Thursday, May 03, 2007

Women in India

I have seen lot of blogs where there is a tendency to blame the man for what the woman suffers. Yes, the man is to take some amount of blame for what women suffers, but by putting the entire blame only on the man I don’t think we are defining the problem completely. I would like to take another look at this blame game.

When a daughter-in-law does not beget a son, the person who indulges in harassing that woman is usually another woman- her mother-in-law. The person who, while raising the girl, tells the girl that it is her duty to be servile to parents-in-law and the husband, and that she becomes a ‘pariah’ after the wedding, is another woman- her mother. The person who tells her that she is inferior and that she cannot compete with a man is also another woman- a mother or an aunt. The people who make sure a widow feels she has lost everything are other women. Also, the people who bitch about a successful or independent woman with a high-growth career are usually other women.

The woman is discriminated against, harassed, insulted, berated, and discouraged, by both men and women. By singly focusing on one enemy, that is the man, we are defining the problem statement wrongly. It is not ‘man vs. woman’, it is rather ‘society vs. woman’ and the society consists of both men and women.

The wrong perceptions, the false notions, the misconceptions, about women and their status, cannot be addressed by targeting individual men or women. It cannot be solved by targeting the elusive society either. No matter how much you teach and preach, unless those words are backed by concrete actions, which include certain mandatory provisions, supported by law, enacts and bills, we will not see any change in the belief systems of this society. Mere lip-service, indignation, anger, feel of hurt would not bring about change.

I am a strong believer in ‘enforcing’ certain actions through ‘mandatory provisions’. India does not give freedom for free. Our freedoms come with responsibilities. We pay taxes, whether we like it or not. We are supposed to obey traffic rules, whether we like it or not. We can’t hope to bypass them saying we have the freedom to do so.

I am a strong proponent of mandatory reservations. I know that many educated and elite Indians see it as anathema. They do not see it as serving their best interests, of course.

I come from a backward region, where one can see many of our belief systems in action. People openly discuss certain things about women; that she is a burden- that once the girl goes to her husband’s place their ‘bhoj utar jaayega’, etc. People openly want a baby boy. If they beget a baby girl, they actually feel sad. Some families do not even want to celebrate and will write it off as if they are going to mourn now. Comments and insults are thrown at women freely.

While no text book, no speech, no exhortation or no leader could bring any change in the perceptions of these people, one single act from the state government (of Andhra Pradesh) brought in a fresh outlook. The state government imposed 33% reservations to girl students. Whether it had any immediate effect in enrollment of women (or not) is not important to me. What it brought as a change in the perception of the people from the small towns is quite a welcome. Families now look forward to seeing their girl kid become an engineer or a doctor. They are ready to sponsor the girl’s education and encourage her in her pursuits. There are many families who see this as an opportunity for their girl kid. She is no longer considered ‘absolute burden’; she is now seen as ‘lesser burden’.

Recently, India has also passed certain laws to protect women from domestic violence. I welcome such concrete actions backed by legislation, law, enactments and bills. I do not expect our society to ‘wake up’ on its own to change its perceptions. Unless our government makes it a law against throwing garbage on the streets, our roads and neighborhoods will never become clean. To expect that our people will ‘wake up’ and ‘realize’ on their own to keep their streets clean is a chimera, which I am not going to pursue.

Our people will not change their perceptions towards women. In almost all small towns and rural areas of India, eve teasing is rampant. It’s insulting to any person’s dignity and has an everlasting effect on the morale and confidence of a woman. Indian women grow up developing a way of tolerating such harassment, which is quite unhealthy, because it becomes tough later on in life to stand up and protest at bigger harassments. Sexual harassment is also very rampant, though almost all cases go unreported. Just because there are no cases reported does not mean it doesn’t happen. India has to come up with more provisions to make a woman’s life better in this country. We have a long way to go. I look forward to more provisions that empower women, forcefully if necessary.