasm more easily after obtaining such operations. But these claims are possibly advertising/marketing-based and cannot always be substantiated. Thus BJOG, an international journal of obstetrics and gynecology has denied these claims in a report published in its 1st issue of Volume 117. Experts (L-M Liao, L. Michala, and S.M. Creighton) write:
“This review has identified almost 1,000 published cases of cosmetic labial surgery. Because the majority of such procedures are performed in the private sector, here audit and publication are not required, and because advertisement, especially via the Internet, is widespread, these figures are likely to represent the tip of the iceberg. No prospective studies were found. Follow-up was not carried out for most studies and, where available, it was of short duration with unspecified or suspect methodology. There was no attempt to compare preoperative morphological measurements with published criteria to assess the need for intervention. Surgery appeared to have been offered on demand, justified by verbal reports of physical and psychological difficulties.” ( Source :
The Issue of the Rights of Women Over Their Own Bodies
One can argue it might be a question related to the bodies of women and when the feminists are arguing for women’s right over their own body, does this argument become less persuasive when women willingly accept such a practice? Of course, the central theme for women’s bodies/women’s rights implies importance to the rights to autonomy and privacy in making sexual and reproductive decisions as well as the rights to informed consent and confidentiality in relation to health services, to maternal mortality, to lack of procedures for legal abortion, to inadequate allocation of resources for family planning, to coercive population programs, of spousal consent to sterilization, and to occupational discrimination of pregnant women. We should not think that women’s rights over own bodies don’t mean the right to pornify women’s bodies or subjecting a woman to the ideal touted by the global pornography industry.
Unlike radical and social feminists of the second wave, I never think the radical and social feminists’ idea that beauty and fashion subjugate over the power of women. I differ from Naomi Wolf and Ariel Levy when they criticized fashions as a part of the ‘Raunch Culture.’ I am always arguing for the sexual rights of women. I think prohibition on sensual expression of women is also a kind of subjugation and our second-wave feminists and the patriarchal society appear to share the same position in restricting woman for their own means and ends.
But in cases of FGM, we have to remember that the redesigning of the vagina is neither a fashion nor a part of sensual expression, but leads us to a possibility of health hazards. Even its role in sexual orgasm has not been yet established. Secondly, though sexuality has a vital role for a female, can female genital cosmetic surgery prove responsible for any sort of gain in sexual life? Orgasm is completely a psychological phenomena and unless a woman doesn’t immerse in acute attraction and feeling of submission for her partner, it is hard to achieve any satisfaction. In fact, a woman, whose uterus has been removed, can also enjoy a full orgasm. So, the shape and size of any sexual organ doesn’t possess any importance for female sexuality.
But the irrefutable fact of the matter is these cosmetic procedures can make you a ‘commodity’, rather specifically your sex organ as a ‘commodity,’ and this is where pornography comes in. Being a ‘model’ of an art piece and being a ‘porn star’ are not the same. I believe being subject to every sexually explicit topic is not ‘porno,’ but when it makes a woman or parts of her a ‘product’ it’s almost always associated with male-dominant consumerism.
So, let the bodies of women be left for women, not for corporate people or commercialism. Let the bodies of women be figures on their own rather than being figures on the profit & loss ledgers of business.