The Future is Feminist
Aleena Anabelly A & Aayana Rai Bhojani, Students, School of Law, CHRIST, Bangalore
Is Silence an option? Feminism thinks not.
India is culturally diverse and linguistically myriad with her soul resting on various religious denominations. Therefore, familial relationships, individualistic instincts, intrinsic emotions, sexuality and so many other human behavioural impulses are altered, adapted, and modified to conform to the popular stereotypes that are determined by extant socio-cultural ideologies. The new wave of feminism attempted to break these conservative socio-cultural conventions and technicised the politics of Indian women. Feminist radicalism propelled forward with an insurrectionary spirit against sexual aggression, gender disparity, archaic Indian practices, online misogyny, workplace discrimination, and rape culture. The gender dichotomy has sensitised and engendered democratic changes. Hence, feminist movements were reinvigorated with the rejection of social protection agendas of the right-wing, that hindered the self-emancipation of women. Social movements and campaigns like the blank noise project, pink chaddi, pinjara thod (break the cage), slut walk, bekhauf azadi (freedom without fear), and why loiter? Upsurged discourse on women’s choices, individual spaces and her struggles for economic redistribution, political representation, and cultural recognition. On 16th December 2012, the capital was flooded with thousands of protestors over the Nirbhaya gang-rape case and western medias portrayed this sentimental aggression as ‘India’s Arab Spring’; the mass mobilisation against ‘rape culture’ marked the commencement of fourth-wave feminism in India, one of the world’s most dangerous countries for women according to statistics released by the Thomas Reuters Foundations.
The fourth wave of feminism is defined differently in India, as compared to the West, with the latter representing it to be just the second and third waves of feminism discussed online. Indeed, its existence is challenged by many who feel that increased usage of the internet cannot delineate a new wave. Nevertheless, for the former, it collectivises a long struggle spearheaded by the ideals of women’s rights and social justice, propagated through social media, due to its wide reach and traction, seeing as feminism itself was not commonly accepted in Indian society previously. Sites like Instagram and Twitter saw a heightened level of feminist agitation, albeit propagandised with an impressive level of inclusivity and maturity.
The second-wave feminism had already transnationally reiterated that “the personal is political” – but movements like #MeToo, #IWillGoOut, #LahuKaLagan, #AintNoCinderella re-established this axiom and expanded the emancipatory potential of feminist imaginary to the digital world. This ‘wokeness’ was exploited by innately androcentric capitalist entities, who commercialised these campaigns. Movements like Chalo Dilli and #NotInMyName which emanated in the aftermath of Delhi gang-rape case legitimised the authority of public power and became the new face of virtually propagated feminism. The problem then became this: that the success of a minority movement - the years of victimisation and marginalisation, especially in India, known for its deep-rooted problems of gender equality and sexual violence propagated through the wide acceptance of patriarchy - can never be measured by top-level interlocutors or actors. The fourth wave did exactly that; it was exclusionary in reach, and could only be accessible by the elitist section that was perceived to belong on the internet. Thus, it did little to address the everyday issues of the lower socio-economic strata, or the ‘averages’, reinforcing the very imperialistic conceptions and power dynamics it attempted to strike down. This raises the concern that online discussions are increasingly divorcing from the real-world – an idea captured perfectly by the term ‘slacktivism’, which refers to feel-good campaigns that do not necessarily translate into grass-root level change. From this emerged the phrase ‘check your privilege’ to remind activists that they cannot be speaking on behalf of others and their lived experiences. Ironically, this new development contributed to a generational divide between various feminist movements and feminists and reflected the reality of appealing only to younger activists that grew up using the internet, and it is often abused as a means of deflection as opposed to evincing the real issues and calling for a solution
However, since the usage of digital media is ever-expanding, the need for a new policy arises from the requirement for the proposal of a clear regulatory structure that paves the way for the nascent growth of the fourth wave of feminism in India to contribute toward national development and advancing the frontiers of the movement.
To ensure that India leapfrogs into global leadership in women’s rights, the New Women Policy 2020 specifically advocates the following: `
a) How do we be the change we want to see? Convert the structure.
The new policy aims to decouple or extend the Intermediary Guidelines Rules, 2011 and the Information Technology Act, 2000. It recommends setting up a Dispute Redressal Appellate Tribunal for Women (DRATW), as an independent quasi-judicial body, empowered to be the first recourse to any dissatisfaction against decisions of current courts. It also recommends instituting separate E-Safety Dispute Redressal Commissions for Women (EDRCW) in every state, under the National Commission for Women, headed by E-Safety commissioners. These will address the grievances and complaints of women regarding matters of online harassment, voyeurism, sextortion and other cyber-crimes against women. Both these commissions shall have 50% representation of women. There needs to be a separation of power in decision-making between the judicial functions (i.e. dispute redressal and appeals) and executive functions (i.e. administering and monitoring rules). In this regard, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India or the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology will be responsible for dealing with the complications of the Intermediary Guidelines, 2011 ( viz. The rules require an intermediary with more than 50 lakh users to set up a company, but offer no mechanism on how these numbers are to be calculated), setting standards, ensuring compliance and liaising with the intermediaries. The Australian legislation which supervises the sharing of abominable content – Abhorrent Violent Material Act 2019 which imposes criminal penalties on Social Media Companies can serve as a template to effectuate certain restrictions to the virtual space and ensure more accountability from the online content providers and intermediaries. Germany’s Network Enforcement Act or the NetzDG law which subsists as a test for combatting online hatred and extremism can be drawn on as a framework for formulating laws that regulate the dissemination of depiction of violence. This can be used to institutionalise gender-sensitive legislation and democratic changes.
b) How can the legal system be Democracy’s ally instead of an enemy? Reformation.
It is evident that the existing laws try to protect the archaic but popular Indian ideology of womanhood and not women. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986 amounts to a disproportionate emphasis on the representation of certain gender markers, as it fails to recognise the voluntary dissemination of deemed too indecent (according to IRWA) content by women in any manner. This law which is constructed according to the extremely subjective patriarchal interpretation of ‘decency’ restricts women’s right to self-expression through online mediums. Similarly, section 67 and 67A of the IT Act does not recognise consensual dissemination of such content by women through electronic media. Despite section 153 A of IPC attempting to regulate hate speech “on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”, it distinctly fails to acknowledge the existence of hate speech disseminated on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. Hence, amendments should be made to these legislations in order to facilitate gender-inclusive transformations. The embodiment of separate legislation pertaining to technology-mediated violence against women can be contemplated as an alternative to this (viz. a women-centric Information Technology Act )
c) What is the door to Tomorrow? Education.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development shall aim to train young students in women’s issue and rights. It shall look to further subjects like Gender Studies in Social Media by espousing specialised undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses. It shall aim to increase integration of these in premier Art and Literature universities in India. Government support can catalyse these courses, and a small proportion of the Ministry’s budget will be allocated towards promoting them.
It is vital to recognise a large amount of cyberbullying stems from aggressively sexist behaviour. In various schools across the country, students are already assimilated to cyber education classes and by extension, harmful cyber activities. The Ministry will aim to integrate a curriculum that deals specifically with bullying in reference to gender dynamics and the feminist agenda within these existing subjects.
d) Is it Artificial Intelligence or our intelligence? Both
Any examination of bias in AI recognises the fact that these biases mainly stem from humans’ inherent biases. Since machine learning functions on echo-chambers, i.e. a person will encounter posts that only coincide and reinforce their ideas if they like one anti-feminism post, they are more likely to see an abundance of the same, despite it not being a conscious choice of theirs. With this in consideration, the NCW shall put considerable work into sensitising coders to the impacts of gender biases on their algorithms and its users.
The battle is far from over. Feminism has reached new heights with the era of the internet, that has both widened and splintered it. On the one hand, its reach is no longer an ivory tower approach that lends itself only to voices of academia. On the other, it fails to address the underlying structural changes in providing access to only a privileged section of women. In addition, it is not nearly as coherent and diverse as it hopes to be, due to a lack of regulatory and enforcing mechanisms. This article aimed to acknowledge both the benefits and faults of the new wave of feminism that India is still adapting to and strived to mitigate these lacunae through a multitude of policy recommendations since the strength of the movement can only lie in how alive it is, and how much real change it calls for. The battle must go on. And it will. Till the last bell tolls and the last soldier falls, women will use the assets of the modern world to fight the good fight, the virtuous fight. There is no Plan B - change is the only constant.
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