What it means to be an Indian woman
Every evening a ceremony of closing the border and hauling down flags is taking place on the border crossing between India and Pakistan near a little town Wagan. India compares itself with its Muslim rival Pakistan in many aspects. This place is a symbol of competing of these two countries, which is being watched by thousands of enthusiastic spectators.
People are showing their neighbour that they outdo it also in their approach to women. The women are ostentatiously running with a large Indian flag along the borderline. “You cannot see this in Pakistan. They are treating them awfully. They force them to wear burka and they must sit on stands separately. But India values its women,” says Krishna, a young local man, who is observing the show, proudly.
However, the reality of everyday life is different and Indian women do not definitely have easy living in the traditional Hindu world. Successful independent women are still a rarity here. What is the social position of women in present-day and quickly transforming India?
Rules of menstruation
Priya is a modern young woman. She is making her carrier in the organisation UNICEF and she considers herself to be independent. Her family is proud of her. But anyway she is confronted with presses to get married and found a family. For the meantime she is resisting. She is lucky, she comes from the educated middle class and her parents are tolerant and understanding. In spite of this she faces discrimination as well.
She sadly speaks about her parents’ decision to start from her brother’s coming of age the traditional custom that women must strictly adhere during menstruation to precisely set rules. “For instance, I mustn’t touch the food which my father or brother are going to eat. It would become unclean,” explains Priya. Her brother Vaibhav does not acknowledge this custom too, but both siblings respect the decision of their parents. “It humiliates me as well. It hurts me that my sister is stigmatized for such a natural thing. But the power of our cultures lies above all in respect to parents,” comments it Vaibhav sorrowfully.
Better abortion than dowry
“It is better to pay 500 rupees than 50,000 later,” is a slogan of one of many leaflets, which go around Mumbai. In gist it says that it is better to pay a little for determining the sex of a child during pregnancy and undergo abortion than to give dowry to a daughter in future.
The Indian government prohibited determining the sex of a foetus, but this law is not being adhered almost at all. Hindu society highly values the male offspring. “A son is after all the person who will light up the funereal woodpile burning my corpse,” says a rural farmer Mr. Patel. The reason must be looked for also in financial costs. The tradition of giving dowry, prohibited by the government already in 1960s, ruins the poor in the country and it has other latent consequences. Unfortunately this custom is deeply rooted and in India it results in preponderance of abortions of female foetuses. It amounts up to 96 percent of all abortions.
Due to this India has one of the lowest proportions of girls in population. According to statistics there are born only 927 girls to 1000 boys. “For example in some districts in Gudjarat there are born even only 801 to 850 girls to 1000 boys. We are trying to provide an active explanatory campaign in the most afflicted areas, which should turn this negative trend. The traditions are deeply rooted though, so it is not easy at all,” says Mrs. Singh from one small Indian NGO. The campaign is focused on a dialogue with locals, on articles in media and other enlightenment.
“India is changing and hopefully the status of local women is changing too. But anyway the changes of society regarding the attitude to women are slower than we would need,” thinks Priya. India is a country where women lead political parties, form governments or they are successful managers. Simultaneously traditions which humiliate them still function here. Women do not have, in spite of conviction of people watching the ‘show’ on borders with Pakistan, such social status as they deserve.