Suffering silently

It is no wonder that in growth indicators such as education, healthcare, absence of malnutrition, etc. women in India fare worse than men.

A young woman in Delhi, who was travelling home in the late hours past midnight after her work as a journalist, was found molested and murdered. Sheila Dikshit was the chief minister of Delhi then. Dikshit wondered aloud as to “Why should a girl travel so late in the night?” That seemingly innocuous query by the CM became a statement of the extent of the all pervasive inability when it came to protecting our women citizens’ very basic rights. There cannot be any more basic right than the right to move about freely without fear during the day or the night. In Delhi, women dread to come out of their house after it gets dark in the evening. The situation in a good number of cities and towns is no better.

International Woman’s Day falls on March 8 and at least on that day all of us Indians need to do a thorough introspection. The state of women in India is wretched to say the least. They face violence all the time in all spheres. There is physical violence like rape, torture and killings for dowry and throwing of acid on the face amongst others. There is social violence like when parents treat a daughter as a lesser child than the son; the violence starts at the foetus stage when it is scraped out of the mother’s womb. When born, the parents may discriminate against her while providing nourishment.

Girls from poor families suffer from malnourishment more than the boys in the same family. Nourishment is also of another kind: healthcare and education. Girls suffer on both the counts. There is another violence which is subtle and therefore most lethal. It is the psychological violence. Since childhood the parents din into the heads of children that it is the prime responsibility and even honour for the woman to suffer mutely in order to maintain social stability. She has to bear the burden of the otherwise ‘unstable’ social order. She has to dress ‘modestly’. She has to wear the ‘ghunghat’ so that men may not lose their ‘control’.

The schools and its teachers, women teachers included, also say the same thing reminding girls about the social ‘responsibility’ they must carry. Woman’s modesty is in her muteness. ‘Suffering silently’ is the commendation certificate for a woman. Our mythologies are full of praise and adulation for such Sati Savitris or sacrificing ladies. Women are made weak and taught to believe that it is their strength – ‘resilience’ in day-to-day earthly terms and ‘divine greatness’ in heavenly terms.

Conditioning of the mind cannot get any worse. One half of the population is made to believe that the other half is more deserving and therefore worthy of dominating. Master and slave relationship has the sanction of the society and of the slaves themselves. When the ‘master-slave’ relationship gets disturbed, i.e. when women get ahead in life despite intense competition, the male ego gets terribly hurt.

Hurt ego’s reaction

The reaction of the hurt ego results in showing domination one way or the other. Sometimes the hurt male ego shows up strongly as the horrific crimes of rape and mutilation. Rape is not because of lust; it is a show of power - power over any female that they can snare. That is why after Nirbhaya’s gang-rape, the rapists were not satisfied with just the sexual act. They tore her private parts by inserting rods and such other objects.

In such a social milieu, it is well nigh impossible for the women to get equality and justice. The inequality has permeated to almost the subconscious level. It is present in all spheres of life – home, family matters, property issues, education, employment and career, business transactions, social interactions and politics. It is no wonder that in growth indicators such as education, healthcare, absence of malnutrition, economic power, etc. women in India fare significantly worse than our men.

In the corporate sector that grew at a rapid rate in the past two decades in India, a sector that is more globalized and therefore supposedly more modern in outlook, we still notice that the participation of women at the decision-making managerial levels is low. It gets worse at the higher levels and at the board level Indian corporates have a poor ratio of women to men as compared to most countries of the world. These low numbers ensue despite many companies being managed at the higher levels by women who inherit them. 

There are some women who have made it to the top of large corporates in India but most of them have been very fortunate to have had a male mentor who had been at the top level, if not the Chairman or Managing Director level. And these extremely rare male mentors believed in ‘gender neutrality’. The women also had the rare backing of their families – not just the parents but also of the in-laws.

There was talk of having women’s reservation in the nation’s parliament. But, it has still remained far from being implemented. No one gives up power that easily. There is a miniscule minority of men who believe in true equality. But, by and large, the women will have to push ahead all by themselves rather than wait for the day when the minority of enlightened men transforms into a majority. For the push, the women need to first battle their own prejudices. Misogynism is not a prerogative of the male species. Indian women have to remove the cobwebs of doubt and despair from their own minds. Until they are sure of themselves, no real change can materialise.

(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)

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