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.


  1. I reckon this is one post where you wont find too many people disagreeing :)

    ~ Vinod

  2. Vinod:
    I guess its OK (once in a while) to be agreed upon!

    (but there is definitely a danger if I continue this practice) ;-)

  3. Although we have outlawed practices like Sati for a long time (thanks to the British and Raja Rammohan Roy), it is still considered auspicious for a woman to die as a "sumangali" (ie, before her husband). In most Hindu weddings, one of the prayers is to wish the bride would have the "fortune" of being a sumangali at death. Unfortunately this is not exclusive to backward communities. Even in forward communities, this is quite prevalent. It is also surprising that even the modern college educated girls don't question this practice, but willingly take part in it. And there is this blatantly chauvinistic religious occasion called "Sumangali Prathanai" where sumangalis are worshipped (as though it is something the equiv of sainthood). Even my own mother has participated in quite a few of them.

    Sometimes the worst enemy of a woman is not a man, or even another woman, but herself.

  4. I want to post a detailed comment.

  5. Even i wrote a pro reservation post once. The amount of parents/inlaws who mistreat women are very few. Everyday I see so many happy families - families with four daughters or daughter in laws living peacefully in thier sasural. The simple thing is, don't be carried away by the drama shown in soaps, movies and isolated newspaper is not common in real life.

  6. Cyberkitty:
    don't be carried away by the drama shown in soaps, movies and isolated newspaper is not common in real life.

    I am not sure if that was directed at me. I don't watch soaps and seldom watch an Indian movies (and those who read my blogs gather that right away).

    And I know lot of such incidents because I keep my ears and eyes open and explore what goes on in the Indian middle class society. Most of what I wrote are my observations- seen in real life! NOT derived from movies or soaps!


  7. Must say thats a well written and comprehensive view. I agree with u on the fact that its women who are against their counterparts. A mother-in-law refuses to understand the daughter-in-law, and behaves madly when it comes to "vansh chalane vala beta". Surely it is the society that needs redemption but one cannot negate the fact that it is "male-dominated society". Men have always ruled over women, trying to prove women are weaker and inferior in every sense of the word. Whenever women have tried to come forward, its men's weak and vulnerable ego that gets hurt. I agree women have over the centuries only made it easier for men by not defying the rules and protocols set by them. They kept giving in to the set norms of the society, that is largely anti-women. However, we have now come a long way and women now stand on a platform that is no where lower than men's. It is their own hard work.

  8. I am in agreement with you completely. But, it is very frustrating to see all the films and TV soaps reinforcing the "stereo type" day in and day out. Instead they should have some progressive women characters like good old doordarshan had (Udaan etc.).
    K.Mahesh Kumar

  9. @Cyberkitty, @Sujoi:
    I totally agree when Sujoi says thst ke keeps his eyes and ears open..:-)
    This is mostly for the mums-in-laws who get to meet theid d-i-l just twice or thrice a year....

    I have heard stories of mums-in-laws forcing their educated daughters-in-law to cover their head...forcing them only to wear saress..dress like if we are still in 18th century....allowing them only to nod their head on her command...!Imagine the plight of the Ds-I-L who otherwise wears smart business suits and holds their head high when they go to their office daily..
    Imagine the scene created at home just because of such stupid petty issues and how the girl would feel everytime she is forced to go thru all this?!!

    I am not against wearing sarees or anything like that... but only wanted to highlight the stories of those poor girls ...who otherwise are also going to office..driving cars ...taking care of their families ...going thru all kinds of stress..!I mean all this means that yes..the women are finally getting what they always deserved and also the modern day women is trying hard for that and is not taking things for granted.. but at the same time there is also another catrgory of women..who probably never had the rights to make decision..who were never allowed to be independent and the only person now on whom they can take out their frustrations are their Daughters-in-law!!

    And then to add to this the other members of the families keep quiet when all this tamasha happens is because they are probably thankful thay they are not the targets of this poor women...who when gets a chance to speak talks non-stop...and non-sense!!

    Also I would not spare those hypocrite guys -who would not dare to open their mouth in front of their mums because they would like to convey to her ..see I am still ur same son and am following what u always wanted mum...even though my wife wears a jeans and smart casuals where we stay I make sure that she changes into the saree one stop before the train stops at our city!!

  10. Agree- men and women are to be equally blamed for the situation. However, it is to be noted that a woman can't hold anything against her own species (which would also result in an unwanted cat fight!), and so find it convenient to blame men. Since ours is a largely patriarchal society, and men as a species considered stronger, probably women are looking for a stronger male voice to support their cause, because until the ruling species has spoken, nothing will happen, and they will continue to be blamed! :D
    P.S: Even laws of the government favouring affected women have to be accepted by a male majority in order to be passed!

  11. Yes, u seemed to have touched on points each one of us is aware of. What is more surprising is that there is so much empathy, but things don;t improve.

  12. Having an afternoon drink with a friend last Sunday, we found ourselves sitting beside a trendy twentysomething couple whose conversation we could overhear all too clearly.
    Actually, it was just a monologue by the young woman, who spelled out each of the banal uninteresting problems and worries that plagued her life.
    All of her mind-numbing anxieties - about work, her friends, what to buy someone for their birthday - were articulated in excruciating detail over the next two hours in a grating, whining voice. Read more: Why men and women have nothing in common (except sex)

  13. Sujai,

    This is in stark contrast to other posts where you logically blast political correctness.

    There is a tendency among all women and wimpy men(male feminists) to uphold and glorify women.

    Just have a look around. The most taxing, back breaking and most dangerous work is done by men. Cole-mining, policing, army, rock-breaking etc., are all dominated by men. This is the case of western countries too. In contrast women look around for easier cushy jobs and shout for more and more money to be spent on them.

    I recommend you "The Women's Racket" by Steve Moxon. In it he blasts all accepted angelic image the society has on women. He does not descend to emotional and illogical ranting, as it is in feminist books and blogs, but uses cutting science for the same.

  14. good post ! touched upon many points.
    "adadaniki adadhe shatruvu" !
    hmmm ... but being a gal, I do believe that men also suffer because of women ... may be they are not much vocal about what they go through !
    anyways, I feel a home without a gal child is like a barran land.

    just curious to know, do you support the Women's reservation bill ?

    you can answer when u get off sometime frm the T issue :)

  15. Anonymous:

    I do support the Women's Reservation Bill. There are few flaws though. Moreover it will benefit only few women. Also men will continue to dominate using women as a poster figure.

    But my support for reservations for women in education and employment is stronger. That will benefit common women.

  16. Well.. U certainly write lucidly and cogently.. However, you havent addressed a vry pertinent question. Why do women discourage other women? Why do mothers tell their daughters to be servile, or that they cant succeed professionally? The answer is that mothers want their daughter's life passage to be simpler. And it is simpler when they simply lie like a doormat.. It is less painful (physically, not mentally). It is thus easier for them to survive in a man's world, where he is brought up expecting women to b there at his beck and call..

    You can say, that mothers dont need to pass on their prejudices etc etc.. But I think they are preparing their daughters for the worst case scenario.. For if the man is fair and just, the servile attitude will wean away..

    Rest, a fresh perspective on this age-old problem is quite welcm!

  17. Rachna:
    All women have to fight against man, including the mothers, aunts and mothers-in-law. Yes, the culpability of man cannot be diminished just because women subjugate other women.

  18. Our society will never accept a husband being the home maker and the wife an entrepreneur (interchanging the roles) without scorning. But there r innumerable references in the Indian history (even in scriptures or myths) that women outdid men, were exalted, given equal opportunity as men yet they preferred to live in the shadows of their husbands and serve them. They took it as their duty to serve their husbands with sincerity. They were neither docile nor subdued by their male counterparts. When the need arose, women even fought wars. Do read the story of Chitradurga Obavva to understand Indian women's valour at the same time dedication to their husbands. A society of male chauvinism took form only after the muslim invasion. Child marriage and sati system were stringently followed (read forced upon women) only after the invaders stole away women along with India's wealth. Until then it was a different India altogether. Women's liberation or progress will be hindered or futile until a feeling of superiority exists in either of the genders. We obviously don't want a society wherein children are brought up by their nannies or where women are forced behind a veil.


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