Rise of the woman

Over the years, In­dia has boasted of fe­male em­pow­er­ment, par­tic­i­pa­tion and pres­ence through­out and be­yond the coun­try. But has this re­ally led to gen­der equal­ity at large?

Southasia - - Cover Story -

Women com­prise nearly half of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion but a con­sid­er­able chunk is still so­cially sup­pressed, eco­nom­i­cally ex­ploited and po­lit­i­cally pas­sive. Ac­cord­ing to a Thomas Reuters Trust­law Women sur­vey of 2011, In­dia is the fourth most dan­ger­ous place in the world for women due to the high num­ber of in­fan­ti­cide, foeti­cide and hu­man traf­fick­ing preva­lent in the coun­try. Gen­der vi­o­lence, do­mes­tic abuse, dowry deaths, high fe­male il­lit­er­acy, mal­nu­tri­tion, ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity rates and an over­all sense of be­ing sec­ondary to men, make for a macabre back­ground. A mat­ter of shame for a coun­try that boasted of a fe­male gov­er­nor back in 1947, a fe­male chief min­is­ter in 1963 and a fe­male prime min­is­ter in 1966.

At the same time, this is one of the best mo­ments in In­dia where women are claim­ing po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and pro­fes­sional space. The so­ci­ety is rapidly trans­form­ing in terms of ac­cept­ing women as pro­fes­sion­als, thinkers and

By Semu Bhatt bread win­ners. Cur­rently, one-tenth of the Loksabha mem­bers are women, with 17 of them un­der 40 years of age. The Pres­i­dent, Loksabha Speaker and the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion Party are also women; so are the Chief Min­is­ters of three states. The most pow­er­ful In­dian is a woman - So­nia Gandhi, chief of the rul­ing Congress party. In re­cent times, In­dia has pro­duced some ex­cep­tional busi­ness­women like Kiran Maz­mu­dar Shaw, Si­mone Tata, Chanda Kochar and Indira Nooyi. It also has the world’s largest pool of pro­fes­sion­ally qual­i­fied women.

No other scrip­ture of the world has given more pri­macy to women as the Hindu Vedas, which hailed women as god­desses (Nari tu Narayani) and em­pha­sised that gods bless those homes where women are hon­ored (Yatra Naaryasthu poo­jyan­the, ra­manethe tha­tra de­vathaha). Learn­ing, power and wealth are all fem­i­nine prin­ci­ples. Land, na­tion, na­ture and the Uni­verse are wor­shipped as the mother. The Hindu Gods trin­ity of Brahma (cre­ator), Vishnu (pre­server) and Shiva (de­stroyer) are in­com­plete with­out the re­spec­tive com­ple­ment­ing en­er­gies of God­desses Saraswati (learn­ing and creativ­ity), Lak­shmi (wealth) and Shakti (power). The Rig Veda ex­plains that the wife and hus­band, be­ing the equal halves of one sub­stance, are equal in ev­ery re­spect – a con­cept sym­bol­ised by the Ard­hanaresh­wara, the half man-half woman Shiva-shakti fu­sion in one body.

While the re­li­gious phi­los­o­phy stayed, the so­cial phi­los­o­phy de­te­ri­o­rated with the pas­sage of time, the strength­en­ing of pa­tri­ar­chal and caste sys­tems, and for­eign in­va­sions. Women were stereo­typed into the moth­er­wife-daugh­ter role and were con­fined to homes un­der male pro­tec­tion. Var­i­ous re­pres­sive cus­toms like veil, dowry, fe­male in­fan­ti­cide, ap­a­thy to fe­male ed­u­ca­tion, se­vere life­style for wid­ows, wife beat­ing, witch killing, sati (im­mo­la­tion of a woman on her hus­band’s fu­neral pyre), etc. took root in the In­dian so­ci­ety.

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