SINCE most of the universities (State and Central) in India possess well established women study centres, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) conducted a survey on these centres to get a better and deeper insight into their working and achievements on women-related issues.
The objective of this survey was to find the effectiveness of the centres in establishing a congenial atmosphere among women study scholars and general Indian women and their role in enhancing women empowerment within the framework of Indian society.
The survey containing twenty questions was conducted in 21 universities of 10 states. Out of 21, 16 universities have totally UGC funded women study centres and 5 universities have either only women development cells or women study centres at very primary level of establishment.
The answer to the question that whether the centres teach the history of women movement was invariably ‘yes’ by all the centres. Detailed analysis of the syllabus of various courses taught at these centres reveals that most of the history and theories of women movements are taken from westerly scholars. Even the books like Second Sex, Third Wave and Writings of Simon- de- bova, Cole etc. are included in references.
The answer to the question whether any chapter on the Indian women movement had been included in the syllabus or not, was a simple “yes” without any prefixes or suffixes, i.e. no details were provided. Some of the centres even said ‘No’ that they taught only established, authentic western struggle and theories. Though some of the centres included regional examples of struggle like Movement in Maharashtra, Sati Movement etc., it was observed, that whatever has been taught in the name of history of women liberation in India is just a passing reference as very few authentic writings are available (the reason which the centres and women study scholars provided).
Indian women struggle for independence and empowerment is only taught as pre Gandhian, Gandhian and post Gandhian movement. There is a conspicuous absence of compiled literature from the long history of ancient India which includes the analysis of the strong characters and decision making abilities of Indrani (wife of Indra), Seeta, Ahilya and Savitri. Sadly references from the India’s struggle for Independence were also glaringly absent.
The most favourite researchable topics in the women centres are
Feminist thought in India and West.
History of women movement in India from 80’s.
Sex workers, trafficking, gay movement.
Movements related to Sati, dowry and domestic violence.
Different aspects of women empowerment.
Another question on the topics of surveys’ conducted by these centres reveals that some of the centres conducted surveys on
a) Status of urban, rural and Vanvasi women
b) Effective role of women Panch and Sarpanch in Panchayati Raj system.
c)Harassment/violence against women inside the walls of her house
Research and publications of the centres
100 per cent centres replied in the affirmative saying that the research work is a continuous process and 90 per cent centres publish some newsletters or journals or books.
50 per cent of the centres occasionally conduct practical training programmes like:
a) Legal advice and knowledge.
b) Capacity building.
c) Small scale entrepreneurship.
The rider being that all this is subject to the availability of funds.
The type of women personality, which is ideal according to these centres
a) Strong capable and considerate women committed to common good.
b) Gujarat centre wrote that “an ideal woman” should relate to the ideal women characters of our ancient epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, etc.
c) They should strive for cultural enrichment.
d) Maharashtra centre said Savitri Bai Phule is the inspiration behind the centre’s motto.
e) Himachal centre visualises women as empowered human beings with strong, confident positive and independent personalities.
Contribution of women development centre in women empowerment
a) By conducting capacity building programmes.
b) Offering inputs to policy makers.
c) Empowerment through different programmes and activities.
d) Through academic work, seminar, research and survey.
Courses in these centres include mostly International (especially Western) thoughts. At rare places only are local state level thoughts/movements included in the syllabus. Efforts and will for compilation of literature on issues on Indian women associated with these centres are grossly negligible. Mostly centres work with Marxist ideology.
Small booklets published by rightist are usually in the form of story writings without any authentic reference, so they are not considered as proper reference material by these centres.
Some efforts which made a difference in certain states
a) In Gujarat, women is included as a subject of research, survey and study.
b) In Himachal, an attempt has been made to compile literature on Indian women.
c) Himachal women are aware of their rights so these centres started certain small-scale business training for economic independence of women.
d) Madhya Pradesh centres started innovative programmes for the empowerment of Panch and Sarpanch ladies; this may empower and prepare them for participating actively in decision making process.
e) Madhya Pradesh has also started research conference on Indian family system so that an educated woman may play a strong role in the family build-up and sustenance.
Women study centres have been established by the University Grant Commission (UGC) and state universities with the aim to commemorate research on women issues, act as an interface between women study scholars and society, start new courses and strive to become a centre for women empowerment.
The objectives and goals of these centres are well defined but the ideas and basis for women empowerment is borrowed from West because the Indian women scholars feel that there is no such defined, organised struggle or women’s movement in India as compared to the West. So the entire literature and work in India on women liberation and empowerment finds its basis in Western theories and Marxist thoughts.
Some centres started with good basic empowerment training through courses, seminars, symposia, interaction with industry and research.
Analysis of the survey information
After surveying in detail about “The Indian women Study Centres” I felt an urgent need to find out the goals and motives of some other women study centres of the world.
Here I present in brief the aims and objectives of some of the centres of the world:
Jewish centres state that their centre for women studies offer an interdisciplinary forum for the study of gender; its function in culture and society and also its intersection with race and class.
Women studies in Europe offer a unique opportunity to explore feminist theory in practice across Europe. The programme examines the trends and dynamics of European social economic and political system as they influence contemporary gender theory, policy and women identity.
Women studies in Jeruselum state that the centre was established to fulfill the goals and mission of the Palestinian women’s movement by conducting field studies to access the reality and need of Palestinian women. So are the aims of Korean centre.
Asian Centre of Women Studies aims at the compilation of literature on women movement in Asia.
Apart from this aspect, women liberation movement of the West, which wants women to possess a liberated individual self, one has to find the answer for Indian women liberation (more correctly empowerment) in the Indian philosophy. Our philosophy believes in the liberation of mind and soul (moksha), not the liberation of bodily self or physical self. Western thoughts could not emerge higher than the physical body of an individual whereas in Indian philosophy the soul gets the body to achieve the highest level of liberation of mind and soul-and physical self is only a medium, to achieve the highest level of moksha (liberation). So unlike West we believe in the liberation of soul not the body or the physical self.
So, to conclude I would like to state that women study centres should aim at constructing a knowledge system for Indian women based on cultural and historical specialties that are better suited to the needs of the Indian woman and therefore work towards creating a gender equal society in India.
To curb insensitivity towards the fairer sex, curriculum and various programmes at all levels of study must be designed for gender sensitisation and improved from time to time. These programmes could be taught even at very young level (to start from the primary level) because it is said catch them while they are young. If young school children are inculcated with a basic thought that all humans i.e. men as well as women are equal, only then a woman can enjoy to be a respected individual though having different nature and requirements than man. So, she must be given equal opportunities as man for the establishment of a mature understanding society. It is only when a woman gets a similar, secure environment and equal opportunities, can she contribute not only equally but more than a man can do for family and society. She has always proved herself as sincere, caring, and multitasking in all walks of life. So, she must be given a fair share of her contribution in the form of respect, security and equal opportunity towards the society.
Now-a-days most of the urban school’s curriculum includes soft skills training as a fashion statement. If these very same institutes incorporate soft skills training programmes in schools which include a curriculum on gender sensitisation programme also then there is hope to inculcate a feeling in everyone that women should get an equal status in society and be par with men.
(The writer is Associate Professor at Sri Aurobindo College in University of Delhi and national vice president of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad)