fredag 4. januar 2013

The Road Ahead for India's Women

Every person who has visited India departs with colorful pictures embedded on their retina, of sari dressed women, for example. The textile artist Shantipriya Kurada writes: “The beauty of the sari has never ceased fascinating me. There is something magical about it and it symbolizes the romantic aspect of India’s women – their vulnerability, their evasive mannerism and their astounding beauty.”

By Torbjørn Færøvik
For the past two weeks women in sari and other types of clothing have demonstrated all over the country. Day after day they have stood with clenched fists calling for protection and justice. The gang rapes in India have shaken a whole nation. Now what? Everyone agrees that the perpetrators must be severely punished. It is just as important to raise the consciousness of both sexes, arm them with knowledge, provide them with work and give them faith in the future. If the Indian joint project that was started by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru doesn’t succeed, the ripple effects will be great.

India was liberated the night of August 15, 1947. “At the stroke of the midnight hour, while the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”, said Nehru in his radio address to the nation. And the midnight children, vividly described by Salman Rushdie, pushed out of the womb to utter their first cries.

At that time the country had a population of 340 million people. At the time of writing, it is nearing 1,266 billion. The quick-as-a-lightning counter of “India’s Population Clock” makes my eyes burn.  India’s population grows with 15 million people per year, much faster than China’s. In a few years, perhaps in 2025, the country’s population will surpass that of China. The two giants will then have close to three billion inhabitants combined. The staggering numbers illustrate how much is at stake.

India struggled for many years after liberation to get their wheels moving. Experts spoke with disdain about “the Hindu rate of growth”. Nehru and his successors did as well as they could, but the growth rate seldom exceeded three or four percent per year. It was not before the 1990’s that it began to increase rapidly. The cause was economic liberalization. Suddenly the population rate increased by both seven and eight percent, and the stockbrokers rejoiced. During the last few years the global crisis washed over the country, and the other side of the coin has become more visible. Not everybody got their share of the progress and millions of women struggle to hold their own.

The woman whose gang rape resulted in death studied physical therapy. Her prospects were good.  It is far worse for the millions of women who live in poverty and can’t read or write. More than 30 percent of India’s women (over the age of seven) are illiterate. No one could be easier to abuse.
Gandhi and Nehru dreamed of a country where everybody, girls and boys alike, should receive schooling and acquire knowledge. Nehru brought to mind that the mathematical concept of “zero” was discovered by Indian wise men back in the distant past. So why couldn’t such people accomplish the greatest undertakings? But something went wrong on the way. India’s caste system and class distinction are so deeply rooted and hence have proven difficult to combat. Much good has been done, but infinitely much remains.

Without an educational system that concentrates maximally on helping the weakest to advance, the country will remain in a bad circle. Such a school system would cost the Indian treasury dearly, but perhaps they do have the funds?  At any rate there are enough privately held riches under India’s skies, and the country’s Minister of Defense can afford both atom weapons and long distance missiles.
Unfortunately is India not in a class by itself. Its neighbors Pakistan and Bangladesh are, with certain variations, in the same position. Women get the short end of the stick and are frequently subjects of abuse, both at home and in public. The suicide rate of women in China is about the highest in the world.  Both China and India are struggling with a surplus of women. Why? It is because of old traditions and new technology. With the aid of ultrasound it has become possible to discover the sex of a future child when it is an embryo in its mother’s womb. The road to the operation table is extremely short if it is the “wrong sex”.
The New Years’ celebrations in Delhi and other Indian cities were rather subdued. Festivities that had been planned were cancelled out of respect for the rape victim. A somber Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, kept to her home, and the Armed Forces refrained from firing their traditional salutes. The trail to the future will be more difficult to blaze. Where is the leader who will light the torch and run ahead?  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a well-meaning man, but at his age of eighty years he is unlikely able to make the run. Some are crying for a new Gandhi, this time for 40 year old Rahul, son of Rajiv Gandhi. But perhaps mother Sonia now discovers that her time is ripe?  
Much is at stake in India in 2013

(Translated by Anne Faerovik)