Narrativising Women Empowerment in India

Publication Date01 Jan 2015
AuthorBidyut Chakrabarty
DOI10.1177/0019556120150101
SubjectArticle
NARRATIVISING WOMEN EMPOWERMENT IN
INDIA
BIDYUT CHAKRABARTY
Gender equality and women empowerment are two critical
pillars
of
inclusive development. Despite being
half
of
the
population, women never seem to have obtained what they
deserve from society presumably because
of
well-entrenched
patriarchal ·bias. Needless to say, there are innumerable
progressive legislations addressing this socio-economic
imbalance; nonetheless, they continue to remain
at
the
receiving end given the prevalence
of
the mindset upholding
well-entrenched prejudices. How to combat such a mindset?
Drawn on empirical data, the article argues that education
is a great leveler.
By
focusing on various schemes relating to
women empowerment, the article further shows that the well-
entrenched prejudiced mindset can be effectively combated by
making women aware
of
their rights and also by raising their
voice
in
case they are infringed. It is easier said than done.
Nonetheless, specific legal stipulations
to
challenge patriarchal
prejudices in the socio-economic system
need
also to be
complemented by parallel movements involving the masses
regardless
of
gender,· otherwise, the entire exercise, the article
underlines, shall become futile. In that sense, movements
for
women empowerment and gender equality
do
not seem to be
exclusive, but inclusive both in aims and agenda-setting.
IN THE context
of
growing democratisation in India, gender equality
and women empowerment have gained tremendous significance in
contemporary political discourses on freedom and equality. Although the
founding fathers devoted a great deal
of
attention, the issue
of
gender
rights was never addressed conclusively. B.R. Ambedkar proposed the
Hindu Code Bill seeking to protect some basic women rights, like the
right
to
divorce, outlawing polygamy, granting
of
inheritance rights and
recognition
of
inter-caste marriage, among others. Despite being tuned to
the fundamental constitutional ethos
of
freedom and equality, the Bill was
21
INDIAN
JOURNAL
OF
PUBLIC
ADMINISTRATION
VOL.
LXI,
NO.
J,
JANUARY-MARCH
2015
knocked down in the lower house notwithstanding the support that the Prime
Minister, J awaharlal Nehru, extended, presumably because it threatened the
patriarchal social framework.
Conceptually, the ideas
of
gender equality and women empowerment
are not difficult to comprehend since they are dialectically inter-connected.
The difficulty arises as soon as one draws one's attention to the context
because these are also context-dependent. These ideas thus do not have
universal connotation as there is a clear variation in their meanings and
articulation in historical time and space. Just like the conceptualisation
of
human freedom the contour
of
which is being constantly expanded, the ideas
of
gender equality and women empowerment acquire newer dimensions
almost every day out
of
daily struggles over issues
of
discrimination
involving women as well. This is indicative
of
two interdependent processes:
on
the one hand, it is theoretically debilitating
if
one ignores the wider
socio-economic circumstances challenging discrimination
of
any variety
which is also linked with struggles for survival. Underlining the dialectics
between specific and wider struggle, it is thus argued that battle for gender
equality is intimately linked with the challenge against unequal social mores
and practices which are also justified by the legal code
of
conduct. Linked
with this is, on the other hand, another important process which leads to
empowerment
of
those involved in the struggle. What it means is that the
endeavour for change is also suggestive
of
the proactive role
of
those who
are encouraged because
of
the prevalent socio-economic circumstances to
take up the cudgel against norms, values and legal stipulations which are
usually justified as 'normal'
or
'appropriate'. So, deliberations
on
these
issues remain incomplete without paying adequate attention to the struggle
that leads to socio-economic metamorphosis which is always indicative
of
change in relative terms,
but
may not have conclusively resolved the issues
that provoked resentment at the first instance.
The aim in this article is to understand the issues
of
gender equality and
women empowerment in India in a historical context. Given the distinct
socio-economic texture
of
the Indian social context, the Western outlook
on the feminist issues does not appear to
be
exactly appropriate though
it
will be a definite aid to conceptualise Indian feminism in a proper historical
perspective. This is an attempt to grasp the Indian feminism with reference
to the socio-economic context in which it is articulated and given a precise
meaning which may also have resonance elsewhere. So women issues have
both specificities and universal character at the same time. Despite visible
changes in their being in many contemporary societies, there is no doubt
that women continue to face difficulties in getting their voice heard in public
which perhaps means that prejudices against women empowerment are
universal. This also raises another serious theoretical point
on
the relative

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