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The Girl in an Indian

Household –
Dimensions, Attitudes,
Challenges & the Road

The minutes of the meeting held on Sunday, 4th January are compiled below. The
compilation is for SIT use only and is not to be quoted / used outside. The topic is open
for deliberation in the online forum.

The topic of this week’s Sunday beach meet was: The Indian Woman – her role,
dimensions, attitudes, challenges and the road ahead. An attempt has been made to not
only understand the Indian woman’s role in Society, but to also gain fresh perspectives
on the issue to foster intellectual thought.

The quorum comprised on a healthy mixture of men and women, and across varying age
groups and most importantly, from different backgrounds. The level of thinking was,
therefore, altogether different. The objective was to arrive at a conclusion on how the
woman’s role in Indian society can be made more constructive than it is today.

Date: 4th January, 2009

Time: 5:00 P.M

Venue: Mahatma Gandhi Statue, Marina Beach.


(a) Srinath Varadarajan

(b) Prashanth Krishnaswami
(c) L. Vidya Shankar
(d) Vivek Shivram
(e) Aparajith Jayaraman
(f) Dr. Mohan Rao
(g) Mrs. Shyleshwari Rao
(h) Ms. Charu Rao
(i) Ms. Jyoti Saksena
(j) Ms. Jeevitha
(k) Mr. S. Ramachandran
(l) Mr. Rajeshwar Chakka
(m) Mr. Sairam Gopalan

Best Regards
SIT Admin
Round One: Opening Notes

The discussion opened with a round of initial deliberation, where each member spoke for
two minutes on his / her perspective of the issue. Opening remarks touched upon a
number of important issues, such as:

1. The structure of Indian Society

2. Women Empowerment today
3. The concept of “equivalence”
4. The old women / men debate
5. Tradeoff Concept
6. The balance required
7. Societal pressure and other external factors
8. Strengths of women, not present in men.
9. Conservative outlook of women.
10. An understanding of the man’s role relative to a woman.

Most of the speakers began by explaining the Indian caste system, and explained how the
system’s rigidity had kept Indian women in the dark for many years. The structure of
Indian society was such that the four stages of Indian life almost always included women
only as ancillaries, and women largely entered the lives of their husbands and sons and
not as individuals. The speakers commented on how far women have come from that
stage today and argued that women empowerment today is at an all time high, and
women have broken free from their age-old shackles.

The above argument was disputed by some speakers who said that the caste system alone
was not responsible for the impoverishment of Indian woman in the past. They were of
the view that the woman was chained because she chose to be in the protection of her
father or spouse, and she did not try to break free from her restrictions. Hence, to say that
women have progressed because of society is incorrect. Women are different today
thanks to a change in attitude. They were also of the view that women empowerment is
not as rosy and strong as many perceive it today. They emphasized that much more
needed to be done for women at different levels.

The opening round involved a discussion of the balance required in a family and what the
Indian woman brings to the family. Some of the speakers said that while the father was
responsible for the bread winning of the family, while the mother was the bedrock of
emotional support. Hence it is important to appreciate the various dimensions in which
the woman’s role is far more constructive than that of men.

The first round concluded with each speaker taking a stance on the issues mentioned
above and the quorum proceeded to discuss the varying roles of the Indian woman in
Round Two: The Indian Woman

The second round was a brainstorming session that explored the overall nature of the
Indian woman. The session dealt with the journey of the Indian woman over the years in
society, and also focused on women empowerment.

All speakers gave importance to the impact of evolution on the development of the Indian
woman. Some of the speakers said that owing to the rigidities prevalent in olden times,
the woman’s growth in Indian society was stunted. Today, she enjoys a world of freedom
and is perfectly capable of deciding her future on her own. Hence, general societal
attitude was given importance. This view, however, was contested by some speakers on
the ground that the growth of the Indian Woman was always in her hands, and only she
had the ability to break free from her shackles. Hence, according to them, the Indian
woman was a victim of rigidities because she chose to be led that way.

The second important aspect explored in the session was regarding the issue of women
empowerment. Some speakers were of the view that women empowerment today stands
at an all time high, and that this time and place are the best for the Indian woman to live.
However, some speakers were still skeptical about the position of the Indian woman in
society today and contested that while she has come a long way, the road ahead is going
to be still more difficult and laced with obstacles. They felt that women empowerment is
not saturated and that the woman still faces discrimination. In this regard, the concept of
female education was also visited and was quoted to show that women were still a
backward gender in society.

The third important aspect visited by the speakers was about the concept of equivalence.
The age old debate of women being equal to men was revisited with a different purpose
in mind, as speakers sought to give more emphasis to the value addition of the Indian
woman in society, rather than restricting the debate to abstract thoughts. Some of the
speakers felt that women are equal to men today because of the fact that society has
accommodated them and has given them the status they deserve. In addition, they felt that
the Indian woman’s ability to judge her destiny was at its peak. However, some of the
speakers felt that the Indian woman still has a long way to go, and contested that there
were many areas still out of bounds for the Indian woman in society.

The fourth important aspect visited was the concept of trade off in the Indian household.
Some speakers emphasized the need for the trade off by saying that it was mandatory to
tradeoff one’s career for the sake of running the family. Hence, it was important to
“adjust” in order to run a family the way it should be. However, some speakers said that
the tradeoff is avoidable if both parents cooperate and ensure that the line of difference
between their personal and professional lives exists.

Other important aspects visited in this session included:

(a) The impact of pressure, i.e. noting that pressure was a catalyst in the evolution of
the woman;
(b) The importance of perception – how society views the Indian woman has changed
over time;
(c) The fact that woman empowerment is restricted to urban India, and rural India is
still riddled with social evils and past sexist attitudes.
Round Three: The Indian Mother

The importance of the mother in an Indian household merits no debate. This session was
aimed at understanding how the Indian mother has changed over time – including a look
at her perceptions, her attitudes and her wants from her family.

Some of the speakers argued that both parents are equally important to the child and that
the child can never make a choice of one parent over the other. However, this view was
contested by some speakers who said that while both parents are indeed important, the
child’s needs from both parents are altogether different. A most important learning
emerged from this part of the session – the concept of “condition based” want of a child.

The second important aspect of the session was the “emotional bonding” the mother
ensures in the household. It was argued that the mother alone has the ability to balance
family life, and that the mother is responsible for imparting values and emotional bonding
of the family. However, this view was contested by some speakers who emphasized the
change in times today and said that emotional bonding is non existent in today’s times.
Hence, according to them, both parents are equally responsible for imparting values in
the child and hence the onus is on both parents to ensure proper upbringing.

The third important aspect visited by the speakers was the availability of parents. This
angle involved longer discussion as most of the speakers quoted the evolution of society
and said that owing to change in times today, availability of both parents is a serious
problem. The rational conclusion, therefore, is that the mother is more accessible to the
child than the father. Hence, the importance of the mother increases manifold. However,
this view was contested by some speakers who said that while the mother’s role in the
family is privileged, both parents work today and the concept of availability is obsolete.
The onus, according to them, is on both parents equally to ensure that the child gets all
emotional support desirable.

The session concluded with the speakers agreeing that while the role of the Indian mother
in the household is changing, it has not lost its importance and sanctity. However, the
approach in today’s times would be altogether different owing to the different challenges
posed – such as working women, the change in the child’s needs, etc.
Round Four: The Indian Girl Child

The third round of deliberation focused on the Indian Girl Child. This was done to not
only understand how the Indian girl child has grown over the years, but also to take a
look at changing perceptions of the Indian girl child. One speaker said, “A girl at 12
today is way too different from a 12-year old girl a few decades ago.” It was that
evolution that was subject to debate.

The speakers touched upon various areas of the topic to start a riveting discussion. Areas
such as care, respect, importance, etc. were among the earliest topics to be visited. Some
of the speakers also pointed out that academic orientation of boys is far more scrutinized
than that of girls. According to them, in case a boy wanted to study history, the family
objects to such a decision, whereas a girl child would not face the same objection. Hence,
the attitude remains biased against girls as boys are supposed to be the bread winners of
the family.

The above contention was disputed by the women speakers who pointed out that
expectations ride higher on a boy’s shoulders as opposed to girls. Further, with regard to
the topic of academics, they pointed out that the orientation towards subjects not usually
taken stems more out of necessity, and that a girl child equips herself with that
knowledge to contribute to her environment.

The issue of equipping a girl child was probed further by the speakers who said that
proper grooming can be ensured only if the girl child is allowed to learn enough to equip
herself mentally and physically to face her challenges in life.

The issue of the girl child being a liability is a centuries old debate that was, not too
surprisingly, taken up by the speakers. Some speakers contended that the girl child was
indeed a liability on her family as she takes in knowledge, but her contribution is limited
to select areas. This was contended by some speakers who said that not only is a girl child
NOT a liability; she is the potential emotional bedrock of her family.

The session concluded with the speakers agreeing that while perceptions against the girl
child are not so vehement as they were a couple of centuries ago, there is still room for
Round Five: The Wife

The penultimate session of the meet was a discussion on the “wife”. Much of the session
was a re-look on the journey of the wife from olden times into modernism, and attitudes
were debated.

The speakers began the session with a look on prejudice prevailing in society against the
married woman. It was pointed out that the married woman plays multiple roles in
addition to being a wife, such as the roles of a daughter in law, sister in law, etc. –
thereby being subject to far greater societal pressure than her spouse.

Another important aspect visited was the independence of the wife in today’s times.
History has it that women largely entered in the lives of their husbands / sons and had
very little, if any, individuality. Today the married woman enjoys far greater
independence than ever before. Hence, an understanding of that independence is an
important aspect.

It was pointed out that the role of the wife in running the family is no less than that of her
husband. This point was almost unanimously agreed upon, and the discussion focused on
understanding the difference in roles better. Some speakers said that the change in role is
only a generational issue and that the woman’s role in her husband’s life is only
supplementary. Arguments against this stand were that the woman’s role has changed not
because of a generation gap, but because of the added responsibility the woman has
chosen to take upon herself today. Examples of successful married women were given by
some speakers to elucidate how a responsible wife can indeed pull off a successful
balancing act.
Round Six: Other roles

The last round of discussion was a focus on the other roles of the woman in society,
which, apart from being interesting, are also important sides of the women empowerment
issue. The roles of a grandmother and a widow were highlighted in this round.

Some of the speakers opened the discussion on the Indian grandmother by likening her as
an “unpaid ayah” who spends half her life bringing up her grandchildren. It was agreed
that the grandmother is a treasure house of culture and values, and such an upbringing is
extremely relevant in today’s times of maddening pressure where both parents generally
work. Hence, in light of this view, some speakers likened the grandmother as the “second
mother” of the child.

A rare view brought forth by the speakers was that the role of the grandmother is relevant
only to this generation. It was argued that the future generations will not emphasize on
the role of the grandmother as intently as this generation has.

It was, however, agreed that the grandmother’s help is precious and an extremely
invaluable help in an Indian environment.

The round also looked at the development of the widow in an Indian society over the
years. The speakers said that the widow’s troubles are far more dangerous than that of a
widower, signifying again the prejudice women have faced over the years. It was agreed
that the development of the widow has to reform to justify the increasing modernism.

The last round concluded with the speakers recouping their learning from the session.
What did I learn today?
 Women are a powerful element of Indian society
 Men stand as the rock of society even today, with a change in their roles
 The concept of “Equivalence” and not “equality” was understood
 Reinstated respect to women was emphasized
 An understanding of teamwork in the family: Understanding one’s role in the
upbringing of the family as well as the importance of empowering the Indian
 If there ever was a time to be born as a woman, this time is the best history has

Best Regards
Vivek Shivram