Rage against the machineWhen the earthquake struck five months ago, it felt as though it had shaken the nation’s core for the better. The media, for the first time in ages, seemed to have been forced toinform people about things apart from what leaders said or did on a particular day.
When the earthquake struck five months ago, it felt as though it had shaken the nation’s core for the better. The media, for the first time in ages, seemed to have been forced toinform people about things apart from what leaders said or did on a particular day. Geology hoggedlimelight and so did the dull, lifeless and life-threatening buildings of Kathmandu. Scientific analysis was in demand while political punditry could wait. In so many ways, that invisible sky seemed to have finally fallen upon us. And sense seemed to have prevailed. That the nation could not keep waiting forever for the political parties to sort out their differences before they focus on other inherent problems with being a Nepali—unemployment, depression, suicide, migration, and now, disasters—and the institutional decay from the centre to the periphery perpetuating it.The shift in national discourse was too good to be true. Then there was the constitution.Initially, the provisions in the draft constitution which relegated women to second-class citizens angered me. After the constitution made sure that we cannot validate neither our identity nor our child’s without anchoring it to a man, the anger gradually morphed into disillusionment. It has now peaked at ‘What’s new in that?’ If anything, the statute could not get any more grounded than this. It is now a mirror image of the society we live in.The ‘linga’ is god and we must continue to prostrate before it. We must endlessly pray to it so that it rescues us from our wretched existence as women, then pray some more so that it lives long. Luckily for us, this is precisely what our women folk, both in the hills and the plains are good at, fasting and praying relentlessly to the sun and the moon for the good of the man and thechildren born of his sperm. In fact, two days before the constitution was promulgated on September 20, Hindu naris were busy admitting their lowly existence by cleansing themselves of their ‘menstrual’ sin.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that our menfolk in politics who always seem to know what is best for us have ‘noted’ our devotion to them and given us a place at their feet. Rest assured,ourchildren shall get rights when we declare the men we have beensleeping with. Apparently, the state must know. Meanwhile, our menfolk, god incarnates as they are, shall sow their oats where they want. And
no one can question him about the personal affairs. The man exists
independent of a woman while the woman is culturally and now legally bound to him.
Occasionally, women seem disturbed by the unfair state of affairs. Patriarchal logic soon kicks in and what we have is a Bidya Bhandari—a woman who was once felicitated for presenting the resolution motion in Parliament to ensure the ‘or’ provision in citizenship rights and amend all discriminatory laws against women. Later, she took complete U-turn and went on to argue that providing citizenship through mother’s name goes against ‘national interest’. Perhaps, it does not occur to her that not all women want to be known by their husband’s identity even if he were a Madan Bhandari.
Meera Dhungana, the famed feminist lawyer, perceives this situation differently. In an interview with the Post a few months back, she argued that this back and forth on women’s rights in Nepal is because women are easily assured. They join the protests thinking that their demands will be addressed. And when the iron is hot, the men feign a change of heart and embrace gender equality. But no sooner, the women go back to their houses, assured, the men reveal their true selves and reintroduce discriminatory provisions.
However, for this logic to hold there has to be a women’s movement to begin with. While Nepal has had its share of revolutions and movements, none of them have been exclusively for women’s rights. The 40-point demand of the Maoists submitted to the government before they began the Maoist War and did include one point on women. The Madhesi leaders, in their demands submitted to the state after the Madhes Movement also mentions the issue of inclusion of women. But the extent to which the movements worked to ensure the rights of the womenare open to debate. Before the promulgation of the constitution, women did come up with creative ways to protest by forming a human chain and sleeping on the streets. Clearly they failed to work.The truth is the average Nepali woman is yet to be angry. Centuries of indoctrination in the art ofsacrificing one’s life for a man, his children and his parents seem to have effectively doused the flames of rage in most of us. Or else, in a nation where there are 100 women for every 86 men, women should have spontaneously flooded the streets immediately after the release of the draft constitution. And not just in Kathmandu but also in Pokhara, Nepalgunj, Birjung, Khandbari, Biratnagar and Janakpur. But most were too busy cooking, cleaning,getting abused for dowry andcompromising throughout to even know about it.
The discourse on women rights shaped by the non-governmentalsector is largely to blame for it. Its remedy for the entrenched patriarchal norms in society is superficial and cosmetic at best. The problematic aspects of male-female relationship in a patriarchal society are only discussed in the confines of resorts and conference rooms of hotels, far removed from reality. No wonder, the discussions on domestic violence end with suggestions to establish more safe houses and one stop crisis management centres and not questioning the authority of men. Women, of course, need rights but they also need to keep the peace in the family seems to be the underlying message.
Such reasoning must be abandoned for the rage to kick in. And what do we have to lose but our patriarchal chains in this fight? In any case, as Simone De Beauvoir once wrote, “Woman is doomed to immorality, because for her to be moral would mean she must incarnate a being of superhuman qualities: the ‘virtuous woman’ of Proverbs, the ‘perfect mother, the ‘honest woman’, and so on. Let her but think,dream, sleep, desire, breathe without permission and she betrays the masculine ideal.”