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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Happy Women's Day

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After 20 posts, I have realized that most of them are about politics. Since the description of my blog says otherwise I decided to make amends.

Today is "International Woman's Day". The recent attacks on women by fanatics like Pramod Mutalik and also on couples on Valentine's Day once again goes to show the alarming levels of gender inequality that is still prevalent in India. More importantly, while 54% of the population is under 25, most of our politicians are over 50 who wish to stick old ideology and beliefs. The problem is also that none of the younger leaders are prepared to speak up. Rahul Gandhi, claimed to be popular among the youth by the Congress, didn't even opened his mouth against the pub incident. He publicly stated that he doesn't believes in Valentine's Day. (Read my earlier article on Rahul). Other than Renuka Choudary and Brinda Karat, there haven't been too many voices even from the women politicians. This is despite the fact that organizations like Sri Ram Sena lack mass support.

Issues such as sex-education, pre-marital sex, etc can just not be discussed openly in India. It is horrific to hear from such organizations claiming that 'Love is foreign to India'. People like Khushboo who have voiced their opinion publicly had to face enormous hardships. If this is the case in urban areas, what about rural India where centuries old practices and beliefs are still prevalent.

A lot has already been written in the mainstream media about the importance that gender equality and empowerment of women plays in the overall development of any society. So I do not wish to repeat what has already been said and to a large extent well understood as well. The more important question is How do we achieve it? Moreover how do we achieve it within the constraints that democracy poses us. India is a democracy unlike China. China had its cultural revolution from 1966-78, aimed at bringing about cultural change. This was imposed on the entire population and was not at all peaceful. In India, any acceptable change has to be brought in an extremely careful manner.

Honestly, I do not have any answer to this. If answering this question would have been so simple, i am sure that there are smarter people around who would have cracked this. So I have chosen this occasion to talk about the impact of "Reservation of 1/3rd seats for women in panchayats" which was brought in place in 1993 after an amendment. This has been referred to as "the greatest social experiment ever". Upon adding the numbers, there are more women elected representatives in India than the rest of the world.

Skeptics might argue that it is still the men who take most of the decisions and women are mere proxies. Most probably it is true. But atleast it has brought some amount change in the general attitude of the people towards women. This has got them an entry point, something that would not have been possible without reservation. Changing the rural mindset which has considered women as doormats for centuries is not easy. With such a system in place, it would atleast stop such outdated ideas from percolating to the next generation. Bringing about social change is never easy and it should never be forced. Change has to be brought about at the grassroots level. The effectiveness of this system cannot be judged as yet. The system has been in place for only 15 years and it would take atleast two generations of such reservations to really break the barriers created over centuries.

Woman sarpanches are slowly making their presence felt. They known to work much more on drinking water and education. They are much more honest. The success of this reservations clearly goes to show that reservation for woman at the top may not make such a huge difference as would reservation at the panchayat level. Increasingly there have been demands to increase the reservation to 50% since the woman population is roughly 50% of the total population. Some states like Bihar have already done. Moreover, reservation is important because it has been observed that once the seat is dereserved, almost 40% of woman choose not to contest. India's poor record on HDI index can expect to recieve a boost in the long run.

A professor(with over 25 years of teaching experience) of mine was once discussing this issue. He recalled, how over all these years the pschyche of female students changed. While female students of the 80's and 90's would be vocal and aggressive about their rights, the present day female students almost assume equality. Unfortunately, we are still ruled by oldies who have not broadened their thinking. So honestly, I do not really expect large scale change in the short term. As they say, democracy works slowly.

Happy Women's Day.


  1. Errr,,,,Isn't this Politics too??The reservation?The Pramod Mutalik, The Rahul Gandhi?? ;-)..

    I loved it anyway!!

  2. hehe, may b it is. Politics & Geo-Politics remains my primary area of interest.