Social Ostracism

In my social networking experience (more in real life rather than in cyber world), I have observed how people interact with each other in a relaxed, social setting. Such experience of observations is phenomenally valuable for anyone, but not at the cost of total silence. One is also expected to participate in such discussions of a relevant topic, which could rather easily come up or present itself via a TV flashing the latest breaking news.

Of late, corruption and terrorism are two issues which keep getting discussed in most social environments. It has become difficult to avoid discussing these issues, as most folks are getting affected either personally, or something happened to someone they know, or they are generally concerned about the happenings in the country.

What is interesting is that when a woman speaks up in a discussion on a social matter, the response gets rather muted (from the men folk obviously). Especially when the topic is a difficult one such as the Delhi High Court judgement approving on non-natural unions, or religious matters, or conformance to social mores, or critique of the joint family system, or caste issue, or similar such matters occupying the attention of the society…….The challenge is the acceptance of womenfolk as equal contributors to discussion involving such sensitive topics.

I am actually very surprised with that reception of contrarian viewpoints by the menfolk. There are two issue in play here – one is that they do not expect such issues to be openly discussed, and the other is that they do not expect a woman to challenge conventional norms of “expected” response or non-response. It is no wonder that less than 30% of Indian women actually work and contribute to national GDP, as they are not accepted totally. This is total injustice. If you look at China, nearly 49% of women participate in economic contribution to the society. In most advanced countries, the percentage is more than 40. However, in what is claimed to be the second most economically dynamic country in the world today, that percentage is some 26%.

When we get into discussion on high infant mortality rates, low literacy rates, the operation of village panchayats in determining the fate of young inter-caste couples who elope, and similar topics, it gets rather interesting to see the total exclusion of the women and their eventual retirement into “ladies’ talk” rather than participate aggressively and impact the opinion. Not their fault though. It is the way Indian men are made – they do not relish the intrusion into what is essentially a male-dominated society by rather intelligent women who can challenge the status quo.

How can we say that India has arrived in the 21st Century as a “developed” nation ? On any globally recognized measure, India does not qualify to be a fully developed country – it may not achieve that status in our lifetime. It is not globally competitive (the Global Competitiveness Index for India fell from rank #51 to #56 for the current year, as per the World Economic Forum), while China was far ahead at rank #26. It fares very poorly in the Transparency International’s Corruption Index (I am not giving the figures here, it is shameful to publish). It has high inflation over 10%. And, more than anything else, it fails on the societal development issues – women are lagging far behind men, they do not get paid the same, female children are not openly encouraged, and if and when they express bold views, we just ignore them or worse, they get ostracized from their community groups.

It requires a concerted effort by the government to change things. We always need the government to make big changes in this country, that is not good but there is little non-governmental action going on. Yes, yes, there are good and efficient NGOs in the country, but not enough. Will the government make changes to ensure that women get treated fairly in society ? What will it do specifically to improve the lot of women ?

Another blog post is surely required on this topic !

Vijay Srinivasan
10th Sep 2011


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