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Pink Panties and The Indian Women’s Sexual Liberation

November 9, 2010

© Simon. All Rights Reserved.

by Rita Banerji

in Intersections (The Journal for Gender and Sexuality for Asia and the Pacific, Issue 23).

Whatever message “Sex and the City” has sent out to women all over the world, the real aim of the women’s sexual liberation movement, was really not about shopping, high-brow fashion and sex-with-whoever-crosses-your-path.

The women’s sexual liberation movement in the west was about affirming a woman’s absolute right over her own body, and her freedom to exercise this right in whatever manner she chose – as in matters of sex, sexuality, and reproduction.

It was about women telling their husbands, families, society, and religion, that the woman’s body was not a piece of public property for them to own and control through laws, customs and commands.

After all if a woman does not have the freedom of her own body, her own self, what freedom can an enslaved body aspire to in a larger society?

In fact up until recently, India did not experience a women’s sexual revolution.  This is one of the core issues underlying the female genocide in India, that women’s groups in India have either failed or refused to address.  It is the intention of this article to address that here.

The cultural boundaries imposed on the sexual freedom and sexual expressions of women, have been an effective means of the subjugation of women in societies all over the world…

In non-western countries like India however, even as a minute section of the liberal elite tries to experiment with the idea of sexual freedom, the sexual boundary walls for women remain dauntingly tall and unchallenged, and are periodically reinforced through the public castigation of violators. In 2005 when the south Indian film actress, Khushboo, made a statement about the ludicrousness of expecting women in today’s world to remain virgins till they are married, she was pelted with slippers and eggs, slapped with a dozen court cases and forced to tender a public apology.[1] When Hollywood actor Richard Gere placed a friendly peck on Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty’s cheek, the masses went berserk, and the subject was hotly debated in the media as though the nation could not have found a more pressing issue at that time. When Mira Nair’s film, Fire, explored the lesbian liaisons of two unhappily married women, the mobs ransacked movie halls and caused such extensive destruction of public property that the film had to be withdrawn from many theatres. And in an incident in 2008 when two teenage girls visited the homes of some boys to celebrate the Diwali festival with sweets and fire crackers, their community lynched them and burnt them to death.[2] It is interesting to note that in each of the above cases, the issue is with women or girls violating socially-defined sexual boundaries, and the same would not be the case if the gender roles were reversed…

As grisly as the woman’s position is in Indian society, the worst outcome of this is the extent to which Indian women have internalised their socially malformed role, such that it has caused in them collectively, a certain feminine disconnection—a virulent form of self-hatred. Women in India learn from a young age to hate their own bodies and disassociate from them. The sexual curiosities of young girls are regularly squashed as ‘dirty,’ such that most of them even as grown, married women are ignorant of the actual terms for their sexual anatomies—the vulva, vagina, and clitoris for instance, and refer to them obliquely using terms like ‘down there’. Surveys also show that a large percentage of women, even after childbirth, do not know that their urinary and reproductive openings are not one and the same. Many have never experienced an orgasm and can not even conceptualise it.[10] It is this disconnectedness from themselves that shows up in the often sad and sometime vile response that women have to women in India. Mothers often refuse to accept into their arms or breast feed new born infant girls. In parts of India it is the paternal grandmothers who take on the role of killing the new born grandchild if it turns out to be girl.[11] In dowry-related cases, it is usually the newly wed bride’s mother- in-law and sisters- in-law that torture and torment her psychologically and physically, and are often guilty of the murder of the young woman. Read the whole article here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rita Banerji is an author and founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign. The research for her book Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies (Penguin 2009), provided the impetus for the founding of this campaign.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Regina Nash permalink
    November 11, 2010 3:23 pm

    Namaste to all my Sisters in India

    I am very delighted with the fighting spirit and the courage that Indian women are showing.
    India originally is a matriarchal society, women gotra controls the country in ancient times.
    Women liberation does not means sexual promiscousity. Sexuality is normal like any needs such as eating, eating and realising dharma. We have rights over our body as well as responsibility to look after it poperly and not abuse it. I am raised from the East and West but I keep the balance, I try to channelize my sexual energy towards spiritual energy by doing service and meditation to the less fortunate women and children. Women are goddesses and we are actually very powerful beings if we keep channelise our feminine energy in self realization by doing service, sadhana and sacrifice for our sisters. Sisterhood is very powerful. The force that guides the stars guides us too.

    Regina (Raginii)

    • emery permalink
      February 3, 2012 1:30 am

      Buddha spoke of the middle way. what your saying sounds similar to that but I would add that both purity and playfulness have there places. if you try to destroy ether one it will cause a disaster. that is exactly what is happening here. they want everything to be pure. and that’s why the dowry system exists. which has caused 50 million women to be eliminated. so what needs to happen is that people need to start demanding less purity. no matter how politically incorrect it might be.

  2. December 6, 2010 9:16 am

    I totally agree that the women’ s movement in the sub continent has to address the issues of sexuality and try to change the socially defined sexual mores/roles. We have to define our own sexuality and support all those women who are pushing the boundaries. It is time to assert ourselves, our sexuality, our freedom!

  3. emery permalink
    January 6, 2012 11:13 pm

    why are Indians acting like the Taliban? the truth is Hinduism.was not nearly as restrictive before the Muslim takeover and it only got worse under British rule. maybe at least part of the solution is to get rid of all the outside influences. especially those adopted from sharia. some of the carvings on the walls of Hindu temples from before Islam’s bloody arrival in India are hardly pure. at least one sacred text tells a story of a god helping a woman escape an arranged marriage.there are even idols which clearly depict gods and goddesses making love. but these facts are being hidden by the current leadership both religious and secular. we all know that an politician who even in an underhanded way suggested that he or worse she supported less purity could not be elected dogcatcher. (yes many towns in the USA elect dogcatchers) clearly this change has to happen from the bottom up.

  4. July 1, 2013 6:29 pm

    It really puzzles me how this state of things can continue in the so called biggest democracy of the world. I thought there were general rules for the Indian Union. Why the sharia has been applied , are the muslims the majority??? And even in that case, sharia is against the declaration of Human Rights, internationally signed by the majority of countries of the world. It really depends on the government and mainly on women (specially those who got the chance of receiving education) to change things. Muslims will not change they are regressing in time. They were more tolerant than the christian during middle age. They had libraries, translated books to latin, they were leading culture and even science at least during some time. What happened to them ? I don’t know, but i am not affraid to say they regressed and became close to fascists, they should be clearly corrected when they are in Europe. They have to abide to our european rules. I defend no tolerance to sharia in Europe, they can go back to their countries. I AM NOT AFFRAID of them, but I am lucky enough to live in Portugal. Anyway, in India, i have the impression that the dowry system is even worse then the muslim countries. So I don´t know what is happening there, but i don´t believe that only the muslims are gang raping. Something very rotten is going on in India. And it is the indian women that have to force the change. We can´’t expect that the male will change a system that protects them and allows them to do whatever they like. In Europe it was the women’s movements that changed the patriarchic society!!! They had to fight, some were in prison, some died in the fights, although peaceful demonstrations.

    • July 6, 2013 7:49 pm

      You are right, there’s something “very rotten” going on in India. And it has nothing to do with religion actually. These forms of violence are occurring in all communities in India. But yes, the women’s movement in India does need to be more strong and vocal about these abuses as human rights abuses.

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