In a traditionally patriarchal culture, Indian values are shifting towards feminism and women’s rights. Known for arranged marriages and systematic oppression, India demonstrating a very tangible cultural shift.
The First Feminist
“Though many would attribute the rise of feminism in India to western influence, the feminist movement has been apparent in the last few centuries. Women have been fighting for their rights for hundreds of years, both in the west and in the east.“
Said Naz Smyth.
Savitribai Phule was a feminist during the 19th century in India. During the 1840s, she established a center for rape victims to deliver babies and founded the first school for women (The Better India). During a time where women would kill their newborns if they were born out of wedlock, Phule created a safe space to comfort the victims who needed it most.
With this, she allowed them the flourish through education. With strong minds comes strong resistance, and when women are educated, they can stand up for their rights and fight oppression.
Phule incubated the feminist movement in India. Through creating safe spaces for women to survive and expand their mind, she created a generation of women who value themselves. The traditional patriarchal movement teaches women to place themselves as a last priority. However, when women valued themselves, the world reaps the benefits of strength and education.
The Modern Feminist
Along with movies, the modern feminist displays their presence through many means. Women today in India have access to education and proper healthcare, so they turn to social media to protest the cultural impact of the patriarchy. Men no longer can force women to marry them, they can no longer marry children or rape women, but they can display their dominance in other ways. Indian society, as well as western society in general, oppresses women through established cultural norms. Many do not notice the oppression because it has been a staple of our society for hundreds of years.
For example, society (and even the law) forces women to cover their chest when they do not require men to do so. Nipples are not sexualized for men, however they are hypersexualized for women. Another example of normalized oppression is the fact that women are forced to keep their periods a secret. To keep secret something that happens to every single woman, every single month, is ridiculous. Women are conditioned to be ashamed of their bodies. However, many women are turning to the freedom of social media to fight this status quo.
With the ability to most almost any picture and write any description, women are able to reach thousands of people across the entire globe. Social media has allowed for the modern feminist to share their thoughts with the world and spread their sentiment with a dedicated following.
Feminism in India Today
In India, feminism is showing its teeth through the big screen. Many Bollywood movies are shifting towards feminist themes (Scoop Whoop), with women as the protagonists. Female leads are educated, strong, and fearless. This marks a major difference between traditional movies where the man must win over the weak female, or he must save her from tragedy to win her love. Now, with female leads accomplishing their goals (that have nothing to do with love), it allows for a cultural shift in India. People are exposed to strong women on the big screen, normalizing the feminist movement.
Saloni Chopra is an Indian actress who takes to social media to promote her feminist values. She is the best of both worlds, a strong female lead in Girls on Top, as well as an activist in real life. Her focus is the female body and being unashamed of her breasts and natural body functions. She posed for a risque photo shoot (Times of India) and preached about society’s sexualisation of women and the importance of body autonomy. She went on to normalize period blood, explaining how society has given the menstrual cycle more criticism and importance than is necessary. She goes on to say how it’s just blood, and how a male-dominated society insists on shaming women for something that happens naturally.
The modern Indian woman has the resources to be strong, educated, and outspoken. A society so traditionally enveloped in the male patriarchy is now seeing a rise in female empowerment, and it is beautiful.