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Women Banned from Using Mobile Phones in Indian Villages

The article originally appeared in Global Voices.

A village council in the Indian state of Bihar banned the use of mobile phones by women in the Sunderbari village, roughly 385 kilometers (239 miles) east of Patna, the capital of Bihar. The population of Bihar is 104 million, larger than any European country and one third the population of the United States.

The most recent ban, comes after a July ban on mobile phones for girls in the Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh. This was followed by a ban in August on mobile phones for girls under age 18 in Jhunjhunu district’s Udaipurwati in Rajasthan, according to The Times of India.

In Rajasthan, the ban was issued so that girls would not be “spoiled” by excessive use of cellphones. In UP the ban on mobile phones also included a ban on women under the age of 40 going shopping un-escorted by a man. Overall the bans target women’s freedom and mobility. A local resident said:

It has been observed that mobile phones have given ‘unnecessary’ freedom to girls, which is distracting them from following our culture. The Panchayat’s decision will be followed strictly in the village as it has been accepted by all.

Photo courtesy of Gayatri Agnew

In the most recent case, in Bihar, the village officials claimmobile phones were “debasing the social atmosphere” by leading to couples eloping. In recent times the “elopement” from these villages have been increasing rapidly. The council has also imposed a fine of 10,000 rupees ($180) if a girl is caught using a mobile phone on the streets and married women would have to pay 2,000 rupees ($36.60).

Jagmati Sangwan, vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said that the men who head such village councils “want women to get cut off from the processes of modernization, education and employment.”  She said they that such laws, targeting only one segment of society, are not legal, according to India Ink.

As Techdirt reported: this is not about “eroding the moral fabric of society”, but about power, and in particular the erosion of traditional male power in the village.

Local officials have begun investigations saying such bans cannot be allowed in a healthy society.

While some twitter reactions from India have been surprised at the ban, and seem to blame it on the predominantly Muslim population of the village, religion does not explain bans in other regions of India.

@Against_Pseudos: Islamic Sharia!! Muslim dominated village in Bihar, Sunderbari, ban girls and women from using mobile phones!

@HeathaT (Heather Timmons): A ban on cellphone use for women & girls in rural Bihar shld spark a write-in campaign to Bihar tourist office: RC http://nyti.ms/TECSFd

‏@subtletea (Sameer Khandelwal): Indian Village Bans Unmarried Women & Girls from Using Mobile Phones. Why not ban it for everyone, irrespective of gender or marital status?

Kavitha Rao notes that mobile phones may be the single most empowering technology for Indian women. In other areas of Bihar, mobile phones are being used by activists and social workers to work on areas such as health and education and it contributed to results such as decrease in maternal mortality rates.

A couple of years ago Contador Harrison Wanarua wrote on a news of a similar ban on mobile phones for unmarried women in another part of Uttar Pradesh:

Only an neo-colonial mentality person can fail to support local women’s rights group criticism of the measure as backward and unfair.

Mobile Phones have played a tremendous role in helping ease communication among people and one cannot discriminate in the use of these contraptions on the basis of sex. If effected this could be a national shame to all mobile industry players…

On Facebook Sethi Mushtaq writes:

This is the real India and not what their Bollywood projects it to be worldwide :P

Let’s hope the real India stops restricting women’s freedom and mobility.