I’m Nayanika, and I’m not trying to be edgy when I say that I think our country has a long way to go on this Republic Day.
I know, I know. Whenever we talk about the country, it’s common to either be patriotic to the hilt or so critical that you make yourself miserable. But here’s what I am suggesting: maybe there’s a middle ground. A middle ground where we look at young women like us, and their struggles. And maybe, just maybe, their stories can remind us of some hope?
Here’s what I read when I scanned the headlines over the last few days.
The Delhi High Court is hearing petitions on the subject of criminalising marital rape. FYI, Indian law does not classify forceful sexual acts by a man towards his own wife as rape, if the wife is above 15 years of age. The central government says that criminalising this would threaten the institution of marriage. Women’s consent? The jury is out, milord.
A couple of weeks ago, Bishop Franco Mulakkal was shockingly acquitted, after being accused of raping a nun from Kottayam, Kuruvilangad. The Sisters of Kuruvilangad continue to support the survivor and stand by her, but they have been completely ostracised by the church authorities. Another day, and another reminder of why women still are wary of reporting their sexual assault, right?
For the past three weeks, a college in Udupi, Karnataka has barred a group of young women from entering their regular classes, just because they wear a hijab. At an age where studying, friendship and our future usually occupies our thoughts, these students are losing out on an education every day, just because they are Muslim women!
I list the above incidents not just to say that things aren’t great — which they aren’t honestly — but to emphasise that there are new solidarities and uprisings happening every day. And that is both the disappointment and also the work of being a woman.
Whether it’s marriage, the church, or the institution of education - sooner or later we come to realise that our best advocate is often ourselves, and the communities that we build.
These moments come from a history of women speaking up for what they won’t tolerate. And also to build a foundation for future generations to know they are not alone, and that someone has spoken up for them - no matter their identity. In 1949, BR Ambedkar had spoken about “the necessity of becoming a nation” and the “ways and means of realising that goal.”
For me, the women advocating for criminalisation of marital rape, or the young girls in Udupi, or the Sisters of Kuruvilangad are the ‘ways and means’ of realising the goal of a great nation. After all, nobody knows the ways and means better than women do, do they?
Republic Day is often an opportunity to think about historical figures and moments that changed everything - but a lot of that change is all around us, right now. Nation-building isn’t in pageantry and celebration. It’s in the women who take a stand, refuse to compromise on their differences, and believe that maybe we’re not a united nation yet.
But, we could get there.