Greatness of a nation is appreciated by how it treats her women. Most modern democracies have given women equal rights to men. One can see women competing with men in all spheres of life. However, not many countries had so many women in such positions of power at any given time as in India. We had president of India, speaker of parliament, leader of opposition in parliament, leader of the biggest party in the political formation that is ruling India, chief ministers of at least three states in India. In India, we had our prime minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, as early as 1970. In our culture, source of power, money and knowledge are all women. There are several very prominent high profile Indian ladies in corporate sector as well.
All this information must indicate that status of women is very high in Indian society. Unfortunately, however, ground reality is farthest from truth. In this country, at many places a girl child is killed before birth. This practice is common not only among poor and uneducated, but also among rich and powerful. Such practice has resulted in skewed male to female ratio in many states. In many places, a bride is harassed and even killed if she does not bring sufficient dowry to her husbands place. Rape is commonly used by men to settle score by men over women, and in general show her place. To the extent, certain influential people in society, including a potential chief minister, claims that girls should be married early to prevent rape. Some even propagate ideas like rape is a consensual act between a man and woman. Sex starved women get themselves raped by innocent boys. In public transport system, many a times women are subjected to molestation. One lady chief minister even proclaimed that too much mixing between boys and girls lead to rape. Recently, a very powerful chief minister of a very prosperous state, equated another political opponents wife in monetary terms.
In a country with such long cultural tradition and with so many women in positions of power, why predicament of women in general is so poor? Effort to give women power at village level have been successful to some extent. Villages that are headed by a woman, in many cases are better organised, less corrupt and common man’s issues are highlighted. A similar propostion to reserve 30% seats for women in Indian parliament had met with serious resistance. Although, post independence women have gradually come to many areas, earlier dominated by men, still compared to women in US or UK, in India women still have a long way to go.
Women are considered a property of men, that should be considered a property worth protecting and when needed kicked around. Is it because women are financially dependent on men? Is it because our women in general are not in position of power in sufficient numbers to frame rules and regulations and enact laws? I think it is more to do with mindset of people. As we become more mature and civilised as a nation and as a human, we may start to appreciate long cultural heritage better, than we do today. However, there is no doubt that unless Indians start respecting half their population, no amount of economic growth is going to pull us out of our sorry state of affairs.