IIn November this year, Neelamani N. Raju assumed office as the DG-IGP, the first woman to lead the Karnataka police. Not long afterwards, Ratna Prabha was named the Chief Secretary of the state. The Karnataka government received due praise from across quarters, in what was undoubtedly a progressive move for the Indian bureaurcracy. However, the fact is that the appointment of a woman to a top post still being seen as "progressive" exposes the underbelly of gender inequality in India. Both officers were lauded not for their accomplishments on the job so much as their gender.
Elsewhere, the statistics are far less pleasing. India has seen a decline of women in the work force and one factor that has led to this is the decline in their population. There are 75 women to every 100 men here in the south, a disparity that is far greater in the north, especially in states like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. The situation is so dire there that men struggle to find brides, often travelling south to do so. This is where India really stands. It's unsurprising, therefore, that the ratio of women in the work force has decreased.
Indian women are caught in a strange dichotomy. Women in rural areas and those from less affluent families have very little voice and are discouraged from breaking their orthodox stereotypes. The urban middle class woman, on the other hand, is encouraged to go out and work, which she is more than willing to do! However, there is little infrastructure to support this, especially as corporate jobs require employees to stay on call 24/7. As a woman, I agree with this. However, we have ministers like Ramalinga Reddy rapidly undoing the progress of the feminist cause by saying this like women shouldn't be out at night, instead of helping ensure their safety. It's my right to work late and it's the duty of the state to ensure I stay safe. If they fail to do this, they are not worthy of holding their seats. This is the mindset of leaders and men all over the country.
The law upholds the values of gender equality but is rarely enforced. Women are paid significantly less than men for doing the same job. This is a big issue, one that applies to the private and the unorganised sectors. The disparity stands as 1:3, which means that a woman is paid Rs 30 for a task that fetches a man Rs 100. In the slums, women work for as little Rs 10 per day rather than see their children starve. They may have to work in untold conditions but terrible poverty prevents them from speaking up, despite the fact that legal recourse is available.
Women do find themselves in certain professions, ones that rely more on physical appeal than intellectual achievement. For instance, women are given priority as air hostesses not because they're good at the job or deserve an opportunity but because men want to be served food and drink by beautiful women. Telephone exchanges and call centres have women at the other end of the line because their voices sound sweet to male callers. I may sound critical but this the truth. Hospitals abound with lady nurses but male positions lie vacant. Patients who are men only want women nurses to take care, touch, clean and feed them. Women are given preferential treatment too, but is this doing them any favours?
Seats of power, however, continue to be dominated by men, whether it's in politics, bureaucratic posts, administration and the police force. As an advocate who has handled several clients from big corporations an smaller companies, I do admit that team leaders usually turn out to be men. Sexual harassment is also rampant - women are asked to perform sexual favours and show absolute obedience, failing which they are asked to leave on false, flimsy pretexts. This is present in offices at all levels of hierarchy, in my professional experience.
Another contributing factor is that if falls upon women to balance their home and work life. Domestic duties aren't divided in the average Indian household and men only handle the work side. This has improved slightly - technology has had a part to play. Ovens, microwaves and blenders have made cooking faster and easier, as opposed to days when women spent their time looking for firewood and preparing elaborately cooked meals for the family.
However, the division of duties based on gender still persists in India. Women are expected to handle the pressures of work life and still ensure that dinner is on the table by the time their husbands come home at night. Equal sincerity and diligence is expected of them in both cases.
The psychology of this is rudimentary and women are as much to blame as the men. Why do we continue to hear of mothers-in-law ill-treating their daughters? This is because they were ill treated in their husband's homes, a mindset that has carried forth into the next generations.
The time has come for a return to the basics. Fashioning a mindset of equality must start early. Gender education in schools, more awareness through all forms of media must be used to mould children and change the existing mindset of women and men in India....