India Today - - INSIDE - (Aroon Purie)

Post-lib­er­al­i­sa­tion In­dia is in the grip of some sig­nif­i­cant so­cioe­co­nomic changes. Although they still have a long way to go, the em­pow­er­ment of women across so­ci­ety is one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary changes that have hap­pened in In­dia in the past sev­eral decades. Ed­u­ca­tion among women is in­creas­ing. The per­cent­age of ed­u­cated In­dian women rose 11.8 per­cent­age points to 65.5 per cent in the 2011 cen­sus. An un­prece­dented ur­ban­i­sa­tion has seen nearly 34 per cent of In­di­ans now liv­ing in cities as op­posed to 28.5 per cent, two decades ago. All this has re­sulted in the fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence of women and opened up the doors of choice. It has given them wings, and they are not let­ting any­thing come in the way of their free­dom. Least of all, mar­riage or a re­la­tion­ship.

The 2011 cen­sus records a most stag­ger­ing statis­tic. There has been a decadal in­crease of 68 per cent in the ranks of nev­er­mar­ried women in the age group of 35-44 years. This, when the over­all in­crease in the num­ber of women in the same age bracket over the same pe­riod has been just 27 per cent.

These num­bers are sig­nif­i­cant be­cause In­dia cel­e­brates mar­riage and fam­ily as the cor­ner­stone of so­ci­ety. So­ci­ety con­di­tions women for mar­riage. Very sig­nif­i­cantly, mar­riage is seen as the key to happiness.

Not any more, it would seem. It is the age of the ur­ban sin­gle woman. An­swer­able to no one but her­self, and armed with an ed­u­ca­tion and a ca­reer, she is liv­ing life to the fullest. More women are choos­ing to re­main sin­gle not be­cause they can't find a part­ner, but be­cause they see them­selves and their lives beyond re­la­tion­ships and mar­riage. More than eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence, it is the free­dom to be who you are that is the at­trac­tion of sin­gle­hood.

For over a decade now, schol­ars have hailed the rise of elite sin­gle women pro­fes­sion­als as the 21st cen­tury’s first new global so­ci­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non. This rise of the vol­un­tar­ily sin­gle woman has to do with her choos­ing her own ca­reer arc which fre­quently does not in­clude mar­riage and start­ing fam­i­lies.

In In­dia, too, the rise of sin­gle women pro­fes­sion­als is a phe­nom­e­non, al­beit a silent one. Women aren’t shout­ing from the rooftops about their new-found in­de­pen­dence. They are qui­etly trav­el­ling— ei­ther on their own or with friends. They do not need mar­riage to live their lives or to have chil­dren—adop­tion and IVF help them re­alise their goals of moth­er­hood. Associate Edi­tor Chinki Sinha, who wrote our cover story, ‘Sin­gle and Happy’, in­ter­viewed a cross-sec­tion of sin­gle women pro­fes­sion­als—writ­ers, ar­chi­tects and film per­son­al­i­ties. Be­sides not hav­ing plans of mar­riage, these women were happy, suc­cess­ful and liv­ing life on their own terms. “As a sin­gle woman my­self,” she says, “I found a lot of strength in the sto­ries of these women de­fy­ing odds with their choices.”

Clearly, the sin­gle woman has come a long way from be­ing de­ri­sively la­beled a spin­ster and re­garded as an ob­ject of pity. To­day’s ur­ban, fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent sin­gle woman could well be an ob­ject of envy.

In­dia’s pol­i­cy­mak­ers, too, are wak­ing up to this sig­nif­i­cant de­mo­graphic. Last May, the gov­ern­ment’s draft na­tional pol­icy on women recog­nised the sin­gle woman as an in­de­pen­dent en­tity for the first time. It talked of cre­at­ing a “com­pre­hen­sive so­cial pro­tec­tion mech­a­nism” to ad­dress is­sues of so­cial iso­la­tion and dif­fi­cul­ties in ac­cess­ing or­di­nary ser­vices. The most rad­i­cal change came in 2017 when the gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­tated adop­tion by sin­gle women. A sig­nif­i­cant ac­knowl­edge­ment of the fact that sin­gle women are here to stay. They can have ful­fill­ing lives with­out get­ting mar­ried and with their heads held high. This change has to be saluted.

Sep. 26, 2005

Apr. 16, 2007

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