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Updated: March 3, 2012 19:37 IST

The Other Half: Selling nirvana

Kalpana Sharma
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What's there to celebrate Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
What's there to celebrate Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

Come March 8, another Women's Day will get buried under marketing buzz. But it's a good time to introspect on what empowerment really means.

March 8, International Women's Day approaches. And the marketing gurus are hard at work. Selling. Selling. Selling us women the idea that we are empowered if we buy. Empowered if we spend. Empowered if we get a facial, a manicure, a pedicure, even a botox job. Empowered if we dress right, look right, are the right shape, have the right hair, of the right colour. The origins of March 8 have now been well and truly buried under the lavender hues of the marketing buzz that surrounds us through an ever-obliging media.

Time to take stock

A Women's Day, however, should be a time to assess, to introspect, and certainly to celebrate. We need to make an honest assessment of where we are, introspect about what still needs to be done and celebrate what has been achieved.

So while we, who live in cities, are being told that nirvana lies in spending more, there are millions of Indian women who cannot afford to buy enough food to feed their families, let alone themselves. While we are told how to exhaust the country's energy sources by buying energy-intensive gadgets that will reduce our “drudgery” (although most women who can afford such gadgets pass on the “drudgery” to other women who they employ), the other half, or more than half of Indian women spend hours each day collecting the fuel wood that will light their inefficient stoves. What remains of the day will be spent collecting water. In their case, for the fraction of energy they need to cook, they drain a great deal more of their physical energy. And no energy planner takes into account how to reduce this very real “drudgery” that the majority of Indian women are never spared.

I choke each time I listen to an advertisement on a popular radio station in Mumbai where a domestic help complains to her employer about the amount of work she is forced to do and threatens to quit. The response of the woman employer is to tell her about a new liquid that magically removes stains and cleans tiles without any effort! The domestic responds (you can almost ‘ hear' her beaming) that now she has no problems! If only new cleaning agents would remove the drudgery of cleaning.

And while young women living in cities are being lured by the marketing brigade into believing that they can let their hair down and party until there is no tomorrow, we have gang rapes in Kolkata and Noida that remind us that no woman, regardless of her age or her class, can assume that she will be safe or that law-enforcers will be sympathetic.

Usual hostility

In Kolkata, when a 37-year-old woman is gang-raped in a car, she is asked by the police to describe in lurid detail how the rape took place and mocked while she tries to lodge an FIR. A Minister in the West Bengal cabinet goes further by asking what a mother of two was doing in a nightclub drinking. And the media does not help by giving details such as the fact that she is an Anglo-Indian or that she is separated from her husband. How is any of this pertinent in a case where the police initially failed to take the basic steps required in a rape case?

In the Noida rape, where a minor was gang-raped by five men, it becomes worse. Not only do the police reveal the identity of the rape victim, the Noida superintendent of police, in full view of television cameras, proceeds to cast aspersions on the victim's character by claiming that she went willingly with the men and that she had consumed alcohol. Are the police anywhere in this country trained at all to deal with rape? Have they not been taught the basics about how to deal with such cases? This was not your havaldar in a small chowki but an SP, someone who should have known better.

Remember them too

So, certainly let's celebrate March 8 as Women's Day and applaud the women who have succeeded. But even as we admire a woman like the boxer Mary Kom, who is preparing hard for the Olympics, let us not forget Irom Sharmila from her home state of Manipur, or ordinary Manipuri women who live daily with violence and the lack of basic infrastructure that could ease their daily burden. Even as we appreciate the women who have clambered up the corporate ladder and made it almost to the top, let us not forget that the majority of women in India work in the informal sector where there is no job security, no increments, no designations.

The glass is not half full. It is three-quarters empty. There is a long way to go before we get to the point where March 8 will be a day only of celebration.

Email the writer: sharma.kalpana@yahoo.com

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At WorkSeptember 24, 2010

First of all applause to kalpana sharma for coming up with article which portrays the picture of Women in India.Lets hope a day comes where we have a media which is more responsible,Lets hope a politician who can address sensitive issues with sense,Lets hope a day comes where women gets empowered and March 8 will be a day only of celebration.

from:  SravanKumar
Posted on: Mar 6, 2012 at 12:11 IST

true picture was reflected in the article.

The question by minister is very irritating to read "A Minister in the West Bengal cabinet goes further by asking what a mother of two was doing in a nightclub drinking."

Evaluating women's (who are our sisters, mothers, daughters) conditions and causes for such and implementing remedies are more important than Celebrating women's day, by women themselves.

that all.

from:  shafiq Ahmed
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 17:55 IST

If anybody needs any proof to show that our women are truly liberated and empowered it is always people like Sunitha Williams, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza who come to our mind. One can add a few writers, poets, teachers and administrators. But there are a lot of women in rural areas who live in grinding poverty with the pittance that they get as wages. They trek miles to fetch a pail of water and go into the deep woods to get a head load of firewood. Along the way they also have to brave the wild animals. As if this is not enough these battered women also run the risk of their had earned money being grabbed by their dear husbands to be spent on drinks. The condition of women in cities is no better.Only that it is a different setting. They have to travel in over crowded buses to reach their offices,factories with tremendous challenges to their lives and security. On the whole so long as men think it right to rape women it is not correct to talk of women's liberation and empowerment.

from:  A.Michael Dhanaraj
Posted on: Mar 5, 2012 at 16:52 IST

We,men,if accept and honour women then it is indicative of a good omen to celebrate truly women's empowerment forever.

from:  m.p.madaswamy
Posted on: Mar 4, 2012 at 18:41 IST

I really like the way you write about how women are ill-treated and
matters related to them. I feel that it is not just India but the
whole world that needs to realize the true sense of development. It’s
really sad that we just try to do away with things that trouble us and
never try to look into them in depth. When it comes to women, we limit
ourselves to shout out “save the girl child”, “Prohibit dowry”, many other things like that. How many of us actually realize that it is the society that is we who are truly responsible and not just the parents
or the husbands? It is we who have framed a set of rules over the
years, making women vulnerable as they have got this special gift of
“motherhood”. I hate the fact that the society finds no fault with men when they change from traditional wear to modern ones, but if women do
that, they are criticized and are held responsible for trying to invite “trouble”. I also hate this system of sending girls away after
marriage, changing surnames and all that. I am a strong supporter of
gender revolution and I strongly believe that women need power that
will definitely come along with education and people have to realize
that women really need as much as respect men are given and only then
can they be protected from the existing evils in today’s world and
only then will true development take place.

from:  Vinoothna Vinjam
Posted on: Mar 4, 2012 at 14:03 IST

Well said. The majority of Indians often fall a prey that aping the west and plundering the earth is a sign of progress. The power of advertisement has numbed almost everyone in this planet. When will everyone start to think?

from:  DR.R.VENKATARAMAN
Posted on: Mar 4, 2012 at 12:15 IST

A true picture of the women in the society is clearly portrayed.There
are miles to go before women are liberated in the true sense.If they
are really respected and honoured and given freedom,there will be heaven
on earth. India will be a super power in the world.Let us achieve it.

from:  Thangam Sankar
Posted on: Mar 3, 2012 at 22:21 IST
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