Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi, organized a seminar on 'Harmony between Genders' at Malviya Smriti Bhawan, New Delhi, on 05 December 2015. Eminent scholar Prof. Savita Singh, Professor, SchoolOf Gender and Development Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, delivered the keynote address. Prof. S.M. Sajid, Professor, Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia Central University, New Delhi, chaired and moderated the session. Prof. Amar Pal Singh, Professor, School of Law and Legal Studies, Indra Prastha University, New Delhi, Ms Reena Banerjee, Founder Secretary and Director, Nav Srishti, and Dr M.D. Thomas, Founder Director, Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi, were other speakers of the day.
Prof. Savita Singh, an outstanding academic of gender and society, addressed the theme 'Gender Relations in the Indian Society' in an elaborate and comprehensive way and struck a powerful keynote for the session. At the outset, she expressed her joy in speaking on the distinctive theme of gender harmony. To begin with, she discussed the evolution of human society, referring to the notions of 'happiness' (eudaimonia) by Aristotle, 'liberty' (justicia) by Rousseau and 'truth' by John Locke, in terms of how we treat each other, and stated that 'a just society is a happy society' and 'living with each other with a sense of harmony' is the ultimate goal of life. She analyzed the depressing plight of women and the presence of blatant disharmony in gender relations in the Indian society, in the backdrop of disoriented religious theories and patriarchal laws, which have been highly exploitative from time immemorial. Quoting the book 'Gender Caste' by Uma Chakraborty, she asserted that discrimination of women was not created by modernity, but by the very thought of man. She went on to illustrate the unkind, un-courteous and cruel type of structural violence inflicted upon women by the un-negotiable system of patriarchy and caste discrimination.
Prof. Savita was highly honest and vocal when she tabled the details of the totalitarian character of male chauvinism that victimized women in an unlimited way, supported by the prejudiced ideas of Manu and Mahabharata. Declaring the female as impure, assassinating her character by considering her insatiable and adulterous, controlling the entire human sexuality, claiming the ownership of woman's womb, taking the authorship of the progeny, restricting the movements of women possessively, punishing women indiscreetly for adultery while enjoying a sexual license in a polygamous manner, domesticating women as the labour class,and the like, were some of the heinous ways of enslaving women while men divinized themselves. Having been relegated to lower positions, women were owned by men like property, in a dehumanizing way. Having presented an elaborate analysis of the deplorable predicament of women in the Indian society, she invited the audience to becoming honestly and boldly 'realistic' in terms of gender relations, in view of better harmony between genders for the ages to come.
Prof. Amar Pal Singh, a professional on law, in his address on 'Gender: Constitutional and Legal Provisions', recognized the western model of the Indian Constitution and highlighted the provisions of liberty, equality and justice in its Preamble. Differentiating between the active and passive aspects of equality, he stated that equality in India is more of a protective equality. He touched upon diverse articles of the Constitution that favour women, such as, equal pay, opportunity for education, seats in punchayat and offences against women, like rape, dowry death, torture, abduction, domestic violence, etc. He proceeded to elaborate special legislations, like Immoral Trafficking Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, Termination of Pregnancy Act, Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act, Domestic Violence Act, Special Marriage Act, Maternity Act and Hindu Succession Act. He also asserted that there are several laws that discriminate against women, even among personal laws. 'Law has to be an instrument of change; change has to take place in the mindset of the people; political system has to be the agent of change; all the same, fight has to take place in the social area', he added with great emphasis.
Ms Reena Banerjee, a veteran social activist, especially in the Nangloi and Neb Sarai area, speaking on the topic 'Gender Bias in Social Systems', dwelt profusely on the narration of her own personal story that motivated her to journey with disadvantaged women ahead in life. She elaborated activities of the Nav Srishti organization she erected for the empowerment of women and girl children at the grass root level, like vocational training and community mobilization for women, tracking the status of child rights in slum areas and preparing reports on the missing children. She elaborated some of the crucial problems of women at thelower layer of the society, such as sexual abuse, monopoly of punchayats by men, the myth that son will take care of the family, acute play of muscle power by men, following the footsteps of the husband, etc. She also explained how she started nukkad nataks in Muslim dominated areas and Mahila Panchayats to discuss and help solve problems of women. Relying on the decades of experience of working for suppressed women and children, she expressed hope that through such relentless efforts bias in social systems could be eliminated to a great extent.
Dr M.D. Thomas, a versatile advocate of interfaith perspectives, human values and ethics, discussed the theme 'Gender: An Ethical Perspective'. By way of introduction, he broadened the horizons of gender to include the unique and equal rights of LGBT and stated that they also deserve their due space as human beings and children of the same God. He proceeded to define the principles set by United Nations and Constitution of India as fundamental ethical imperatives as regards balanced gender relations for all citizens of the world. Further, he made a wide survey of citations in the Scriptures of all religions, along with its dehumanizing hangovers in social life, which violate the individuality and self esteem of women and relegate them to inferior and marginal positions, in a structured way. He proceeded to portray the motivating citations from all Scriptures that affirm her divinely endowed dignity, the same status inbuilt into her, equal rights that are due to her and the sustainable civilized behaviour expected of men. He madea clarion call to reinterpret the unbecoming Scriptural contents and to take the inspirational mandates in them as ethically binding on one's conscience, so that the human society can progress towards a culture of being humane and harmonious between genders, in favour of making a family of God on earth.
Professor S.M. Sajid, a renowned scholar and social analyst, in his remarks as Chairperson of the session, observed that while gender is a social construct, patriarchy is a system evolved by man for domesticating women. He regretted the appalling sex ratio in North India, which is the consequence of the craze for a male child and sex selection with the help of modern medical technology. He also raised his eye brows against the confinement of women to a domesticated capacity.
The discussion that followed brought together a wide range of questions and insights from scholars and activists who were seated off the dias. It occasioned an active interaction between the dais and the floor, as well. Mr Lal Utreja said that gender balance has to start from the family in relationship. Mr Anoop Bose, quoting Bertrand Russell, opined that it is man's muscle power that vitiates the balance of life. Mother is three times the entire humanity put together. I am what I am because of my angel mother. Prof. Shashi Tiwari said that focus has to be placed on equal treatment on account of the complementary character of man and woman. That is the ethics of life, too. Mr T.D. Singh pointed out that using woman as a commodity in advertisements has to be seriously addressed. Responding to questions, Prof. Savita affirmed that family, as a matter of fact, is not a system but is part of patriarchy and patriarchy is in conflict with modernity and ecology. In response to certain scattered views from the floor and by way of concluding remarks, Dr M.D. Thomas underscored two points. First, one shouldn't be a victim of the irrational stories of the religious Scriptures, but has only to take a positive lesson from the spirit of ethics they refer to. Secondly, this seminar does not claim to exhaust all problems in the area of gender relations, but is intended to affirm being an active and committed part of the solution by facilitating transformation in the society.
Dr Lipika Sharma, Assistant Professor, Law, Amity University, Noida, was the coordinator of the seminar. At the outset, she introduced the organizing institute, the theme of the seminar and the speakers of the session as well as welcomed them and at the end she proposed also a vote of thanks to one and all. She brought to light the objective of the Institute (IHPS) as promoting interfaith perspectives, inter-community relations and social harmony. She positioned the theme of the seminar as one of the core themes of the Institute and avowed it highly relevant and timely, too. Shawl was presented to the dignitaries at the beginning of the session and mementos after their speeches, as a symbol of welcome and thanks respectively. Some 50 persons from academic, social and other backgrounds who are committed to gender harmony in particular and social harmony in general attended the seminar. The seminar commenced at 11.00 hours, preceded by coffee and interaction, and ended at 13.30 hours, followed by lunch and interpersonal interaction.