Society for Policy Studies in association with India Habitat Centre held a lecture in the Changing Asia Series on “The Journey of the Indian Woman: Change or Status quo?”.
By Bhaswati Mukherjee, Former Indian Ambassador to the Netherlands & UNESCO, Paris
Date: September 09, 2016
Time: 7 PM
Venue: Gulmohar Hall, India Habitat Centre
Society for Policy Studies (SPS), in association with the India Habitat Center, organised the lecture ‘Journey of the Indian woman’ by Amb (retd.) Bhaswati Mukherjee as part of the Changing Asia Series.
Opening the lecture, Cmde. C. Uday Bhaskar, Director SPS, spoke of the necessity to have serious engagement with the human angle of security. especially those affecting gender dynamics. It was in recognition of this conspicuous absence of the discourse on gender in security related matters that this lecture was pertinent.
Amb. Mukherjee began her lecture by highlighting the changes that have been witnessed in Hindu civilization vis-a-vis the status of women in society. Mentioning the Vedas and the various Hindu empires down the ages, she observed that there has been a gradual decline in the status of women in Indian society over centuries. While the colonial rule had weeded out some decadent practices, such as sati, that was also the time when violence against women got reinforced at an institutional level. In post-independent India, legal empowerment of women by way of constitutional guarantees helped in ensuring that practices which were discriminatory and unequal are not given space, but more often than not these were observed only in the breach. .
Amb. Mukherjee also noted that where “the problems of empowerment of the Indian women are more complex than one imagines” and that things got worse with the widening rural-urban divide. With the rapid modernization of urban areas and the sheer neglect that the hinterlands experienced, the influx of conservative, feudal people from the rural areas resulted in the Indian cities becoming more unsafe.
Amb. Mukherjee also spoke of her own journey as an Indian Foreign Service officer. She observed that the IFS postings, which for long had been a male bastion and even disallowed continuation of women in service upon their marriage, has come a long way. Today, she mentioned, India has a 100% visually handicapped girl serving in the prestigious Indian Foreign Service, women have been ambassadors in key capitals like Washington, there have been three foreign secretaries and women like her have pierced the glass ceiling to head the administration division. .
In the Q&A session that followed the 45-minutes lecture, the speaker said tribal societies in the country had more gender equality and emanicipation and that is why people from the northeast and other tribal areas faced problems when they came to live in places with feudal traditions.
She said that women should have the right to decide to decide their own destiny in terms of what they wanted to wear or what they wanted to do with their lives. That will be true emancipation and although there has been a lot of change in the status of Indian women in the last decades – with women in top jobs in banking, civil services and many other professions that were hitherto male bastions – it is still a work in progress and much more needed to be done for women to find their true place in society.