Gender Training with participants from BMMA core group on 7th May 2011
Trainer: Irfan Engineer, Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution.
The training on 7th May 2011 was continuation of earlier subject on experiences of power by women and sources of power. In the last training, the participants had discussed various sources of power, viz. Law, position of authority, coercive instruments like arms, traditions, status, location, culture, knowledge, information, social network etc.
In this session, the participants were to recall their experiences with power and their experiences with power were to be discussed threadbare by other participants. Its important to throw light on their narratives to understand how they create a space for themselves in their families, communities and state. And in their struggle what are their sources of power.This adds to the discourse on the lives of Muslim women in India and their attempts to fight the ooppression from within their community, society and state on a whole.
(I am not naming any participants here as I am not sure whether they would like their personal stories to be put in public domain)
M briefly described how she suddenly got power to thrash a thief in a local train who had robbed her husband from the terminal dues he had received from his former employer. They were hungry for a few days as her husband had lost his job and she was forced to stay with her parents. After her husband got his terminal dues, he purchased some ration and with balance money he came to bring M back to stay with them. While returning by a local train, her husband suddenly announced that his pocket was picked. The train was so crowded that the robber could not keep the robbed currency in his pocket. M saw currency in the robbers hand and identified him to be the thief. Handing her child in the arms of a fellow traveler, she was so angry that she started thrashing the thief while other passengers, including her husband, were laid back. She kept on thrashing for over 25-30 minutes till she had to disembark from the train at her station. Thief was member of a Gang whose leader was named Budhu and the other members of the gang were also on the train. The other members told M that they were from Budhu’s gang. For a moment M got scared as Budhu was from her own area. However she declared that she was like a sister for Budhu and how did they dare rob her husband and so declaring she continued thrashing.
The other participants analyzed the incident and saw sources of power that M suddenly got in the incident. The sources of power were identified as:
1) M’s anger which was because she had to suffer pangs of hunger
2) M’s insecurity as to what would happen if they were again penniless
3) M used her power and may have crossed the line of reasonableness as thrashing continued for a longtime
4) M’s cleverness was also a source of her power when suddenly and thoughtfully she declared that Budhu considered her as his sister
K narrated two incidents in her life. In the first incident, a drunken goonda grabbed three hen from her flock and slaughtered them with his sword. K came out and started shouting at the anti-social element and demanding compensation. Others in the neighbourhood, including her husband, were counseling K to shut up but she didn’t. She threatened the drunken goonda and warned him of the consequences. The goonda went home and sent the requisite amount. Everybody in the neighbourhood congratulated K.
The second incident that K narrated was in her earlier slum neighbourhood where an anti-social element teased her. That element had outraged modesty of other women as well. K once again challenged the anti-social element and threatened him. Others in the neighbourhood like in the first incident warned her of consequences but she did not budge. Once again the anti-social element retreated to his house, called for K offered her sweets and declared that from that day she was like his sister. K felt victorious
Analysis by the Participants:
1) Sense of injustice gave her the necessary strength
2) Tradition (respect for women) was on her side and that empowered her at that moment
3) Naivety on K’s part (innocent of consequences) gave her the power. Thought of consequences and fear of coercive power of the ant-social elements weakened the power within the individuals. Fearlessness can give power to take greater risks. Willing to take greater risks can similarly empower.
4) Notion of truth and speaking up against injustices which were suffered by all also empowered K
Through her hard work and running community kitchen for migrant workers, N slowly got upper storey’s constructed on her hut. As soon as the loan was paid, her in-laws demanded that they were the real owners of the entire structure and that she should leave the premises. Her husband was also on the side of her in-laws. Husband has not contributed a penny for the day-to-day expenses of the family. N challenged her in-laws to dare and get her ousted. There were threats but she issued counter threats and warnings. The in-laws backed out. N has filed case for maintenance and also a case under Domestic Violence act praying not to be dispossessed of her house. Her husband gets expensive preparations from hotels and eats in the house but does not offer it to even their children. N has stood her ground.
Analysis by the participants:
1) N is willing to take greater risks and stand her ground
2) The women’s organization (BMMA) support – social network and social capital was N’s power
3) Knowledge of law was her power and access to lawyers was her power
4) Some legislation that supported women were N’s power. Tradition empowered the in-laws but that power was weaker in this case
G was hard working NGO activist working even during weekly offs to accomplish her tasks and targets. Other NGO workers were jealous and thought they also will be forced to work as hard. They made false representations to her boss. Her boss appointed an additional supervisor over her. The supervisor also realized that in order to accomplish targets, there was no other way than working even on weekly offs.
There wasn’t much discussion on the story as it did not pertain much to power equations and sources of power. It was just pointed out that she skillfully persuaded her supervisor the need to work on weekly offs.
L is married to a person who had three sisters and seven brothers. L herself had eight brothers and sisters. Food was rationed to them in their childhood as it had to be distributed among all the siblings. All the brothers and sisters of L decided not to have more than three children so that they could educate their children and give them nutritious food. After bearing three children, L got herself operated. L’s mother-in-law took strong objection as it was against their tradition. She called upon her son to divorce her instantly. L’s husband however stood by her and said that he was also party to the decision of family planning (though actually the decision was L’s unilateral decision). That saved her marriage. Following L’s example, her sisters-in-law also got themselves operated for family planning. Then she decided to admit her daughters in English school. This again was against the desires of L’s in-laws as girls were never sent for schooling, at the most they were sent to Madrasas. Once again there was threat of divorce. Husband almost gave in and asked L not to send their children to school. L consulted her father who was a social worker, and he advised L that education was good. L herself was convinced that education was good and that her children should not suffer as she had. A Maulana was consulted on divorce and the Maulana adviced there was nothing wrong in educating the girls in English school. She worked hard to earn her children’s fees. Her daughter was divorced and because of her English education she has a job today and she is earning Rs. 12,000/- per month. Her other daughter is earning Rs. 7,000/- per month. Today her in-laws respect her and consult her for everything they do.
Discussion by participants:
1) L’s suffering became her strength and her power
2) Vision of future and wisdom gave her strength and power.
3) L’s independence and power came from her independent earnings
4) L’s husband’s support when she got herself operated became her power in the first case but the same was not available in the case of her decision to educate her children
5) Traditions and the religious beliefs of the community empowered the in-laws but that proved weaker compared to the faith of L in the advantages of education and family planning.
As stories of about use of power successfully were repeating, the resource person called upon to share stories wherein power operated against the interests of the participants and they became victims of hegemonic power. M promptly shared how she was victimized by her daughter-in-law. Her daughter-in-law asked her to leave their house. Her son also sided with her daughter-in-law. She was not given food to eat and she would be given food by her neighbours. She would leave her house early in the morning and returned only in the night. Other elderly women shared the same sentiments and said that times had changed and the daughter-in-law often became oppressive. K said her daughters-in-law had all the freedom and they were living in harmony. As it was not possible to verify the story of M, without talking to M’s son and daughter-in-law, the discussion was generalized. One opinion was that in either case, women were enemies of themselves and their own oppression. The other perspective was that in patriarchal set up, women were oppressed through the agency of other women and patriarchal authority exercised through men was invisiblized. Women competed with each other within the limited space that they had within the families. The family structures were based on patriarchal hierarchies and authorities that begin from state and laws of the state and the authorities exercised by various state institutions, including the police. The more powerful sections are able to invoke the authority of state on their side. The traditions are undergoing certain transformations and therefore at times it privileges mothers-in-law and at times daughters-in-law. Whomever they may privilege, someone or other oppressed and that is not desirable. It was also agreed that we are not able to experience the pain of others and very few realize their mistakes and fewer admit. If men also shared the responsibilities at home in caring and sharing, the contest would not be between women alone.
What is desirable is not a hierarchical family or structured societies with division of labour and responsibilities. What we want is more liberal families based on justice, respect to the dignity of all human beings, equality and inclusion of all in decision making and love.
The participants then classified various attributes to one of the two types of society/family – 1) based on principle of justice, dignity, equality and love; and 2) tradition empowered hierarchical societies. The classification was as under:
|Hierarchical tradition based patriarchal societies||Societies based on principles of justice, dignity, love and equality|
|Rigid traditions that are essentially patriarchal, privileging men||No rigid traditions, love and justice central to all traditions followed|
|Decision making concentrated according to traditions and exclusion of women||Inclusive decision making|
|Laws based on patriarchal customs and traditions||Laws based on justice and equality|
|Patriarchal interpretations of religion||Value based religion|
|Religion being enforced through institutionalized religion and priesthood||No role of priesthood, religion more in liberal mode no intercession between god and believer|
|Feudal values based on traditions respecting hierarchies and authorities||Values are based on equality, inclusion, dignity of all and justice|
All the participants expressed their feeling the men also should be included in these discussions as they needed to be educated. K said that since her husband once attended such a session and there was a great transformation in him and he started empathizing. It was decided that the next session would be on role of violence and coercive power in structuring the families and societies and analysis of Domestic Violence Act.