Women in India – A Status Report

Jaya Mehta

Aligarh: Less than two weeks after the discovery of about 50 female foetuses from a well in Patiala in Punjab, authorities here have found a dozen embryos dumped in a pond. Residents of the Nai Basti locality noticed stray dogs feeding on the female foetuses contained in plastic bags and informed the authorities. Following the discovery, the administration has ordered a crackdown on all private maternity nursing homes, a large number of which are suspected to be conducting illegal abortions. (Female foetuses recovered, The Hindu, 22nd August, 2006.)

"I have one girl and cannot afford to have another daughter. It’s so difficult to marry them off as boys demand hefty dowries. I have undergone five abortions at a private nursing home as all of them were female foetuses. I may not be able to conceive again." Simran, College Lecturer (Outlook India, 27th February2006)

Population of India

A status report on women must necessarily begin with a comment on their right to be born in this world. We can consider a hundred year record. The sex ratio (number of females per 1000 males} in this country registered a steady decline from 972 in 1901 to 927 in 1991. The results of 2001 census brought additional honour to this impeccable record. Whereas the overall sex ratio i.e. the ratio between all females to all males recorded a gain of 6 points and became 933, the child sex ratio i.e. the ratio between girls and boys in the age group 0 to 6 recorded its highest fall of 18 points from 945 to 927. The highest ever drop in child sex ratio is easy to explain.

The mass scale female foeticide witnessed in the villages of Punjab is indeed frightening. In Nawanshahr district of Punjab, as many as16 villages recorded child sex ratios in the range of 500 to 1000, and 65 others in the range 700 to 1000. (Outlook India magazine, 27th February, 2006)

Sex-detection and sex-selective abortions have spread far and wide.

Kerala, for instance, has shown an adverse juvenile sex ratio for the first time since 1951. Similarly, Kolkata is seeing the lowest child sex ratio in the last 50 years, going from a high of 1,011 females per 1,000 male children in 1951, to an abysmal 923 in 2001. Interestingly, female foeticide is a phenomenon positively correlated with wealth and education. Educated women in Delhi have undergone 8 or more abortions in order to avoid a girl child. Again child sex ratio in slum areas is 919 girls per 1,000 boys compared to 904 in non-slum areas for 640 cities and towns across 26 States and Union Territories in the country.

India thus attains the distinction of a nation where development means not allowing girls to be born.

So far as the gain of 6 points in the overall sex ratio is concerned, the states which contribute maximum to this gain are Bihar, M.P., Rajasthan and U.P. Obviously these are not the states where living conditions for women have improved. The rise in overall sex ratio has to be explained in terms of increased number of older women, who have survived the hazards of younger ages and are able to express their biological advantage. On the other hand, insecurity of employment and livelihood has slowed down the life expectancy growth rate of male population. In addition to smoking and drinking, the male population has also been subject to increased incidence of tuberculosis, drugs and HIV. Thus, while female foetuses and girls are killed at one end, men are falling victim to insecurity, impoverishment and stress at the other end. Along with missing women the demographers have now started talking of missing men.

However as Mr. Pawan Nair says, "A level field for men and women will do no good, if their equality is attained only in death".

Work force

We leave the missing men and women aside for a while, and take stock of those who survive. In particular, we delineate the manner in which they are integrated in the production process.

According to the census of India 2001, the total population of the country is1028.61 million, of which 532.15 million are men and 495.45 million are women. The work force identified by the census is 402.23 million. There are 275.46 million male workers and 127.22 female workers. The workforce participation rate for men is 51.76%, whereas for women, it is only 25.67% (30.97% for rural women and 11.54% for urban women). Further, 87.30% male workers are classified as main workers and 12.70% as marginal workers. Among women workers, only 57.20% are identified as main workers. Rest 42.80% women workers are marginal workers. The Census defines main workers as those who participate in economically productive work for 183 days or more in a year. Marginal workers participate in economically productive work for less than 183 days.

Employment Overview (Census of India 2001)

  Male/Female Total Population Total Workers Main Workers Marginal Workers Non-Workers
Total Person 1,025,252,059 402,512,190 313,173,394 89,338,796 622,738,869
  Males 530,422,415 275,463,736 240,520,672 34,943,064 254,958,679
  Females 494,828,644 127,048,454 72,652,722 54,395,732 367,780,190
Rural Person 740,255,371 310,655,339 229,672,348 80,982,991 429,600,032
  Males 380,438,194 199,199,602 169,333,233 29,866,369 181,238,592
  Females 359,817,177 111,455,737 60,339,115 51,116,622 248,361,440
Urban Person 284,995,688 91,856,851 83,501,046 8,355,805 193,138,837
  Males 149,984,221 76,264,134 71,187,439 5,076,695 73,720,087
  Females 135,011,467 15,592,717 12,313,607 3,279,110 119,418,750

Source: Census of India 2001

In a capitalist economy where everything is valued in material terms, work is also defined as an activity that fetches material returns. Hence, if you spend a day helping out an old woman, taking her to a doctor, arranging food and medicine, you are not at work. Instead, if you make yourself available for 5 minutes for a shooting schedule of ‘Eveready: advertisement’ and facilitate profits for a company, which killed lakhs of people and shied away from giving due compensation, then you are very much at work. At macro level defining work in this manner results in lopsided work force statistics. Work force participation rate for rural and urban men in the age group of 25 to 54 is more than 95% (mostly close to 98-99%); whereas for women in the same age group, it staggers in the range of 55% in rural areas and 30% in urban areas. (NSS ‘Employment and Unemployment in India’ Key Results, report no. 454).

Census and NSS both underestimate the work done by men and women in this country because much of the work is done in the unorganised subsistence sector and is difficult to measure. Under-estimation in the case of women is, however, very much larger in magnitude and seriously distorts the work force statistics. A time use survey (survey team headed by Indira Hirway) was conducted by Central Statistical Organisation in the year1998-99 in six major states. The activities of an individual were classified as SNA (System of National Accounts) activities, extended SNA activities and non-SNA activities. SNA activities are those production activities, which are covered under United Nation System of National Accounts. SNA activities are further divided into paid and unpaid work. Extended SNA activities are those, which fall outside the SNA production boundary but fall within the general production boundary. These are unpaid services related to reproduction of labour or in other words ‘house-work’. Non SNA activities are personal services, which cannot be delegated like sleeping, eating, etc.

The time use survey data showed that apart from non-SNA activities, men spend more than 90 percent of their time in SNA activities and less than 10 percent in extended SNA activities, whereas women spend more than 50 percent of their time in extended SNA activities. When engaged in SNA activities, women predominate in work categories where direct remuneration is not available. They are engaged as unpaid family farm workers. They take care of livestock. They help in household industry and rural artisan work. They starch the yarn and prepare the loom, but paid worker is the man of the house who does the weaving. They fetch fuel wood, fodder, water, fish and many such things. When engaged in SNA activities, women spend more than half their time in unpaid SNA activities. According to the survey, when SNA and extended SNA activities are considered together, it is found that women put in 52.5% of the person hours whereas men contribute only 47.5%. (Ref. Indira Hirway EPW May 25, 2002).

Thus, while we delineate the integration of 127.22 million women workers in the production structure, we should necessarily remember that we are unable to account for the entire female workforce and are quite unable to appreciate their contribution to our national wealth. Apart from inherent limitations arising out of capitalist framework i.e. not accounting for extended SNA activities, many of the women workers engaged in unpaid SNA activities are also left out because the system is not rigorous enough. The status report of women which starts from ‘missing females’ then reaches its next milestone namely that of ‘invisible workers’.

Women in Agriculture

According to census figures, 111.45 million women workers belong to the rural areas and 15.59 million to urban areas. Further 41.89 million women (37.60% of rural women workers) are classified as cultivators and 49.44 million (44.40% of rural women workers) are classified as agricultural labourers. Accordingly, 82% of women workers in rural areas are engaged in agriculture.

The globalisation agenda, under the dictates of WTO, has successfully brought Indian agriculture to a crisis stage which is manifested in an alarming rise of suicide rate in the farm community. Everyone, from the Prime Minster to the lowest level media person has expressed overwhelming concern on the issue. There have been state level committees and innumerable individual studies trying to identify the causes and suggesting remedies. However, we do not hear much about what happened to the households where the head of the household had committed suicide.

Consider this piece written by P. Sainath on farmers’ suicides. Tanki Balappa, from Mahboob Nagar district (Andhra Pradesh), committed suicide in 2004. Balappa’s crops had failed. He had one and half acre of his own land and three acres on lease. Bhagawantamma, his wife was not clear on how much he had borrowed, as he never consulted her. It could be around Rs. 85,000 or Rs.1 lakh. Now she has to look after two sons and a daughter while running the farm. And cope with the creditors. Suicides by their husbands leave women alone in the predatory world. There is a high risk of losing the family’s land and of facing extreme pressure, including sexual harassment, from creditors and others."

Most women classified as cultivators have essentially been working as family labour in a small, marginal and/or tenant farmers’ household. Pre planting and post harvesting farm tasks and looking after the cattle are traditionally allotted to women. Nevertheless, most women also participate in field operations like sowing, weeding, replanting in paddy fields and harvesting. Poorer the household, more they work on the farm and sometimes also on others farms. What women do not do, is to take decision, take credit, lease in or lease out land, buy farm inputs or sell the farm produce. All this is men’s business. When it does become a woman’s business like in the case of Bhagawatamma, she is most ill equipped to handle it

In the past decade and half, more and more women have been left as custodians of their family farms. Not as dramatic and tragic as the ‘suicide’ but an equally serious fallout of globalisation and corporatisation of Indian agriculture has been the growing inability of small and marginal farmers to eke out a subsistence living from their farms. As a result men have migrated out in large numbers in search of alternative income earning possibilities. One can identify a number of tribal villages in Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where the entire male workforce has migrated out leaving the village to the old, infirm and women.

Comparing the census figures of 1991 and 2001 one finds that male cultivators have declined in absolute number from 89.78 million to 85.30 million while female cultivators have increased from 35.01 million to 40.72 million. The share of women cultivators has increased from 28.16% to 32.90%. Similarly, the proportion of female headed households has also increased in rural India. The main handicap of women cultivators is that with a few exceptions in some matriarchal societies, women have been excluded from land ownership. The inheritance laws till now and the land reforms carried out by various state governments; bequeath land titles only to men. From ‘invisible workers’ we then progress to ‘dispossessed farmers’. It is true that the plight of these custodians of family farms as well as those who work as unpaid family labour has to be situated in general agrarian crisis, and a meaningful solution will require a radical restructuring not just in agriculture but in the entire economy.

Nevertheless, women in agriculture have an immediate special agenda. They must get their rightful share in land ownership. In this connection we need to mention Hindu Succession Amendment Act (2005), which has come into force from September 9, 2005. The Act addresses gender inequality on several fronts: Mitakshara, joint family property, parental dwelling house, certain widows rights, and last, but not the least, agricultural land. According to Hindu Succession Act, 1956, (HSA), inheritance of agricultural land was subject to the inheritance rules, specified in state tenural laws. In states, where these laws were silent on inheritance, the HSA applied by default. HSA also applied in cases, where tenural laws explicitly mentioned it. The inheritance rules in HSA itself were gender unequal. But they were worse in tenural laws of states like Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. In these states inheritance was given to male lineal descendents in the male line of descent. Only in their absence, a widow would qualify for inheritance .However, she remarried she lost her right. The Amendment Act 2005 makes Hindu women’s inheritance rights of all property including agricultural land legally equal to men’s rights. This holds for all states overriding their tenural laws.

The Act has far reaching implications for millions of women dependent on agriculture for their survival. True, this is only the first step. The act benefits only Hindu women, leaving out those belonging to other religions. The Muslim Personal Law Applications Act, 1937 also needs amendments. And of course, making an act in the Parliament does not ensure its application at ground level. There is a long way to go before these dispossessed farmers would be able to claim their entrepreneurial rights in this patriarchal society.

Agricultural labourers

Women classified as agricultural labourers do not want their land rights. Their households have no land and in most cases they have no aspiration to acquire land. According to 55th round of NSS survey in the year 1999-2000, 63.2% rural households do not have any land to cultivate. Men and women from landless households want employment at a reasonable wage rate. And women want equal wages for equal work.

Table: Average Daily Wage Rates for Agricultural

Occupations in Rural India during October 2005 (in Rs.)


Average daily wage rate

Ploughing Men 76.5
Women 38.52
  Children -
Sowing Men 68.02
  Women 46.36
  Children 38.37
Weeding Men 59.11
  Women 47.78
  Children 33.32
Transplanting Men 64.01
  Women 53.07
  Children 39.79
Harvesting Men 66.69
  Women 53.03
  Children 34.31
Winnowing Men 61.91
  Women 46.80
  Children 29.00
Threshing Men 65.36
  Women 50.84
  Children 35.86
Picking Men 60.83
  Women 46.94
  Children 30.52
Herdsman Men 42.02
  Women 31.56
  Children 28.97
Well digging Men 94.69
  Women 51.43
  Children -
Cane crushing Men 66.73
  Women 41.50
  Children -

The average daily wage rates at All-India level are derived by
dividing sum total of wages by number of quotations of all the states

The daily wage rates for agricultural occupations in rural India, for the month of October 2005, are given in the following table. These are compiled by Labour Bureau on the basis of recommendations made by National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO).

As the table shows, the prevailing wages in agricultural employment blatantly violate the Minimum Wage Act, 1948 and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. Even at these unfair rates, employment is available only for limited number of days. The growth rate of employment in agriculture was 2.08 percent during 1987-88 to 1993-94. It has dropped to 0.8 percent in the period 1993-94 to 1999-2000. Thus, contingents of men and women move from one region to another looking for work during harvesting and sowing seasons.

Women Elsewhere

The economic position of a woman gets institutionalised in many different ways. Women’s employment in manufacturing and service sectors gets characterised by their workplace, tasks assigned to them and their job contracts. Women are mostly employed in petty, undercapitalised, unregistered firms and many times illegal firms. Home based workers play a pivotal role in low profit traditional sector like Beedi industry as well as the globalised production chain of handicraft and garment industry. In service sector, women work as domestic workers. Even when employed in formal and modern sector, their status as disadvantaged workers gets reflected in the kind of task assigned to them and the kind of job contract handed out.

Home Based Workers in The Unorganised Low Profit Industry: The Beedi Rollers

Surekha Suran is a 43 year old widow from Ahmednagar. She lives in a dark room without windows, where she cooks, eats, sleeps and rolls beedis along with her two adolescent daughters. She has been rolling beedis since she was 13. She works from 9 a.m. till 11 p.m. The only break she takes is for reaching the beedis to the commission shop and collecting tobacco flakes and tendu leaves for next day. In one day she manages to roll around 800 to 1000 beedis and earn anywhere between Rs.40 to Rs.50. Beedi workers are prone to getting respiratory diseases, back strain and neck aches.

Beedi manufacturing is spread out in a number of states from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. A large number of unregistered home based enterprises coexist with large registered enterprises. There are large manufacturers like Ganesh Beedi, Telephone Beedi etc. with a marketing and production network in all of India and also individual families who make and sell locally. The workshops of large manufacturing companies are used for storing the raw materials, for inspection of the rolled beedis, for baking the beedis and packaging and labeling them. The task of rolling of beedis is rarely performed in the workshop. The practice is to recruit home based women workers through contractors and subcontractors. Maintenance of service registers and payment of wages and other benefits to the workers is the responsibility of contractors and subcontractors. In this way the company avoids investing in infrastructure and escapes the obligation of providing statutory benefits to the workers.

According to the Ministry of Labour, beedi industry employed around 44 lakh workers in 1997. Bulk of this workforce consists of women engaged in beedi rolling at home. The Ministry of Labour studied the profile of beedi rollers in Madhya Pradesh. Seventy one percent of beedi rollers had a rural origin and 52 % belonged to scheduled caste. In the sample, 52% women were in the age group of 31 to 45 years and 38% in the age group of 18 to 30 years. 41% of the women were illiterate and 39% were educated till primary level. Most women did not know the name of the manufacturing company for which they were working. They recognized the company by colour of the thread given for tying the beedis.

Beedi industry, despite being unorganised is unionised to a large extent and for a long time. AITUC has been organising beedi workers since 1920. At present it is spread in 8 states and has a membership over 2 lakhs. CITU is particularly active in Kerala and West Bengal. INTUC and HMS and BMS have also organised beedi workers. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has organised home based workers since 1987 and its membership in beedi industry is growing fast. Apart from teaching women to demand their rights, SEWA also initiates welfare activities and has been responsible for raising the agenda of home based workers in a very effective manner.

Naturally, beedi industry is one of the most regulated industries in the unorganised sector. Various legislations have been enacted to protect the rights of workers. The minimum wages at piece rate are prescribed by the state governments. Some states also add D.A. to the wages. The workers are entitled to provident fund, medical and maternity benefits. There is Beedi Workers Welfare Fund to provide for their children’s education, medical help and housing.

Unfortunately, despite unionisation and legislation the women beedi rollers remain poor and exploited. The organisation of production is such that establishing employer-employee identity becomes difficult. For instance, in Gujarat raw material is actually sold to the women on credit and then finished product is bought back from them. Further, home based producers have many helpers who have no worker’s identity. To get any benefit from the welfare fund, the beedi rollers require an identity card and very few of them have it.

Beedi rollers main problem is with high rejection rate of their produce. It prevents them from getting minimum wages which are determined on piece rate. Most of the time the rejection rate of the beedis rolled, is high because the raw material given to them is substandard.
(http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/sector/papers/food/wp202.pdf#search="Bidi workers in india")

Employed With the Government: The Anganwadi Workers

The anganwadi workers are not employed in the unorganised sector. They are employed by the largest employer of the country- the Government of India. Unfortunately, in the globalised work culture, the government has discarded the practice of giving regular employment to health and education workers.

The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) was initiated in October 1975 in response to the evident problems of persistent hunger and malnutrition especially among children. In 30 years time ICDS has grown to become the world’s largest early child development programme. It covers 6,500 blocks reaching out to 3.3 crore children and 62 lakh pregnant and lactating women. Anganwadi centres are set up to provide health and nutrition services to children and women. A centre covers 1000 beneficiaries in rural and urban areas and 700 in tribal areas. A centre is equipped with one high school passed anganwadi worker and one middle school passed helper. There are around 600,000 anganwadi workers and an almost equal number of anganwadi helpers - all women.

Each anganwadi is meant to provide supplementary nutrition to the children below six years of age, and nursing and pregnant mothers from low income families. Anganwadi workers are supposed to take care of immunisation of children and expectant mothers. They are also supposed to provide nutrition and health education to all women in the age group of 15-45 years. Their responsibilities comprise basic health check-up, which includes antenatal care of expectant mothers, postnatal care of nursing mothers, care of newborn babies and care of all children under six years of age. They are supposed to be able to refer serious cases of malnutrition or illness to Community Health Services (CHS) or district hospitals. In addition, these two workers, on their own, are also supposed to provide non-formal pre-school education to children in the 3 to 5 age group. The Anganwadi centres are to remain open for 3 to 4 hours and therefore anganwadi workers and helpers are not full time workers. The government, however, refuses to give them even part time workers status. They are euphemistically called social or voluntary workers and are paid a honorarium and not a salary. This honorarium was Rs. 500 for worker and Rs. 200 for helper for a long time. It was then raised to Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 and remained so till 2002. After a long drawn struggle it was revised to Rs. 2000 for the worker and Rs. 1000 for helper.

The ground reality is that anganwadi workers perform many more tasks than those prescribed by ICDS. Additional tasks assigned to them are decided by the respective state government. They can be asked to maintain birth and death record, to spread AIDS awareness among women, to prevent child marriages, to promote small savings and self help groups, to identifying BPL families etc. etc. After all, every thing falls in the purview of social work. They work not just for 3 to 4 hours but 7 to 8 hours or more. Many a times they incur the wrath of local community and are subjected to harassment and physical violence. They seldom have the wherewithal to protect themselves.

Finally, after 20 or 25 years of social and voluntary work, these voluntary workers are retired and their measly honorarium stops. Ironically the retirement is not voluntary, it is compulsory. Social work requires selfless devotion and no social worker should expect that the society or the state will take care of her when she is old and unable to work.

Employed In Modern Sector: Women in Call Centres

Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), the ‘sunshine sector’ of Indian economy is a euphemism for back office jobs for multinational companies abroad. A significant part of this business process outsourcing consists of setting up ‘call centres’ which provide customer services mostly to clients in USA. The call centres are new job haven for English speaking educated men and women in metropolitan towns of India. Young students after graduation, or sometime before that, flock to call centre jobs. No special skill is required. They only have to be fluent in English. They expect to get a reasonable pay package for answering a few phone calls. The starting salary in a call center is around Rs. 10,000.

Once they join the experience is not a very happy one. As most of the outsourcing is done by American companies, the work timings of call centres are adjusted accordingly. Normal shift hours in a call centre are 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Again, to suit requirement of foreign (American) clientele, the new recruits are given extensive coaching to develop the right British or American accent. They are also introduced to American holidays and baseball scores. In 8 hours time a call centre employee takes around 100 calls answering customer service questions, troubleshooting software problems and assisting customer with credit card inquiries and so on. The norms laid down for these telephonic conversations are most ridiculous. The customer can be vague, he can be rude and he can be abusive making racist or sexist remarks. The employee is given guidelines setting boundaries for conversation. In case the customer becomes unreasonable the employee has to flatten his voice showing as little emotional reaction as possible and hope that customer’s anger doesn’t escalate. Here lies another qualification of the employee. He/She should be patient and culturally trained not to reply back to unjustified remarks. The call centres then prefer women to men. Women have a natural advantage in dealing patiently with short-tempered and abusive customers. Obscure phone calls and the invitations, as well as sexist remarks are considered occupational hazards by women and very few are willing to talk about it. There is another reason why women are preferred to men. The call centres revenue model is very often based on sales performance. It is assumed that male buyers are more likely to make a purchase when women employees talk to them sweetly. According to NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Service Companies), by 2008, there would be around 12 lakhs employees in call centres. At the moment women’s share in the total employment is around 30 to 40%. This proportion is expected to rise in future. We mentioned that a woman’s position gets institutionalised by the task that she is assigned. It should be noted that in the high profile IT industry women are demanded most in call centres.

Those working in call centres think that their occupation is prestigious. They are global, constantly in touch with citizens of the most powerful country in the world-the USA. The ground reality is that their job is monotonous, sometimes unpleasant, and always very stressful. Following the modern management techniques, employees are given efficiency targets and people overwork themselves to fulfill the targets.

The night shift in call centres is called the ‘graveyard shift’. It affects the mental and physical health of both men and women. However, nightshifts are more hazardous for women than for men for two reasons. First of all, women are insecure traveling at night and also in the work place. Secondly women workers after working nightshifts are not able to rest in the daytime, especially if they have small children. Keeping this in view Indian Government had ratified ILO convention prohibiting night shift for women. The call centres were given exemption from this restrictive clause. In the year 2005, the government removed it altogether from the Industry Act and Shop and Establishment Act on grounds that it was discriminatory. All the same when a woman employee of a BPO, Pratibha Murthy was raped and murdered in Bangalore, 50,000 women workers at call centres suddenly discovered how unsafe they were. Similarly, the fact that stress of night duty and the task required makes people give up the job soon. The turn over rate is high and it is higher for women than men.

Lastly, the IT industry as a whole and call centres in particular are exempted from all labour regulation. There are no mechanisms for labour inspectors to conduct inspections, to check the working hours and the working conditions of the employees. The employees have no job security. If the clients are unhappy with the performance of any unit or the task performed by a particular unit is no longer in demand, the whole unit can be closed without giving any explanation. The job contracts say that the employee can quit by giving one month’s notice or the company can end the job after giving one month’s notice. No explanation is required from either side. (http://www.indiatogether.org/2003/may/wom-call.htm)

The next mile stone of the status report of women thus establishes their status as the ‘disadvantaged workers’. They are ‘disadvantaged workers’ everywhere; in agriculture, as home based workers, when employed with the government and when employed in the sunshine IT industry.

The status of women as ‘disadvantaged workers’ has to be viewed in the background of the world production structure; which is being consolidated in the name of globalisation. Every move of metropolitan and national capital is directed towards reducing the share of working class in the global wealth. This insurmountable pressure on labour, naturally hits the most vulnerable hardest. Women enter labour market after fulfilling their responsibilities towards ‘reproduction of labour’ (extended-SNA activities). They have less mobility and less experience to situate themselves advantageously in the available constrained space. And a society which respects profits and not people cannot be expected to reserve economic space for them in this generalised squeeze.

All the talk about ‘gender sensitivity’ by big capital and national and international institutions is nothing more than mere lip service.

We now move on to the status of women as insecure citizens.

Violence against women

Violence in schools: On February 17, 2005, the principal of a government school in north Delhi raped a Class 10 student of the school. The principal, who was also the girl’s private tutor, took the girl to three cronies of his. The four eminently respectable men - a school principal, a vice-principal and two businessmen - gang raped the 16-year old girl during the night. The next morning they sent her back to her parents. A large number of girls in India drop out of the education system around puberty. One of the main reasons parents take girls out of school is the rampant sexual harassment in, and on the way to, school" Girls risk serious danger in their attempt to avail educational facility.

Violence at work: Pratibha Srikanthmurthy a young, 24 year old girl worked in HP Global Services Development, Bangalore. On December 15th 2005, she was returning home in the early hours of the morning. Pratibha was raped and murdered by the cab driver who was supposed to drop her back

Six months later on 25th July 2006, thirty two year old Taanya Banerjee’s body was found lying on the Bangalore-Mangalore highway, near Sakleshpur. She was stabbed 20 times before her body was tossed on the highway. It wasn’t immediately known whether she was raped. Taanya was a Kolkata resident and worked as an accident claims analyst in Aviva call centre. The ghastly rape and murder cases have sent alarm signals all over India.

The Madhya Pradesh Government recently put the responsibility of preventing child marriages on anganwadi workers on 'Akshaya Tritiya' on May 11. An anganwadi worker, Shakuntala Verma, lost both her hands following a violent attack on her when she tried to prevent a child marriage in Dhar district. Shamefully, after the attack the government officials have tried to shield the culprits by spreading the lie that 'the dispute' had nothing to do with child marriage. Incidentally, preventing child marriage is not the job of an anganwadi worker; it is the job of the collector, the government officer, the police and most importantly elected representatives of the area, who often participate in such functions without hesitation in order to influence their would-be voters.

Violence on the street: On 28th February, 2006, Mehar Bhargava, wife of a senior politician was fatally shot on when she lashed out at four men for passing obscene remarks at her daughter-in-law. Bhargava, who was left partially paralysed slipped into coma, before passing away at a Delhi hospital on 25th March. The women in Lukhnow turned out in droves for the post cremation candlelight procession, holding placards calling for a safer society for women.

Lukhnow and Kanpur are becoming nation’s biggest firearm markets. The State capital has some 41,770 licensed arm holders and more than 100 arms and ammunition shops.

Violence at home: Twenty Eight year old Imrana is the wife of Noor Ilahi, rickshaw-puller and part-time brick-kiln worker of Kukda village in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. She has five children. When her husband was away at work, her father-in-law pointed a pistol at her youngest child and forced himself on her. On 13th June, 2005 the community panchayat met. The local clergy present at the panchayat and the leaders declared her marriage to Noor Ilahi haraam or illegal. The logic was that as she had sexual relations (the lack of consensus was not an issue) with the father, she could only be her husband’s mother. On 24th June, Darul Uloom, the school of Islamic instruction and teaching located in Deoband, not very far from Muzaffarnagar, supported the local panchayat’s decision. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav reportedly stated that the decision that Imrana’s relationship with her husband was 'haraam' must have been correct as it had been taken by learned religious leaders.

Women’s groups took up the case in a big way and succeeded in sending her father-in-law to jail. Imarana is able to stay with her husband and children albeit under severe pressure from community and family to withdraw the case.


Imrana case created a major controversy because it spilt out of the domestic four walls. But violence against women within the confines of four walls is lethal. Armed with all kinds of social pressures that it would bring shame to the family, surprisingly many women are forced into marital and extra-marital rape as a matter of routine and they don’t voice any protest. Violence other than sexual violence is also plentiful at home.

In August 2005, the Parliament passed the ‘Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Bill’, 2005. Now law empowers Indian women to protect themselves from violence of any kind occurring within the family. The legislation seeks to protect women from all forms of domestic violence and check harassment and exploitation by family members or relatives. Its main features are following

1. The term ‘domestic violence’ has been made wide enough to encompass every possibility. It covers all forms of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and economic abuse that can harm, cause injury to, and endanger the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, either mental or physical of the aggrieved person. (Ch.II, S.3) This is a genuinely wide definition and covers every eventuality.

2. The definition of an ‘aggrieved’ person is equally wide and covers not just the wife but a woman who is the sexual partner of the male irrespective of whether she is his legal wife or not. The daughter, mother, sister, child (male or female), widowed relative, in fact, any woman residing in the household who is related in some way to the respondent, is also covered by the Act. (Ch.I, S.2 (a)). The respondent under the definition given in the Act is 'any male, adult person who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person' but case can also be filed against relatives of the husband or male partner.

The Act needs to be welcomed of course. But we know that laws alone do not protect. Law implementing agency is required and support of the community is required .Most important is strength of the woman herself to fight for a secure respectful existence. Till then the status report can only point out in ‘bold letters’ that majority women in this country lead an insecure life. They are insecure in their schools, at their workplace, on the street and also at home.

Epilogue: Those of us who owe allegiance to bringing about a radical restructuring in production relations and social and political frame cannot agree to end the report at this dismal note. It is necessary to list small victories. It is necessary to look for tendencies which offer potential to become major worthwhile struggles. Fortunately there are such victories and such possibilities which can be put down.

In September 2004, Arvind Kumar, took charge as district collecter of Hyderabad. He was upset to find that Hyderabad had the lowest child sex ratio (0-6 years) at 942 among all the 23 districts. Sex ratio for the entire Andhra Pradesh was 961. He decided to enforce Per-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act of 1994 in the town and demonstrate that law was after all not toothless. Anganwadi workers were posted at 389 scan centres and asked to report the activities of these centres. On the basis of these reports, notices were issued to 366 scan centres for non-compliance with the PNDT Act. Licenses of 91 centres were cancelled and 83 machines were confiscated. Three suppliers; Wipro GE, Philips and Erbis Engg were prosecuted for supplying machines to clinics with no registration licenses. An analysis of birth registrations figures showed that only in seven month’s time, the number of girls born became more than boys.

Women’s groups in different states have taken up the battle against female foeticides with renewed vigour. In Shimla, 300 activists stormed into clinics shouting slogans and warning doctors against sex determination tests.In Bhopal women took out an impressive rally against killing female foetuses.

The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Bill, 2005 was passed by the parliament in August 2005.

There are 16 major beedi units in Solapur and of the 75,000 women workers, 60,000 are registered and unionised. Shakuntala Panibhate belonging to the CPM union for beedi workers has been mobilising workers on the issue of housing since 1981. Narsayya Adam, CPI (M) MLA from Solapur South formed a cooperative housing society named after Comrade Godutai Parulekar. In 1998, things began to move. The state and the central governments agreed to subsidise the project. On 1st September 2006 Manmohan Singh inaugurated the largest housing project for women workers in Asia. Spread over 425 acres, 10,000 houses have been built for the beedi workers. The women workers will get a self-contained single-storey 255 sq. ft. house with a small plot of land outside. Each house will have water and electricity facilities. For the beedi workers the house is more beautiful than heaven. It is their Taj Mahal.

Anganwadi workers and helpers from all across the country staged a massive demonstration and sat on relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, NewDelhi from 25th July to 3rd August 2006. They demanded recognition as government employees. The services of anganwadi workers and helpers should be regularised as Grade III and Grade IV employees. They demanded wages linked to price index, Provident Fund, ESI and pension. In the meanwhile, their monthly remuneration needs to be increased to Rs. 3,000 for workers and Rs. 2,000 for helpers with immediate effect. Anganwadi workers also asked for universalisation of the ICDS scheme. They asked for opening of more anganwadi centres to cover the 16 crore children below the age of six in the country and formation of a tripartite committee at the national level to look into the entire issue. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responded and ordered a review committee to look into their demands. The committee would submit its report in three month’s time.

The Protection of Woman from Domestic Violence Bill, 2005 was passed by the parliament in August 2005.

Women’s struggle, however, has a far wider dimension than fighting for immediate relief required by them in this unequal exploitative system. It is not sufficient that women get relief in the existing society, it is necessary that women have a definite and effective voice in deciding what the society should be! Women’s mass organisations affiliated to progressive political parties repeatedly take up political stances on national and international issues. Thus we hear of ‘women against communalism’, ‘women against war’, ‘women against imperialism’ and so on. We don’t exactly know that to what extent an illiterate beedi worker (or agricultural labourer) connects with war in Lebanon or Iraq. But, based on her everyday existence, she is capable of taking a stand against violence, against inequality, against hunger, and against letting children die without medicine.

At another level, these illiterate and deprived women come forward to fight big capital and corrupt and sold out state with unimaginable resilience. Women in Plachimada have been in the frontline opposing the working of Coca-Cola factory which took away their water. A satyagraha that lasted for 1588 days ended only on 19th August 2006, when the state government banned the sale and manufacture of Pepsi and Coke in view of findings publicised by Centre for Environment Studies, Delhi.

Poor women from tribal community are also in the frontline in Kashipur, Orissa. These farmers are resisting big corporate companies taking away their land for big profits. Participation of women in large number in Narmada Bachao Andolan and Majdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan is yet another evidence of women tirelessly fighting long battles, fighting for a developmental paradigm which puts people in the centre stage. As we have already said, women can hope to find their rightful place only in a society where people get primacy over profits. Only a society which places ‘labour’ over and above ‘capital’ can respect those who are responsible for reproduction of labour. And, of course, those who are responsible of reproduction of labour have the maximum stake in the revolutionary agenda of finding an alternative to this exploitative capitalist development which takes human civilisation to barbarism.

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