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Friday, 20 April, 2001, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
India: Is the future female?
Indian women have had a long and distinguished role in public life and a proud record of fighting for their rights.
But lately, their contribution in many fields such as the arts and other professions is becoming more pronounced.
So does India's future rest with its women? Should the country be doing more to make sure that their potential is realised to the full?
What effect is this changing role having on Indian men? Are they facing a crisis of identity as their time-honoured primacy, in public life and within the family, is undermined?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I have a boy and a girl and I will make sure they have equal rights. They should be able to achieve what they want to achieve. India is progressing. However it needs to do more to improve poorer communities.
India is the largest and strongest democracy in the world. It gives equal value to men and women. Socially and economically women are participating more and more - that is a good sign for a healthy future.
With changing roles in Indian society, what men are afraid of losing is 'control' more than identity. Women have become financially independent and this unnerves a man who was until now considered the 'sole bread winner' of the family. Often it is a man without an identity, except for the fact that he was born an Indian male and therefore superior to the woman, who feels threatened. Those who are enlightened by life's experiences do welcome women as partners both in the public/ private life.
Raja Hindustani, Kashmir, India
Of course Indian men will have a crisis of identity, as women become more economically independent and powerful within the family. The very idea of an independent Indian woman is frightening to the prudish traditional culture of Indian men. They need to realise that as the world economy moves into the new individuated capitalism of the 21st century, a strong educated companionate woman is the only way to maintain health and wealth for the next generation.
Until the dowry system is eliminated, and the subsequent economic side-effects such as selective female foetus abortion, the position of Indian women will always be that of victim to a male dominant society.
Indian women have a long way to go before they reach the current level of their Western counterparts. India is still largely a rural country, and the chances of women 'making it big' on a large scale, any time in the near future, are remote. I hope Indian women will find their own voice - a truly Indian one - in what is indeed a male-dominated society.
Indian society is slowly and steadily becoming more gender-balanced, even in towns and villages. Women are studying and performing well.
Dinesh, presently in USA
I grew up in India and in my family women received equal treatment. My mother was a professor and my sister is a senior manager in the USA.
But I have always felt that many other women in India are suffering, particularly in poor areas, and one cannot blame the men for this. The social structure is very rigid and it takes a
lot of courage to go against the grain. But not everything is gloomy. Larger cities and most areas of India have come a long way in
improving the lives of children and women. It's a long uphill battle to change things but I feel that people are more receptive now than ever before.
Indian women got their equal voting rights without fighting for them. Most Indian women take their own decision while voting. Often they vote against the wishes of husbands, still husbands respect their decisions. Education has made them aware of their rights as well as the opportunities. She is surging in all the fields. In the IT sector Indian females work shoulder to shoulder with their male colleagues. Politics, arts, entertainment, industry, health etc all fields are open for women and they are doing their best to make their presence felt. India has become beauty super power by winning Miss world, Miss universe and Miss AP. Men are not feeling jealous instead they are encouraging them to come out.
I firmly believe that India is steadily moving towards an era of equal opportunity for men and women and that Indian men have played a crucial role in this movement. Traditionally, Indian culture held women with high esteem. So this movement to empower women politically and encourage them to play a more active role in modern society would be seen by the men as a welcome move. I don't see why Indian men should be considered any different from the those in the developed nations in this regard.
India has a tradition of strong willed women who have brought glory to the nation - be it Rani Jhansi defying the British Empire in 1857 or Indira Gandhi making Pakistan surrender in Dacca in 1971. If India has to progress and become a developed nation, women will have an important role to play. Already, enough is being done to strengthen the role of women in Indian society - education for women is free for most part and is highly subsidised at higher levels. India's future rests as much with the women of India as its men - and it sure is bright.
Prashant Jeloka, India
Changing role of women in society is a gradual and inevitable transformation all over the globe. The scenario in India is no exception to this. Given the social and cultural background, the pace in which it is happening may be different than in developed countries. I think the slow pace is actually helpful for the male dominant society to accept or adjust to these changes, at least for those who still want sita as the role model of Indian women.
One of the worst facets of modern India is eve teasing (also known as sexual harassment). This is prevalent especially in public places like buses, autos, trains, cinema halls and bazaars. This social evil is practised mostly by the so called educated in the cities. As a young man this is mostly frustrating for me as a brother of three sisters. Unless and until the police don't spring into action people will have to take it up to themselves to neutralize such behaviour. Down with eve teasing, it is downright cowardly. I hope the students in India not only learn to mind their Ps and Qs but learn to respect one another.
If the country were to do more to realise the full potential of women, it'll be greatly benefited. I've always believed that if women were to contribute a lot more to society, maybe the world will stop being such a "bad" place. It is a strong statement, I agree ... It is just that, with women's temperament, there may not be so much of corruption and hatred!
Answering the question - The chauvinists among the Indian men will not only feel threatened, but will also try to curb the rise of women power. After all, their need to feel "superior" will prevent them from seeing the larger cause.
Natalya Azariah, Indian living in the USA
Modern men in India feel it to be rather complimentary to their own public life and identity, and not undermining it, if their spouses can also have their own public life and identity. More and more females are having their own public life and contribute to the nation outside their homes, while still having the love and appreciation from their husband and family. This change is happening so fast that as a couple of generations pass, this change will be complete. This will also lead to solution of other problems in India namely illiteracy, population, and poverty. Culturally we do give a lot of importance to family, and realize that there has to be a proper balance between public life and family life. But now, the sacrifice of public life to bring that balance with the family life tends to be more evenly distributed between men and women than in the past. I think to sacrifice the public life for family life and not to do otherwise is our strength, and would lead to a better family and social structure in India over that in the West.
India should stop various appalling crimes against humanity such as dowry-killings which amount to thousands of innocent brides being murdered by their greedy in-laws. The barbaric ritual of sati (widow burning) has also made a comeback in India and needs to be completely eradicated if human rights are to advance in this poor country.
Indian women have traditionally played a strong role within a family. Judging by the number of women, often from the small towns and villages of India, who I have had the opportunity to meet here in the US, I believe they are now ready to boldly seek their fortunes like their menfolk. They are smart, aggressive, highly motivated, and among the top performers in their chosen fields (medicine, marketing, research, law, IT etc.). It is now a matter of time before they are visible in top positions of corporations in India and outside. Just a generation ago, they seemed to be held back by culture and other inhibitions - something remarkable is happening to their confidence ...
India has had strong women role models for centuries. A dichotomy exists within the Indian psyche about a woman's role. On one hand people have no problem working for a woman or respecting her capability in public life; on the other hand that kind of respect is not common in their personal lives. While nobody in India denies women's capability to do anything a man can do, most men don't want that woman to be in their home. Therefore, achievements by women in the area of arts or science or any other field is not likely to change the role of a woman in India in the near future. It needs a revolution of the kind that occurred in the US to see a significant change in the country's attitude about all women. Until then the minor "battles" to win more rights for women will have to make do.
In Western countries, women play a prominent role in many professions. But when it comes to families they fare poorly. So Indian women are bound to have the disadvantages like divorces, mental pressure, like the Western counterpart, which comes along with this future. It is inevitable whatever happens to the future for Indian women, it all depends on how Indian women manage both career and household, which is tougher than anybody can think.
If India wishes to take its place in the pantheon of great and powerful nations, it has to recognize and do more to ensure that women have "real" equal access and that they are equally contributing citizens with equal rights and an important role to play in its future.
Equal rights and full participation by all segments of the population, including women, is a prerequisite for social progress and stability. Denial of women's rights diminishes society by at least half. The struggle for freedom, democracy, education and the erosion of caste have helped women to take their place in public life. This transformation however is not complete or uniform throughout the society, but it is an irreversible and self-propelling process.
In whole South Asia, women have struggled a lot. Whether it is in public or private life. The future sure belongs to these courageous mothers, sisters, and daughters of South Asia.
India has reached the crucial point where men and women are learning (or forced to learn) the changing environment. While they know that gone are the days when a man was responsible for everything outside the house and the woman for everything inside, they still haven't struck a deal to live with it. It'll take more time before they cope with this new reality and also strive to have the long lasting family ties, they now have and avoid the problems that west has had because of this.
Women in India have always had an enormous influence on India's life and history. There are many goddesses in India's rich mythology. Women despite popular belief to the contrary have greater influence in Indian families (hence the overall society) than in many other parts of the world. In politics Jhansi Rani Laxmi Bai is the name that comes to my mind as the one who stood up bravely to lead her people in war. Women poets, politicians, governors of states, senior civil servants, professors, doctors, engineers, pilots, paratroopers, heads of shipping companies, ad agencies and so on are all there in India much more than in the Western countries. It is only now that the media focus is changing and there is greater awareness in and outside of India of this ambivalent Indian phenomenon. Ask any Indian about his love and respect for his mother -- Oedipus pales into insignificance in terms of the complexity of the relationships between mothers (women) and men in India!
It's good that Indian women are getting themselves involved in more activities than ever before in all walks of life. This should give them a better understanding of problems with population and help control the menace of population explosion. This could drive India towards a bright and prosperous future.
Certainly it's time for women, not only in India but the whole of South Asia, to get out of the kitchen and get into the active roll of decision making system. No matter what excuse men have used in the past, or are using now, whether it's religion, culture or society, it's time to grow up and share responsibility and respect equal rights. To be quite honest, women are so far behind men due to suppression, we'll need something like 'affirmative action' to give them a chance to catch up in the modern day society.
Vivek Manchanda, Chicago/New Delhi
India is the largest democracy in the world. India has given lots of exemplary daughters. Still, if government initiates to educate almost forgotten communities and villages, no doubt India can give birth to more and more successful women who definitely play a positive role to make their sons and husbands successful. Therefore, educating women benefits the welfare of whole society.
Well, Indian women always have been solid contributors in all fields. What India needs to do is to get rid of its heritage imposed on by the Islamic rulers that relegated the role of women. Simply changing the mindset will result in a lot of contributions from a big chunk of Indian society.
Women have always been respected in the Indian family, contradictory to popular belief. India has a substantially large number of women in public life compared to any other third world country. But their role in the society as whole will definitely improve as literary rate in the country rises as whole, as they seem do outdo men in education. Any developmental plans should be targeted at the society in total, than getting quotas for women in various places. Given the chance I am sure women will beat men in many fields.
At last we have realised our past mistakes. A country like India which wants to become a developed country can't afford to keep out half of the work force. One of the reasons why western countries are developed is because they were able realise the importance of women of their society which India is trying to replicate now. If the parliament approves the bill for 33% reservation for women in legislature then that will really change the face of Indian politics and throw away corrupted Indian male politician.
Anupama Narayanan, USA
Pre-colonial Indian history has always treated women with respect. So this is not a new concept for men. They just lost the concept during the British and post-British rule. Now the men are getting used to sharing the authority and responsibility. But I will not go so far as to say that the balance will tilt in the other position. Equality is just that - being treated as equals.
Indian woman have made great strides in gaining equality with men. But still Indian women have a long way from realizing their full potential. Women's literacy rate is half that of men in India. Overcoming this difference can make a very big impact in their lives and to our country.
The much awaited success of Indian women causes a constructive jealousy in Indian men which will enthuse everyone to work harder and succeed. Everyone likes to be a two-income family.
The quota in council seats is a good start and if it is supplemented by quotas in state and federal legislature along with quotas or new schools for women we will have a truly modern society. It's time we stood up and gave women their rightful place in Indian society. For those who think the quota culture will hinder competition should realize that men in India get a lot more opportunities than women in general and affirmative action is the only answer to iron this difference out. And initial concerns of men calling the shots by proxy in reserved seats will vanish with each passing year with women becoming more assertive and independent. Just consider this, working women are a better bet for family planning and imparting better education to their children.
Naveen Veda, US
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