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Independent Indian woman...where?

After almost sixty years of India's independence, how independent are its women really? You could say that women are much more liberated today than they have ever been, but do they really feel so? Naturally, if things have changed for women so have they for men in India as the country progressed. But it's the mindset that I am referring to...that is still stuck in good ol' eighteenth century (or earlier, depending on where you are).

The idea of an 'independent Indian woman' to me is one who can make her own choices and live without fear of being victimised just because she is an easy target, a woman. I am not even talking about the villages where electricity has not yet reached, and there is no point in discussing liberation where there is struggle for daily survival. I am talking about the women living in big cities...who I can closely identify with.

Urban society offers little opportunity for young woman to exercise their independence. They are forever tied to familial obligations and hardly get time to themselves. Every decision they make must be approved by Mummy, Aunty and the next-door neighbour. In fact, every step she takes must be socially acceptable. So, there is no question of lighting a cigarette or talking to a stranger (man, must I add?). I am not saying that these are the things that constitute liberation, but why have different rules for women?

If she wants to stay on her own, relatives assume something must be wrong. Career decisions must be what I call, 'matrimonially safe'. That means, it should sound good to her prospective in-laws. So, there's no question of becoming a hydraulic engineer or zoologist. Many women do go on and achieve their dreams but they are far too few.

Even in the blue-collar workforce, our society does not give women the freedom to become plumbers, gardeners or taxi drivers -- which could have given them the economic independence they need. So, women of the lower strata are forced to work as house help and laundry persons. Others meet a worse fate, and even then, they have no protection from exploitation. Prostitution is illegal in our country and that has not stopped this practice from proliferating...it has only led to more exploitation of women and young girls.

The answer then, is not in merely educating women, but also opening avenues for their economic liberation. Not only will this ensure a good future for their children, but will free them from the clutches of painful marriages and relations.

Speaking of which, domestic violence and dowry deaths have been proven now and again to be unrelated to education and social status. Silently, many professional and well-to-do women continue to suffer at the hands of their spouses.

All this does not count the mental torture. As soon as a woman enters into her twenties that she is made to think that her only purpose in life is to get married and have kids. At the peak of their lives when they should be exploring life, they are handed burdens which tie them down forever. For women who choose to delay marriage, the mental torture continues till they finally do. It seems that society cannot accept a single, happy woman. She must always be attached to her parents or husband or kids.

So, I still think the Indian woman has a long way to go. Until she has to feel guilty about being single and happy or pursuing a successful career, she is anything but independent.
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9 comments

Anonymous said...

Just one question... If women donot have kids at the most productive period of their lives, which seems to be the 20's in your opinion, just when Do they have kids?The key is for women to get into relationships where they are valued, so that opting out for a few years, does not cost them inside the house too. I am pretty sure that external sensitisation is on and working.

I think the whole definition of most productive is set to change, big time. And women, surprisingly, seem to perpetuate the myth when it comes to their most productive years perhaps unconsciously linking it to fertility. Wake up, there is a great life, especially for women after 40 too.

Neha said...

Tarana, an empathising account of what the woman of today has to go through, inspite of India being a liberal country today...Very precise, crisp, n ur message comes across bang on! Agree with u totally!

But, I think, it's upto us women and the young generation, now, to prove that a woman is all that n much more, than what men could have ever thought of...Like they say, try to change something...if u can't, then change ur attitude...U can't change the world, so i think it's high time we as young girls, n women,change our attitude n approach towards what we wanna achieve for ourselves....Let's go get the world ya!!!

Consumer said...

Your article just explains the well documented statistic of birth rates and overall fertility, as women's emancipation takes root in a country. Europe, Japan, Russia, the US, in all these places it is below replacement levels today...

While in sub-saharan africa, islamic countries, India, it continues to grow strongly.. It would be great if you apply your considerable thinking skills to theorise about the long term consequences....

indscribe said...

Tarana, you don't find change in mindset from 18th century! We have surely seen change in our own lifetime.

musafir said...

Tarana Ji
Nicely written article. i do agree that everyone should have right to choose what is best for them. got the following thoughts while reading this post.
independence also means that a girl can choose to get married and have kids .. without being termed backward. it is no small job bringing up kids.
no one has right to control how a girl (or a guy) makes choices in life.. but that does not include parents. advice parents give to their children is out of love and good will, and it is good if the advice is respected.

women do have a big role to play if they want to end the problems they face. i always wonder how much a girl suffers before marriage when the prospective grooms family comes to 'see' her and decide if she is suitable...and the same girl after becoming mom of an eligible bachelor lets other girls go through that suffering.

Amodini said...

Tarana,
Nicely said. I remember my career options being laid out for me - doctor, engineer, teacher - something respectable, you know. No air-hostessing (family suffers with odd hours), no hotel-management (hours too late for a "good girl"). Really this we-are-liberated crap is just so much lip-service.

Pratyush said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pratyush said...

Sad to know that you are still living in 18th century.... I am living in 21st century... and i do find things around me changing, everyday... and talking about women liberation... looks like you are a bit muddle headed ... your intent 2 write this article was good... but your expressions were confused...

Anonymous said...

bingo! spot on.

@anon
there may be people around who don't want to get married. and then there are people who want to marry but not have children. one doesn't imply the other. so for these women the idea of having children, be it at 20 or at 40, doesn't apply. the indian society , i should rather say the great indian middle class just doesn't accept that not everyone, man or woman more in case of women, can fit into their stereotypes and can live their lives the way they want.

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