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Who agrees with Germaine Greer?

Published Nov 5, 2015, 4:25 am IST
Updated Mar 27, 2019, 5:48 am IST
British feminist shocks India by rationalising the link between female foeticide and dowry
Left, Germaine Greer, and Vikram Seth at the recently concluded Mumbai lit fest.
 Left, Germaine Greer, and Vikram Seth at the recently concluded Mumbai lit fest.

Feminist writer Germaine Greer is no negligible thinker. But her closing address, Women: The Glory and the Anguish of India, at the just-concluded Mumbai lit fest not only reaffirmed Indian stereotypes, but even supported female foeticide because “poor parents can’t afford dowry”.

One of the women sitting in the room was feminist activist and theatre personality Dolly Thakore.“She began praising India, how gentle India was and how India looked after its old people. She had seen two daughters-in-law helping an old woman get on to a bus followed by two men. Then she started off about female foeticide (a subject I am closely associated with). She went on about how it is important to have female foeticide because the poor parents have to pay dowry for the girl. I couldn’t believe that somebody like her was so out of touch with what the reality is.” Others couldn’t believe her when she said if a woman chooses to abort her female child, she has her own reasons and that she should not be judged. most felt she didn’t take into account biases against women that begin from the womb. She said Indians typically speak of the mother-in-law as an agent of evil, while she feels it’s the mother-in-law who kept the family together when the men moved out to seek job opportunities.

“Germaine Greer’s observation that aged women are better off in India is grounded on western perception of the country’s fabled joint family. But stereotypes cannot be reaffirmed by such blanket terms,” says Kolkata sociologist Abhijit Mitra, “Many aged women are in a wretched condition here. Money can get you a lot of things, but at some levels they are perceived non-functional and are truly forsaken.”

While the concept of matrimony ads is not seen as progressive, Greer also expressed her amazement at how these ads stress upon the educational qualifications in prospective brides. “Nobody in England cares about how educated their daughter-in-law is, because of course she’d have her own knitting and television to engage with. I know I am drawing stereotypes, but” she trailed off.

Referring to the Dalit and Adivasi women’s protest movement and even to “what happened in that bus in Delhi” (Nirbhaya), Greer spoke in lofty terms of the courage Indian women display when they come out on streets in protest. “Cherish it, develop it. Don’t think Western feminists can tell you how to do it — you are already doing it better,” said the author of The Female Eunuch.

She quoted statistics from the Guardian to show how the percentage of rape in England far exceeds that of India, even though its population is much smaller.

“So what?” Mitra asked. “That would be the failure of the English police and media. Here police action might not be often successful but rapes are noticed.”

She did find some support though — Flavia Agnes, legal scholar, author and women’s rights activist. She says: “Our court system is British; the Indian Penal Code was drawn by the British administration. So our bias comes from there. Rape rates in the UK are much higher as compared to India. In UK, the conviction rate is much lower — about 7-8 per cent as compared to 24-25 per cent here.”

Reacting to Germaine’s comments on how the male child is given preference in England, Flavia pointed out England has a queen only because the queen has no brother. “The physical violence inflicted on women there is much more acute. Husbands shoot their wives in the UK. We demonise the mother-in-law here, but in many cases husbands beat their wives after the mother-in-law dies,” Flavia says.

On Greer’s female foeticide stance, Flavia said: “We find infants left in dustbins and alleys. Is that a preferable scenario?”

Inputs from Sushmita Murthy and Aarti Bhanushali





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