Sunday 5 February 2012

On Women’s Emancipation

On Women’s Emancipation
By : Justice Markandey Katju, Judge, Supreme Court of India

The Indian Constitution no doubt provides for equality of men and women in Articles 14, 15 and 16.  But what do we see in actual practice?  In practice there is often denial of equality for women in large parts of the country, particularly in rural areas, which is due to the disgusting survival of remnants of feudalism and medievalism in our society.

Feudal, agricultural society was based predominantly on physical labour, and since men are usually physically stronger than women, men were dominant over women in feudal society, and women were largely confined to household work, which is work of drudgery giving little scope for development of the mind.  Small scale and middle peasant farming shackled women, tied them to their individual households, and narrowed their outlook. They were practically slaves of their husbands, who often beat them cruelly. On marriage their property often passed to their husbands, as we note in Emile Bronte’s novel `Wuthering Heights’. The lives of women in feudal society were full of continual, unending labour, a kind of labour that was looked down upon and bore the imprint of bondage. She had to do cooking, washing clothes, cleaning the home and other household chores, apart from bearing and rearing children. She was deprived of education and cultural development. Petty household work crushed, strangled, stultified and degraded her, chained her to the kitchen and nursery, and she wasted her labour on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-racking and stultifying work of crushing drudgery. The oppression of women in feudal society was clearly expressed in the novels and stories of the great Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya (see `Shrikant’, `Brahman ki beti’, `Gramin Samaj’, etc.).

On the other hand, in industrial society brains are more important than physical labour, and much of the physical work is done by machines, which can often be operated by the touch of a button. Wars in modern times are not fought with swords and spears, which require physical strength, but with sophisticated aircraft, mechanized weapons and computers, which even women can operate. Hence in industrial society mental ability is more important than physical strength.

No doubt even in industrial society it is women who have to give birth to children. However, since much of the work in industrial society is mental work and does not involve hard physical labour, women can continue working till almost the end of their pregnancy, and industrial society provides them maternity benefits e.g. leave with full pay for two or three months. Also, women can leave their small children in crèches, nurseries and kindergartens while they go off to work. Household work is often done by gadgets, e.g. washing machines, vacuum cleaners, pressure cookers, microwave ovens, etc., and this work is often shared by the men folk.

Intelligence quotient (I.Q.) tests in psychology have established that the I.Q. of an average woman is the same as that of an average man. In fact whenever women got opportunity they showed that they could perform as well as men in almost all activities e.g. science, art, political leadership, medicine, engineering, teaching, etc. Elizabeth-I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia were great leaders, and Madam Curie was the first person in the world who won two Nobel Prizes, one in Physics and the other in Chemistry. Hence, it is not due to any inherent inferiority but only due to the fact that women were not given education and other opportunities that they could not come up to the level of men in the past.

While in feudal, agricultural society there was division of labour between men and women, the men doing outdoor work involving harder physical labour, and the women doing household chores, in industrial society this division of labour has almost entirely vanished, and women are often doing the same work as men and have become economically independent.

Since in industrial society brain is more important than brawn, and since the I.Q. of an average woman is the same as that of an average man, women should have complete equality with men in such a society.

However, the truth is that in practice that is often not so, despite the legal provisions for equality, many of which remain on paper only. Equality before the law is not necessarily equality in fact. Thus, in Tolstoy’s novel ‘Anna Karenina’ and Gustave Flaubert’s novel ‘Madam Bovary’ we see how women were driven to suicide for not accepting an unhappy marriage.

In India we still have a largely male dominated society, and women are often looked down up and not given equal treatment. The birth of a female child is often regarded as disaster, and female foeticide is common in many parts of the country (despite the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994). When a male child is born everyone rejoices and sweets are distributed, but when a female child is born everyone’s face is dejected and crest-fallen, as if a great tragedy has occurred.(see Sharat Chandra’s novel ‘Parineeta’)

I may also mention the disgusting practice of dowry. It is said that an I.A.S. Officer’s dowry price is Rs.1 crore, and that of an engineer or doctor is Rs. 25 to 50 lacs. Is this not disgusting, this practice of treating women as sheep or cattle and that too by giving money to the purchaser instead of paying money to him?

The law courts in India are flooded with cases of crimes against women e.g. dowry deaths, often caused by pouring kerosene on a young wife and setting her on fire, or by hanging her (and calling it suicide). Wife beating and cruelty to women is rampant in our society, and in fact seems to have increased by leaps and bounds of late (though it must be added that very often provisions in the law to protect women like S.498A I.P.C. are grossly misused).

We have no doubt made same progress in women’s education since 1947, and now many women are educated, which was not the position earlier. Women have also now entered many professions e.g. law, medicine, teaching, journalism, etc., which is due to the partial industrialization of India after 1947. However in many other respects the position of women is as bad, if not worse, than earlier, and probably this is due to the large scale commercialization of society, in which everything, including human relations, has been reduced to exchange value.

We in India are living in a transitional age, the transition being from feudal, agricultural society to modern, industrial society. We are neither totally backward, nor totally modern, but somewhere in between.  Hence remnants of feudal culture e.g. casteism and communalism are persisting in our society.  It is for this reason that our society is still largely male dominated, and most women do not have real freedom. For instance we often hear of `honour killings’ of young men and women of different castes or religions being killed, harassed or threatened merely because they wanted to marry with a person of a different caste or religion. This is really barbaric, and shows how backward we still are, and it has been condemned by the Supreme Court in Lata Singh vs. State of U.P. and another (2006) 5 SCC 475.

How is the situation to be remedied? In my opinion for this we have to get over the transitional period and become a modern, industrial state. We must spread scientific thinking in our country on a massive scale, and encourage people to give up superstitions and backward, feudal ideas, e.g. casteism and communalism. This is only possible by a complete revolution in our thinking and attitude towards women, a massive cultural struggle involving hundreds of millions of our people which will sweep away all remnants of the disgusting feudal and medieval practices and mentality which persist even today, particularly towards women, and replace them with scientific thinking and genuine and complete equality between men and women. When and how this will come about I cannot say. But come it will, and all patriotic people in India, including the men, must strive and contribute to this goal.

I will conclude by quoting verses from the great Tamil poet Subramania Bharati who wrote (around 1908-1910) powerful verses in favour of women’s emancipation :

“Gummiyadi Gummiyadi Nadumughudum
Kulungida thaikotti Gummiyadi
Nammai pidiththa pisasugal poyina
Nanmai kandomendru Gummiyadi

Ettaiyum pengal thoduvadhu teemaiyendru
Enniyirundhavan mainduvittar,
Veettunkulley pennai pootivaipomenra
Vindhai manidhar thalai kavinghhar”

(Dandiya-dance to celebrate women’s emancipation) that is:       

“Dance oh friend dance, playing dandiya let it be with such
force that as you dance it shakes up and wakes up this entire Nation.

Let us dance to celebrate our emancipation from the ghosts
which were holding on to us for centuries. Let us celebrate our achievement.

Those who thought that if education was given to women it
would harm the society, are all dead today !

Those strange fellows who wanted women to be kept locked
inside their homes have now tasted their downfall !

So, oh friends !Let us celebrate the emancipation of women
and dance playing dandiya”.

Pudhumaip Penn” (The New Woman)

“Aanum Pennum Nigar Enakkollvathaal
Arivil O’ngi Ivvaiyagam Thazhaikkumaam”

(This world will achieve excellence in knowledge
and wisdom by holding men and women equal)

“Vilagi Veettilo’r Pondhil Valarvadhal
Veerap-Pengal Viraivil Ozshippaaram”

(Valiant women will soon eradicate the custom 
of growing in seclusion in homes)

Pengal Viduthalaik Kummi” (Women Liberation Song)
“Yettaiyum Pengal Thoduvathu Theemai
Endrenni Irundhavar Maaindhu Vittaar,
Veettukkulle Pennai Pootti Vaippom Endra
Vindhai Manithar Thalai Kavizhndhaar”

(Those who thought that it was a sin for women to
touch books are dead; the incredible men who
wanted to lock the women inside their homes now
hang their heads in shame

“Kangal Irandinil ordrai kuththi
Kaatchi Kedutthidalamo
Pengal arivai valarthal, vaiyyam
Pedamai attridum kaaneer

(from a poem titled “Murasu”)

(Out of the two eyes, if you pierce and destroy
one, are you not spoiling your own vision? In fact,
if you educate the women, the backwardness
which grips this world will vanish automatically.”)

          “Pattankkal Aazhvadum Sattankkal Seivathum
Paarinil Penkal Nadatha Vanthom
(Women have come up now to get degrees, 
to legislate and rule in the world


  1. I think there are only two reported facts in your article and the rest is all cacophony of the oft-heard leftist liberal class who talks in media of poverty, gender discrimination, unemployment bla blah, as if the mere mention of it has some kind of solution to it.

    At the risk of being called MCP, let me clealy state those two misrepresented facts

    1) Women are physcially weaker than men. This has been proven and holds relevance even today. There are a % of jobs that require mental occupation, but a lot of them still require physical involvement as well as lasting stamina and the ability to take more pain(mental/physical) over longer periods of time.

    2) Women are intellectually the same as men. NOW, THAT IS PATENTLY WRONG. It has been proven in many medical studies that men and women are are different and apart in both the functioning and application of brain. This difference is not merely "being different", but that men are superior. The fact is average IQ of man is 4 points higher than women. Now 4 point may seem only slightly better, but when you average over entire human populace it shows that their is a definite trend. More alarming than that is the fact that variation of IQ among males are very volatile i.e you will find men who have very high IQs as well as very low IQs. However in case of females this variation is much more limited, if not a straight horizontal line. This proves that their is more IQ difference between men and women in both above and below IQ range...women leading men in low IQ range and men far exceeding women in high IQ range. Couple these two and men have much more IQ than women.
    That there have been more(euphemism in this case for 98%) scientists, mathematicians, engineers through out history in allmost all societies, is not a mere co-incidence or the suppression theory as left-wingers claim it to be.

    The brain size(which is crude/relative nevertheless most accepted indicative of intelligence in animals), of that of man is about 20% more than that of a woman.

    3) Couple it with fact that men have high testosteron, which allows them to risk more in life and sacrifice personal charms over ambitions and goals of life, gives them a lethal edge over women.

    Now I am not saying that women should be treated like dirt,in fact women have values which men lack in toto, but all i am pointing out is that there is a differences between treatment of men and women and it is "not" purely coincidental/social. There are reasons. That,people in past were not able to scientifically measure those differences does not mean they did not exist in the past.

    1. The points you put forth have really fascinated me and I am eager to know more.
      What percentage of jobs today require a "lasting stamina and the ability to take more pain(mental/physical) over longer periods of time"? And who says women are worse than men at enduring pain? Ever heard of labour??
      The Wikipedia article from where you read off the 4 point difference also gives a few other facts that you simply forgot to mention while you were trying to make a point by writing in all caps. Either way, there are no absolutely decisive tests that say if men or women are smarter. Most tests which seem to give a distinction between the two blame it on sociocultural factors rather than claiming that men are inherently smarter than women or vice versa. Also there isn't much medical proof to support either claim.
      And for your third point, women have shown to perform as well as men whenever given the opportunity. There is no proof for your claim that higher levels of testosteron'e' in men allows them to risk more or "gives them a lethal edge over women".
      One really must have a big stick one has up one's arse to take the pains to write multiple such replies to the blog. And the fact that you did it goes a long way in showing how far we still have to go before scientific thinking can become our default way of looking at things.

    2. >> Ever heard of labour

      Well to be blunt, a female has no choice there. I have the highest regard for the fact that my mother had to go through that pain, but this in no unequivocal ways, denies that labour pain is least reliable barometer to measure pain/anguish/frustration an individual can withstand. FYI, a hormone is secreted during labour which not only soothes your nerves to withstand pain, but strangely works on your mind and allows a woman to forget the magnitude of labour pain for the rest of her life, else fewer women would dare to undergo pregnancy again.

  2. It is strange that esteemed judge like you brings in honour killings(one of the most reprehensible things) but tries to link it to gender. A honour killing AFAIK involves both man and woman. In fact many more men must being getting phsically abused and murdered than women, but that would come to courts as murders because of enmity/hostility between families. While I respect your vast experience, but i think you should also interact with MRA's more often to listen to their side of story. It may sound chauvinist in the beginning, but they do have points worth being heard.

    1. It offends me to know that somebody like you who is seemingly educated thinks that honour killing should be given a status other than brutal heinous murder! Maybe Justice Katju should not have made honour killing a female-centric thing (because murder is murder, be it of a male or a female) , but to suggest that one should pay heed to the reasons for honour killing is not only preposterous, but utterly bizzare. The kind of heinous degradation of human beings which the Khaps engage is just disgusting. Please do not implore any of us to be considerate towards the reasons for their behaviour. While I believe that both parties should be given an equal opportunity and properly heard, the reasons behind a crime should not completely impair one's judgement so as to think or believe that the reasons for committing the crime overshadow the act of committing the crime. The criminal acts of Khaps cannot be endorsed at any cost!

      I have read all of your posts, and might I suggest that they seem to be attacking Justice Katju on a personal level instead of attacking the issue per se. Besides, the topic of emancipation of women in society is a rather debatable one, and each is entitled to his opinion- that my friend is the freedom of thought and expression for you [Article 19 (1) (a)]. I am truly sorry if you did not pay much attention when it was taught to you. As a woman, I might not agree with what Justice Katju has to say on a few counts, but I will not sink to making personal attacks. The spirit of blogging is expression of thought, and that is what the blogger here has done. If you cannot even begin to comprehend this basic fact, I suggest that you develop a more open-minded and considerate temperment because these sort of opinions do not become an educated person.

    2. Mr Mysoor,
      I am sorry to say that you have misconstrued the point I raised. I denounced honour killings, but in the same breath i denounced linking it to either the gender or to the fall outs of "so called" patriarchal society.

      MRAs are not for patriarchal society, if that is the drift you are suggesting. MRAs denounce patriarchal society because it essentially uses men as goats/fodders and essentially demeans men. However the current neo-liberalism who champion the cause of women rights do no good to men either.

      Men(in general) have suffered in "so called" patriarchal societies and they suffer even under this onslaught ushered by neo-liberals.

  3. > Thus, in Tolstoy’s novel ‘Anna Karenina’ and Gustave Flaubert’s novel ‘Madam Bovary’ we see how women were driven to suicide for not accepting an unhappy marriage.

    Suicide rates married men vs married women: See Top right block

    Now leftist liberals will say...Obviosuly when women dies it is almost always because of "dowry" and when men die it is because of "financial constraints". I love when intellectuals swap words like dowry and "financial constraints" with such an apt choice of context.

  4. >> The Indian Constitution no doubt provides for equality
    >> of men and women in Articles 14, 15 and 16.

    Well I beg to differ article 15 and article 16 does "not" ensure gender equality before law. It in fact allows for gender superiority by enabling state of participate in this act...thus unless a state comes out with distinction between weak and strong women these two articles violate any sense of equality between two genders.

  5. Correction:
    I said "The brain size(which is crude/relative nevertheless most accepted indicative of intelligence in animals), of that of man is about 20% more than that of a woman".

    I stand corrected...when you take body wigth into account it is about 5%.There are different part of brain, and different variations too.


    1. @Hardeeo, Reply to your 3 points in first post..

      I am not sure what your profession is..but if you are married and have kids then just swap your responsibilities at home for 1 week. You will realize how difficult and what kind of skills are needed to perform the so called mundane chores at home.

      here are few example to try, incase you do not have patience for 1 week:

      - try Hand-washing your jeans or any bedsheet.
      - just wash all utensils for 1 day(do not use the dishwasher)
      - try kneading the dough once (atta gundna)
      - do dusting of your home this sunday.

      By doing above chores you would realize how much effort is required by smaller muscles of our body which males rarely use.

      Yes, I agree that Males have more physical power due to large muscles which is the way human species has evolved and due to in-capacity of males to give birth and rear children, women might have developed different kind of muscles and skills which are required for rearing and household chores.

      We all need to respect and thank our women who despite facing so much discrimination and abuse of all kinds (be it physical, emotional and sexual) at home and work still run our homes and brought us in this world.

      About the IQ, studies you read and are quoting are all crap, just look around and you would find enough of intelligent women. Its just about facilities and chances women get for education and work.

      3rd for testosterone, yes males have higher level of testosterone because per-civilization occupation was hunting and women used to rear children. But with higher testosterone males would be more goal oriented and would sacrifice more is another crap story.

      P.S - I am a married Guy, 30 years old with no children yet. And I know this because in childhood, I have done these chores once in a while, whenever my mom was not well.

  7. Justice Katju, your topic has aptly described the condition of women in India since long. Rightly , women are being crushed between feudalism and mediavalism of Indian society! But I strongly feel revolutionary sage Vishwamitra was first for womens' liberation during Vaidik period. Vishwamitra had advocated that women had every right to 'Gayatri lesson' as well as non-Brahimins , particularly Kshtyariya had every right right to learn and get themselves educated. my blog