Thursday, February 2, 2023
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Talk Point: Steel secretary’s remarks shed light on a collective misogyny we all need to question

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Senior bureaucrat Aruna Sharma has lashed out at what she calls the “narrow approach in the name of women’s rights”. She believes this has led to a rampant misuse of law by women, asserting that such “activism” is resulting in men losing faith in the judiciary and the institution of marriage.

Is the call to revisit some of our gender laws and their implementation valid or exaggerated?

While acknowledging the potential harm that men face due to women-friendly laws, such a statement by a senior bureaucrat is particularly irresponsible. It seems ignorant of the historical and social context surrounding women in India. The severely skewed gender-based power dynamic that confronts a woman in her everyday life spills over into the legal system. This is exacerbated by the male dominated judicial system and legislature. Laws in general are vulnerable to misuse and exploitation by people in all spheres, and the fact that this much noise only seems to be generated when we talk about women misusing legislation put in place to protect them, further proves that there exists a palpable hesitation and resistance when it comes to empowering women.

Sharma’s statement, and our instinctual response to subvert women’s voices and dilute legitimacy, sheds light on a collective internalised misogyny we all need to question.

Here are other sharp perspectives on Aruna Sharma’s comment on women misusing laws:
Shailaja Chandra: former secretary to the government of India, former chief secretary, Delhi
Amit Lakhani: President of the Men Welfare Trust
Chitleen K. Sethi:  Associate Editor with ThePrint
Nirupama Rao: former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador

Furthermore, the modern legend of a ‘crafty woman’ assumes a degree of empowerment that evades majority of Indian women. Statistically, most women don’t report violent crimes, especially when involving a family member. And even when they do, they stand up against excessive institutional barriers, which often subject them to further harassment and psychological violence. A comparison between the number of unreported cases and false allegations will tell you that perhaps the focus should be on helping women speak out, rather than questioning them every single time they do.

Asking for an improvement in the investigation of claims is a different request from the ones Sharma is making, as it holds the justice system accountable to its citizens rather than purely the other way around. Agreeably, the process can be fine-tuned, but to suggest undoing decades of feminist struggle that went into achieving legal recourse is unacceptable and deeply disappointing, especially when it comes from a woman in position of power.

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