Why are Punjabi women so beautiful
Urvashi Butalia, born in 1952, is a writer and publisher. She lives in Delhi and has long been committed to women's rights in India. She is co-founder of Kali For Women, India's first feminist publishing house, from which her own publishing house, Zubaan (www.zubaanbooks.com) emerged.
Women in indiaIndia is a country full of contradictions and nowhere is this more true than with the question of women's rights. At least on paper, India's women are better off than their peers in many other countries. But there is also a downside to this positive picture.
India is a country full of contradictions and nowhere is this more true than with the question of women's rights. At least on paper, India's women are better off than their peers in many other countries. The constitution guarantees them equality. Abortion is legal. There are also laws that protect their rights - it was not until October 2006 that the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act a law in force criminalizing domestic violence. Around ten years ago, the Indian constitution was even expanded to include a 33 percent quota for women in local elections. Over a million important positions in city and community administrations have already been filled by women.
Another trend can be observed in the metropolises. Thousands of young and less young women now work in the Indian branches of multinational corporations. You benefit from newly created jobs - for example in the numerous ones Call centersthat have only emerged in the last few years - and are developing a new self-confidence thanks to the financial independence they have gained. Quite a few women hold influential positions in the business world. India is also one of the countries in which, with Indira Gandhi, a woman has long determined political fate. Other women politicians have also shown that they are astute and smart. In addition, significant protest movements in recent years - such as the movement against the dams in the central Indian Narmada Valley (Medha Patkar) and the movement for the enforcement of the right to information (Aruna Roy) - are not only led by women, but exist to a large extent Part made up of activists.
Worst discrimination and violenceHowever, there is also a downside to this thoroughly positive picture. Although India's women have proven to be not only equal to men in business and politics, but often even superior, prejudice is still deeply ingrained in society. Even more: women continue to suffer the worst of discrimination and violence. Although the Indian state defines itself as secular and democratic, the female population is still seen to some extent as second class, whose civil rights are defined by family (especially fathers) or husbands. Whether in marriage and custody, inheritance and even in the workplace - the legislation does not assess women as independent, but as persons who are subordinate to their families or their husbands. Until recently, virtually all marriage laws gave men more rights than women.
India's statistics on acts of violence against women are appalling. Although India complies with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW) and despite efforts to adapt legislation accordingly, crimes against women remain the order of the day. A crime is committed against a woman every three minutes in India. A woman is tortured by her husband or relative every nine minutes, and the number of rapes has skyrocketed in recent years.
In addition, another worrying trend has been observed for years - the gender ratio is shifting to the disadvantage of women. That means that there are more and more men and fewer and fewer women in India. In union states such as Haryana and Punjab in the north-west of the country, the ratio is already 927 women to 1,000 men. Discrimination is also evident in education. Girls and women have hardly benefited from a nationwide increase in literacy rates of around ten percent over the past decade. And if women are marginalized in society as a whole, then all the more if they belong to groups like the Adivasi, India's original population, or the Dalits (casteless people), who are already on the fringes of society and are severely discriminated against.
Photo: Rainer Hörig
Modern and future-oriented, ancient and traditionalHow can all these realities coexist? This question, which is not easy to answer, occupies the minds of experts in India but also abroad. A cliché is that India is an entity in which several countries exist simultaneously over several centuries - on the one hand modern and future-oriented, on the other ancient and traditional. As with all clichés, there is more than a grain of truth in it.
Tradition - seen as something static that relates only to religion or values, although it is much more than that - plays an important role in the lives of Indian women. In India it is therefore not uncommon for women to be confident, articulate and independent, with jobs and interests of their own, but to turn to parents and relatives when choosing a spouse. The family, an institution that is heavily criticized but has also changed over the past decades, is still a place of oppression and support for Indian women.
This complex picture becomes even more complicated when one tries to fill in the rough brushstrokes that describe "India" with all the details of the different parts of the country. Each individual Union state has its own level of education and prosperity. For example, women in one part of the country may enjoy better education and better health care, but at the same time they may be disadvantaged in terms of food supplies. Women in big cities have opportunities that women in rural India are denied. These differences in a country as huge and diverse as an entire continent make it difficult to make generally binding statements. Because the differences are not only geographical and social, but also relate to religion, caste, class and the different stages of economic development.
These differences may be confusing, but in some ways they also help explain the often very different status of women in the country. In which a Explanation is certainly not enough to encompass all of India's realities. India - home of many religions - is a strongly hierarchically structured society. This is partly due to the existence of the Hindu caste system, partly to the fact that the country consisted of several small principalities and kingdoms until independence 60 years ago. But no religion in the world gives women the same rights. In addition, 200 years of colonial rule have severely damaged the self-confidence of Indian men - especially the elite. This, too, has resulted in women being pushed more and more into the home and hearth.
Changes become visible - albeit slowly
Independent India declared itself a secular, democratic and egalitarian state and tried to improve the situation. But as with all inequalities that are deeply rooted in a society, eliminating them is no easy task - no matter how many small changes have been implemented so far. It is particularly difficult to question social beliefs and behaviors.
In a functioning Indian democracy, women today have the opportunity to make lasting changes to their living conditions. But this access does not open to everyone. For well-educated women from the urban middle classes, India offers a lot that cannot be found anywhere else in the world: opportunities for democratic development, a steadily growing economy, first-class educational and health facilities and the opportunity to make it to the top. For poorer women, however, these opportunities are a long way off.
Nevertheless, there are always examples in which women take advantage of opportunities for emancipation without hesitation and are willing to invest all their energy and make the most of it. The women addressed, who have taken on influential positions in local government as a result of the quota system, are gradually giving rural India a different face. They ensure the supply of clean drinking water, guarantee functioning schools and open shops in which food is sold at fair prices. Initiatives such as the Ahmedabad (Gujarat state) -based organization of self-employed women (Self Employed Women's Association, SEWA) support women in building a livelihood with the help of their own bank and the granting of micro-credits. Changes are becoming visible everywhere - albeit slowly.
However, there will only be real change if the country faces the difficult process of changing society's mindset and social behavior. India wants to play an important role in the 21st century. But the entry into the modern and globalized world must be accompanied by the obligation not only to create equality for the female half of the population on paper, but also to give it the necessary substance in everyday life.
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