Intersections: Women's Issues in India: An Overview
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 22, October 2009

Women's Issues in India:
An Overview

Malashri Lal

      Despite the year 2001 being declared the Year of Empowerment of Women, the status of women in India causes concern, with socio-economic indicators showing a disturbing trend—a falling juvenile sex ratio, rising levels of poverty and unemployment, starvation deaths linked to the denial of the right to life and livelihood and increased violence in all spheres. This trend cannot be viewed in isolation but needs to be seen in the light of globalization and rising caste and religious intolerance, which have given an impetus to increasing and varied forms of violence against women.[1]

      National Alliance of Women, 2006

  1. Among the many plant legends in Indian folklore are stories clustered around the Bilva, a medium sized tree with three leaves arranged together and edged with a crest of thick thorns.[2] The sprouts of the Bilva are used to worship Shiva and Parvati, the principle of cosmic energy and its corrective balance. 'Ardhanariswara,' the iconic figure encompassing Shiva and Parvati in Hindu mythology is man and woman, cosmic yet earthly, ideal and actual; in other words, signifying the goals of gender equity. Somewhat fancifully, I see the Bilva tree as a metaphor for the women's studies enterprise in India, its three leaves standing for creativity, innovation and growth, and the thorns as a timely reminder of the institutional constraints. Negotiating the hurdles, women's studies organisations try to reach the goals of gender equity.
  2. Women's Studies in India has a divided identity. As an academic discipline it belongs to the educational system but it is equally linked to the NGO call for social justice. In other words, Women's Studies in India straddles the world of academia as well as activism, unlike its place in higher education in western institutions where it is an academic discipline tending more towards theorisation than practice. By contrast, the mandate of Women's Studies, as given by the University Grants Commission (UGC), is to teach as well as undertake 'extension' activities, to conduct research as well as influence public advocacy. The Guidelines for the XI Plan (2007–2012) declare that UGC has 'taken a broader view of the women's studies constituency by supporting University Women's Studies Centres and facilitating them to become teaching and research Departments in the University system. Further, the thrust is to develop field action projects for action, research, evaluation and enhancement of knowledge and partnership across boundaries of caste/class/religion, community and occupations.'[3]

    Women's studies and approaches to women's issues
  3. The critical awareness about a 'studies' approach to the subject of women came from the report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India published as the classic volume Towards Equality (1974).[4] The findings shook the complacency of public discourse on women being a part of the ongoing agenda for national development. Instead, the report demonstrated that women suffer oppression at levels which threaten not only them individually and collectively, but also imperil society as such which is precariously balanced on many false assumptions about gender relations.
  4. The Indian Association for Women's Studies, formed in 1981, offered a major instrument for networking amongst different practices in Women's Studies. The earliest definition of 'women's studies' comes from the Advisory Committee constituted by the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) in 1987 which states in a booklet, 'The main objective of the programme of women's studies is the generation and analysis of data with a view of uncovering significant trends in patterns of social and economic organization which affects women's position in the long run.'[5]
  5. At universities in India, the breakthrough happened after 1985 consequent upon a National Seminar on Education on Women's Equality held in New Delhi. Dr. Madhuri Shah spoke eloquently on the need to place Women's Studies within the New Education Policy (NEP) of 1986, being formulated by the Government. Under her leadership and aided by her persuasive position, the University Grants Commission (UGC) decided to establish 'a cell in the UGC' and assist selected colleges and universities to 'play catalytic and coordinating roles in the promotion of women's studies.'[6] Seven centres were recommended, of which four were actualised at universities in Delhi, Punjab, Benares and Kerala. The NEP document had a clear mandate for Women's Studies to be promoted as a part of various courses. During the next few Plan periods of the Government of India, Women's Studies registered a steady growth.
  6. The recent XI Plan document (2007–2012) states that 'there are 67 Women's Studies Centres established in various universities and colleges in the country.' While the academic aspects are sought to be strengthened, the overall expectation mentioned in the objectives are:

    1. Teaching and Training,
    2. Research,
    3. Field Action,
    4. Dissemination (library, documentation and publication),
    5. Advocacy.[7]

  7. It is evident through this historical sketch that Women's Studies has been expected to fulfil a dual function—academic and activist. Consequently, major debates on women and the analysis of significant trends in the country are taken up equally by government-funded universities and also by NGO groups, each bringing its own strength and together acting out a system of checks and balances. This unique negotiation has served to enlighten the public about facets of social thought that may have otherwise been masked by political systems. Ideally, it is the role of the Women's Studies Centres, located at major universities throughout India, at urban as well as regional levels, to take up key concerns about women, and offer policy advice through study and analysis. The vision statement of Jadavpur University, Kolkata, a premier institution, succinctly puts it in words: 'One of the major objectives of the School has been to bridge the gap between academics and activists, social work and policy making in order to effectively facilitate research and extension work and thereby augment possibilities of social change within the academic community of Jadavpur University.'[8]
  8. In trying to meet this huge challenge, Women's Studies Centres are caught often in an identity crisis about whether they belong to mainstream academia, or to the autonomous agenda of non-government organisations. This dilemma is reflected in the vision document of the Women's Studies & Development Centre of the University of Delhi,

      Women's Studies (WS) can be briefly defined as a body of learning with a directed concern for women's equality and empowerment. It seeks to find explanations and remedies for the inherited conditions of inequity and injustice that women have been subjected to. While it analyses the origin and basis of discriminatory practices against women, WS in contemporary practice enlarges its scope to promote gender sensitisation of men, women and communities. Therefore, WS is not merely 'studies about women' or 'data about women' but a critical instrument for humanities and social science development in the context of social reality.[9]

    Since I had the privilege of functioning as the Director of this Centre for six years, I know the innovations required in ensuring that research and field action proceed in conjunction. Unlike academic departments, the Centres are subject to stringent reviews by UGC annually.
  9. The performance levels of the Centres vary enormously for which reason the UGC tends to designate them as being in Phases I, II or III and moderates their grants accordingly. Until recently most Centres did not offer degree programmes but taught only certificate or diploma level courses. Within the university system, this led often to an academic devaluation of the Centres and a situation in which they had no permanent faculty but substantial funding for 'empowerment' activities. The Director of such a Centre has usually been a senior woman professor who has accepted an additional responsibility, and she administrates the functions of the Centre by allocating work, academic or activist, to specially recruited personnel on a short term basis. The current XI Plan document of the UGC has realised the problems inherent in this impermanent condition and has urged university administration to turn the Centres into Departments, recruit full time faculty with the same terms of employment as in the main departments and to offer degree programmes. Major universities such as Jadavpur in Kolkata, Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, Pune University and SNDT Women's University in Maharashtra have readily accepted this opportunity and consequently are transforming their activist role into an academic curriculum. The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), headquartered at Delhi, has launched a major initiative in creating a School of Women's and Gender Studies with a range of postgraduate courses for which it is being partnered by an independent research organisation, the Centre for Women's Development Studies (CWDS). As the largest institution offering 'distance learning' facilities countrywide and also abroad, the IGNOU is likely to prove a 'change agent' in thinking pedagogically about women's issues in India and, innovatively, the IGNOU and CWDS programme will be taught in the dual mode of 'face-to- face' and well as 'distance education'.

    Debates in WS curriculum design
  10. The debate within Women's Studies pedagogy veers between the choice of integrating with the traditional syllabi in various departments, and keeping an independent programme. There are strong statements from those who believe that syllabus in all mainstream subjects should include women-centred approaches; there are equally strong arguments that such inclusion amounts to collusion in tokenist gestures, and instead, Women's Studies should be designed and taught as a separate course with its distinctive degrees. In a significant seminar held at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, the points were raised by women's studies professionals from various universities teaching humanities and social sciences. The resulting publication was based on the premise, 'Women's Studies in India must evolve methodological apparatus consonant with the local and indigenous circumstances even as it must posit its distinctive theoretical models for analysis.'[10]
  11. One is often asked about the utilitarian aspect of a degree or diploma or certificate in Women's Studies in today's market-driven economy. The market demands vary frequently but the focus on women who constitute almost 50 per cent of India's population cannot be ignored as a factor of development. In government policy or in private enterprise, the gender quotient will have to be taken into account. For historical reasons in India, and also to some extent in the USA, Canada and the UK, Women's and Gender Studies have seldom been mainstreamed as Departments with sufficient core faculty. Teachers have been drawn from various disciplines and courses constructed upon the strengths of the persons available for the programme. It has been assumed that the authenticity of individual disciplines will meld into a concept and theory for relevant intellectual enquiry on women's issues in the community or the country.
  12. Lately, the problems about Women's Studies as a discipline have been widely debated as a result of Wendy Brown's provocative essay 'The Impossibility of Women's Studies.'[11] Here are some of the questions she asks:

      There is today enough retrospective analysis and harangue concerning the field of women's studies to raise the question of whether dusk on its epoch has arrived…. Consider the public arguments about its value and direction over the past half decade: Is it rigorous? Scholarly? Quasi­religious? Doctrinaire? Is it anti-intellectual and too political? Overly theoretical and insufficiently political? Does it mass-produce victims instead of heroines, losers instead of winners? Or does it turn out jargon­ speaking metaphysicians who have lost all concern with Real Women.[12]

  13. Are these questions relevant for India too? According to me, the parameters of 'concern with Real Women' here are quite different for Women's Studies, and one should not feel destabilised by the scepticism of Brown's essay. Despite widespread efforts by the Government of India to bring amelioration to the disadvantaged conditions of women, at the very basic level of literacy rates, it is 54.28 per cent for women in India according to the 2001 census, as compared to 75.96 per cent for men. The Minister for Human Resource Development is still grappling with these unequal figures and contemplating renaming the National Literacy Mission as the National Women's Literacy Mission aiming to achieve 80 per cent literacy for women by the end of the XI Plan.[13] It is within the mandate of the Women's Studies Centres to collect data, analyse and understand from an academic perspective why such disparities persist, and recommend how they may be resolved. The National Policy on Women's Empowerment (2001), and the UGC Guidelines (2002, 2007) place the responsibility of spreading gender sensitisation within and outside the educational system on the Women's Studies groups in universities. Since faculty recruitment in Indian universities is not strictly linked to student enrolment in a particular subject, there can be permanent faculty to teach women's studies if there is support from the system. Moreover, the curriculum is not frequently revised in India and is therefore less vulnerable to market forces. And finally, gender audit and other women-supportive measures from the Government of India (GOI) ensure a need for women's studies specialists in the job market, though one must admit that they do not necessarily come from departments of Women's Studies but may be graduates in other subjects.
  14. On the negative side, Women's Studies Centres in India often suffer from a lack of infrastructure and assured funding. Also the rigour of an academic discipline is not always imposed on a multi-faculty system (a point that Wendy Brown makes strongly). The answer lies in high quality research in Women's Studies, especially in India where statistical data and research results are seldom available in the public domain or posted on the web. There is a woeful lack of information. While I would not venture to speak for other subjects, it seems that there is scope for funded research in Women's Studies, which would help to build an essential knowledge base. However, one must commit to rigour and relevance for women's studies work to be given its due credit.


    Women's issues: a perspective from women's studies
  15. Women's issues in India constitute a vast range and the subject can be approached in a variety of ways. A perspective through Women's Studies has shaped this overview in as much that it hopes to give women an agency and voice in the documentation of their lives. It is based on research conducted by the Women's Studies & Development Centre (WSDC) at the University of Delhi at a crucial time immediately after the census survey of 2001 shocked society out of its complacent assumptions that the developmental parameters in the country had ensured improved conditions for women. The truth was otherwise. In the largely non-literate communities in India, the woman's lifecycle seemed to be the best indicator of attitudinal expressions, social constructions of gender and the self imaging of woman subjects. During the research period of three years (2002–2005), WSDC, Delhi associated Women's Studies Centres at Jaipur, Shimla, Kurukshetra and Lucknow, concentrating on a geographical belt where women are traditionally at a disadvantage. Staying faithful to the spirit of Women's Studies, it sought the assistance of local NGOs and acted as a bridge between policy makers and field workers. In effect, the project recommendations called for policy implementation by GOI and community action by concerned volunteer groups. This basic document was supplemented over time with other research findings, and to date, it appears to me as a worthwhile conduit through which to enter the subject of women in India.
  16. Women's issues in five areas are presented here in an attempt to focus on aspects of study that are particular to India:

    1. Sex Ratio and Discrimination against the Girl Child
    2. Child Marriage
    3. Women and Work
    4. Women and Political Participation
    5. Widowhood

  17. Such studies were conducted from a humanistic viewpoint, and therefore, qualitative rather than quantitative assessments have been recorded. The attempt has been to understand attitudes, either felt by the subject or experienced by her. The questions during fieldwork were designed as basic tools for opening up a free flowing discussion where nuances could be picked up. Workshops and interactive conversations expanded the scope of enquiry because in conversation with our research teams the women articulated many unspoken values. We looked for the human face, the dignity of a person behind the statistical data.

    Sex ratio and discrimination against the girl child
  18. Disquieting statistics in the 2001 census revealed that survival of the girl child was a precarious possibility. The 0–6 sex ratio showed 927 girls to 1000 boys. This was a serious threat to India's population balance. Back in the 1980s, demographer Ashish Bose had conducted a revealing survey in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh to assess the conditions which caused poor social development and gender imbalance. Bose became famous for coining the term BIMARU. While the word means 'sickly,' BIMARU is an acronym for the underdeveloped states: Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh).[14] Little had changed by 2001, but the census report made Bose coin another acronym, DEMARU, for 'daughter eliminating male aspiring rage for ultrasound.'[15]
  19. In updating these statistics from 2001, recent reports do not show substantial improvement. The National Family Health Survey 2006 found that the two child norm is gradually being accepted by the country but this is more among women who have two sons living.[16] Conceding the need for continuing intervention by the Government, the XI Plan (2007–2012) proposes to undertake special measures for gender empowerment and equity, saying that the Ministry of Women and Child Development will 'make synergistic use of gender budget and gender mainstreaming process.'[17] How did so many women go 'missing', to recapitulate Amartya Sen's vocabulary?[18] What has caused this huge imbalance in populations? It is now well known that pregnant women succumb to taking amniocentesis tests for sex selection of the foetus and the unborn girl child is often eliminated due to social choice made by the woman, her husband or the larger family. Despite laws prohibiting pre-natal tests, tales abound in Haryana of 'mobile clinics' which tour the rural areas and conduct 'operations' where required. This national stigma is so much a matter of concern that in the recent speech on Independence Day, 15 August 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: 'It is very sad that in our society, the girl child is being killed even before being born. This is a shame on our society.'[19]
  20. Against this background of discrimination and low dignity for the girl child, in north India in particular, the WSDC research obtained case profiles from Haryana. These poignant tales of aspirations and sad resignations are reiterated in many households, but here I wish to give the narrators a name and location.

    Radha of Dakka Basti (Slum) : 'I can earn money'
  21. Radha is sixteen years old and lives in Dakka Basti, a slum in Kurukshetra, the principal city of Haryana. She has attended school up to matriculation and has learnt painting and stitching. Her father is a rickshaw-puller and her brother is a labourer. Radha was fortunately able to study in a nearby government school and now she stays at home. She stitches clothes for others and is confidently earning a fair amount of money. A very positive attitude towards life and education marks Radha's conversations. She said that education has given her a lot of confidence and status. Moreover, vocational learning is essential for a girl now-a-days. 'One can earn money sitting at home and feed and support her family with dignity,' says Radha. She wants to marry a serviceman, (in the military) one who will not ask for dowry and will not have any monetary expectations from her family members.

    Veena from Sonepat: 'I want only sons'
  22. Veena is a fifteen year old girl who migrated from village Kirana in Uttar Pradesh to Sonepat, Haryana, along with her parents, two brothers and two sisters. She was happily studying in class sixth, playing around with her peer group and participating in all manner of extra curricular activities in her early childhood years. But in Sonepat, things have changed. Her parents forced her to work as a wage labourer along with her mother. She likes nothing about the work, but is compelled to take it on, as there is a need for money. Recognising this, her parents insist on her accepting the available conditions of work. Veena, personally, is keen to study but finds herself helpless. Ultimately, she knows that she will have to find hard physical employment throughout her life for the sake of income for her parental family and afterwards, for her husband and his family. Her views on the girl child were very revealing. Veena says that after marriage, she wants to have only sons, as 'a girl's life is miserable and meant only for torture and dowry death.' She is worried about her future and her family's existence and values. She thinks she is living in darkness.

    Trimurti in Dev Nagar: 'Life is like hell'
  23. Trimurti, who is fifteen years old, lives in Dev Nagar of Sonepat, Haryana. She belongs to a family of sweepers who are considered 'untouchables' by the upper caste people. 'Life is like hell,' she says. She was forced by her parents and neighbours to join this profession though she never wanted to take up this humiliating job. She had wished to study in a nearby municipal school but all her efforts were thwarted. Initially she would stay at home looking after her siblings and attending to household chores, but as she grew older she was compelled to accompany her parents to nearby localities and start working as a sweeper. She feels deeply humiliated and is depressed when she thinks about her future. Somewhat fatalistic, she blames none for her condition but says it is the will of God and the bidding of her parents.[20]

    Child Marriage
  24. Marriage in India is illegal under the ages of 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Any marriage of a person below these ages is banned under the Child Marriage Prevention Act of 1929. But the practice of child-marriages is still prevalent in many parts of rural India, particularly in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.[21]
  25. In 1992 the small village of Bhateri in Rajasthan came prominently into the news, and a local village worker, Bhanwari Devi found herself at the centre of a sensational case of child marriage. Bhanwari held the official designation of a sathin, roughly to be translated as a 'woman companion,' given by the Women's Development Programme of the Government of Rajasthan. As a trained social worker, she was committed to preventing child marriage. But after she tried to stop the marriage of a one-year-old child bride from an influential family, she was overpowered and raped as a 'punishment' by four men in her own village, Bhateri. A Jaipur-based NGO, Vishakha, took up the case on behalf of Bhanwari Devi and filed a police case for justice. The episode created widespread anger among citizens' groups in Rajasthan and the legal case was followed carefully by women's groups throughout north India. Despite the blatant violation of a woman and that, too, a government employee who was fulfilling her duty, the case languished in court for years. In 1995, the district sessions judge shockingly declared that upper-caste men could not have raped a Dalit (low caste) woman and made other derogatory remarks. The caste and money privilege of the perpetrators of the crime were countered by the sheer determination of NGO groups and Women's Studies Centres who strove hard to bring justice to Bhanwari. During this saga of a long drawn-out court battle, the government-run Women's Development Programme almost closed down. Bhanwari grew older and disillusioned by the judicial system but she and the NGOs became even more determined to fight for women's rights. The accused men became even more manipulative. When I met Bhanwari Devi in 1995, she was bravely struggling to come to terms with the sudden public attention that her personal trauma had resulted in.[22] Bhanwari even today awaits full justice. However, she has set up four help groups for women, works in coordination with social development NGOs, and has earned respect from human rights activists. In her own community Bhawari is still ostracised for drawing attention to the gang rape, and her husband, a potter, barely has an income.
  26. The research team's interest in child marriage took us to Rajasthan at a time when Sathin Bhawari's case was under discussion. Here was an example of how just laws do not always yield the desired social results. The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, amended in 1979 was again amended in 2006 to declare that a guardian who solemnises a child marriage can be punished with rigorous imprisonment up to two years and is liable to a fine up to one lakh (one hundred thousand rupees). However no woman can be imprisoned. Any person who attends the child marriage can also be penalised under the Act.
  27. One could select Rajasthan to bring special focus to the issue of early marriage in India for the vital reason that demographic indicators have shown the state to be particularly prone to child marriage, dowry and bride-price practices, and the local community generally shows resistance to change in such customs. A more comprehensive law against child marriage, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, was enacted in 2006 to stop this social evil. However, it would be instructive to note the figures of child marriages in this year. In 2006 the records for early marriage in Rajasthan show that 57.1 per cent of women in the 20 to 24 year age group married before they were 18 years old, which is the legal minimum age for marriage. Of these, 65.7 per cent were from rural areas, and 35.8 per cent from the urban centres.[23] The following figures (see Table 1) in the four major districts of Rajasthan, indicate that the practice not only continues, but in some parts of Rajasthan, has registered an increase:

      Table 1. The percentage of girls who were married off before they turned 18 years old.
      Bundi 66.5%
      Chittorgarh 63.5%
      Tonk 61.7%
      Bhilwara 73.2%
      Source: 'Child Marriage's Still Child's Play' (Headline) The Hindustan Times, 28 April 2009, p. 11.

  28. Sudhir Varma, director of an NGO in Jaipur says 'Child marriage is an established social custom in Rajasthan…it is not an uncommon sight to see either the parents or an uncle or aunt carry the child in arms or have the child put on a thali (large platter) in order to perform the traditional phere (a marriage ritual) of the wedding. The most common tradition is to marry off all the girls in the family at the time the older girl reaches a marriageable age of 10–12 years.'[24] Child marriage, purdah, nukta (death feast), nata (co-habitation under customary law where a woman, married to a person, is given a bride price to enter into a relationship or 'nata' with another man) are commonly practiced because of low literacy levels and poverty, say reports from several NGOs.
  29. Low enrollment and poor retention of girl children in schools in Rajasthan is a cause for serious concern. Chandana Saha's research on notions of gender equality in Jaipur and Tonk has shown that

      While a large proportion of mothers felt that the level of education should be different for boys and girls, only a minor percentage of them gave an opinion for equal education of boys and girls…In both the districts (Jaipur and Tonk), mothers stated that primary level was the ideal level of education for girls whereas in their opinion boys could study as much as possible.

  30. To summarise the reasons for why girls should study less than boys, 'boys do jobs and bring financial stability to home, whereas girls go to their conjugal household' was the main reason stated by most mothers, followed by belief in early marriage.[25]
  31. With assistance from an NGO, Aadhar, the Women's Studies team from Delhi University held a discussion with the village community in Radoli, about 65 kilometres from Jaipur. In addressing the subject of an appropriate age for a woman's marriage, the team found surprisingly progressive attitudes in the village, at least at conceptual levels. Most respondents preferred to mention the age span of 20 to 25 years as appropriate for a girl's marriage. But in actuality, it appeared on closer questioning that most of the women in the village had married as teenagers but claimed they did not know their precise age. People understand that nata and dowry are both forms of commodification that deny any selfhood or dignity to the woman. The community said that girl brides were now less seen on aakha teej, the festival celebrated each year with special attention to child marriage. The research team was unsure whether this was due to legal watchfulness, or the community's conviction against child marriage.

    Folklore and depiction of child marriage
  32. The norm of a child bride is widely understood in India and until recently cultural and religious practice encouraged early marriages. Even when the law of the land determines the minimum age of marriage for men and women, romantic tales circulate about parental promises and childhood attachments. In Rajasthan, Vijaydan Detha is an outstanding folklorist and creative writer who has depicted the ethos in which local communities function and the values that promote their sustenance. One of his best known tales is called Duwidha (Dilemma) which is about a young bride who is married off to a man she has never seen and who fantasises about the handsome bridegroom. The opening lines are given below to capture the rhythm of village life in the desert stretches, and to convey some idea of the cultural underpinning.

      Once there was a rich Seth. His only son had just got married with great pomp and show, and now the procession was returning home. On the way, they stopped to rest in a forest. Cool lay the heavy shadows. The lake leapt and danced, its water mirroring the lotus flowers. The sun was approaching its zenith. The forest quivered beneath the whip of June's blazing winds. The bridegroom's father decided it would be best for them to lunch before they proceeded, and the guests were only too willing to accede to his proposal. The bride's five maidservants spread rugs in the shade and sat down together. Nearby grew a huge tree, silver barked and festooned with yellow flowers. The guests sat in its shade while preparations for the meal were set afoot.

      The bride sat a little apart, and unveiled her face. She glanced upwards. Numberless green shoots hung down, cooling to the eyes. It so happened that a ghost had his dwelling in the hollow of that tree. His eyes were dazzled by that glimpse of the bride's unveiled face, fragrant with unguents and perfumes. Could a mortal woman really be endowed with such youth and beauty? She looked as though moulded of the softness, the fragrance, the essence of roses. One could scarcely believe that such beauty existed on the face of the earth. Perhaps the lightning had left its abode in the clouds and descended in this form? But what simile could be found for those nectarous eyes? It was as if all the beauty of nature had compressed itself in her face. He had seen thousands of women, but she was unique indeed. The very shade cast by the tree began to sparkle.[26]

  33. One may offer a literary analysis pointing to the social frameworks within which the bride is placed. In Detha's story, the customary ingredients of a wedding are presented in the figure of the rich Seth (business man), his 'only son,' the 'bridegroom's father,' the bride's 'five maidservants' and the veiled bride. The family is obviously wealthy. Dowry is implied. The forest is lush and beautiful—as all pastoral tales will relate. Detha's innovation is in having the bride unveil her face in so-called privacy and being spied upon by a voyeuristic and aroused 'ghost.' The bride is described in sensuous terms apt for a prepubescent woman, her evolving roundness and softness of form. She 'looks up' unknowingly into the range of a ghost's vision, more consciously, she avoids being seen by the men folk of the wedding party because that would be an act of pure impudence and shamelessness. The invisible intervention of the 'ghost,' the 'third party,' disrupts the hierarchal order, and as the story progresses, the bride questions the values she has grown up with. The ghost, Vijaydan Detha's innovative device for engineering social thought becomes the agent of the bride's altered consciousness.
  34. The research team observed that in the villages of Rajasthan, and even in small towns, such cultural material is used as a popular method of spreading social message. Duwidha was rewritten as a Bollywood film called Paheli (2005)[27] substantially altering the original text. Nevertheless, it preserves the main issue of marriage customs treating the young bride as a commodity of exchange between families

    Women and work

    What is woman's work?
  35. The one definition, which has eluded all civilisations in history pertains to women's work in general. Biological determinism has created a high value for a woman's identity as mother. The concomitant roles of wife and caregiver have 'naturally' followed. In traditional societies, such as India, ancient sayings and modern practices demonstrate continuity in attributing the primary role of a woman in the family and home. It is now increasingly recognised that woman's work cannot be measured according to established accounting procedures. Zarina Bhatty, sociologist and women's studies activist, gives the example of a woman who is suckling a baby, she is also rolling beedis (home made Indian cigarettes), occasionally moving to stir a pot of vegetables on the chula (coal burning oven) or to turn a chapatti (hot bread). This woman is constantly finding the windows of time to complete the 'home based work' given to her by a contractor. Such a woman will not count as a 'worker.' Yet it is evident that she is productively employed in caring for her child and family, organising nutrition and nurture, and also earning money by beedi making.[28]
  36. According to the 2001 census of India, the number of women in the organised labour sector was 4.95 million, of whom 2.86 million were in the public sector and 2.09 million in the private sector. The mid-term review on 31 March 2005 showed that the number had risen to 2.90 million in the public sector but remained about the same in the private sector.[29] Such statistics 'count' large numbers of women who show up on the wage cards of private or public organisations, but it is commonly known that most women who 'work' are outside the range of such statistics, that they are paid infrequent and low wages for the 'casual work' that they do—habitually. They, and their economic productivity, are hardly recorded.

    Workforce in Delhi
  37. It may be erroneously thought that a cosmopolitan city such as Delhi would offer a different and more positive scenario for women workers. Work participation of women in Delhi in the 2001 census showed only 9.37 per cent as compared to 52.06 per cent for men. Preet Rustagi, a social scientist on women's issues had shown in a working paper for the Government of Delhi that the labour force per 1000 persons in Delhi is 530 for males, while it is merely 99 for females. The overwhelming concentration of women in their familial, domestic roles as care givers and home managers prevents them from being a part of the labour force even in the capital state of Delhi.[30]
  38. The new 'career opportunies' offered by companies using information technology has been the subject of recent research. Women in Call Centres, a survey conducted by Preeti Singh for WSDC, University of Delhi, may be citied at this point. The overwhelming change that has occurred in family values is that young, single girls are permitted to undertake shift duty, late hours and to work in an office space with men. A survey of attitudinal change among young women in Call Centres showed the reversal of values that these well-paid jobs have brought about in traditional families. Sunita (name changed) claimed her mother accepted the long night-time work because 'the company arranged for safe transport.' About the monetary benefits, the young women had much to say on the 'freedom' of 'spending power' and their enhanced self image due to 'access to brand names.' The Call Centre jobs require moderate education and no special training, hence the demand is extensive in Delhi. Being night-oriented, the women feel they can continue being college/university students during the day so long as attendance requirements are not too strict. Most women enjoy the smart environment of the call centres and only grudgingly admit to the health problems caused by long hours of sitting and sleep deprivation.[31]
  39. In this context, an earlier research on psychological factors affecting women and work may be cited in an essay by Delhi university faculty, Professor Gopa Bhardwaj. Taking a sample of 120 women workers in public and private employment for purposes of comparison and contrast in values, she presents her findings in a paper entitled, 'Career Concepts for Indian Women.' She observes, 'Results of women in public sector show that women employees derive primary satisfaction from family relationships, by integrating career with the rest of their lives in a secondary manner. The women executives of private sector organisation, however, derived primary satisfaction from their career or occupation.'[32] A valuable insight from Bhardwaj is about 'ambition': 'The ranking of ambition revealed that all four groups of women employees reported high levels of ambition…This may mean that women have high levels of ambition in contradiction to the generally prevalent view that women have low aspiration levels.'[33]

    Sexual harassment: Delhi
  40. All women, whether employed or students planning a career, show an anxiety about safety in Delhi. Crime against women is shockingly high. Reports coming in over the last few years have shown a rising number of women accepting jobs that require late working hours, often in shift duty assignments. After the Call Centre jobs broke down the prejudice against women taking night shift employment, several other avenues opened up especially in TV and newspapers.
  41. Sexual harassment can prevail at or outside the place of work. It involves unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature by a male and a perception by the victim that it has become a condition of work. Sexual harassment can involve physical contact or expressions of sexual innuendo. Indian cities are not very safe for working women despite the government and the police trying to take adequate measures to give protection. One of the positive developments has been the Supreme Court's 'Guidelines against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace,' passed in 1997 as a consequence of the Bhanwari Devi case in Rajasthan mentioned above.
  42. In a significant departure from the practice that a woman had to prove her statement, the court admitted the integrity of the woman's complaint and valued her viewpoint. The guidelines opined that 'unwelcome' advances by letter or deed, by suggestion or implication may be construed as sexual harassment and were punishable by law. The Supreme Court further made it mandatory for all employers and institutions in India to use the Guidelines to devise their own policy against sexual harassment and make sure that a Complaints Committee is constituted for examining all reported cases. Such a committee must have representation from all segments of the institution and have at least 50 per cent of its members as women, and a woman chairperson.
  43. Again, in India, there appears a gap between this laudable ideal and the ground reality. While the University of Delhi passed an Ordinance against Sexual Harassment in 2002 and has faithfully followed the Guidelines, there is no consolidated information about such a policy being in place in other universities barring a few. Moreover, public 'workplaces' are so different from one another that the Supreme Court Guidelines are liable to be interpreted in a variety of ways that still grant power to the superior cadres who are often the perpetrators of the harassment. The country awaits legislation against sexual harassment which will smoothen out the ambiguities in the Guidelines.

    Women and political participation

  44. The Committee on the Status of Women in India Report (1974) defined the political status of women as the degree of equality and freedom enjoyed by them in shaping and sharing of power and in the value given by the society to this role. The three indicators mentioned by the Committee are:

      a. Participation in the Political Process
      b. Political Attitudes
      c. Impact of women in the Political Process.[34]

  45. There are some important examples of successful advocacy in relation to women's political participation. The history of the women's movement in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand makes a deep impression. In 1969, women organised themselves in support of the Chipko Andolan. References to Chipko (means 'to stick') still recreate the vivid image of women peasants clinging to the trees and defying the forest contractors to 'cut them down.' As a symbol of ecofeminism nothing could be stronger. It formed the basis of Vandana Shiva's significant book, Staying Alive Women, Ecology and Survival in India.[35]
  46. In 1965 in Slayer Village in Tehri Garhwal, the first anti-liquor campaign occurred. The slogan 'Uttarakhand ki yeh lalkar / daru band kare sarkar' (Uttarakhand makes this call / Government close down liquor shops all) became a cry for action. The legacy of this movement made women elsewhere in the country, in Maharashtra, Bengal and Bihar, articulate a similar demand as husbands and fathers use up all their money in liquor shops and starve their families.
  47. From 2000 onwards, the Narmada Bachao Aandolan (Campaign to Save the Narmada River communities) has drawn attention to the oppositional politics of development goals on the one hand and loss of cultivable land, the source of sustenance and homes to indigenous people on the other. Medha Phatkar and Arundhati Roy have called for stalling mega dam building projects that destroy traditional habitats. While the 'family' is a unit of concern in this rhetoric, the woman's condition has not been specially addressed.[36]

    Panchayati Raj
  48. 'The turning point in recent years was the 73rd and 74th amendment to the Indian Constitution which became effective in 1992. It provided for reserving not less than 33 per cent of the total seats for women both at the functionary as well as at the membership level.'[37] The Act provides for direct election to all seats of the panchayats (local council) at the village, block and zilla levels. It provides for a fixed tenure of five years, and regular elections to be held within a period of six months in the event of suppression of any panchayat or at the expiry of its fixed tenure.
  49. When the Act was implemented there was a general skepticism about women representatives in the village being in a position to understand their political responsibilities or being permitted to carry out the duties of leadership in a largely conservative set up. It was said by several critics of the new dispensation that the woman sarpanch would only be a 'rubber stamp' for her husband, father-in law or brother—that is a male member of the family who would have held the seat had it not been reserved for a woman. However, government, non-government and women's studies centres, such as the one at the University of Delhi, directed by Prof. Susheela Kaushik provided substantial training programmes for the locally elected women and the results were highly encouraging. Over a short period of time, the women, many of them barely literate, learnt the main functions of village level development work and saw their role as the leaders in a larger national network. By December 2006 women's political participation in Panchayati Raj was 36.8 per cent, slightly higher than the stipulated 33 per cent.[38] India, in the last few years, has also witnessed the emergence of women in the highest offices in politics and governance, the President being Ms. Pratibha Patil, and Ms Sonia Gandhi being the leader of the Congress Party in power. The visibility of women in high positions in academics, medicine, corporate business and the service sector has changed the gender dynamics in cosmopolitan areas. In the villages, the success stories are locally known and often quite spectacular.

    Teaching through tales: a story by Maitreyi Pushpa
  50. Hindi writer Maitreyi Pushpa has a clever tale titled Tulna (In Comparison) about a woman who is asked by her sarpanch (village headman) husband to stand for election for a reserved post. She does, and wins. The assumption is that she will work to her husband's command. The woman gradually understands the bureaucratic system, its opportunities and pitfalls, and launches sincerely into development work for her village.
  51. There is prosperity in the village and honesty in the conduct of work. At the next round of elections, her husband can stand for the position of the sarpanch and does; he is confident of victory. Knowing his tendency for corruption, she desists from voting. Her dilemma is between personal loyalty to her husband and her integrity as a citizen. Finally her political conscience is aroused and she casts her vote secretly. When the result is announced, the husband is seen to have lost the election by one vote! It is quite evident to the reader that the casting vote was of the woman sarpanch, the wife who refused to vote in a corrupt husband.
  52. This moving story that picks up nuances of a village and its social stratification, and also enters the mind of a woman who has been transformed by her leadership experience, is a popular text in the classroom. The women's studies agenda of integrating gender sensitive material in the curriculum is achieved through such inclusions, but the story proves highly effective in village workshops too.


      Call me 'widow', hurl curses, revile me
      But my ringing laughter you cannot stop

      Made in His image, I am His creation
      You cannot stop my breathing, my life

      Snatch from my lips both song and lyric
      But you cannot stop the music of my soul

      Cover me with ignominy, tar me with shame
      But my inner radiance you cannot stop
      Kamala Bhasin, 'You Cannot Stop the Spring.'[39]

    Widowhood as 'social death'
  53. According to Dr. Mohini Giri, Chairperson of the NGO devoted to the rehabilitation of widows, the Guild of Service, widows form the most marginalized segment of Indian society. The following statistics are provided by the Guild for the year 2007:

    • There are some 33 million widows in India
    • Widows comprise 9–11 per cent of the population in India
    • Every 4th household in India has a widow
    • 50 per cent of the widows in India are over 50 years of age. Many were married and became widows while still young girls. Many widows are blamed for their husband's death.
    • Widows suffer multiple oppressions in India—economic, social, "worthless and invisible" status—very MARGINALIZED in Indian society, displacement, victims of bureaucracy and corruption.[40]

  54. There are age-old practices in Bengal by which a widow is visually and spatially separated from the family and obliged to lead a severe life of ritual fasts and austere attire. In Uma Chakravarti's often quoted words:

      Widowhood in India among upper castes is a state of social death. The widow's social death stems from her alienation from reproduction and sexuality, following the loss of her husband and her exclusion from the functioning social unit of the family. Once a woman ceases to be a wife (especially if she is childless) she ceases to be a 'person', neither daughter nor daughter-in-law. The problem posed by Brahmanical patriarchy therefore is this: since the wife has no social existence outside of her husband, then as a widow who or what is she? The text and the rituals attempt to work the problem out. The problem itself simply stated is that although the widow is socially dead she remains an element in society; the question then remains: how to incorporate her.[41]

  55. 'Incorporation' of widows has led to institutions of confinement and also chains of the mind whereby the widow internalises her own 'destiny' and accepts her oppressed condition.

    Field visit to Vrindavan: portraits of Bengali widows
  56. A 'home' for widows such as Amar Bari, instituted in Vrindavan by the Guild of Service, understands the social and personal problems of widows. A WSDC visit was led by a senior volunteer from the Guild, Dr. Deepali Bhanot, who is also a teacher at the University of Delhi. Through a side lane in Vrindavan we entered this spacious haveli (family mansion) on lease to the Guild. A cheerful group of 80 elderly women—all widows—greeted us with a namaste, and hand waving. We reciprocated with equal warmth and realised that ma (mother) was the proper word of address for the women here.
  57. We were struck by the sensitive and careful manner in which the denigrating traditions of widowhood had been subtly discarded in the rehabilitation programme. The women no longer wore stark white but tended to add a mild print to the sari or a woven border or a colourful blouse. Occasionally, they wore simple bangles. Some still kept their head tonsured but there were others who had allowed their hair to grow and pinned it neatly. Being summer, several of the widows wore sleeveless blouses. The gathering was marked by confident talk, a willingness to speak of their experiences and a sense of hope for the future. Considering the average age of the gathering to be 60-plus, this was a very positive indicator of the impact of the programme. A few life narratives are given below. The names have been changed for protection of identity.
  58. Ma Sarala is almost eighty. A somewhat plump lady with a statuesque presence, she is clearly a team leader. Her room, a cabin 8 feet by 10 feet (2.4 metres by 3metres), is spotlessly clean and she emerges from it carrying a stick to help her walk. A prominent caste mark adorns her forehead. She is dressed in a white sleeveless blouse and a blue sari. She is not in very good health she says but nevertheless joins our discussion. Widowed as a child in a village in West Bengal, she remembers only the pangs of hunger and the dark room where she was given a corner to sleep. Her memories of arriving in Vrindavan are fuzzy. Some older relative brought her there, but conditions were pretty dismal. The only occupation for widows was singing in the Bhajanashrams—large halls where the women came at 7 a.m. and sang religious lyrics until 4 p.m. They received a cup of dal, a fistful of rice and Rs. 2 for their contribution to communal prayer. The problem of shelter remained, so most widows stayed the night outdoors or in dingy shared rooms and returned to the Bhajanashram the next morning. 'Many many years later,' says Sarala, she came to Amar Bari. The initiative Amar Bari (meaning, 'my home') addresses the basic problem of housing widows, which then expands into creating a system providing food, medical aid and socialisation. 'The aim is to create a sense of dignity,' says Deepali Bhanot, who is leading the Amar Bari project.
  59. We speak to another ma who is eager to put in her story. She loves to sing and dance we are told—so we request her to do so. At seventy-five, she is still spry on her feet and enchantingly graceful. Her movements are those of the temple women who are trained to sing and dance to 'please and placate the gods.' Ma Radhika bursts into a devotional song in a cracked voice which attempts to reach the musical notes but doesn't quite succeed. She sings along confidently anyway and her companions start clapping and swaying to her dance and her music. Ma's face is in a kind of trance, her eyes looking beyond. In about eight minutes her energy winds down. She gives us a toothless smile and drops into a chair. From God's companion to a destitute widow was a traumatic journey for her. But now she is at peace and happy in her secure 'home.'
  60. Is it a generational gap we wonder? Are things better for widows who are younger? We run into another story which belies such hope. Anita is about twenty-four and appeared in a terrible disheveled state at the door of Amar Bari. Although the Guild of Service has a policy of accepting only elderly widows as residents, Anita was given temporary shelter and care. In our conversation with Anita, she was somewhat incoherent and inconsistent but the essential story was one of being abandoned as the older women had been. She was a college student who had married a man of her choice. The husband died in a scooter accident in Kolkata. The in-laws coerced her into a degraded life and she claims that 'a helpful male relative' brought her to Vrindavan. Then he melted away and she had to fend for herself. The other mas told us that she 'shuts the bathroom for long hours' and 'covers herself with cosmetics.' At times she 'leaves her hair open and stares into vacant space,' and 'she eats too much.' We were piecing together the story of a young widow who had suffered abuse leading to mental deterioration. While the older women accepted her presence, there was sharp criticism of her behaviour.[42]
  61. The needs of older and younger widows in society are different. Our research had isolated factors which emphasised health, finance and loneliness. If one were to study the plight of young widows, sexual exploitation would emerge as a key concern. Anita's story was an illustration.
  62. Our research further showed that the material means of a widow determine the circumstances of her life. But there is no exact correlation between family affluence and a widow's financial state. Women from well-to-do middle-class homes are abandoned by the family at Kumbh melas (religious fairs) or at ashrams or other religious venues. If allowed to stay on in the family home, they are relegated to minimal space and doled left over food. They are given labour-intensive tasks in the kitchen or, if physically slow, then child-watching duties or made into agents of household security. Most do not control money directly, even if they have some wealth.


      It is often said that the level of any society is judged by the level of its women. It is certainly true that the country's progress is measured by the progress of its women folk…Men will not know their true selves until and unless they allow women to develop their true self.
      --Indira Gandhi, 1975

  63. Focused thinking on Indian contexts of feminism began with Madhu Kishwar's controversial essay 'A Horror of "Isms,"' (1990) where she says:

      Western feminism is an offshoot of individualism and liberalism…In India, most of us find it difficult to tune in to the extreme individualism that comes to us through feminism. For instance, most women here are unwilling to assert their rights in a way that estranges them not just from their family but also from their larger kinship group and community…This need not be interpreted as a sign of mental slavery to social opinion. Rather, it is an indication that for many of us life is a poor thing if our freedom inevitably cuts us off from our interdependence with others. In our culture both men and women are taught to value the interests of their families and not make their lives revolve around individual self-interest.[43]

  64. Such debates continue in India. Increasingly the vocabulary of 'women's studies' and development paradigms is better accepted than the political instruments of 'feminism.' Consequently, while the academic departments of literature, philosophy and sociology and such others are talking about the 'post-feminist' phase, the ground reality in India is still witnessing the daily struggle for women to assert their right to livelihood, dignity and employment. Feminism here cannot be limited to theoretical discourses; it has to tangle with life. A 'globalised' India has emerged from complex, ancient and multicultural roots. Embedded within them are certain stereotypes about a woman's place and worth. Women's studies or feminist theory cannot overturn such a dense legacy but it can equip women and men to revisit that past and review its decisions. With that knowledge the present will open up to a newer understanding, and produce its own methodological tools for a gender-just society.
  65. The conditions in India are poised for a breakthrough. The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, announced by the Government of India in 2001, states, 'The goal of the Policy is to bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of women.' The Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations marked women's empowerment and poverty alleviation as significant, the XI Plan document, 2007–2012, has urged 'gender mainstreaming' and 'gender budgeting.' The network of Women's Studies Centres which covers this vast country through its universities can become the instrument for identifying women's issues in India which require priority attention. Mary John in her 'Introduction' to Women's Studies in India: A Reader draws attention to the 'ambivalent frameworks' of the discipline and also says that 'it is important to recognize degrees of overlap if not convergence.'[44]
  66. Western models will not work. Any policy suggestion made in India must take note of family, community, caste, class, poverty, human rights, environment, domestic violence, and the sheer weight of inherited traditions that mark our thinking. Remembering the Bilva tree, I could stretch the analogy to suggest that homage to tradition is to be balanced out by a necessary search for equitable gender positions. Embedded in the iconography of the Ardhananiswara, gender relations in India have not been man vs woman, rather they have suggested various configurations of man and woman. Women's Studies has its three-leaved image to bear in mind. It must innovatively devise strategies to introduce non-combative, gradual and sustainable models of gender justice. This takes time. While the global, result-driven economy might lose patience, an ancient culture that measures time in yugas and eons intuits that creativity is not expressed in haste. Women's visibility in Indian public space has increased sufficiently for us to be convinced of the positive outcome of planned empowerment by Government, NGOs and Women's Studies organisations. There are setbacks and challenges, advancement and growth that feminists know occur with simultaneity. If an overall goal of woman's empowerment is upheld as a national ideal, we will step confidently towards that. In the words of Amartya Sen:

      It is extremely important to acknowledge and focus on the constraints that bind women and keep them in little boxes. The removal of these constraints and captivity has to be, in itself, a major goal of political action and social agitation. To take something as 'desirable but completely impossible' can be a prelude to losing the fortitude to fight against injustice. The possibility of change is also a part of the manifest reality of the world in which we live.[45]


    [1] Epigraph 'Executive summary,' India, Second and Third NGO Alternative Report on CEDAW, National Alliance of Women 2006, p. 4.

    [2] Shakti M. Gupta, Myths and Legends from Indian Mythology, Delhi: BR Publishing, 2002, p. 56.

    [3] Guidelines for Development of Women's Studies in Indian Universities and Colleges During Eleventh Plan (2007–2012), University Grants Commission 2007, p. 4.

    [4] Towards Equality, Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, 1974.

    [5] Devaki Jain & Pam Rajput, Narratives from the Women's Studies Family: Recreating Knowledge, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2003, p. 54.

    [6] Jain & Rajput, Narratives from the Women's Studies Family, p. 4.

    [7] Guidelines for Development of Women's Studies in Indian Universities and Colleges During Eleventh Plan (2007–2012), University Grants Commission, pp. 4, 7.

    [8] 'Major aims and objectives,' School of Women's Studies: a Profile, Kolkata: Jadavpur University, January 2006.

    [9] 'Vision Document,' Women's Studies & Development Centre, University of Delhi, 2002.

    [10] Malashri Lal & Sukrita Paul Kumar (eds), Women's Studies in India: Contours of Change, Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Studies 2002, p. 10.

    [11] Wendy Brown, 'The impossibility of women's studies,' in Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 116–35, p. 116.

    [12] Brown, 'The impossibility of women's studies,' p. 116.

    [13] 'Revamped literacy mission to focus on educating women,' in Times of India, 22 August 2009, p. 10.

      The HRD ministry is not only renaming the National Literacy Mission as National Women's Literacy Mission but is also making substantial changes in the definition of literacy with specific focus on achieving 80% literacy for women by the end of the 11th Plan.

    [14] 'In a one-page synopsis submitted to the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, (Ashish) Bose blamed the 'BIMARU' states for India's burgeoning population. The now well-known acronym stands for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. However, the term had an uncanny resemblance to the Hindi word bimar, which means sick—and implied that these states also were.' See, K.P. Narayana Kumar, 'Ashish Bose | The man who coined the term “Bimaru",' in Live, The Wall Street Journal, 2 August 2007, online:, accessed 7 September 2009.

    [15] Ashish Bose, Population of India: 2001 Census Results and Methodology, New Delhi: B R Publishing, 2001.

    [16] Statistics on Women in India 2007, National Institute of Public Co-operation and Child Development (NIPCCD) New Delhi, 2007, p. 111.

    [17] Statistics on Women in India 2007, National Institute of Public Co-operation and Child Development (NIPCCD) New Delhi, p. 2.

    [18] Amartya Sen, 'More than 100 million women are missing,' in New York Review of Books, vol. 37, no. 20 (20 December 1990), online:, accessed 21 September 2009.

    [19] Prime Minister Manmohan Singh quoted in DNA, New Delhi, 15 August 2009, 09:16 IST.

    [20] Adapted from Status of the Adolescent Girl in Slums of Haryana: A Review, Women's Studies Research Centre, Haryana

    [21] Saakshi O. Juneja, 'Fight against child marriages in India,' in To Each its Own, 22 September 2005 online: accessed 3 September 2009.

    [22] See Taisha Abraham & Malashri Lal, Female Empowerment: Impact of Literacy in Jaipur District, Rajasthan, New Delhi: Har Anand, 1995.

    [23] Statistics on Women in India 2007, National Institute of Public Co-operation and Child Development (NIPCCD) New Delhi, 2007, p. 113.

    [24] Sudhir Varma, A Situational Analysis of Women and Girl Children in Rajasthan, New Delhi: National Commission for Women, 2004, p. 113.

    [25] Chandana Saha, Gender Equality and Equity: Study of Girl Child in Rajasthan, Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2003, p. 240.

    [26] Vijaydan Detha, The Dilemma and Other Stories, trans. Ruth Vanita, ed., Madhu Kishwar, New Delhi: Manushi Prakashan, 1997, pp. 145–46.

    [27] Amol Palekar, Director, Paheli, Bollywood film, (2005) based on Vijay Dan Detha's story 'Duwidha' (in Hindi it means dilemma).

    [28] Zarina Bhatty, 'Women's movement and women's studies,' in Women's Studies in India: Contours of Change, ed. Malashri Lal & Sukrita Paul Kumar, Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, 2002, pp. 51–66, pp. 62–63.

    [29] Statistics on Women in India 2007, National Institute of Public Co-operation and Child Development (NIPCCD), New Delhi, 2007.

    [30] Preet Rustagi, 'Women's issues,' Draft Chapter for Delhi Human Development Report, May 2004, pp. 29–31.

    [31] Preeti Singh, Women in Call Centres in Delhi: Report, WSDC, 2003, published in EPW 2005.

    [32] Gopa Bhardwaj, 'Career concepts for Indian women,' in Women's Studies in India: Contours of Change, ed. Malashri Lal & Sukrita Paul Kumar, Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, 2002, pp. 339–48, p. 342.

    [33] Bhardwaj, 'Career concepts for Indian women,' p. 345.

    [34] Sarala Gopalan, Towards Equality-The Unfinished Agenda, New Delhi: National Commission for Women, 2002, pp. 281–82.

    [35] Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India, New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1988.

    [36] See Arundhati Roy, 'The greater common good,' in Algebra of Infinite Justice, New Delhi: Penguin India, 2001, pp. 47–141.

    [37] Bidyut Mohanty & Vandana Mahajan, Ten Years of Women's Political Empowerment: The Journey Ahead, Delhi: Institute of Social Sciences, 2004, p. 12.

    [38] Statistics on Women in India 2007, National Institute of Public Co-operation and Child Development (NIPCCD) New Delhi, 2007, p. 303.

    [39] Kamla Bhasin, 'You cannot stop the spring,' in South Asian Conference on Capacity Building of Marginalized Women: Widow Publication, New Delhi: Guild Of Service, 1–3 Feb 2002, p. 24.

    [40] Mohini Giri, 'Widows in India,' in WUNRN, n.d., online:, accessed 21 Sept 2009.

    [41] Uma Chakravarti, 'Widowhood as social death,' in Humanscape, May (2000), p. 16, Mumbai.

    [42] 'Amar Bari' (meaning 'my home' in Bengali) was set up in 1998 by the Guild of Service in the city of Vrindavan, the traditional place where Hindu widows were often abandoned by their families to spend a life of deprivation and prayer. Dr. Mohini Giri, the Chairperson of the Guild, and herself a widow, recognised the need to bring dignity to this segment of women through giving them a sense of community, security and belonging. Amar Bari aimed to provide shelter to elderly Bengali widows and rehabilitate them socially and financially. I, along with a team from the Women's Studies & Development Centre initially initially visited Amar Bari in 2002. This was followed by other visits and advocacy programmes.

    [43] Madhu Kishwar, Off the Beaten Track: Rethinking Gender Justice for Indian Women, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 272.

    [44] Mary E. John ed., Women's Studies in India: A Reader, New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2008, pp. 5 & 7.

    [45] Sanjukta Dasgupta & Malashri Lal, 'A dialog with Amartya Sen,' in Dasgupta & Lal (eds), The Indian Family in Transition: Reading Literary and Cultural Texts, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2007, pp. 355–59, p. 356.

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