It was through the mail that I received notification about a prestigious event, the 21st Smt. Bansari Sheth endowment lecture to be delivered by the famous feminist, Flavia Agnes from Mumbai.
This was the invite:
The Asiatic Society of Mumbai
takes pleasure in inviting you and your friends to
the 21st Smt. Bansari Sheth Endowment Lecture
Legal scholar and Director, Legal Centre of Majlis
‘The making of a modern nation through the Hindu code bill:
The Nehruvian agenda’
Wednesday, 12th February, 2014, at 6.00 p.m.
in the Durbar Hall of the Society.
Dr. Kamala Ganesh
Former Professor of Sociology, University of Mumbai,
Needless to say, I was keen for the chance to interact with a feminist of her stature. I enquired with the Asiatic Society about the event, whether it was open to the general public as well as whether or not there would be a Q&A session – although I almost smiled at my naiveté in expecting feminists to debate their beliefs or even being allowed to question them. My comrade-in-arms Nurdy Dancing explains the shunning away of feminists from debate quite well here. The assurance from the Asiatic personnel wasn’t comforting either, he was non-committal about the Q&A session saying there was no guarantee but urged me to take a chance for some interaction after the event.
The lecture began. There were a few lies, half-truths, and some damning contradictions within her speech. Flavia started talking about ‘The Hindu Code Bill’ that came into enforcement in 1955 and how the Hindu women were never given rights over property prior to this law, as compared to women from other religions. She mentioned that there were chapters dedicated to Women’s rights in the Hindu law books like Manu’s law, Yadnyavalkya’s law, etc. Yet she also suggested women were not given rights before 1955 and it was only the Nehruvian agenda that gave respect to women. Now I’d like to see her point of view, but the question then is if the Hindus were not following any of their existing laws which had chapters dedicated for women, then what law were they following?
Next on her list was the formation of the ‘Hindu Undivided Family’ concept which gave tax exemptions to Hindu families living together as joint-family. She claimed the founding fathers of our nation had done this so that the Hindu Family System could be protected. Implying which, it would be aptly clear that the founding fathers of India wanted to keep the family system running since it formed the backbone of Hindu traditions.
She also, in her lecture. interestingly mentioned an aspect of laws, wherein if something is left out or not considered when the law was formed, then it has to be included keeping the original vision and spirit of the law that was formed. If this was to be practiced today then Flavia would be the first person to oppose the Marriage Laws Amendment Bill, 2014 that is being introduced in the Parliament of India.
The proposed amendment would include new grounds for divorce under a situation of Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage by amending the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act. It is a property division law wherein: A wife can file a petition for Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage and, upon citing grave financial hardship, can have a share in the husbands property – self earned both pre and post marriage, inherited property and also inheritable property – duration of the marriage be damned. A husband can also file a petition for Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage and part with his property – self acquired and ancestral. But the catch is that a husband cannot oppose a petition filed by a wife, which defies any logic or common sense. Feminists have been supporting this law vehemently which has given rise to higher divorce rates, increased spousal murders, and decreases in the number of marriages wherever it has been introduced in the world. More details can be found on www.rollbackirbm.in
Does such a law fit with the vision that the lawmakers had when they drafted the Hindu Code Bill?
About the half-truths: Flavia believes there has been a mockery of justice and abuse of laws at the hands of the judges of India who operate within an anti-woman ethos. She cited a few judgements which, according to her, were anti-women. One thing of note was that almost all of her lecture focused only on the rights of the wife. There have been innumerable women – mothers and sisters – implicated in false dowry harassment cases with one arrest being recorded every 3 minutes, but this problem was not visited at all.
As far as the approach of the judiciary is concerned, if the judiciary in India was really anti-woman, then:
- It would not have awarded child custody to mothers in 98% of the cases.
- It would not have had asked men to pay maintenance to their adulterous wives
- It would not have asked men to beg, borrow or steal to pay maintenance to their parasitic wives,
Heck no! It would not have entertained allowing a man sell his kidney to pay maintenance. Unfortunately for the feminists, all these have happened and numerous other judgements favouring women occur far more regularly.
Finally, it was time for the much hoped for Q&A session. A few members of the audience had raised hands and the presiding chairperson initially disallowed any queries but, looking at the large demand from the audience, decided to ask Flavia before closing the session if she was able to take some questions. Flavia refused! Was it fear? Was it living in denial? Was it guilt? Or was it a false sense of superiority?
Almost forty of the sixty audience members swiftly moved to the dais to interact with her. Flavia was obviously overwhelmed by the questions directed at her before being hurriedly escorted out of the building. Some queries might have questioned her beliefs, some she might have dismissed in a state of denial, but one thing was sure; there were no answers for the people who were fishing.