• Antara Basu


"There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard"

- Arundhati Roy

From Emma Watson, Oprah Winfrey to Audre Lorde, and even Malala Yousafzai, the archetypal feminist icons of the west, we as Indian feminists often forget or overlook our own feminist idols. This women’s day as we walk forward towards a gender-equal world, it is imperative that we take a few steps back to survive our future through the efforts of our past.

January 3, 1831, gave to India, Savitribai Phule, regarded as India’s first female teacher. The glorious 1800’s expected women to hide behind the veils of domestic duties and marital responsibilities. In the backdrop of this period which considered the idea of educating girls to be outraging, Savitribai Phule alongside her husband, Jyotirao Phule who educated her, established the first school for girls in Bhide Wada, Pune. She is also credited with the creation of Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha to ensure the security of women in forced pregnancies, children of rape victims. These reformers founded the Satyashodhak Samaj as well, that arranged for dowry free marriages. Today as we sit and enjoy the pleasures of the literary world, we don’t realize that this privilege accompanies us because a woman, who advocated the cause of women’s education, had the courage to continue teaching girls and establishing countless schools despite being subject to the protestations and obscenities of the society.

October 12, 1864, saw the birth of a remarkable woman into a reputable aristocrat family in Bakergunj district within the Bengal presidency of British Raj, Kamini Roy - the first Indian woman to graduate with honors in pre-independent British India. Roy revered as a poetess, suffragette, and female activist defied all societal norms to continue the pursuance of her studies. After graduating from Bethune college, Calcutta she also started teaching there and subsequently published her first book of poetry entitled Alo O’ Chhaya in 1889. A significant influence on the life of Kamini Roy both during her education and college years as well as later while she was advocating for women’s suffrage is recognized as a social worker Abala Bose. In 1921, she was a pivotal leader along with a few other instrumental women – Kumudini Mitra, Mrinalini Sen, of the Bangiya Nari Samaj. A body they founded for women’s suffragette in Bengal and it was only in 1926 that women were granted the right to vote through the efforts of various such organizations. So, the next time we’re standing in lines waiting to cast our ballots, we might just remember that we owe the pride of seeing our inked stained fingers to these women.

February 5, 2012, the Park Street rape case of Kolkata, through the horrifying nightmare, accorded to Indian feminism another brave, bold woman speaking up against the infamous rape culture Suzette Jordan. The pervasive setting of society which normalizes the brutality of rape and violence by questioning and blaming the victim is a system that still prevails. This case is a brilliant testimony to the notion of victim shaming. The chief minister declared the incident as a mere public incident designed as a ploy against the government, a scheme to defame the government, a case of prostitution gone wrong, and a million other excuses made by the esteemed government officials and ministers. A common pattern amongst all of them was blaming the victim. Initially though as per law, her identity hadn’t been disclosed, it was only after 2013 when another woman died as a victim of rape that Suzette revealed her identity. To fight for justice, to speak up, and help other women victims speak up Suzette became a women’s rights activist and briefly worked s a counselor for a helpline for victims of sexual and domestic violence. And as we witness multiple rape cases daily, it is for us to draw inspiration from women like Jordan, to stop keeping quiet and speak up.

It is bizarre that even today many people still don’t seem to accept the equal status between men and women. The need of eradicating this belief of superiority of one gender over the other hasn’t been given the required attention after all these years. We still haven’t been able to achieve bodily autonomy for women or end the gender pay gap among a multitude of issues. Though the feminist movement has been misinterpreted by many as anti-men and has been portrayed as misandry, demeaning its purpose for equality.

People need to acknowledge the lack of equality and work together to eliminate inequality. It is important that we integrate our understanding of gender equality with human rights, not just in legal instruments but mentally, and make actual efforts to transform the ideal into reality because gender equality is something which seeps into all aspects of human life and it is something that we all need and deserve. But these efforts of these brilliant women have birthed a generation of today, a generation that espouses equality, that thrives on the ideal of equity, which is fighting for the utopia of a gender-equal world for we are #GenerationEquality

Internation Women's Day, 2020.