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Experience file Dossier : Gender and Conflict Transformation

October 2004

Signs of change in patriarchal ideas about men and women’s status and role in Indian society

Women as victims, survivors and custodians of identity.

Keywords: Social sciences and peace | Internet and peace | | To analyse conflicts from a social point of view | | | | | | | | India

Conflict description:

I would like to draw the attention to the following ground realities taking place in India among lay women. These are certainly not cases that can or should draw sweeping generalizations about the status and position of women in my country. But they do go to prove that change is possible to an extent that the woman on the streets would not have imagined possible, even ten years ago. That change is now a part of our everyday lives. These are not cases in isolation either. They do not in any way do away with deep-seated attitudes among men and patriarchal women about the status and position of women in Indian society. But they do constitute a situation where men begin to feel endangered and threatened by the collective strength of women rather than being taken by surprise.

Roles of men and women:

Let me start with an example. Hours after they were remanded to judicial custody for a day, five women, allegedly involved in lynching to death a notorious gangster Akku Yadav on August 13, 2004, were released on bail. A team of defence lawyers argued before district judge G S Kasawa that the five accused women be released on bail since the investigating agencies have found no evidence against them.

District pleader Prasant Sathianathan and investigating officer of the state CID were summoned by the court, which gave no objection to their release. Accordingly, the court ordered their release on furnishing of Rs 5,000 each as personal bond. Earlier, Judicial Magistrate First Class R N Mehre had fixed the order for tomorrow while ordering a day’s judicial remand for the five women - Anjane Bai, Leela, Bhagiradi Bai, Savita and Pinki. The prosecution had insisted on their magisterial custody while the defence urged the court to release them on bail. Yadav was stabbed and hit with stones by a mob led by chilli-powder wielding women in a courtroom in the Nyay Mandir premises on August 13. The women feared that he would be released by the court and return to Kasturba Nagar, where he had unleashed a reign of terror for over a decade. Another record was established when around 100 practicing lawyers, mostly women, rose in defense of the arrested women and announced their willingness to defend them without any fee.

Another example comes from West Bengal where nearly 200 young women of Dakhalkali-Barijpur village in Gajol Taluka of Malda District have created history that might embarrass Germaine Greer and company. They forced Purna Sarkar (40), a police constable, to marry his own mother-in-law Kajon Das (45), as ‘punishment’ for the illicit affair they were involved in. This is unprecedented in the history of the women’s movement in India.

Changes in identities:

“Bol” which translates as “speak” is an audiovisual agenda that seeks to break the conspiracy of silence sustained and promoted by victims of domestic violence across the length and breadth of this country. It is a television campaign against domestic violence consisting of a series of eight, one-minute films on domestic violence, directed by Shabnam Virmani from the Dhristi Media Collective. The ICRW (International Centre for Research on Women) has been researching domestic violence in the country for the past five years, with support from USAID. The research points out to the widespread existence of domestic violence on all classes on the one hand and the complete denial of the issue in certain classes on the other. Based on the data generated by the ICRW in partnership with other research organisations, Drishti was commissioned to make BOL (SPEAK).

The Dhristi Collective is a group of media professionals based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, working on issues of gender justice, human rights and development. Drishti was founded as a Trust in 1993, with a firm faith in the ability of video, theatre; radio other media and the arts to contribute to struggles for a just, humane and peaceful society. Dhristi’s work seeks to document alternative histories, give expression to voices in the margins, create public awareness and build public opinion, mobilize people into action, lobby with structures of authority, etc.

Impact on rights:

At an individual level however, the woman must be made aware of her rights. Where the woman is educated, like we all are, it is easier to recognize and assert these rights at home and at work as also in the larger framework of society. But it is really impossible for my unlettered and untrained domestic maid who is left to fend for her four children – three daughters and a son, ages between eight and one, after the death of her wife-battering husband of liver cirrhosis for alcoholism. She is too busy trying to feed her four children from the leftovers she gets from her four employers to learn anything about her ‘rights.’ The State unfortunately, offers no infrastructural support to help her in these indigent circumstances. Poverty after all, is the greatest of all conflicts and the biggest and most insoluble of wars to be fought on an on-going basis. Can women alone fight this killing war? Wouldn’t they need people, including men, other women, institutions, banks and the State to lend a helping hand? What kind of children will they be able to bring up in India, which has the world’s largest population of child labour? Will the next generation then be filled with more and more such impoverished, under-nourished, unlettered and unskilled adults who would perpetuate this disease called poverty till it eolves into an epidemic?

Impact on relationship:

These kinds of isolated conflict situations can and will influence the man-woman relationship to place it on a more egalitarian plane since men will realize that women are not as weak as they are thought to be and are brainwashed to think that they are weak. Women on the other hand, will begin to cope with such changes in men because it would better their relationship with men. The problem begins because the emotional, social, economic and political progress made by women across the world has been very rapid even if not prolific, when compared with the progress of men along the same lines. Men find it difficult to cope with the women they cannot recognize as duplications of their mothers and their grandmothers.


In the essay the author shows that roles of women have changed consistently the last decade. While this was unimaginable 10 years ago, now women took the power in their hands. The author also discusses the impact of the changing power relationships between men and women on their relationship, and how men have difficulty coping with the progress women make.


  • The author of the file is : Shoma A. Chatterji.