by Sneha Jain
In 1978, Mrs. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw asked for a bank loan to start a biotechnology company. Her loan was refused because biotechnology was an upcoming industry that Indian bankers in the seventies did not trust. Besides this, she was a woman, whose skills and ability to run an industry, which was predominantly a man’s forte, was heavily doubted by Indian society. Today she is India’s richest women, owning and running Biocon, which is one of India’s premier biopharmaceutical companies.
India today has some classic examples of women running the corporate race on an equal footing as men. We see women today, excelling in all spheres of life. Prominent amongst this list of influential Indian women are- Pratibha Patil, who is currently President of India; Indra Nooyi- CEO of Pepsi Co; Naina Lal Kidwai- Chairwoman of HSBC in India. India has been considered a predominantly male dominated society for generations. For ages, the image of the Indian women has been stereotyped as simple and domesticated; whose priorities involve her duties towards the house, husband and children. But these women have battled all the social taboos and restrictions that came their way. They have not let their social status play the role of an impediment in their professional development and they are today a source of endless inspiration to the young Indian women, aiming to carve a career for themselves.
But development in India has never been uniform. On the one hand we see urban India, where development is taking place at an unimaginable pace. The male-female discrepancy it seems, has almost been removed from urban India. But our analysis of India cannot be seen simply in this light. India is a developing country, and its growth is often impeded by factors such as female illiteracy in rural areas and the lack of female participation in the work force. Also India is made up of 28 states, and we see the status of women different in each state. In the southern state of Kerala, female literacy is as high as 98%, where as in the eastern state of Orissa, it is a dismal figure of less than 10%
Besides illiteracy, rural Indian women are still battling to achieve equality of status. For centuries women in India have had to fight for their status with their male counterparts. The skewed sex ratio in many Indian states is a clear indication of the male preference. Men have been viewed as a source of future income, and women a drain. Thus in turn, is a result of the dowry system, prevalent in Indian society for generations, whereby the girl’s family was forced to pay a handsome sum of money to the groom’s family so that they would accept their daughter in marriage. Thus problems relating to women in India stem not only from illiteracy, but other social institutions like dowry which still play a big role in the Indian psyche.
But rural development in India is by no means static. Women in the villages of India are venturing out of their domestic sphere and using their skills in a purposeful way. Often we don’t realize that these women are working because they are part of the disorganized labour force. A field where women are working is handicrafts and agriculture. In fact, agriculture and similar sectors employ as high as 89.5% of the female work force. Women are also playing a dominate role in the Indian cooperative societies, that aim to increase milk production the very scientific ways.
Thus today, it is difficult to assess where exactly Indian women stand in the spectrum of development. On the one hand we see women in urban India, who are pretty much on the same footing as men, and are striving to carve for themselves successful careers. On the other hand we see rural Indian women struggling and fighting a completely different battle. Development will continue to be uneven considering the fact that the urban and rural India are in themselves two separate worlds. The only way to reconcile is by the spread of literacy, involving more women in the work force and striving for uniform development through massive social campaigns that can serve to eliminate the negative mind set of the people.