Rise of Indian women-only space amid male-only village councils

Posted Oct 20, 2013 by Michael Krebs
While international news sources begin following the rise of women-only options in India, village-based male councils continue to blame Western influences like clothing and mobile phone usage for violence against women.
Anti-rape protests at India Gate
Anti-rape protests at India Gate
The rise of women-only opportunities — on buses and trains; among travel groups and hotel floors; and moving now toward women-only parks and banks — has caught the attention of the international media community, with recent reports from the Washington Post and from Al Jazeera citing the growth with a wary eye toward meaningful gender-based social progress in India.
The women-only option does remain controversial in India, with some feminist voices in India expressing their disapproval.
“The attempt is to shrink women into limited spaces,” Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Center for Social Research in New Delhi, told the Washington Post.
Another artery of criticism points to the question of why Indian women are being asked to change their behaviors — in terms of travel and potentially even of banking options — while Indian men can sustain their existing behaviors. In this mindset, the women-only approach is a cop-out and is not an enduring solution to the larger problem of women's rights in India.
This concern is well portrayed in the perspectives shared with The New York Times by the khap panchayats, unelected village-oriented male-only councils that are tasked with monitoring the ancient village-ordained behaviors of women. Governed by their role to protect and administer the medieval social codes that have long defined their villages, these councilmen are focused on the modern influences of Western culture — with particular emphasis on Western clothing and on mobile phone use among village women working in urban settings.
“The mobile plays a main role,” Om Prakash Dhankar, a khap leader, told The New York Times. “You will be surprised how this happens. A girl sits on a bus, she calls a male friend, asks him to put money on her mobile. Is he going to put money on her mobile for free? No. He will meet her at a certain place, with five of his friends, and they will call it rape.”