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Tuesday, Dec 25, 2001

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Book Review

Status of Indian women

WOMEN AND DEVELOPMENT — The Indian Experience: Mira Seth; Sage Publications Pvt. Ltd., M-32, Market I, Greater Kailash, New Delhi-110048.

Rs. 295.

THIS BOOK is a comprehensive and analytical account of women's development programmes since India's Independence. Replete with comparisons from around the world, it discusses the status of Indian women from a variety of angles such as historical, social, economic and political. The author, Dr. Mira Seth, is a civil servant by training, a development professional by practice, and an art historian and advocate of women's rights by inclination.

The historical and cultural survey undertaken in chapter one shows that the inheritance of the Indian woman has depended on the religion, region, caste and class in which she was born. Chapter two presents a study of the development of policies, planning and articulation of their rights and status in independent India. The author opines that the process of policy making and planning is a continuous one and the success of this endeavour would finally be judged when full gender equality is achieved in all development programmes of the country.

The next chapter deals with the crucial issue of the ``girl child'', addressing it in the context of a skewed sex ratio, child mortality indices, nutritional status, and the opportunities for self-development available to her.

The efforts of the government as well as voluntary organisations in the field of women's education are discussed at length in chapter four, and placed in the context of achievements in other developing countries.

Dr. Seth states that inadequate share of women in education is affecting their status in all walks of life. In chapter five the health programmes of women are evaluated. The glaringly unequal employment opportunities available to them in spite of the several government employment schemes are analysed in the next chapter.

In this context, the author suggests a conceptual framework for a National Employment Policy to ensure economic self-reliance. The abysmal situation with regard to crimes against women, which handicaps them in gaining access to development opportunities, is dealt with in the next chapter.

In the concluding chapter, the author states that ``in these challenging times leadership will go automatically to positives leaders and women have to emerge as agents of social, political and economic change in our society. If they continue to indulge in the whiny rhetoric of victimology and being perceived as complaining, pleading agitators asking more for themselves they arouse resistance and confrontation among men who perceive them as a menacing force... Women themselves do not want confrontation but justice.''

They have to play their cards subtly and with determination to make the 21st century a woman's century. Her words could be prophetic in nature, considering the silent revolution of self-help-groups formed by women from the rural, marginalised poor, that is shaking the very foundations of traditional, male-dominated rural life, both economic and social.

Whether they themselves are aware of it or not, women have truly woken up from the deep slumber of centuries-old oppression.


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