Category: World

The Other Half

You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women.” – Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India

Pickup the nearest newspaper or open whichever news application you use. You will see a familiar sight, another accusation, another incident. Hasn’t it been the case for many years now? Why is it that 70 years after independence we still have to see this headline so frequently? Isn’t it high time that we as a nation realize the role of women in the development of the nation? Jawaharlal Nehru had rightly said that a country’s development can be judged when the development of its women is critiqued.

“Let us go back to the vedas” – Swami Dayanand, Founder of Arya Samaj

How can one of the most highly regarded intellectual of India give a statement which prima facie can be interpreted as regressive? During the vedic period (c. 1500 B.C.E. – c. 500 B.C.E.), women enjoyed the same status as men in spiritual and intellectual life. Girls were given the freedom to pursue their interests (some even became warriors!) and were married off only after attaining an age of maturity. To a man of their choice. Women moved freely and actively participated in public events, festivals and feasts. The vedas also reveal to us that women were placed higher in the social hierarchy than men!

All of this changed with the advent of foreign invasions in the Indian subcontinent. Over the course of 2000 years the subcontinent witnessed the integration of people from various societies across the world. Greeks, Shakas, Turks, Mughals, European powers (Portuguese, Dutch, British, Danish, French). Unfortunately, they had succeeded in usurping the powers of the Indian kingdoms (here Indian is being referred to kingdoms of the subcontinent). They implemented their own cultural and societal practices, some of which subjugated women and led up to their present situation.

We gained independence 70 years ago. Independence meant we could take decisions that we felt were right for us. We have come a long way since then; as a society, as a nation. We have achieved a great many things, but a spectre continues to haunt India. The spectre of poor social, economic and political development of women. Approximately 49% of the 1.2 billion citizens of India are women (60 crore). This is a large chunk of the population which hasn’t had the opportunity to develop and realize it’s true potential. Resulting in poor living standards.

The identity of a nation is derived from its people, its citizens. Traditionally, women in India have fulfilled the responsibility (and a majority still do) of taking care of children in the household. The formative years of a child are majorly spent with the parents; of which most is spent with the mother. It is during this time that some of the core values are taught to the child which makes him/her a good citizen of the country in the future. Therefore the role of a woman here, as a mother, indirectly impacts the future of the nation. However, can a woman really teach her child the values of being a good, productive member of the society, if she is not being given the opportunity to be one herself?

It is imperative that we acknowledge the simple (yet complex to accept) fact that we cannot ignore the welfare of women. They have a crucial role to play like the one illustrated above. But it is not the only role. India aspires to become the 5th largest economy in the world. Yet our women do not enjoy the status of some of the most developed nations of the world whose economy is vastly smaller than ours.

Comparing things from the time of the independence, the status of women has indeed improved. The present literacy rate stands at 65% which is a great leap considering the single digit at the time of independence. In contrast to the 80% literacy rate of men (Source: NSSO, CSO). Why does such a great disparity exist?

“The day a women can walk freely on the roads at night, that day we can say that India has achieved independence.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The mindset of our society has to change. The conservative thinking that women must remain confined to the household and only support the family through domestic work has to be thrown out of the window. (However, women who chose to support their family this way, their choice has to be respected as well) Times are changing, we have to aim for progress. The path to progress lies through empowering women. Let them get education! Let them think! Give them opportunities! Let them be free! Let them feel like they are part of a nation which truly stands by the words of the person who got them freedom! These are some things which are supposed to be left unsaid; unfortunately have to be said now.

However, it is not all gloomy. Most of the medals in various international sporting events are being brought by the women of India! (Geeta Phogat, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik to name a few)

In the defence forces of the country, they are active in the Electronics and Mechanical Engineering (EME), Army Service Corps (ASC), Ordnance, Indian Army Remount and Veterinary Corps (RVC),  Army Medical Corps (AMC). As of now, women do not have a combat role in the army, but the topic is on the table for discussion. The Indian Air Force in 2015 inducted them into a combat role. Various other paramilitary and central police forces have women in a combat role as well!

The Supreme Court has (and had many) women judges as well. R. Banumathi, Indu Malhotra & Indira Banerjee are incumbent judges in the apex judicial body of the nation. They are actively playing an important role in bringing justice to the people.

Above mentioned examples tell us the ever increasing role women are playing in the country. They have become an integral part of the social, political, economical system. They are contributing to making India a powerful nation. Hence I quote Indira Gandhi, the first woman Prime Minister of India. She said,

To be liberated, a woman must feel free to be herself , not in rivalry to man. But in the context of her own capacity and her personality.” 

Enough emphasis cannot be laid on these lines. True liberation of a woman lies in being herself. It must be de-hyphenated from men. The hyphenation is again a symbol of patriarchy. They (women) deserve an identity of their own. Long gone are the days when the electoral roll would have titles such as ‘Ramu’s wife’ or ‘Deepak’s sister’ instead of their names. We are a nation where women had a significant standing in the society 2000 years ago. If they could achieve that then so can we! If we want to develop, we will have to begin at home. Create an environment which lets the other half exercise their freedom and witness the wonders they will achieve in the future. When this is achieved, those days are not far when the world will witness a resurgent, resolute and powerful India.

-Priyamvad Rai

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Dissent, safety valve of Democracy

“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst,” – Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, part of a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

The above quote is from a judgement which was passed by the Supreme Court on the detainment of the five activists who were arrested on the charge of ‘sedition.’ Their arrest had sparked off a debate. Is dissent in India under threat?

What is dissent? The dictionary defines it as, ‘the holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held. 

There are multiple articles on this website which talk about how the people should value the rights they enjoy. But in this article, the primary focus will be laid on how these rights (especially freedom of expression) is indispensable for a nation.

Democracy, is one of the most widely accepted political systems across the world. 123 countries (out of 192) follow this system. It is the only system (till now) where the focus is on the individual. Fundamental rights are granted to the people to ensure their well being. Furthermore, these rights keep the powers of the government in check. Among these rights is the ‘freedom of expression.’ The term is quite self explanatory, it gives anyone the right to express their opinions on the public platform. This also includes ‘dissenting’ opinion.

Dissent has played a vital role in the history of India. ‘Sati Pratha‘ was a prevalent social practice in India during the 19th century.  ‘Sati‘ required the woman to immolate herself on the husband’s pyre. Women were forced to follow this practice. Raja Rammohan Roy dissented from society. He worked hard against conservatism, fought off the forces of the backward mindset society and succeeded into making the British Government listen to him. In 1829, under the Governorship of Lord William Bentinck, ‘Sati Pratha‘ was abolished.

In 1885, the Congress party was formed. It is often argued that this party was ‘allowed‘ to be created by the British. The reason being that it would act as a ‘safety valve‘ for the population they ruled. It gave them an insight into the thinking of Indians and develop a deep understanding of them. What the British did not realize was that this was the first of many mistakes they made. No one could have thought that an organization which was created as an experiment, would overthrow the mighty British Empire without even firing a single shot. Their key weapons were ‘ahimsa‘ (non violence) and ‘satya’ (truth). To this I would like to add, dissent.

If the leaders of the Congress hadn’t dissented from the methods of governance of the ruling dispensation. Then independence may never have come to us.

Another example of how dissent is vital for countries to maintain peace and stability. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). It was a Communist regime where freedom of expression was prohibited.  For a long time the people were denied the right to express their opinion. This pressure kept building and one day it burst. USSR ceased to exist in 1991.

The above example clearly illustrates how the lack of freedom of expression leads to strife and instability. However, does freedom of expression lead to peace? Let us look at the Roman Empire to answer this question.

An empire of three continents, the Roman Empire consisted of a very diverse population. To integrate the people of various ethnicity and cultures, the Roman senate began accepting popular leaders of these provinces as senators (representatives) of that province. This policy allowed the indigenous population to voice out their views in the central authority of the empire. When they realized that their voices were being heard, they would feel a sense of belonging with the foreign empire. If there would be boiling tensions then the ability to dissent and express would act as a safety valve. Things would not explode and peace could be restored easily.

A country is a complex machine. All such machines have a safety valve as a precaution to ensure that if there is a buildup of pressure, the safety valve can be opened up and the pressure can be released. In a country like India where there are people from various ethnicity, cultures, regions, religions; dissent plays an important role in maintaining the unity among the people. When we express ourselves or confide in someone, we feel good. Our mind clears and starts thinking logically and constructively again. This same concept can be applied to a country. When people can speak up, they release their anger and the pressure goes down.

What happens when this same anger is allowed to build up in the minds of the people? It becomes a ticking time bomb. Sooner or later it will explode. When it does, it will be very disastrous for the nation. Sometimes it may even lead to disintegration (as was the case with USSR.)

Does it mean that I am advocating dissent regardless of its repercussions? No. Absolutely not. The core value of dissent is to ensure peace and stability. Expression is a powerful tool and it has to be used wisely. Whoever uses this tool to instigate violence. Under the pretext of patriotism, is not patriotic. Peace and co-existence is enjoyed by very few in this world. I will quote our own Mahatma Gandhi on this, “I object violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

It is necessary that we protect dissent. Especially in a country like ours where diversity is an inherent characteristic. We are a nation built of nations, but we are a people of one nation. Dissent is essential for democracies to survive and thrive. Our ability to voice our opinions makes a lot of difference. It prevents violent and destructive thoughts from manifesting in our minds. Dissent acts as a safety valve, to release the pressure. We must always cherish and protect it.

Priyamvad Rai

The Euphoria called Football

The FIFA world cup kicked off on Thursday by Saudi Arabia and Russia in the latter’s capital of Moscow. For an entire month, the world will be gripped in the ecstasy of football. Thousands of fans will be attending the event in 11 cities across Russia with millions more joining in from all across the world through the power of television and the internet. A sport, loved so much, that people spend sleepless nights to watch their favourite teams play in this tremendous tournament.

1930 was the year when this quadrennial event began. The venue for this watershed moment in sporting history was Uruguay. A mere 13 countries participated; because crossing the Atlantic Ocean was a perilous task back then. It took almost 3 weeks to travel from Europe to South America. Even though it was a small tournament, the effect it had was a large one. In succeeding world cups, the number of teams participating to qualify for the tournament kept on increasing and the desire to lift the trophy even more so.

We have come a long way from the 1930s. The 2018 world cup has 32 countries competing for the title of world champions; and over 200 countries who participated in the qualifiers for the world cup. The excitement is not just for winning the cup, but also for hosting it! The hosts for the next two world cups have already been declared with Qatar hosting it in 2022 and United States, Mexico and Canada, jointly hosting the one after that in 2026 (Which is going to be the largest one ever, with more than 40 countries). Such is the craze for the FIFA world cup.

Even a country like India where cricket is considered to be the ‘unofficial’ national sport football too has a great following. Millions across India tune in to watch the various European clubs compete for the title in their respective leagues. India has one of the largest viewers of football in the world. With India hosting the U-17 World Cup, being victorious in the recently hosted continental cup and advent of Indian Super League, football too is rising up to the position which cricket presently holds. It will not be long before football becomes a ‘religion’ like cricket is in India. But what is it that makes this game just so wonderful to look at and play?

Football is the kind of game which keeps you at the edge of your seat. For those 90 minutes nothing else matters, just the football and shooting it into the back of the net. In the blink of an eye the tide can change. From being down 1-0 to leading the game by 2-1, the exhilarating moments and breath-taking movements on the pitch keeping even the non-followers glued to the screen. When you play the game, you feel what the players who are playing for their countries feel. The unparalleled adrenaline rush of getting past the defenders and kicking the ball into the back of the net. It is a feeling which all of us experience, whether it is playing or watching the game. Personally, I never used to watch football; but since the exciting final of the 2014 World Cup, I’ve become a follower of the sport. Making sure that I watch the important fixtures across all leagues if not following it religiously. Any chance I get to play, I make sure that I do. At the end of the match, regardless of whether you won or lost; watching or playing; those 90 minutes are just simply euphoric. If you meet someone who doesn’t speak your language, football will be your connection. That’s the reason why football is so popular across the globe. It brings the people closer, the countries closer and inadvertently, the world closer to each other.

Priyamvad Rai