Day - Time To
Reflect And Celebrate
By Kalpana Sharma
8 is International Women's Day. Yet again we will go through the tokenism
of remembering that one half of our population a declining half
consists of women. So is this half of the population better off?
Are women in India feeling more "empowered" today, in an India
that some claim is "shining", than they did two decades back?
Can Indian women dream of a day when they will be treated with the same
respect and rights as men, in fact as all human beings, men and women,
Day and the very fact that there has to be such a day
is an occasion to celebrate and reflect. We can celebrate the fact that
some things have changed because of the relentless campaigning and struggles
by women's groups in India and worldwide. And we can sit back and reflect
on the long and rocky road that still lies ahead for the majority of
women before they can be confident, secure and safe.
But first let us
look at the "celebrate" part. What can we celebrate? (Given
below is a rough and ready list. I am sure readers will have many more
suggestions that they can send to me.)
That despite efforts to kill them off before they are born, and after
they are born, girls in India are surviving and growing up into confident
That more girls
are now going to school than in 1984 with many of them topping
That the women's
hockey team won the Asia Cup despite no support, no sponsorship and
pathetic living conditions compared to their male counterparts.
That the women's
cricket team now has a sponsor even it if is a stereotypical
women's product, jewellery, small change compared to the level of support
for the men's team.
That women entrepreneurs
and managers are making their mark in a world of men, even if recognition
comes by way of separate women's awards.
That despite the
obduracy of male politicians with regard to the Women's Bill in Parliament,
more women are visible in the political spectrum and in the run up to
the forthcoming general elections.
But even as we celebrate all this, we must pause, reflect and ask.
Why the numbers of women as compared to men continue to decline in India?
Why despite changes
in the rape laws, the convictions for rape are few and far in between
while the incidence of violent crimes continues to grow?
Why despite the
Supreme Court ruling in the Vishakha case on sexual harassment there
is little change in the reality on the ground with a majority of women
being unaware of their rights and the majority of men blithely confident
that they can get away with it?
Why despite the
fact that India has the largest number of professionally qualified women
in the world do parents continue to sell their daughters into marriage,
often miserably unhappy ones, by paying unaffordable amounts as dowry?
Why despite progress
in science and medicine, millions of Indian women die each year giving
Why despite mountains
of words about women's right to participate as equals in politics, the
Bill to reserve one-third of the seats in Parliament for women dies
an unnatural death in successive Lok Sabhas, unable to be introduced,
leave alone discussed or passed?
Fortunately, despite the depressing answers to these questions, there
is a glimmer of hope. One sees it when you listen to the views of girls
like the daughter of a taxi driver in Mumbai who lives in one of the
typical "chawls" (one-room tenements) that dot the city. She
spoke in English to a television channel recently and confidently stated
her desire to join the media when she finished her studies. Why, she
was asked. "Because it will give me a chance to meet so many different
types of people," she said.
If girls like this
daughter of a Mumbai taxi driver can dream, and have the confidence
to share their dreams before a television camera, then there is reason
to have at least half a celebration. For it suggests that even as things
get worse for many women in the country as the gap between the
rich and the poor grows, as levels of poverty stay static or increase,
as water and fuel become scarce, as survival continues to mean the ability
to find enough for one square meal a day, as they continue to be victims
of violence of the feuds perpetuated by their men they have improved
for some others.
Yet, the glow from
these stories of success, of girls and women who have overcome obstacles
to achieve something, should not hide the continuing areas of darkness.
The "feel good" motto of the ruling coalition has rubbed off
on the media. There is a lot of writing about the achievements of individuals,
including women, and institutions. Yet, you hear little about the women
away from the media glare, for whom things are not going so well. As
a result, it is easy to build an illusionary world, one that highlights
the successes without balancing them with failures.
On March 8, we have
to look at both. It is only if we have a real sense of what is happening
with women, all women, rich and poor, young and old, can we hope to
arrive at strategies and solutions that can make a difference and go
beyond rhetoric and tokenism. "Real women" have no problem
dealing with both the celebration and the reflection.
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