From 20-year-old Manushi Chillar winning the Miss World 2017 crown to the Indian women’s cricket team making it to the World Cup finals, 2017 has seen Indian women proving their mettle. Fighting all odds, and standing tall in adversities, these ladies have never let us down. Here’s a round-up of the things that stood out in the year and took us closer to the women empowerment goal, fuelling the aspirations of millions of girls and promising a brighter future for half the country’s population, or even striking a discussion over it.
We got the Miss World!
Haryana’s Manushi Chillar, after winning the coveted crown, has been using her medical background to bring to attention to issues that are regarded as taboo in this part of the world. She has been talking about menstrual hygiene that is much neglected, especially in rural India.
She is the first Indian woman to win the title since Priyanka Chopra did it in 2000 and is the sixth Indian woman to receive it. She is pursuing a medical degree at the Bhagat Phool Singh Medical College in Sonipat.
In a country that still forbids women from wearing certain kind of clothes and expects them to behave in a particular manner, choosing modelling as a career doesn’t come easy. But Chillar did it, not only making us proud but also giving wings to the dreams of hundreds of other girls.
“Since the day Manushi Chillar won the Miss World 2017 crown, I have been following her journey towards success. I have seen the contest and loved her answers, especially the last one where she talks about housewives and their importance in the Indian society. Also I have seen her old photographs and was amazed at the hard work that she has put in to reach where she is today,” says Himani Barve, dancer and actor.
“From being a medical student to becoming a Miss World, she is killing it and crafting a perfect example for all the young women out there. According to me, she is everything today’s women should be — confident, strong, aware, warm, humble, poised, progressive, unstoppable and much more,” says Monika Panchal, dancer and advertising professional.
Following an actor raising the issue of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a campaign called #MeToo began trending on social media. It was fuelled by another incident closer home — that of Pune’s well-known pub High Spirits’ owner being accused of sexual harassment by several anonymous women. The campaign saw many women coming out and talking about all the big and small incidents of facing such situation at every point in life.
The reactions to the campaign have been varied. “I have mixed feelings about the campaign. I’ll first talk about the positives. The campaign not just gave a voice to something that has always been conveniently brushed under the carpet since a very long time, but it also created an invisible bond for everybody to connect and empathise as well as sympathise. A lot many from the ‘it happens to others’ brigade realised how up, close and personal this issue looms when they saw their near and dear ones coming up with their #metoo stories. The awareness helps for sure, but wait, does it?” asks Shruti Torgal, Mumbai-based Chartered Accountant. “My cynical self,” she says, “strengthened with many scarring, ignored and unnoticed #metoo incidents, does not fail to question the aftermath of the campaign. Will this change my appreciation for gifts of pepper sprays? Will it give me the courage to face any such possible situations or discourage my next predator? I don’t know…I really don’t.”
Another issue that saw light this year was that of granting of period leave to women, when a Mumbai-based media firm decided to begin this practice. While the announcement raised many opinions — for and against the grant of such an issue, it certainly did one good thing — made talking about menstruation normal, instead of hushing it up which has been the case for years in our country.
Given that the pain and discomfort many women face during the first day of their menstrual cycle, this move has been much lauded by many.
However, Hyderabad-based medical professional Dr Madhura Ghatol, 26, begs to differ. “In a world where, we, the women of ‘today’, the ‘equal’ contributors to the world economy, cringe when our male counterparts make snide remarks like, ‘It must be that time of the month for her’, whenever we try to put our point across a little too aggressively, this ‘period leave’ seems ‘belittling’. The feminists, seekers of ‘equality’, breakers of ‘glass ceilings’, must really sit and think if this policy is progressive. Does it not re-confirm the agenda of gender discrimination?” she questions, adding, “We speak of marching shoulder to shoulder with the other sex in the ever-so-demanding corporate world, but through this policy, are we not asking leniency (do not wish to use the word sympathy) based on our biological make-up?”
Some women have nightmares even thinking about periods as they suffer from extreme pain, profuse bleeding, other symptoms like vomiting, fainting spells, so much so that sometimes they really cannot function. But “does this not qualify for medical leave? Let us not bring in the maternity leave here as one might argue that even that is a women-specific benefit. I believe maternity and menstruation cannot be weighed on the same balancing scale,” Dr Ghatol says.
Renowned comedian Daniel Fernandes and others, however, have come forward in support of the policy. “To say that this policy only serves to emphasise that there is something spectacularly otherworldly about a bodily function is actually quite correct. As a man I will never know what menstruation feels like,” he wrote in a blog post.
No more ‘Talaq Talaq Talaq’
In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that divorce among Muslims through the practice of triple talaq was “void, illegal and unconstitutional” . Triple talaq — the personal law by which Muslim men can instantaneously divorce their wives by uttering talaq thrice — “is not integral to religious practice and violates constitutional morality,” the Supreme Court judges said. A bill seeking to criminalise the practice of instant triple talaq among Muslims is set to be introduced in the Lok Sabha today (Dec 28).
The community has varying opinions on the issue. “Because of the illicit preaching of many mullahs, Islam, like a few other religions, has now been moulded to suit people and their unlawful activities. The Quran demands time and patience in executing a divorce unlike the new and trendy Triple Talaq, which allows men or women to divorce by just repeating the word ‘Talaq’ three times. Islam doesn’t sanction this method and I hope people of this faith would educate themselves more about marriages and divorce in Islam. A simple Google search, I’m sure, will help,” says Hyderabad-based Shabana Galaria, 27. “This trendy Triple talaq was never sanctioned by the Quran anyway. It was constituted by a few men who didn’t find it necessary to understand the religion and its teachings in the first place. I believe the whole issue rising up and the government taking action against it, will finally let people of this faith educate themselves more about Islam and live a Sunnah life,” she believes.
Apart from these, several other women-friendly incidents marked the year. While the men in blue have dominated the Indian cricket scene for decades, things took a turn in 2017 when the Indian women’s cricket team reached the World Cup finals. Their dream of winning the World Cup might not have come true, but the women took centre-stage in a world otherwise dominated by men, making July 23 a historic date for Indians. The team received many accolades.
Others include the Centre’s fresh attempt to clear the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, whose paternalistic nature was criticised in a Parliamentary panel report submitted in August 2017. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, which if passed, will allow divorced Muslim women the right to seek maintenance from their husbands, before a magistrate’s court. The bill will be introduced in the Lok Sabha today (December 28).
Here’s hoping for the women-empowering streak to continue for years to come!