Religious Fundamentalism, Community Disintegration and Violence Against Women: All Issues Are Women’s Issues

This paper discusses some of the issues that women’s movements and feminist scholarship have had to grapple with over the last three decades. I also discuss some of the many underlying factors that have impinged on feminist activism and have therefore informed it.

I have chosen to focus on a few issues from the entire gamut of issues that feminist groups have undertaken to act upon. This is not to say that other issues are any less important. I have only touched upon these issues, each one being so complex as to deserve an entire paper. But the issues are relevant in that they demonstrate the many layers that go into the making of women’s lives and our struggles.

For the purpose of organisation I have divided the paper into several sections, but this does not mean that issues do not overlap or are to be seen in black and white terms. Women’s realities have multiple dimensions and feminist activism has taken ample cognizance of these realities. Indeed this very complexity of women’s lives has shaped the struggle for sexual equality all over the world.

Religious fundamentalism is a crisis of modernization. It is also a crisis of democracy. This section looks at the ways in which women are located at the intersection of these twin crises.

Modernization has unfolded with a series of failed promises. ‘Progress’, growth and development, accompanied by mammoth advances in technology, have in many cases ushered in the collapse and disintegration of the economic, social and cultural fabric of communities and the individuals within them. Modernization has unfolded with a long and complex flourish that can be deconstructed and represented at several levels. Be it colonization, industrial growth, or the growth of modern capital, all have had repercussions on the actual lives of communities. Modernization, it must be understood, is very closely linked to the creation of identities. For example, large hydroelectric projects have been linked to nation-building, inextricably linked as it is to the challenge of colonization in most colonized nations. It is in the name of ‘national interests’ that the project of modernization often sets to root itself within the histories of nation-states. National interest is often the single most ideological factor upon which modern progress and growth are justified.

Nation-states are by themselves layered and made up of many identities, some privileged, others disadvantaged, with political and social structures backing up this privilege and disadvantage. Therefore, through the process of modernization what is often manifest is an artificially created unification of interests and identities, even as it fractures other identities. For example, just the scale of displacement caused by development projects is by itself a clear indication that communities all over the world face intense disruption in their lives, which also in turn creates many disruptions in social and cultural identities.

This disintegration of social and cultural identities is accompanied by multiple mutations that have affected the cohesion of communities, their very basic organization. Needless to say, existing gender inequalities have also changed with modernization, just like other social inequalities. Often the imbalances have been exacerbated. As modernization creates a crisis of identity, religious fundamentalism is one of the forces that steps in to restore the cohesion that has been thrown into disarray. Here it is crucial to remember that religious fundamentalism is also often a nationalist project, in that it often aspires to create a different kind of ‘national identity’ that will serve as an answer to the crisis that has gripped many modern nation-states.

Religious fundamentalism is a response to the threat of the diversity of identities that exist at any given time, in any given place. While purporting to address social, cultural or economic inequalities between communities, religious fundamentalism in actual fact seeks to impose a new hegemonic order. In order to assist this project, religious fundamentalism invokes mythical memories of a perfect age where religious principles were followed to the book and all was well with the world. It relies on the constant creation of a set of enemies who were/are responsible for all that went wrong with this perfect world. Therefore the only way to rectify this situation is to eliminate the enemies one by one and at the same time to adhere to the religious prinicples it describes as the only correct ones. In this way, fundamentalism promotes a monolithic religion to compensate for the ‘confusing’ diversity ushered in with the help of modernization along with other factors.

The workings of the Hindu Right in India, in the Western state of Gujarat, are a recent example of this hegemonic and often brutal project. This is clear from the Hindu Right’s own propaganda (pamphlets, books, audio and video tapes, speeches, etc.), which reveals a concerted effort to invoke a Golden Age where Hinduism reigned supreme and Hindu principles were firmly in place, governing all of society. Women, in this mythical age, enjoyed a high status and were free from fear of rape. The situation deteriorated for a number of reasons, but chiefly because of the corruption of morality brought about by the increasing presence and takeover of political power by the ‘enemies’.

The enemies have changed over time, and time itself takes on different dimensions. From the Vedic period, history shifts easily to what is called the medieval period, when Hindu chieftains and feudal lords were engaged in constant battles amongst themselves and others. With this is a constant invocation of events like the plunder of Hindu temples by Moghul warlords and kings, and the heroic exploits of feudal lords like Shivaji, the Maratha king. The plunder of Hindu temples is likened to the plunder of Hindu women; especially remembered are the ‘sacrifices’ of Rajput women, who threw themselves into the funeral pyres rather than face death and rape at the hands of marauding Moghuls. From this point, it is yet another easy move that brings the Partition of the subcontinent into focus.

This is, very broadly speaking, an aspect of the propaganda used by the Hindu Right. I use it merely as an illustration here; I do not go into the details. That apart, other kinds of religious fundamentalisms in other parts of the world have acted in strikingly similar fashion. To go into that would require another paper altogether.

As communities try to make sense of scattered identities caused by factors explained above, religious fundamentalism addresses the confusion by creating an identity which rises above the fragmentation that communities experience. It addresses economic, social and cultural needs through the creation of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ as explanation. Religious fundamentalism operates on the principle of privileging ‘us’ and vilifying ‘them’.

Here again, Gujarat serves as a good example. Since February 2002 in numerous records and reports we find how this creation of the ‘them and us’ was used to create a fear psychosis in the minds of Hindus, thus justifying many murderous attacks on innocent Muslims. Pamphlets were circulated by the thousands, each one more incendiary than the other. Some described the fiction of Muslim men raping thousands of Hindu women; others advocated an economic boycott of the Muslims, and many congratulated the Hindu mobs for proving to the Muslims that they have risen above their own emasculation (brought about by the long history of Muslim aggression in the first place) to be ferociously and aggressively masculine when it comes to defending the Hindu nation.

In establishing the divisions between Muslims and Hindus as perpetrators and victims respectively, the Hindu right wing has clearly laid the ground for its nationalist project in India.

Religious fundamentalism undermines and seeks to replace democracy with the imposition of a set of rigid rules and the squashing of all dissent. Ironically, it is in the guise of democracy, through democratic mechanisms, that religious fundamentalism often entrenches itself in the political realm. Therefore, all democratic institutions are manipulated (elections being only one of them) for the installation of fundamentalist political power-which brings into question the very nature of democracy in the modern world. This would require a more detailed examination of the different forms and weaknesses of democracy which is beyond my present scope.

The fundamentalist project is almost always a ‘nationalist’ project which defines for women very specific roles and responsibilities and bases itself on a set of key definitions. This ‘nationalist’ project is consolidated as rightwing politics.

To go back to ‘them’ and ‘us’, it has long been established that the shaping of sexuality is one of the cornerstones of the fundamentalist project. It is crucial to ensure the ‘otherising’ of the enemy. In this, the refurbishing of patriarchal strangleholds is an important element in the fundamentalist design. Fundamentalism also re-fashions patriarchies to make for legitimizing participation of women in the ‘nationalist’ project and to enable ’empowerment’ of women, so as to make it more attractive to women. For example, in the Hindu right literature mentioned above, while there is a ‘looking back’ to a golden age, there is a clever refashioning of the new roles expected of women, in keeping with the changed times. Therefore women can legitimately attend training camps for ‘self-defense’, participate in all public ‘religious’ processions (which often turn into aggressive shows of Hindu-ness), and can represent communities to various state bodies if necessary. Further, as cultural carriers, it is often women who are employed to go around neighbourhoods and temples purportedly with the intention of performing Hindu rituals, to talk and meet with other women.

All this activity underscores the importance of women and serves to elevate self-worth at both individual and soon-to-be-transformed collective levels. This legitimacy granted to women, with the power of Hindu rightwing groups behind them, allows and creates a radically changed public space for women. While traditional roles, duties and responsibilities remain firmly in place, the increase in social and political status through these activities cannot be underestimated.

Women are perceived to be the property of the community, of men, and therefore have to subscribe to the appropriate rules. Women are not seen as autonomous beings, which is why the issue of community ‘honor’ being tied up with women’s bodies is so crucial. Likewise, women’s bodies (often reproductive organs) have been made the targets of the most horrifically detailed violence. This notion of women as property, upon whom depends the honor of the community and of men, has a history that often is linked with the creation of nation-states, even ‘modern’ nation-states. The tenacious hold of the image of the nation as a woman is a case in point. This then, is extended to the community, to men on a daily basis. It is not only in times of conflict that this notion is employed. The stigma of rape and the silence around it is precisely that. The routine domestic violence women face is also precisely that.

Women’s bodies, thus, are markers of the identity that fundamentalism so painstakingly seeks to create. Therefore dress codes become important, along with marriage alliances and the required feminine ‘modesty’ (read submission). In addition, as biological and cultural reproducers women are bound to bear the adequate number of male children (warriors, so to speak), who will rise to defend the community/nation-in-the-making against the enemy. Women are also trained to step into ‘warrior’ roles as and when the time arrives. So, while women’s duty at normal times is to uphold the patriarchal family and to be the ideal wife/daughter/sister/mother, their duties also include being prepared to enter the battlefield.

Since the ’80s there has been re-configuring of rightwing forces in the political arena. With the strengthening of religious fundamentalist forces there has been a conscious and systematic focus on women. The focus has been twofold; it has addressed women in both majority and minority communities. In building up an iconography of ‘them’ and ‘us’, the ideal of womanhood and the ‘enemy’ have both been shaped and reshaped. Several studies reveal how women have been trained to become the designated cultural reproducers within the fundamentalist framework, and how, through this, they have been given a space in the public realm and received instructions on proper social and domestic behavior where any transgressions from patriarchal, fundamentalist norms are frowned upon. This instruction has served the purposes of fundamentalist forces very well, as witnessed by the participation of women in ethnic and religious violence all over the world.

Fundamentalist ideology builds up a vocabulary to describe and locate women from all minority communities. However, given specific historical positions, it is women from the ‘other’ community who are central to the creation of this vocabulary. The ‘other’ woman is seen as the medium through which the community consolidates itself; she plays a key role in the reproduction of the community. The increasing numbers of the ‘enemy’ are then ascribed to her, and therefore she bears the brunt of the enmity in more ways than one. While women from the majority community are often de-sexualized and therefore pure and pristine, the ‘other’ woman is over-sexed. This highly sexualized imagery is used firstly to demonize the ‘other’ and then to create fear-both of which in turn lead to hatred and a justification of any means of violence to annihilate the community.

In numerous cases (Gujarat, India, Rwanda, Bosnia, Sri Lanka), women’s bodies have been sites of violence in the masculinist, hegemonic project of rightwing subjugation. As victims, as perpe- trators, and as key ideological focal points, women have been central to religious fundamentalism and rightwing politics. To begin with, violence on a community is justified in the name of women: in the war against the ‘enemy’, women’s bodies become the battleground.

Fundamentalist organisations systematically use propaganda that is designed to provoke. This propaganda lays bare the ideological building blocks of the religious right. Women are clearly central to the entire project, and it is in attacking women that the fundamentalist project can become a reality. It is as repositories of community honor, as child-bearers, that the bodies of ‘other’ women are specifically targeted. On the other hand women colluding with the religious fundamentalist forces have been given an unprecedented visibility both in terms of creating a fear psychosis in anticipation of an attack by the ‘other’ and in terms of foregrounding them as the guardians of religion and culture.

Women’s participation in violence can take many forms. They include valorising and justifying acts of violence, getting victims ready for sexual assault and so on. Thus as active participants in fundamentalist violence women have certainly traversed a full circle, fulfilling their multiple roles as ideal housewives, mothers, daughters, and equally as defenders of religion. In this context it is significant that rightwing women’s groups have also been ’empowered’ to make representations to state bodies.

Fundamentalist propaganda and the violence it unleashes have long-term impacts on women’s lives, regardless of caste, class and community. In an atmosphere vitiated by fear and insecurity, all women are affected. Also, when one section of women can be demonized, another section can come in for similar treatment at a later point. Religious fundamentalism has clearly laid down the rules for all women; there is a real danger that all women can come under the ambit of these rules at some point in time, as and when the fundamentalist project unfolds. Any woman who transgresses these rules can be targeted.

The last few decades have seen a phenomenal rise in the religious right across the globe. Asia, Latin America and the US in particular have witnessed the growth of the rightwing stranglehold. Its impacts on women’s lives, autonomy and choices, its implications for women’s rights, especially for marginalized groups of women, for women of the ‘other’ community, are grim.

Women’s rights, and control over their own bodies and sexuality, are inimical to the rightwing project, precisely because it does not envisage women as autonomous beings, but as the property of individual men and of the community. The gradual installation of rightwing ideology in the public and political arenas is a process ridden with violations of women’s rights. Be it reproductive rights, sexual rights, right to abortion, right to economic participation, or right to domestic and social security, the Right tells women they have to give up their autonomy in the best interests of the community.

It is a gradual process, often beginning with dress codes, the valorization of the family and its patriarchal controls, the imposition of heterosexual ‘normalcy’ and the regulation of marriage alliances. Before the Right takes over political power, it usually operates through a set of organizations that maintain close links with the community. Thus, before an open conflagration of hostility takes place, the Right slowly institutes a set of controls at the ground level that is put to service in the inevitable outbreak of violence that decisively demonstrates the demarcations between ‘them’ from ‘us’. This gradually builds social sanction for the institution of rightwing agendas.

Feminist movements have had to grapple with several uncomfortable realities. Apart from the impact of religious violence, the fact that this is usually preceded by longstanding propaganda militates against feminist principles of sexual equality and justice for all women. Feminist political analyses and action often lead to a confrontation with religious fundamentalism and rightwing politics, as is quite well known. Rightwing groups have often taken up all issues central to women’s interests, ranging from personal laws to reproductive rights. In the process feminist groups have been hard pressed to explain how they are different from them, how feminist politics is premised on principles that are often antithetical to the rightwing project. This has been very much part of the struggle for feminist groups and movements as a whole.

For example, in India feminist movements have historically presented an analysis of religious personal laws as being discriminatory to women. Since the 1970s feminist groups have been demanding a Uniform Civil Code, or a secular code of laws to govern marriage, property rights and so on. As of now each religious community is governed by different personal laws. In the 1950s, the Indian state brought in some reforms on the Hindu Code Bill in direct opposition to the views of some Hindu rightwing parties and also some members of the Indian National Congress. For fear of alienating the minorities, the then Prime Minister was opposed to bringing in changes in Muslim or Parsi personal laws.

As a result, a long and bitter quarrel has ensued over the institution of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). In the 1980s, however, the BJP (the Hindu rightwing political party) began to demand a UCC, at all quarters. There is reason to be suspicious of this demand coming from the BJP because most progressive and feminist groups are aware that this basically means that the Hindu Code Bill could come in through the backdoor, passed off as a UCC. As the BJP demand grew more vociferous, feminist groups found themselves in a catch-22 situation. Feminist politics seeks to eliminate discrimination. However, in this peculiar context in India, women’s groups began to engage in long and often bitter debates about the nature of this longstanding feminist demand, and the implications of its being seen as coinciding with the BJP demand.

Likewise there have been many other areas in India and outside where feminist groups have had to confront some very complex issues, on the use of ‘purdah’, beauty contests, and so on.

War, ethnic violence, inter-community clashes: there are as many terms as there are areas of conflict. Bosnia, Rwanda, Palestine, India, Sri Lanka, to name a few, have become markers the world over, signifying bitter and protracted conflicts that have jeopardized life and property of tens of thousands of people. In a world increasingly riven by armed conflict and political violence, we are witnessing the creation of both local and international histories that will resonate well into the future.

To put it briefly, some of the key issues that have emerged in the context of conflict are: i) national and international political combinations that come into play as conflicts are created and as they regenerate into new forms, ii) a deepening of conservative politics, iii) the reversal of democratic practices and mechanisms, iv) the creation of an ‘other’, v) violence against the ‘other’, and particularly the use of rape as a weapon, vi) the increased intensity of the struggle over scarce resources, vii) the militarisation of state and society, viii) large scale displacement of populations and the heightened pace of environmental degradation.

While each region experiencing conflict traces its own specific trajectory, routing itself through historical contexts, some implications remain common. It is important to understand these commonalties if we are to learn any lessons from the distressed histories of armed conflict and political violence. While each of the issues highlighted above merits attention, conflict-induced displacement needs urgent discussion given the high human costs it involves (both direct and indirect).

Displacement caused by conflict is often a brutal dislocation that may rupture the social, cultural and political fabric of entire communities. As the Sri Lankan experience shows, prolonged conflict and the subsequent displacement of large numbers of people tends to exacerbate social and ethnic tensions. As a consequence of such displacement, state as well as society gets drawn into a complex vortex of issues that almost evades solution.

To begin with, the experience of involuntary displacement even in non-conflict situations (as in the case of large dams or industrialization) is known to erode economic, social and cultural cohesion of the displaced communities. In conflict situations, displaced communities are extremely traumatized, as displacement is preceded and often followed by intense violence, where physical survival is itself at great risk. This is true of any such population shift, be it Ireland or El Salvador or Gujarat. The relentless pressures of such existence make for a formidable set of challenges to any institution that sets out to address the issues thrown up by displacement. Conflict-related displacement may severely affect the quality of life of tens of thousands of displaced people (refugees).

Displacement is a gendered experience, as is conflict. Men and women experience displacement and conflict in different ways, be they perpetrators or victims. Without doubt violence is one of the most serious issues that confront women in such situations. Social, military and domestic violence assume significant proportions, in terms of both scale and intensity. Rape, mutilation and torture often precede displacement, and continue to haunt women throughout their lives, partially because unlike project-related displacement, this kind of dislocation is not even peripherally part of any policy or project implementation. It is utterly without planning, and is often vicious. Communities do not necessarily move to safer locations, and their fortunes depend on how the conflict waxes or wanes, whether it spreads to newer areas. Therefore the threat of rape and sexual assault remains very high, in that the first experience of displacement is often the precursor to a cycle of subsequent dislocation. With each dislocation, the negative impacts accumulate.

Domestic violence also tends to increase as a result of cumulative male frustration, and is often linked to increased consumption of alcohol. Social violence takes many shapes and as the displaced community moves in to ‘protect’ the women and young girls, it often introduces a new set of restrictive codes. In India, in the three regions ridden with conflict, namely, Kashmir, North East and Gujarat, conservative dress codes have been introduced and are strictly enforced. Conflict, as has been pointed out by others, runs its course quite literally on the bodies of women.

Other issues related to displacement here are economic impoverishment, the disruption of social and kinship networks, the issue of disappearances, death of male kin and the complete absence of information about the dead, the collapse of criminal justice systems and democratic institutions, and the collapse of health care systems that would attend to both physical and mental health.

Women are rarely allowed to represent the community (except when it comes to being the repositories of community honour and male purity), and are kept away from decision-making structures. This affects the kind of decisions that are taken. Unable to influence political forces effectively, women are often further marginalized. On the other hand, as participants in violent conflict, women do wield some power within communities as the South Asian experience reveals (India, Sri Lanka). However, the boundaries of such power are clearly gendered, and are set out in unequivocal terms.

Violence affects women differentially across caste, class and ethnicity. However, all women remain vulnerable to social, domestic and institutional violence in societies governed by patriarchal structures and ideologies. Patriarchies either threaten violence or inflict actual violence on women through a multiplicity of controls that operate at the level of the family, community and state. This violence impinges on all spheres of women’s rights. In short, women’s rights to safe and dignified lives are constantly over-shadowed by violence: direct or indirect.

The all-pervasive presence of this threat of violence has been the galvanizing force for feminist activism and movements. While a plethora of movements have emerged on a whole range of issues, it has been left to women’s groups to take up the issue of violence against women. The everyday nature of violence against women has led to sharp and abiding feminist critiques of institutions like the family, law, state and community. These critiques have their origins in specific contexts that may be very different in cultural or social terms. For example, in India the issue of violence around dowry may be rooted in a social context that is very different from domestic violence in the US.

However, these critiques have drawn from a multiplicity of women’s experiences and, while acknowledging heterogeneity, also place on board the commonalities that bring women together. It is with the help of feminist perspectives and analyses that feminist movements have brought the issue of violence squarely into the public arena as determined resistance to patriarchal edicts that promised severe punishment in the event that the personal is transformed into the political.

Which is precisely what feminist movements have succeeded in doing: transforming the personal into the political.

Feminist movements or groups are not uniform in the way they define the principal discriminations against women and the subsequent actions they engage in. Gender inequality and patriarchal discrimination may form critical constituents in shaping feminist actions, but it needs to be said that there are as many ambiguities and frameworks as there are identities. It is not only a matter of emphasis in terms of issues that feminist groups decide to take up (for example, some groups deal with health issues, others with sexuality, yet others with legal inequalities even within the rubric of violence against women). It is also a matter of how groups understand patriarchal manifestations of discrimination, of how they decide to politically strategize against it, and of how to talk about rights. The debate on pornography is a case in point. Or for that matter, sex work. The difference in approach is often a matter of philosophical and moral approaches, but it may also have to do with the politics of funding.

The difference in political orientation among feminist groups is a result of a long process of evolution and has a lot to do with the origins of each group. Ideological influences work in myriad ways and are bound to have an impact on the strategies, political action and networks that are formed and sometimes re-formed as a process of reflection and evaluation takes place both locally and globally.

Increasing ‘specialization’ is also an issue that has come in for intense debate lately. Some argue that specialization dilutes the thrust of feminist politics, while others maintain that it is only women’s expertise that will bring any gains to women and to women’s movements.

Going back to the personal and the political, even a cursory backward look into the last few decades informs us that women’s realities enfold many complex realities and that common oppressions may not necessarily forge an automatic solidarity or even an automatic identity as ‘woman’. All the varied locations that women occupy and also help to create, lead to a multi-layered existence where identities are in constant flux, being acted upon by many factors. These identities are being constantly negotiated as women move from one plane of existence to another in one lifetime. Therefore, women, just as much are they are women, are also workers or religious subjects, to just give two examples.

Feminism therefore has had to grapple with this complex of experience. Inasmuch as feminist movements or scholarship have enabled the creation of a discourse that looks at all structures (including progressive political movements) through a critique of patriarchy and its concomitant controls, they have also had to confront the different interests that women espouse. While the personal remains political, both begin to multiply into disparate parts that make the whole, and therefore defy simplistic conceptual frameworks. Women’s participation in political movements has thus been influenced by all of these factors.

As a consequence of the many locations that women find themselves in and the differential interests that emerge from these, women form a large part of movements that I call survival struggles. These are struggles being waged on issues of economic justice, on the rights to land, water, forests, struggles for equitable development or anti-globalisation struggles. I draw upon the exper- iences of women in anti-dam struggles or land rights struggles for some of my analysis.

Women participate in these struggles as part of impoverished and marginalised communities that are at the receiving end of discrimination by the state, multilateral financial corporations and global capital. These struggles, by the very nature of their objectives and analyses, are not women-centered. Instead they are community-centered, in that their focus is not sexual inequality, but social and economic inequality. Even as it is recognized that the latter is a function of the former and that each inequality feeds on the other, creating a self-perpetuating circle of exploitative relationships, survival struggles do not often operate from within feminist frameworks.

Most survival struggles will not deny gender inequality. However there is little recognition of this inequality in either the leadership, the political actions, or representation within these struggles. ‘Women’s’ issues are often relegated to the background or in the classic case seen as divisive of the movement as a whole. The problem often lies in a leadership that accords to women’s political articulation and resistance a much lower priority than other issues. Often women are mobilized to participate in struggles, and such participation does mean a break from traditional roles and a transformation of gender relations. However, there seems to be a lack of a discourse that can describe these transformations in gender-empowering terms. The survival struggle then reverts to the usual patriarchal discourse that functions within the habitual framework of power relationships.

Thus, at one level women are often marginalized in such struggles. On the other hand, as active participants (often with the sanction of the community) women do gain in political stature. Women also see their interests as being inextricably bound up with these struggles, which indeed is the case.

The experience of empowerment is also very real as such movements entail the breaking down of the public/private dichotomy in much the way that feminist perspectives call for. Participation in survival struggles ensures a definite change in gender relations even if it does not bring about a complete breakdown of the sexual status quo. The dialectic of women’s participation and leadership even when broad patriarchal parameters remain in place brings about a certain overturning of the same parameters. Needless to say, there can be a return to the same patriarchal division of labour when the movement wanes.

One of the issues that have remained a point of tension is whether women in survival struggles are part of ‘feminist movements’, given the absence of a direct focus on gender inequality in such movements. How do we define feminist movements?

When women participate in survival struggles they are inadvertently breaking patriarchal norms, they are posing a challenge to notions of where women belong. In that, they are part of the feminist challenge. Yet, when it comes to issues like sexuality, violence against women, or reproductive rights, such movements do not usually shift the mainstream discourse in a more inclusive or gende-sensitive direction. This then often becomes the dividing line between women in ‘feminist movements’ and women in survival struggles. This division also leads to acrimonious debates sometimes, creating fissures in the attempt to create an across-the-board solidarity of movements and social organisations. It also raises the question of ownership and definitions. Who owns feminist movements, and who defines what they are?

On the other hand feminist movements are often perceived as having only a theoretical understanding of the complex relationship between class, caste, ethnicity and religion. Feminist perspectives are seen as being uncomfortable with the realities that real women live with. The lack of actual recognition of these realities in feminist campaigns again leads to a perception that women’s movements are not ‘local’ in origin, but rather draw their lineage to ideologies that reflect a reality that exists somewhere else. Feminists are usually dubbed as being Western, elitist, immoral, anti-national and so on, as the case may be.

Having said this, I do want to stress that I do not mean that the East is East and the West is West, destined never to meet! On the contrary, I do believe that the feminist axiom ‘all issues are women’s issues’ is an important part of feminist goals; one that we continue to strive for. Theory and practice can only come together in the realization that the struggle will have to be waged in different arenas, not at different levels of importance. Women’s rights to land and water are as important as their right to sexual and bodily autonomy. The real issue is how to integrate these into the diverse perspectives that inform our actions and our struggles.

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