GST: A Gendered Lens

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Curated by Priya Prabhakar

With the adoption of Goods and Services Tax (GST) by the Indian government that came in effect on July 1st, 2017, it is important to look through a feminist lens to determine the material impacts of the tax, as it has come with a fair share of critique. A gendered analyses of GST renders the taxation unfair on the basis of menstrual products, mostly affecting cis-women, along with traditionally “feminine” products, such as cosmetics, skin care, and domestic appliances. Other gendered implications include the nationalist implication of a “one tax”, which falls in pattern with the “political construction of the Hindu rashtra”, which disproportionately oppresses working-class women. This has manifested through the mass strikes of women garment workers in the unorganized sector. We’ve compiled a list of resources that seeks to analyze the feminist/anti-feminist consequences of the GST. Feel free to leave other resources in the comment section of this post.

 

“What we want to ask is this. If puja items can be made tax-free, why not menstrual products? And if this question isn’t about gender, then why do bindis and sindoor get the treatment that sanitary napkins don’t? Is the idea of an unmarried woman really that scary?”

“Currently, a tax of 22% including excise duty and other taxes are levied on products such as toothpaste, hair oil and soap but after GST a tax of 18% will be imposed. Skin care products and shampoo have been put in 28% tax category while Vermilion, Bindi and mascara have been left out. As far as sanitation is considered, a tax of 12% will be levied despite the demand of making it tax-free.”

“What is the logic behind making condoms tax-free while taxing sanitary napkins, tampons and other items of female reproductive hygiene at a steep 12 per cent? Plain and simple, it’s patriarchy in action, and the deep-seated taboo about menstruation being associated with uncleanliness, and menstrual blood being polluted.”

“The application of technology for domestic use has been a major help and stimulus for women’s emancipation, initially in the West, later in the expanding middle class of developing countries like India, easing her labour and freeing her time considerably from domestic duties, thus allowing her to work outside the home, enabling her financial empowerment. Increasing tax on domestic appliances is regressive from the gender perspective. In contrast, the government put items like sindoor, alta, bindi and bangles, items essentially associated with a married Hindu woman, into the exempt category. Through its tax priorities, the government appears to reflect, reinforce and incentivise deep-rooted societal stereotypes that typecast women into their traditional roles of wife and mother. Women would be far happier with a tax structure that enables and incentivises her to become financially independent so that she can buy sindoor and bindis even with enhanced taxes.”

“The economic discourse on GST tends to miss out on an essential aspect of the reform, namely its contribution to the political construction of the Hindu rashtra. GST helps in homo­genising India, a la “one nation, one market, one tax,” which indeed was the BJP’s slogan for GST…Yet, the remaining clauses are indicative of not only a confluence of Hindutva and neo-liberalism, but also reminiscent of Hitler’s “ein volk, ein reich, ein führer” (one people, one nation, one leader), much adored by the Sangh Parivar. The GST in its current form, irrespective of its fate—Modi is capable of making even his worst failure seem a grand success as in demonetisation—is a leap towards the Hindu rashtra.”

“A huge cottage industry as developed around the main textile industry that involves women who do the stitch art work and embroidery etc on the finished fabric. They are part of the unorganised sector and form a very important part of textile industry. But the government did not care to consider them while slapping GST,” said Usmani. These women from the unorganised sector are likely to join the protest in large numbers from July 11, said a core member of the GST Sangharsh Samiti.”

Please leave links of any other relevant in the comments section and we will add them.

Priya Prabhakar has been a Prajnya Intern over the summer in 2016 and 2017 and is studying at Scripps College. 

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