Twitter outrage over the mannequin ban does not reflect Mumbai’s many conflicting moralities
Applying Western liberal standards of gender equality to Indian society is perhaps premature. Being the world’s largest democracy is no mean achievement. However, political democracy and equality alone is cited as a measure of its relative success. Social and economic equality, emancipation and empowerment have failed to follow political equality. One aspect of this socio-economic parity was the cause championed by B.R. Ambedkar (somewhat diluted and distorted today by his successors). Lamentably, in the context of gender, the issue didn’t quite get the same impetus.
Unequal socio-economic development is not only a function of class and caste, but of gender as well. And herein lies the root of our present predicament. Gender issues are just as deep-rooted as class and caste divisions, and cut across caste/ class divisions. This is a phenomenon that has existed in Western society as well. Plato for instance, advocated the communism of wives, along with property. Enough has been written and said about the position of women in our patriarchal society. However, what needs to be pointed out is that this is merely the result of a lack of social development. It is worth noting that there exist multitudes of demographics in India (often oversimplified as Bharat and India). Starting with that section of society that genuinely believes in the cause of female emancipation, followed by the section that mouths equality in public but manipulates the sex of their child through the use of technology in private, right down to the section that sees women as nothing more than cattle. The deeply traditional (read patriarchal) nature of a large section of our population, juxtaposed with those of scientific (and cosmopolitan) temper, clearly makes for a heterogeneous culture and value system. And it is this heterogeneity that the law must sadly cater to.
Mumbai is arguably India’s most cosmopolitan city. However, the thousands who come to the city seeking a better life are quite removed from the liberal culture of the city. Is it possible to compare men from a place where they don’t speak to a member of the opposite sex (unless she is a relation) with those who are part of Mumbai’s “upwardly mobile” crowd? And it is not only the migrant workforce that has attitudes and values different from what we consider Bombay culture. It is also the plurality of Bombay culture itself.