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Moral of the story: ifs, buts in Indian freedom
Published on 16 Aug. 2009 11:31 PM IST
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Taboo and modernity mark Indian social moves. As many as 73 per cent Indians feel homosexuality should be considered illegal; 79 per cent of them feel that rape and sexual harassment are linked to the way women dress and 41 per cent feel there should be a dress code in public and 59 per cent believe people should be free to wear what they want. As many as 56 per cent believe it is untrue that women cannot undertake tough tasks and 67 per cent say women make better bosses at the workplace. As many 60 Indians regard homosexuality as a disease, but 63 per cent men say evidence of virginity in a bride-to-be is not an issue for them. A majority of Indians accuse the media of spreading immorality and yet they accept that media creates awareness. Many believe jobs should be reserved for those who speak the state language, but most think that knowledge of English is necessary to succeed in life. What do the findings CNN-IBN-Hindustan Times State of the Nation survey tell about India? Sagarika Ghose asked filmmaker Shyam Benegal, social activist Jaya Jaitley, writer and gay rights activist Gautam Bhan, writer and historian Mukul Kesavan, Rahul Easwar, spokesperson for the Sabrimala temple in Kerala, and Sagari Chhabra, writer and filmmaker. No to homosexuality? The Delhi High Court read down a law which criminalizes homosexual relationship between citizens, but most Indians won’t give their consent. Bhan was not discouraged by the survey’s findings. “Had you asked do you believe all Indians are equal before the law, a hundred percent of Indian citizens would have said yes,” he said. “Let us agree to disagree as democratic equals in a democratic constitutional system. Attitudes are not taken in snapshots or in freeze-frame photographs--there are maps of change.” Easwar called homosexuality “misuse” of freedom. “In the name of freedom we may next encourage bestiality. Please don’t be blinded by the word freedom,” he said. Jaitley disagreed. She pointed out that Delhi High Court judgment only says that “homosexuality shouldn’t make a person look a criminal.” Women in India The survey found that 79 percent Indians feel that rape and sexual harassment are linked to the way women dress. As many as 67 percent feel working women don’t neglect family duties, but 33 percent believe they do. As many as 69 percent men would feel uncomfortable if their wife or sister works till late in office. Has the Indian woman really been liberated? The issue is confused, but women in India still live in a “patriarchal society,” said Benegal. “They are trying to break the glass ceiling and are trying to come out. They are succeeding but that is happening at a cost. They take up two responsibilities: one for which they don’t get paid.” Chhabra believed women have more avenues than before but “strategies of subordination” against them continued. “More and more women are entering the workforce but instead of empowering them the colleges that have imposed dress codes are actually imposing strategies of subordination,” said Chhabra. The survey found that there is appreciation for working women but discomfort with bold and aggressive women. Is the bold, confident and sexy workingwoman of ads and popular culture a myth then? The woman portrayed in popular culture is the “fight back” of the male society when women want to come out of kitchens. “They are dressing them up and pushing them back into the bedrooms of people’s minds,” said Jaitley. Dressing up Indian As many as 59 percent Indians feel people should be free to wear what they want but 41 percent feel there should be a dress code in public. As many as 69 percent supported educational institutes banning students from wearing Western clothes. Is there a problem with how young Indians are dressing nowadays? “Some part of it is a problem. Young girls sometimes feels they are not fashionable or nor with it unless they wear things which perhaps don’t suit the environment into which they are going,” said Jaitley. “If a girl wears a short mini skirt and gets into a bus where there a whole lot of frustrated men are there, she cannot cry if she gets grabbed. She is she not responsible (for being grabbed) but she has misjudged the environment,” she said. Kesavan disagreed. “Any woman who has been on a bus knows that you could be wearing anything and you would have men rubbing their crotches against you and fingering you,” he said. “Harassment is more indecent than clothing,” said Bhan. Indians have the freedom to wear, talk and debate. “That freedom is important,” said Chhabra to wrap up the debate.

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