India had a woman as head of government in 1966. Today, two of the most important political figures in the country are women: President Pratibha Patil, and the leader of the largest party, Sonia Gandhi. Having said that, India, even today, is one of the worst places to be born a woman. This is what emerges from a study done by the Trust Law of the Thomson Reuters Foundation of the G20 countries.
It seems that for too long international attention has been polarized on the status of women in the Middle East, losing sight of what has been happening for centuries in the “largest democracy in the world”: India. Maybe if it was not for the gang rape that the last December 16 took the life of a 23 year old girl, the protests in New Delhi would not have reached the Western press with so much “violence”. In the last month and a half cases of abuse against women in India have followed without interruption.
“Women were created to obey in all ages: to parents, husbands, in-laws and children … A woman will think only about her husband and never look in the face of another man. During a prolonged absence of her husband, a wife can’t leave the house, she can’t clean her teeth or cut her nails, she can eat only once a day, she can’t not sleep on a bed and she can’t wear new clothes. ”
According to the “Code of Manu”, the collection of all Indian laws, a woman was forced to remain under the tutelage of her father, husband or of her sons and, in case she was left a widow, she should have chosen the voluntary sacrifice on the pyre of her husband, a ceremony known as Sati.
Today, the situation has not changed and Indian girls and women are still victims of discrimination within the family.
To understand how little importance women have in these cultures in comparison to men, just think that if a daughter is to be born, the mother is often forced to have an abortion. Unfortunately, in some parts of India having a daughter represents big economic problem, because of the expensive dowry required at the time of marriage. On the other hand, a male child does not represent an economic expense, because they remain under the roof of their parents , thus inheriting the management. The dowry of women is essential for a woman to get married, it is at the origin of many divorces and fatalities caused deliberately, which allow the husband to remarry in order to obtain a more substantial dowry. This practice is so ingrained that a process to condemn it has yet to be established.
Women in India are beginning to follow the direction that the women of the Western world began more than eighty years ago, demanding equal rights with men. However, it is increasingly evident that there are many difficulties in applying the methods and values of the Western feminist culture and their traditions to their own country.
The Indian female population strivesmto be as independent as men. But, the caste system and religious customs are preventing these changes. Despite modernization, the status of Indian women has remained low and underestimated throughout the 20th century.
Is there hope for change?
There is no doubt that India is changing, and at the center of change there are women. In fact, currently hundreds and thousands of women across India are working hard to change the reality in which they live – fight violence, create businesses, refuse the workplace where they are exploited and they are choosing not to have children. But these realities do not receive much attention.
However, according to statistics, violence against women appears to be increasing in India. India has more men than women (914 women per 1000 men), and sex selection through abortion plays an important role in this disparity. Despite appropriate labour laws, the formal and informal labor relations do not respect the equality of conditions in the workplace and according to the census of 2011, about 200 million women in India still do not know how to read and write.
But numbers never tell the whole story and can often be read in different ways, depending on what you are looking for: so if 200 million women in India can neither read nor write, it means that there are 800 million women who can. If the numbers show an increase in violence, perhaps it is because women are now more confident and willing to talk.
It’s hard to tell how fast the reality of the life of Indian women will change. But that change has never been questioned, because the spirit of protest and resistance is growimg in the hearts and minds of millions of women.
This is the reason because the rape of last December, which led to major protests and to the creation of extraordinary document that speaks not only of laws, but also about the social, economic, and psychological costs and of the marginalization of women that led to changes in some laws.
It is clear that there is desire and determination for change. A young woman lost her life last year, while many continue to be the victims of abuse and discrimination. It is up to us to ensure that the change that many of them are dreamingdreams comes real. Maybe this is what we need to focus on.