Is India a patriarchal society? Youth Survey



The aim behind writing this paper and subsequent survey is based on a hunch hypothesis of Indian being a patriarchal society. The reasoning for this assumption is reinforced at various stages through our current social fabric. It echoes in the public domain with innumerable news items, which reflects the patriarchal nature of Indian society. Startling figures from the NCRB (National Crime Research Bureau) clearly exhibit the reigns of gender inequality running deep in our society. Not only through extreme events of sexual violence or dowry deaths but also in task distribution through rice plantations to state an example, where the most labor intensive work of weeding and transplanting is delegated to women. And through instances where women are paid heed and used only as a proxy to their male counter parts. For example, Rabri Devi through the last Lok Sabha elections served as proxy to Lalu Prasad, who was barred to contest post his arrest in the fodder scam, similar to when she played proxy between 1997 and 2005 while he served sentence in jail for embezzlement. Yet another example can be the woman councillor seats that are reserved in Delhi where women participate only as a proxy to their husband 1. Sadly, this is just the beginning of the story gender inequality. In this paper, WE aims to investigate the ideas, opinions and viewpoints of the youth (below 30) regarding gender roles, thereby analyzing the constraints that women face both at home and work.


To trace the existence of patriarch or an unequal representation of women, the French feminist movement through the French revolution is a good example in history. In 1791 Olympe de Gouges published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen. This was a letter addressed to Queen Marie Antoinette which requested actions in favor of women’s rights. Gouges was guillotined two years later. The constant appropriation of a positive role for men and the opposite for women almost seems to be done to a design. One evolutionary sociobiological theory for the origin of patriarchy begins with the view that females almost always invest more energy into producing offspring than males and, as a result, females are a resource over which males compete. This theory is known as the Bateman’s principle. One important female preference in selecting a mate is which males control more resources to assist her and her offspring. This, in turn, causes a selection pressure on men to be competitive and succeed in gaining resources in order to compete with other men. However, the patriarchal mindset may have been a metamorphosis through. If we notice among Christian names the existence of a matrilineal society (lineage from the mother) reflects the lineage. For example, ‘Mathew Doris’ where Mathew is a man’s name and Doris a woman’s name which in all probability comes from the mother. Some Scottish names are distinctly matrilineal; take for instance Mac Beth where Mac literally means ‘son of’ and ‘Beth’ a female name, hence, literally translates to son of Beth. The Irish names like O‘Connor also have a similar connotation ‘Son of Connor’ where ‘Connor’ is a female name.

1 Case in this regard is of Neetu Chaudhary MCD Councillor, Ward No 208, Sarita Vihar, New Delhi

In the Indian subcontinent too some sections like the khasis tribe from the North East depict matrilineal and matriarchal (mother as rank of the head where arch symbolizes power) leanings.

‘According to the Guinness Book of Records, the hilly Indian state of Meghalaya is the rainiest place on earth. And in its tribal populations, it also boasts of one of the world’s few surviving matrilineal systems – where women, rather than men, own land and property. Tradition dictates that the youngest daughter in the family inherits all the property as well as acting as caretaker of aged parents and unmarried siblings. As for the Meghalaya men folk, a suffragette movement has sprung up, with men’s right groups claiming matrilineal culture is breeding generations of gents who fall short of their potential, subsequently slipping into alcoholism and drug abuse.’

According to a blog penned by Nita J Kulkarni ‘traditionally, in Kerala it was communities like the Nairs and Ezhavas and Warriers and in Meghalaya it’s the the Khasi, Jaintias and Garo tribes (majority of the population of Meghalaya) who practice or used to practice this system. The Tulus in Karnataka have also been known to be traditionally matrilineal. However, the matrilineal system has declined considerably.’ Deifying women through the Shakti movement is another example of the importance of ‘Mother’ in the system that corroborates the exalted power of female in society. ‘The Shakti movement is one of the major theological dynamics in Hinduism. Its ideology is a supreme mother goddess phenomenon common in many primal religions. A tradition of Goddess worship may be traced as far back as the Indus valley, where presence of numerous terracotta figurines found at all levels of excavations suggests a general concern or fertility and that the worship of female divinity was a popular feature of the Indus religiousity’.

What is interesting to know is that ‘matrimonial’ unlike what it refers to in the present context of marriage actually meant the inheritance from the mother. So, even though the structure of the lineage, power and inheritance exists, patriarchy seems to have taken over at some point in time. The misogynistic attitude finds reflection through the cuss words too that may reflect a woman as honour and to violate her as dishonouring the person against whom the angst is felt. It is symptomatic of a feudal/patriarchal mindset where the woman is used to settle scores. Misandry on the other hand is still a word popularly unknown.

Also, the tilt of the power balance can hurt either of the genders as is evident in Meghalaya today. According to Keith Pariat, President of Syngkhong-Rympei-Thymmai, Meghalaya’s very own men’s rights movement says that they ‘do not want to bring women down’2 but ‘want to bring the men up to where the women are.’ Pariat, who ignored age-old customs by taking his father’s surname is adamant that matriliny is breeding generations of Khasi men who fall short of their inherent potential, citing alcoholism and drug abuse among its negative side-effects. Matriliny breeds a culture of men who feel useless, he adds. Citing numerous examples of how his fellow brethren are being demoralized, he talks of a fascinating theory involving the way where gender in the local Khasi language reflects these basic cultural assumptions. For example, a tree is masculine, but when it is turned into wood, it becomes feminine. The same is true of many of the nouns in our language. When something becomes useful, its gender becomes female, he states.

Hence, for a truly inclusive and gender equal society the power struggle needs to come to an equilibrium if not eliminated altogether. Typically, sexism is thought of as hostility towards women, perpetrated by men. However, both women and men can (and often do) endorse sexist beliefs about each other and themselves. In other words, men can express sexist attitudes about women or men, and women can express sexist attitudes about men or women. While sexism has historically disadvantaged women, there are negative consequences of sexism for both men and women Rigid gender roles can be damaging to women and men alike, restricting opportunities and promoting gender-based prejudice.’ 3

The gender roles as they are perceived today through reinforcement over the years seem to have metamorphosed into a power struggle. With child bearing and raring being a mother’s prerogative (naturally due to biology) an economic value may not be assigned to the same. However, the erstwhile male gender role of hunting or ploughing has been replaced with providing for the family which has an economic value attached to it. The lopsided scale of economics may have lead to a power struggle with the patriarchal subjugation creeping in. The hierarchy being further challenged with an increased representation of women in the workforce. The positions at home and at work being continually interchanged leading to frustration, confusion and anger.

  1. As per an interview given to Timothy Allen of BBC
  2. This is also described as ambivalent sexism.

Survey Methodology
We floated a survey to address the mindset relating to gender role and responsibilities amidst the youth (30 and under). The questions designed through the survey aimed to touch upon issues such as participation of women in decision making at home and their representation at work. While question 1 and 2 segregates the surveyed as per age and gender, question 3 also includes the orientation beyond the conventional gender segregation to recognize and create an inclusive forum for any gender sensitivity platform. Questions 6, 7, 8 and 9 deal directly with patriarchy and gender roles assigned. Questions 10 to 14 aim to tabulate the issues dealt with woman and work. Questions 15 to 17 identify the nature of reaction of the surveyed in case of being a witness to violations. Question 18 addresses the deeply engrained tradition that has a patriarchal trend. Question 19 aims to assess the inclination of the surveyed to be an active participant for change. Finally, question 20 ranks the role that media plays on gender discrimination.

To access the survey questions & its results click here

References and Bibliography

  • National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs last accessed on January 30, 2014
  • The Origins of Patriarchy last accessed on January 30, 2014
  • Where Women Rule the World: Matriarchal Communities From Albania to China ( last accessed on January 30, 2014)
  • Kulkarni N, Are (or were) Meghalaya and Kerala Matriarchal Societies? ( last accessed on January 30, 2014
  • Meghalaya, India: Where women rule, and men are suffragettes last accessed on January 30, 2014 Religions of the World, Second Edition: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices


A mother, a daughter, a sister, a lover, a friend, a mentor, an author, an aspiring artiste, a spiritual enthusiast and a whole lot of things wrapped into this being, lets call her Simply Suparnaa.