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By Uday Dandavate Ed. By Rohini Dandavate, Isha Dandavate
India is experiencing an awakening of conscience, triggered by the barbaric gang rape of Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old college student in Delhi. Angry protesters are demanding that the government act quickly to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime. Candle light vigils are taking place all over the country. College students are pushing for the passing of new laws to ensure harshest possible punishment for crimes against women. Social media and traditional media is buzzing with debates to identify appropriate approaches for eradicating violence against women. India is going through a cathartic moment. During this time of reflection I remember my mother, late Mrs. Pramila Dandavate, who championed the cause of oppressed women of India. She passed away in Delhi on January 1st, 2002. A decade after her death, crimes against women continue to occupy the center stage of national discourse. Pramila Dandavate championed women’s cause at various levels. She took a lead in mobilizing and educating women around the need for social justice through Samajwadi Mahila Sabha (Socialist Women’s Organization); She focused on the importance of bringing dignity to women by bringing them opportunities for economic independence. With this objective in mind she set up Sunanda Sahakar, a women’s cooperative. She also realized the importance of non-violent resistance against perpetrators of social, economic, and political injustice as a means of protecting women. Along with Mrinal Gore, Ahilya Ranganekar, Mangala Parikh, and many other women socialists, she founded the Mahila
Dakshata Samiti (Women’s Vigilance Committee) to advocate for women’s causes and consumer rights by providing legal aid and counseling to underserved women. As a Member of Parliament, Pramila Dandavate was instrumental in introducing private member’s bills that included Dowry Prohibition Act Amendment bill, Registration of Marriage Act, and Amendment to the Representation of People Act. She led a national campaign for a Constitutional amendment for reserving 33 percent seats in the Parliament for women. She also campaigned for and achieved the establishment of a National Commission of Women for India. This article presents her ideas on the status of women in India, expressed through a compilation of her published works and presented in the form of a fictitious interview. Tell us a bit about what inspired you to work for women’s emancipation. My association and participation in the Rights of men and women is as old as fifty years when I joined Rashtra Seva Dal, a voluntary organization established by Late S. M. Joshi, Late N.G. Goray and Late Madhu Limaye, to counteract [the] communal influence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and to inculcate values of democracy, socialism and secularism. In 1961 I was invited to join a Committee formed by the Hind Mazdoor Sabha, then headed by Maniben Kara[; the committee] wrote a charter of Rights of Modern Indian Women. This early exposure to [a] systemic approach to solving women’s issues made me realize that women’s issues need to be addressed at different levels. What is at the root of violence against women in India? Revival of fundamentalism in our society is one of the key causes of increased crime against women. There is an urgency to liberate the Indian mind from a discriminatory attitude towards women. In early nomadic stages of human civilization, men looked up to women with awe as only women could produce another human being. Women were worshipped as goddesses and enjoyed equal freedom with higher status in the society. After settling down as an agricultural society, a slow change started affecting women’s status and role. Concepts of ownership of land and property were developed. Desire to control woman’s fertility and establish ownership over her reproductive
power and her womb was a logical corollary. With decline in the status of women in family and society matriarchal society was replaced by patriarchal. A reference to the story of Shwetaketu in the Hindu mythology would not be impertinent. Shwetaketu prevented his mother from going out with another man. He was the first person to prescribe moral codes for women. He invented the institution of marriage, which has been foundation of family since then. In the patriarchal family women were confined to the four walls of home and their status declined to a secondary position. Later religions, which were established by men strengthened patriarchal values and gave religious sanction to the subjugation of women. To justify the discriminatory code of behavior, all religions have condemned women as inferior human beings who were created by god for men’s service and entertainment. Hindu scriptures consider her as a seductress, Christianity consider her as the sinner who tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit and according to Islam, she is the earth in which man sows his seed hence she is the property of man who needs protection but no freedom. In the popular scripture Ram Charit Manas, Tulsidas says, “Dhol..gawar...sudra...pashu...nari sakal tadan ke adhikari', which literally means Drums, the illiterate, lower caste, animals and women deserve to be beaten up in order to get them to perform to their maximum capacities. We need to think about how vast majority of illiterate India that draws much of their wisdom from the scriptures be liberated from attitudes towards women. Economic inequality, oppression, social division like castes, class, communal ethnic or religious separatism have always affected women more than men. But the recent revival of fundamentalism is pushing women to more subjugation and oppression. These forces are against the basic concept of equality. Politicians have not hesitated to sacrifice women’s human rights for electoral gains. They surrender to the communal forces. Shaha Bano case is an example. What are your views on the status of a woman in the family? To make women accept their inferior status and subjugation without protest, all religions have glorified motherhood and put mother on the pedestal of goddess. However in the process, cunningly men deprived them of all economic and property rights rendering them powerless and dependent on men for their very survival. Conditioned under patriarchal values of accepting a secondary status in the family, women cherished qualities of self-sacrifices, silent submission to male domination and invisibility. Hence stability of family for generations has depended on the sacrifices of its female members. Stability of family will remain illusory as long as it rests on the total sacrifices and subordination of one partner in the family. Strength of family will depend on the concept of equality, mutual respect and democratic functioning of the family.
The best indicator of women’s status in society is their ratio to [the] male population. In most of the countries the number of women is less than men. In the Indian continent the decline of female population is alarming. There is continuous decline in the female population since 1901, with the exception of a little rise in 1981. Female infanticide and neglect of those who survive has contributed to this phenomenon. What is government’s role in improving the status of women in India? The first assessment of the status of women in India after independence was made by the Committee of Status of Women in India (CSWI) in 1975, the International Women’s year. The committee arrived at the conclusion that the status of women in India had declined after independence. The decade following publication of this report, witnessed an alarming rate of increase in crimes against women and at the same time in mobilization of women against crimes. There was an increased emphasis placed on including women, not just as recipient of welfare programs, but as partners in development planning. Fourteen years after the first report of the CSWI, two more reports, Shramshakti, a report of the national commission on self employed women and women in formal sector, under the chairmanship of Smt. Ela Bhatt and the National Plan perspective for the 8th Plan- both admitted that there was not significant change in the lives of Indian women. The National Plan Perspective launched by Late Rajiv Gandhi, termed women the largest group of “Backward citizens”. Some of the key statistics from the National Plan Perspective speak for them selves. • • • • • 75% of the women are illiterate 90% women work in unorganized sector 51 Lakh matriculate women are registered unemployed 64% pregnant women suffer from anemia 1 out of every 18 women run risk of dying during pregnancy
In contrast, it is important to see the contribution of Indian women. Indian women contribute 50% to the agricultural production. [Their] tireless labor of providing basic amenities to the family like food…, water, rearing and bearing children on which depends the survival of the family is not recognized. Women and [their] labor remain invaluable and this labor is never evaluated in economic terms. Her income is considered to be supplementary. However, different studies reveal a totally different picture. Thirty five percent of the families in India are headed by women, which depend solely on the income of the women. Out of the 65% of the remaining families, women’s contribution is 50% to the family income. Ninety percent of the women who constitute unorganized sector have always remained outside the ambit of the labor laws. However, Equal Remuneration Act, Factory Act Minimum Wage act, which were created to protect women have actually
affected them adversely. Women labor became costlier leading to employers retrenching women. Modernization of agriculture and industry has also rendered traditional skills of women redundant. More and more women cultivators have turned into agricultural laborers. Coir and Tobacco industries, which were employing women have thrown out thousands of women after modernization. Also, structural adjustment programs imposed by international financial institutions have affected a number of social services including education, health, and aggravation of illiteracy and maternal mortality of poor women…Women [already] constitute 73% of the [world's] 1.3 billion poor. The structural adjustment program is driving them [further] into impoverishment. So how do we empower women? Literacy and education are most powerful instruments of empowerment of women. An educated and employed woman stands a greater chance of getting respect and equal status in a family. Real credit for bringing common women into mainstream of politics goes to Mahatma Gandhi. Transformation and empowerment of women through their participation in Satyagraha movement under the leadership of Gandhiji was acclaimed by Late Kamladevi Chattopadhyaya in following words, “ Mahatma Gandhi could achieve in a day what social reformers could not for hundred years of social reformist movement, gender justice and equality was one of the major thrusts of Gandhiji’s philosophy. His influence on the political leaders of immediate post independence period was instrumental in the incorporation of the Articles 14-15 and 16 of the constitution guaranteeing equality, forbidding discrimination and extension of special privileges for advancement of backwards, irrespective of caste, religion and sex” When the issue of reservation of seats for women in the legislatures was discussed, women members of the constituent assembly opposed it at [the] assembly and parliament level but favored it at [the] Panchayat and Zilla Parishad level. Similar views were held by women politicians till mid-seventies. However a shift in their stand became clearer with the declining number of women in both the state and the central legislatures Demand for 33% reservation for women at all levels started gaining ground A murmur for this demand became a thunder by the time Panchayat Raj Bill 1992 became effective. Participation of women in decision making process- right from the family to the highest level is essential for democracy. This demand still remains a dream. What are your recommendations for enhancing the status of women in a family?
• • • •
Men must be encouraged to share domestic work with women to enable them to participate in activities outside of their homes so as to widen their horizons, By guaranteeing property rights to daughters and wives. Women must be made economically independent. Domestic labor of women should be considered as their contribution to the family income. Concepts of women’s rights in the decision making process in the family and society must be materialized. Population policy should be linked up with the status of women and they should have final authority in deciding about the number of children they should have. Men must be made aware of their responsibility towards reproductive health of women. Atmosphere in the family should be democratic, In which all members can express themselves freely to develop mutual respect and concern.
Through her sacrifice, Nirbhaya, the 23-year old college student has stirred the nation’s conscience. It is a perfect opportunity to address what each one of us can do to rise above our inherent biases ingrained from centuries of discrimination against women and commit ourselves to a future where Indian women live life with respect, security and dignity.
References This article has extracts from following published works by Mrs. Pramila Dandavate:
1. Empowerment of Women 2. The Family today – Strengths and weaknesses 3. Role of women in national development 4. Challenges of Gender equality before the Asia pacific region. (Seminar organized by IUSY Asia Pacific region) 5. Text of the memorandum presented to the President of India 6. Janata Dal Memorandum for the 81 constitutional amendment bill, 1996
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