HER NAME IS AS­PI­RA­TION

India Today - - UP FRONT - SURINDER S. JODHKA Surinder S. Jodhka is a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity, New Delhi

OThe ex­pand­ing ser­vice sec­tor of­fered jobs to ed­u­cated and young women and en­abled them to think of their fu­tures be­yond the tra­di­tional roles of moth­er­hood and homemak­ers.

n Au­gust 4, a 23- year- old woman, Geetika Sharma, com­mit­ted sui­cide in her home in Delhi. Two days later, an­other young woman was found dead in her home in the town of Mo­hali, close to Chandi­garh. The two in­ci­dents are not re­lated but the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved have sev­eral things in com­mon. Apart from be­ing “young” and “dead”, they were both as­so­ci­ated with pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial men. They are both dead be­cause they were women and had had “bad” ex­pe­ri­ences with the two men. While the woman who died in Mo­hali had been briefly mar­ried to the son of a se­nior Haryana politi­cian, the sui­cide note left be­hind by Geetika Sharma too in­di­cates her be­ing “ma­nip­u­lated” by the other pow­er­ful man.

The two women, in a sense, rep­re­sent a new gen­er­a­tion of In­di­ans who grew up in the new In­dia of the 1990s, where the ex­pand­ing mar­kets and ser­vice econ­omy of­fered as­pir­ing men and women op­por­tu­ni­ties be­yond the con­ven­tional jobs in the pub­lic sec­tor and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. The ex­pand­ing ser­vice sec­tor in par­tic­u­lar of­fered a large va­ri­ety of jobs to ed­u­cated and young women and en­abled them to think of their fu­tures be­yond the tra­di­tional roles of moth­er­hood and homemak­ers.

The process of lib­er­al­i­sa­tion ini­ti­ated dur­ing the early 1990s was not merely about mak­ing the In­dian econ­omy more com­pet­i­tive. It also be­gan a process of so­cial trans­for­ma­tion. In­dia to­day is no longer imag­ined as a land of “vil­lage re­publics” and agri­cul­ture. It is the ser­vice econ­omy and ur­ban man­u­fac­tur­ing that con­trib­ute most to the na­tional in­come. The new eco­nomic or­der that linked In­dia to the global econ­omy in a much more in­tense mode also pro­duced a new cul­tural or­der. The new cul­tural econ­omy of com­merce, com­modi­ties and con­sump­tion cre­ated as­pi­ra­tion for mo­bil­ity and promised a new life­style that would pro­vide com­forts and dig­nity to those who worked hard ir­re­spec­tive of so­cial po­si­tion in the tra­di­tional or­der. Women who joined the new ser­vice econ­omy not only went out to work and made friends based on their in­di­vid­ual tastes but also brought home hand­some salaries.

Apart from those from the metropoli­tan cen­tres and mid­dle classes, women from the lower mid­dle classes com­ing from smaller towns and even ru­ral ar­eas en­tered a new life of work­ing out­side the home, of­ten at odd hours. The new mid­dle class fam­ily of ur­ban In­dia no longer looked at its daugh­ters merely as paraye ghar ki mehman, a “guest” to be brought up for the house of her in- laws, where she as­sumed her fi­nal iden­tity, that of a wife and a mother. The ur­ban par­ents, even those from the rel­a­tively less pros­per­ous eco­nomic backgrounds, have be­gun to look at their daugh­ters dif­fer­ently. Not­with­stand­ing con­ser­va­tive val­ues and strong faith in the in­sti­tu­tion of fam­ily, very rarely do ur­ban par­ents dis­crim­i­nate against their daugh­ters when it comes to send­ing them to schools and col­leges.

The new mar­ket econ­omy also shapes so­cial re­la­tions and as­pi­ra­tions. While a rapid growth of ser­vice sec­tor cre­ates de­mand for a va­ri­ety of labour force, the grow­ing cul­ture of con­sump­tion and com­modi­ties cre­ates new as­pi­ra­tions which en­cour­age ev­ery­one to work and ac­com­plish dreams. Noth­ing is more valu­able in the con­sumer so­ci­ety than a good amount of dis­pos­able in­come. Ev­ery­thing seems achiev­able. In­dia lives with con­tra­dic­tions. As the coun­try grows richer, so do its con­tra­dic­tions.

The de­vel­op­ment of mar­ket econ­omy dur­ing the 19th cen­tury in Western Europe that brought women into the newly emer­gent labour mar­kets was also ac­com­pa­nied by a new demo­cratic con­scious­ness and the rise of women’s move­ments about their rights as cit­i­zens. In the 1960s and 1970s, the fem­i­nist move­ments raised more fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about the re­la­tions of power in the pri­vate sphere. By the 1980s the West saw the rise of a new con­scious­ness about women’s equal­ity. The change was rad­i­cal.

In­dia too has had its fem­i­nist move­ments. The so- called au­ton­o­mous women’s move­ments that emerged dur­ing the 1980s raised ques­tions about the per­va­sive vi­o­lence against women in the streets and at homes. They also raised ques­tions about dif­fer­en­tial wages and rights of work­ing women. Even when these move­ments were mostly led by the mid­dle class ur­ban women, they ar­tic­u­lated con­cerns of dif­fer­ent sec­tions of In­dian women. Women’s em­pow­er­ment, as they ar­gued, could hap­pen only when the pa­tri­ar­chal mind­set of the In­dian so­ci­ety and the cor­re­spond­ing struc­ture of so­cial re­la­tions would change. How­ever, the process of lib­er­al­i­sa­tion and glob­al­i­sa­tion em­pow­ered women through the mar­ket. They raised as­pi­ra­tions and de­sire for par­tic­i­pa­tion and mo­bil­ity. The ques­tion of pol­i­tics of so­cial re­la­tions seemed re­dun­dant. It is this ab­sence of pol­i­tics and blind­ness to the so­cial struc­tures of gen­der and pa­tri­archy that pro­duces the kind of ur­ban and

“mod­ern” so­ci­ety where young mid­dle class women, de­spite be­ing em­pow­ered, are much more vul­ner­a­ble than they have ever been in the past.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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