In the time span of 70 years post-independence, Indian women have accomplished enormous progress. They couldn’t build their Rome in a day though and were relegated to passive roles in the society for decades after independence. Conventionally associated with activities like homemaking and motherhood, they were almost always rendered submissive and inherently inferior to ‘working’ men.
However, a lot has changed since then; from India getting its first lady Prime Minister to travelling to space, Women have left no arena unconquered in the society. According to the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, the female literacy rate had increased from 8.86% in 1950 to 65.38% in 2011. Today, we find women returning home late from their offices, driving massive SUVs, paying their restaurant bills on their own, even stubbing out a butt, and we don’t bat an eye; we couldn’t have imagined this in our wildest dreams 60 years ago. From Indira Gandhi changing the face of Indian Politics to Shabana Azmi and others revolutionising films, women have created their independent identities. Conventionally, before marriage, a girl was identified by her father’s name and after getting married, by her husband’s name. Women’s separate identity was always pushed to the fringes, never to be discussed. Now, many women refrain from using their husbands’ surnames. Such developments have stimulated a genuine mark of progress.
In spite of these constructive changes in the lives of women, societal taboos still exist. Women have started working in the professional sectors, but their working hours have only increased. They are expected to manage household duties along with their jobs. According to the United Nations statistics, women work longer than men in a day. This work constitutes both paid and unpaid jobs. The unpaid job involves managing the household and responsibilities of motherhood. In most developed countries, a woman works 30 minutes longer as compared to her male companion; whereas in developing countries, the time difference stretches up to 50 minutes or more. What does this reflect?
Regardless of the slogans raised for ‘women empowerment’ and multiple waves of ‘feminism’, the ideal reforms in women’s lives are yet to be achieved. Action Aid UK, a leading international charity, gauged a survey which revealed that 4 out of 5 women had been sexually harassed in public spaces. 84% of the victims were part of the age group 25-35 years. NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau), commissioned for collecting and analysing crime data, which disclosed that 34,651 rape cases were reported across India in 2015. These were the ones reported. What about the girls who were afraid of coming out or were stopped? Very often, people claim ‘illiteracy’ as a primary reason for crimes against women, but how would these people justify sexual harassment against women at workplace? A workplace constitutes of ‘educated’ men and women. These so-called educated men like RK Pachauri, Tarun Tejpal, Ashok Kumar Ganguly have been accused of sexually harassing their fellow workers. Mahmood Farooqui, an Indian writer, artist and director was convicted of raping a foreign scholar student.
The increase in crimes against women has proved that the fight for equal status would need to be fought for a long time. Michelle Obama once said, “No country can truly flourish if it stifles the potential of women and deprives itself of the contribution of half of its citizens.” It is a basic thought – A nation is ‘developed’ only when it ranks well on all the indicators of development. A good GDP score will never be a sign of progress if women are not seen as equals.