Exploding myths about gender equality
URBAN WOMEN IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA — A Reader: Rehana Ghadially — Editor; Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., B-1/11, Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, New Delhi-110044. Rs. 595.
Times have changed and definitely continue to do so redefining the new Indian woman or rather the new urban woman at every step. And, yet we often find that the changes as perceived are not quite exactly the way we think they are or wish them to be. The impetus for this comprehensive volume is dictated by the search for roots that help the new Indian woman scale new heights. In some ways, the new Indian woman comes across only as a political construction which the two doze
n writers have sculpted with an agenda reflective of the vast transformation that followed liberalisation and globalisation of the Indian economy in 1991. The anthology is located in a time period when, having unsuccessfully rallied against globalisation and the market-driven economy, Indian women’s movements were exploring ways in which women could “respond to, adapt to, and survive in the more complex, unmanageable, uncertain, dynamic circumstances that the time offered in terms of cultural, economic, political and social opportunities and challenges.” At the same time they continued to warn against its negative consequences including feminisation of poverty and increasing commoditisation of women.
According to Ghadially, four transforming events characterised this phase — structural adjustment of the Indian economy, economic and “cultural globalisation”; increasing number of NGOs enacting the state’s role in delivering welfare measures; impact of new media and information communication technologies on the lives and work of women; and use of religion to pursue political ends that gave rise to the new Hindu woman who represented both a repository of tradition and culture, and also matched the visions of feminists by being strong, assertive, educated and employed. Ghadially identifies old issues that confronted urban educated women in the past and have again resurfaced in a new garb. For example, dowry harassment, domestic violence, rampant female foeticide, other forms of violence like acid throwing, honour killings, sexual harassment at the workplace, stalking, national and trans-national trafficking, and indecent portrayal of women in the new media remain alive.
The essays, categorised under heads like reconstructing gender, violence, neo-liberal globalisation, information communication technologies, politics and political participation are in-depth and analytical. The authors have collectively exploded the myth that the contemporary urban Indian woman is liberated, economically, socially and politically empowered with access to resources and choices.
The edifice of arguments built by feminists to put women on a par with men has been sort of demolished in this anthology. But then what cannot be overlooked is that India changes in insidious ways, it slowly morphs. Change creeps its way up, accompanied by contradictions. And forever, whatever we say about Indian women, the opposite will also always be true.
There will be positive empowerment as a result of panchayat reservations and change in inheritance laws and some gender-friendly policies and police stations. But it will still take several generations before women actually ride on these measures. So even if urban woman in contemporary India refuses to suffer silently anymore, there will be thousands of women facing discrimination, abuse and violence.
The strength of this collection is that the articles present a view of the Indian women’s movement — past and present — situated as it is in the flux of colonial, post-colonial and in the pre- and post-liberalisation eras.
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