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?
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.