Jawaharlal Nehru, a freedom fighter and the first Prime Minister of India, delivered a speech titled a “Tryst with Destiny” at the Parliament House in New Dehli in the year 1947 India’s liberation from British rule. In this speech, Nehru personifies India as a woman and wisely says that despite trackless centuries of success and failures, India has never lost sight of the ideals that gives her strength, and that the end of British imperialism has allowed India to rediscover herself and her culture. Nehru’s speech included mentions of an ambitious, hope, and reforms to better the lives of all Indians. One of the goals Nehru set for the Indian people and their future was “…to create social… and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman” (Nehru). This idea is often looked upon by young and passionate Indian women who fight for gender equality in their nation, however their calls for justice are often met with India’s longlasting patriarchal system that gives men more value than women. If India wishes to develop new standards and improve the lives, health, and happiness of many Indian women, the country must first address the discrimination women bare regularly on the basis of India’s current societal norms.
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India is an extremely diverse nation with heavy traditional influence. Many different religious beliefs coexist peacefully in the country, and the government is becoming increasingly more secular every year as shown through the public celebration of virtually every major religious holiday in India. In contrast to religion’s constant development in India, the idea of arranged marriage has been deeply ingrained into Indian tradition, and many citizens, both young and old, could not picture other forms of matrimony as suitable. In an arranged marriage, parents seek out prospective brides or bridegrooms for their children with selection rationale ranging from educational level, family wealth, and the most important of them all: caste membership. The Manusmriti, an authoritave and highly influential book translated as “The Laws of Manu” is regarded as acknowledging and justifying the caste system as the basis of order and regularity of society. The caste system divides Hindus, a group of religious people making up approximately 76.7% of the Indian population (Pew Research Center,) into four main categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and the Shudras. Independent India’s constitution banned discrimination based on caste and gender in an attempt to correct historical injustices, however, as previously mentioned, caste membership has an effect on the outcome of an arranged marriage.
The dowry system, which is a cash payment from the bride’s family to the groom’s at the time of marriage, is widely prevalent in India. Average net dowry per marriage on behalf of the bride’s family in rural India has remained remarkably stable during 1960-2008. Data by the Rural Economic and Demographic Survey also shows that the groom spends approximately 5,000 rupees on gifts the bride’s family, whereas the bride spends approximately 30,000 rupees to the groom’s families. For this reason, traditional families generally favor sons over daughters, who are considered financial burdens for their role in dowries that often take a substantial amount of family income. This system gives Indian society to give more incentive to discriminate against women. India’s societal norms about women being generous and quiet mothers and men being proud and strong intellects tend to discourage a female’s choice to receive an education as well as limiting the options a woman has when searching
for a career.
The normalization of lack of choice has caused many Indian women of all ages to feel silenced and unworthy of speaking about their experiences with discrimination. Pritam Potdar, a gender equality group coordinator, explained in an interview with International Women’s Health Coalition that growing up in India, she had seen many of her “school friends drop out…” and “women forced to continue their pregnancies until they have a son” (Potdar.) When becoming an activist for women’s rights, her family began to oppose her work and banned her from leaving the house. She explains that not many women in India feel as though these oppressive instances are a violation of their rights as women and human beings. Recently, however, women have begun to protest their treatment. In the early 2000s, reports of rapes and killings of a number of young Indian women brought widespread media attention to women’s rights and the lackthereof. Studies began to be conducted on the inequality between men and women in India. According to the National Family and Health Survey of 2005-2006, 37% of women have been victims of sexual or physical violence perpetrated by their spouse. The rate of violent crimes against women per 100,000 of the population was 55.2% in 2016, up from 41.7% in 2012 (National Crime Records Bureau.) The statistics are stark in numbers, but the presence of such numbers is a surprising and important revelation.
Recent research by Prachi Mishra and Petia Topalova was able to discover the difference between reported crimes before and after India’s 1993 Panchayati Raj constitutional amendment which mandated that one-third of all seats in local councils such as villages, as well as one-third of chairperson positions, would be reserved for women. Their data showed a large increase of 26% documented crimes against women after the increase in political representation. This included an 11% increase in the number of reported rapes, and a 12% increase in the kidnappings of women. The increase in reports does not mean there was a surge in violence and abuse against women, but rather that such crimes are more frequently reported after the presence of female power was introduced. A study in the state of Rajasthan found that in villages with women-headed local government councils, women are significantly more likely to say that they will lodge complaints with the police should they become victims of crime. Women in villages with female council heads were also reported to have greater satisfaction in their discussions with the police and a lower likelihood of being asked to pay bribe.
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Indian women have for many years found discrimination of all forms in their country, with reasoning ranging from finances to simply being a woman. With the presence of women in power recognized to all, women can begin to rediscover themselves and the voices they lost due to their oppression. If female influence in politics continues to strengthen, Indian girls can learn to make their own choices and actively fight for their beliefs without being fearful of the potential outcome. If the citizens of India wish to build India as an even greater nation and aspire to the goals of Jawaharlal Nehru, India must continue to fight for women’s rights wholeheartedly until reform is made.
- Nehru, Jawaharlal. “Tryst with Destiny.” Parliament House, 14 Aug. 1947, New Dehli. Speech.
- “By 2050, India is to have world’s largest population of Hindus and Muslims.” Pew Research Center. 21 Apr. 2015.
- “Dowry in Rural India.” Gender Matters, 21 July 2016, sanukriti.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/dowry-in-rural-india/.
- Potdar, Pritam. International Women’s Health Coalition. Interview. By Jessie Clyde.
- Key Indicators from India from NFHS-3. National Family and Health Survey,rchiips.org/nfhs/pdf/India.pdf
- Crime in India. National Crime Records Bureau Ministry of Home Affairs, 2016. Infographic.
- Power of Women’s Political Voice. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. 2012.
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