“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.