Women’s Rights are Hard Won — An Open Letter to the Chief Minister of Kerala : V Geetha

we are troubled that the state finds it hard to grant a woman the right to lead a life of her choice and to have custody over her child. These are hard won rights, and it has taken generations of struggle by women, many of whom are from your state, to secure both civil and legal acknowledgement for women’s rights to marriages of their choice, and for their right to motherhood, divorce, adoption and so on.

To The Hon’ble Chief Minister, Kerala

I write this letter to express our dismay and unease with developments reported in the national press to do with Anupama Jayachandran: chiefly that her child has been taken away from her by her natal family, because her parents did not approve of her relationship with the man who had fathered the baby. We are also shocked that Anupama’s father, a member of your party, had allegedly objected to his daughter’s partner, because he is a dalit. In addition, the entire matter appears to have been framed in ways that cast aspersions on Anupama’s ability to act rationally: the fact that her partner was married to another woman, when he chose to have a child with Anupama, and that the latter was ‘guilty’ of snatching him away from his former partner; and that Anupama’s family acted in good faith, since they did not think their daughter had the moral stamina to be a ‘proper’ mother and that she had ‘agreed’ to have the baby put away in a state-care centre till such time her partner obtained a divorce…

We may not be entirely clear as to what transpired amongst the persons concerned, but we are troubled that government finds it hard to grant a woman the right to lead a life of her choice and to have custody over her child. These are hard won rights, and it has taken generations of struggle by women, many of whom are from your state, to secure both civil and legal acknowledgement for women’s rights to marriages of their choice, and for their right to motherhood, divorce, adoption and so on.

It would be useful and relevant to recall here the debates on the Hindu Code Bill which Babasaheb Dr Ambedkar sought to introduce and get passed in the legislative section of the Constituent Assembly. An important aspect of those debates had to do with how all the women members of the Constituent Assembly, and a large section of liberal-minded men, including a stalwart from your party, Somnath Lahiri, and other socialists, such as K T Shah, endorsed the right of women to such rights as the Code sought to give them. The reasons they offered were diverse, but they were all united on one issue: that if the fundamental rights section of the new Constitution were to have substantive meaning for women, then conjugal and familial relationships ought to also be rethought along equal and just terms. Dr Ambedkar in fact said as much: that he envisioned the Hindu Code as an “integrated system consistent with our Constitution” (Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches, Volume 14 (1), Bombay: Government of Maharasthra, Education Department, 1995, p. 772).

Importantly, he noted that he was not legislating a new value system into existence: that is, he and the others who had drafted the Code did not wish to impose new practices on an undecided public. Rather they wished to offer the protection and solace of the law to individuals who wished to lead their lives, abiding by will and conscience. In other words, he made clear that for women, the right to marriage of one’s choice was inseparable from other fundamental rights that accrued to her as a citizen and that law ought to enable her think beyond the socially permissible. It is also important to recall, in this instance, that in your neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, the great anticaste thinker and public figure, E V Ramasamy Periyar had sought to protect such marriages that were made on the basis of choice and self-respect (and not caste or faith) through special legislation. 

I draw your attention to this history because women’s individual rights are yet to be viewed as valuable aspects of their rights as a citizen, and unless that is done, women’s choices are bound to be measured by social rather than constitutional morality.

We would imagine that given Kerala’s history, and its investment in women’s education and rights that women’s choices are granted the constitutional premium they deserve, irrespective of how society or indeed the state might view or understand these choices.

Finally, given the rich debates on love, sexuality and the family by socialist feminists around the world, a party that calls itself communist cannot afford to turn its back on this heritage – along with Marx, Engels and Lenin, Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai stand tall in revolutionary history. Both women were open in their support of non-conventional romance and marriages, and dared to take on senior Bolshevik leaders on this count. This is a history that is equally ours to own up to.

I hope that your government will consider the matter of Anupama’s child with the critical seriousness it deserves and ensure that the baby is returned to her without delay. 

With regards,

V Geetha

Feminist Historian and Publisher,

Chennai

We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s