Society of misogynists

In India, women are perceived as cheap and not valuable enough to the firm they work for .

Some time ago I was working on a book on women who are high achievers in the Indian corporate world. Indian business world has been a highly discriminatory place for women. It is heavily biased against the female gender.

The women, after they start working and begin moving from the lower to the upper levels of jobs, are not able to remain in the workforce. India has a considerable dropout or ‘leakage’ from its pipeline of women workforce — from junior to middle level positions. According to Gender Diversity Benchmark, 2011, it is the worst ‘leaking pipeline’: 28.7 per cent of those at the junior level of the workplace, 14.9 per cent of those at the middle level and 9.3 per cent of those at the senior level. So, by the time some women reach the top level, an equal number of others would have dropped out. This ‘leakage rate’ in the ‘career pipeline’ is a damning commentary on the way even the so-called ‘educated’ Indian men view women’s roles during the current ‘modernised’ world.

Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that of 1,112 directorships on the Bombay Stock Exchange 100, just 59 i.e. a little over 5 per cent are held by women (2011 figures). Fifty four per cent of companies on the BSE100 have no women board directors. Out of 323 total executive directorship positions — generally considered to be prerequisites to holding the CEO position — on the BSE100 just eight (2.5 per cent) are held by women. In comparison, several other nations such as Norway (41 per cent), Sweden (27 per cent), USA (17 per cent), UK (17 per cent), Turkey (13 per cent) and South Africa (17 per cent) fare much better. Even Thailand (10 per cent), China (8 per cent) and Malaysia (8 per cent) are quite ahead of India. It is the Indian men’s resistance to transition from the traditional expectations to the present realities of changed techno-economic state of affairs that is responsible for this highly gender discriminatory situation.

In India, women are perceived as cheap and not valuable enough to the organisation. There is always a shadow of doubt about their capabilities and over the quality of their work. Much of these preconceived wrong ideas originate from the highly patriarchal society that we have in our country. ‘Lesser’ mortals cannot really do anything worthy of praise. ‘Greater’ mortals i.e. men can wield their authority over the smaller ones i.e. women. Sometimes this authority takes sexual overtone and then some men may feel justified in making sexual advances toward women colleagues, particularly ones lower down the hierarchy in the corporate. Such men may perceive the work-place as some watered down version of a harem. The origins of sexual harassment at the workplace are in this misperception about the other gender.

The examples of alleged harassment in the corporate world have been several. Companies like Infosys, known for their ‘clean’ image, too had their share of such alleged instances. During the last few days some cases of sexual harassment at the workplace are being discussed in other unexpected areas of work. One is at Tehelka, an organisation known for investigative journalism particularly having handled many cases of gender injustice. The person who is being blamed for an alleged “rape” of a junior colleague is none other than the Chief Editor of the organisation.

Another is the case of a young lady ‘intern’ (trainee lawyer) who has come out with charges of ‘sexual molestation’ by none other than her topmost boss who happens to be a retired Supreme Court judge. All these are similar to a case where the protectors themselves turn out to be persecutors. The alleged cases are shocking because, if the allegations are proven to be true, they destroy the huge trust that people repose in these organisations and institutions. The huge edifice of morality is beginning to crumble. The moral of these stories seems to be: the Indian patriarchal society’s influence is so internalised and so entrenched that the modern influences like equality of gender which have as yet only scratched the skin of the Indian society are no match for it.

If the high and mighty men behave the way they have been alleged to have behaved, they give a dreadfully wrong signal to the rest of the men in Indian society. The rapid increase in the rape cases across the country owes partly to this wrong signaling by the elite men of the society. They interpret the signal as “weaker sex can be exploited”. The plebians are being exploited themselves in other economic and social ways. Exploitation is something they are very familiar with right from their childhood days; and they have been enduring it with no sign of any redress even in the foreseeable future. Therefore, for them, at some point in time exploiting someone in a situation ‘weaker’ than theirs is like reproducing their own situation. They could have fewer qualms about it.

The appalling cases like the rape and torture of “Nirbhaya” in Delhi and the most recent case of a gang-rape of a young girl in Lakhimpur region of Assam are examples of such warped mental state. The gang-raped girl had her eyes gouged out when she resisted. 
Indian society, contrary to all the high-brow coffee-table talks of ‘democracy’, ‘growth’ and ‘development’, is brutally unequal. India is one of the most violent societies, despite the pseudo-philosophic discussions of ‘ahimsa’, ‘nonviolence’ and ‘Gandhigiri’ as our gift to the world.

The violence is always directed towards the weaker sections and the less privileged ones of the society; women, who constitute one-half of the society, have been kept ‘weak’ so that they can be exploited. A lower literacy rate among the women of India, as compared to the male population, is one such vile action. Malnutrition is higher among the girls and women. Women’s need for privacy and hygiene has been a neglected subject throughout our 67 years of independence. So much so that, besides the obvious neglect of the rural areas, even the metros woefully lack in toilet facilities for women.

Just as the schedules castes and tribes have been kept down for centuries by the society, the women too have been cowed down and the situation has not improved significantly as yet. Rapes, acid throwing cases, feticides, dowry deaths, female sexual harassment at work, lack of adequate educational facilities for girls, and lack of conducive work atmosphere at the workplace are all a manifestation of a sickness in our society. Women do not need empowerment; they need equality. Women need gender neutrality. They need that the men should first heal themselves of their illness.

(The writer is a professor of Indian Institute of Management Bangalore)

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