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Indian Express

17-October-2023

1) A Conflicted Modernist

Context:

  • Sir Syed’s 125th birth anniversary coincides with the passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill.
  • Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was a significant person in Indian history who worked to advance modern education among Muslims and promote a number of social changes.
  • The editorial’s analysis offers a nuanced perspective on Sir Syed’s views on women’s education and his interactions with colonial authorities.

Details:

  • Sir Syed Ahmed Khan deserves praise for his contributions to Muslim contemporary education and support of societal reforms.
  • He is criticised nonetheless for his alleged support of colonial rulers and for failing to do enough to advance women’s education.
  • The Women’s Reservation Bill was passed on the same day as his 125th birthday, which led to a reevaluation of his contributions to the social, educational, cultural, and religious freedom of women.

Views on Women’s Education:

  • Sir Syed held conservative views on women’s education despite having a clear tendency towards liberal principles and a logical approach.
  • He promoted disorganised tutor-based home education” for women, claiming that education could jeopardise their primary function, which he saw as marriage and family responsibilities.
  • The practicality of girls having an education and the probable difficulties in finding educated spouses, which, in his opinion, could result in misery, were two issues he expressed concern about.

Gender Segregation and British Influence:

·      Sir Syed’s support for gender segregation and purdah-centered home education for women is a fascinating feature of his ideology.

·      He opposed British programmes like co-education and the creation of schools only for girls, considering co-education to be one of the main factors contributing to public unrest against colonial rule.

·      He asserted that opponents of gender segregation in educational institutions and supporters of women’s education came from a variety of religious backgrounds.

Dual Perspective on Women’s Education:

  • Although, there are remnants of a feudal worldview in his viewpoints, it’s important to remember that Sir Syed was also a fervent supporter of women’s liberation and an outspoken opponent of social customs that stood in the way of advancement.
  • He founded the bilingual periodical Aligarh Institute Gazette and used it to advocate against issues including female infanticide, polygamy, child marriage, sati, widow segregation, and forced marriages of young girls to older men.
  • Sir Syed’s interactions with British philanthropist Mary Carpenter and his travels to Europe played a role in shaping his evolving perspective on women’s education.
  • He came to appreciate the significance of women’s education and gender equality, even becoming the first Muslim traveler to admire the freedom enjoyed by women in parts of Europe.

Conclusion:

  • The editorial concludes by offering a fair evaluation of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s legacy.
  • It acknowledges his conflicted opinions on women’s education, which were influenced by cultural standards of the time, while also highlighting his contributions to social change and women’s emancipation.
  • His historical significance is further complicated by his changing viewpoint, which is shaped by his relationships and experiences.
  • Despite holding conservative views on women’s education, his activism against backwards thinking and appreciation of the value of women’s education in Europe shows how multifaceted his legacy is.

2. Revisiting India’s Abortion Laws: A Comprehensive Analysis

Context:

  • The editorial explores the nuances and effects of India’s abortion legislation, concentrating on the amendment of 2021 that increased the maximum gestational age at which abortions are permissible as well as the difficulties women encounter in obtaining abortion services.
  • It also discusses the requirement for more thorough, rights-based abortion laws.

Reforming the Abortion Laws in 2021

  • India amended its Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 2021 to permit legal abortion up to 24 weeks for particular groups of “vulnerable women.”
  • Although many women still turn to the courts for abortions due to access issues or other impediments, the amendment was seen as a significant step forward.

The Continued Use of Court Procedures

  • Even after the 2021 amendment, women still go to court when the new gestational limits are breached or when they are denied access to abortion services.
  • The Supreme Court recently denied a married woman’s request for a pregnancy termination at 26 weeks because of a lack of early diagnosis brought on by lactational amenorrhea.
  • The postpartum psychosis this woman was experiencing raised questions about whether or not she could safely carry the pregnancy to term.

Late abortions and their reasons

  • Many women sought late-term abortions before the 2021 amendment, which raised the legal limit to 20 weeks of gestation.
  • The most common causes in these cases were rape or foetal abnormalities.
  • It suggests that “pre-screening” of the petition by interested parties, such as doctors and lawyers, is done to determine its propensity to win the support of judges or medical boards.
  • Some questionable cases might not be heard in court in order to prevent “adverse precedents” or “corruption of jurisprudence.”

Reasons for Late abortions:

  • Women may need late-term abortions for a number of reasons, such as:
    • structural barriers to early access,
    • vulnerable situations like domestic violence and sexual assault,
    • changes in post-pregnancy circumstances (partnership support, financial situation, education, and employment),
    • physical and mental health issues,
    • late pregnancy detection as a result of lactational amenorrhea or menopause.

However, the 2021 amendment limits access to abortion to only a few types of women, leaving many without a choice.

Challenges and the role of healthcare providers:

  • Although the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows registered medical practitioners (RMP) to end pregnancies if it is essential to save a woman’s life, this practise is frequently avoided by healthcare providers due to concern about facing legal repercussions.
  • Because of this, women frequently turn to the judicial system as a last choice, while others choose to carry their pregnancies to term or have unsafe abortions.

The Arduous Journey Through Courts and Medical Systems

  • The route through the legal and medical systems is described as arduous, frustrating, and dehumanising for women who succeed in getting beyond the initial obstacles and filing a petition.
  • The women are required to go through a variety of intrusive and unpleasant medical exams, including psychiatric evaluations.
  • Their fear and anxiety are increased by this experience.

Comparing Indian Law with International Standards

  • Despite the fact that Indian law is thought to be quite liberal when compared to other nations, it is incompatible with international norms for human rights and best practises with respect to abortion.
  • In a seminal case the Supreme Court noted that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act is provider-centric and frequently forces women to go to court or seek dangerous alternatives in the event that an abortion service is denied.

WHO Guidelines and the Need for a Rights-Based Approach

  • In order to ensure that everyone has non-discriminatory and equal access to abortion treatment, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that abortion be completely decriminalised and that grounds-based restrictions and gestational limits be lifted.
  • These recommendations support using clinical best practises to end pregnancies safely at any gestational age.
  • The WHO views gestational restrictions and grounds-based control as “medically unnecessary policy barriers.”

Way Forward

  • India’s abortion laws require a more thorough, rights-based approach that takes into account the various situations that women may encounter and eliminates the current gaps and inequalities in access to safe and legal abortion services.

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