Peace and Freedoms for Indian Women in the Digital Era
BRICS, 2 Mar 2015
Happy International Women’s Day on 8 March!
Women are part of human body. If one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. There is no peace in personal life as well as in the life of a nation if any part would suffer. Democracy has brought a new light for repressed classes, but sorrowfully it has not kept its promise for a promised land for women. On the one hand, women in India are at the peak of their success like Indira Gandhi who became Prime Minister of India. On the other hand, the vast majority is suffering silently. Violence and prejudice against them are dying, but the rate is painfully slow.
The easy availability of information technology even in remote areas is going to open a new chapter for women in India. The emerging digital era will give them a wide range of options and a power to be more self-aware, more enlightened and economically independent. Women will be more decisive as mothers, wives, taxpayers and as humans. As mothers, they will develop courage to say if their sons should go to wars to kill the sons of others. As taxpayers, their views will be honored in political circles. They will have the means to give better education to their children and also for themselves even without stepping out of their homes. Digital technology will provide them with opportunities to continue education within their homes even after their marriage. Those who do not
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send their daughters to colleges and universities for religious or other reasons can make education available to them within the walls of their homes.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, said “you can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women.” Nehru was a historian and a reformer, as well as a politician. He knew that the country cannot make evident progress towards peace and prosperity unless women who are almost half of the population also become equally active contributors. Half of this half population in India cannot read and write.
India is, as it has always been, shrouded in mystical contradictions. Often talked about contradictions are more visible in the treatment of women than anywhere else. In Riga Veda, which was written between 1700 BC and 3000 BC, women have been praised in different capacities, including as sages and daughters-in law. They have been symbolized as the goddesses Durga and Laxmi. Laxmi stands for prosperity and peace. This human goddess is not allowed to chant Vedic hymns though there is nothing in the Vedas against it. In Indian culture, women have been put on the pedestal of a goddess. This goddess is not safe even in the twenty-first century on streets and in jails. Indian women have suffered for centuries due to her illiteracy. At the same time, India has produced some notable liberated and learned women in the world. Though the legal age of a girl to marry is 18 years, she has no say in the choice of her husband and is married at an early age. Though the dowry system has been banned, it is still growing stronger. Another contradiction is about the fetal sex determination and sex selection that is a crime, but its practice is common.
One institution that subjugates women brutally is the dowry system. Parents spend handsome amounts to give dowry as gift to the side of the boys to find decent husbands for their daughters. Often the parents of the girls have to borrow that money. Though the dowry system has been illegal since 1961, this institution is flourishing. Though this brutality has been declared illegal by the constitution of India, there are still stories of women being burnt or killed for not bringing enough dowry. This and other problems prompt parents to abort female fetus. Thousands of female fetuses are aborted every year. Because of discrimination even when she is in the womb, there is a higher mortality rate among females. It is ironic that on one hand, a woman is considered a symbol of goddess Laxmi and on the other, her birth is not welcome.
Women have suffered and are still suffering discrimination from womb to tomb. Manu has deeply degraded women in his Manusmirti, a book of conduct for Hindus that appears to have been compiled between 100 and 300 A.D. This book establishes the doctrine of superiority based on the caste system that provides the philosophical basis for the antiwomen mindset. Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) that is still in power in some provinces and influential in some others, and also its ideological parents the Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh (RSS) support this book that debases women. The book documents that women are
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not fit for independence. It also documents that women should be kept under control of men when they attach themselves to sensual pleasures and wives become disloyal to their husbands, no matter how closely they are guarded. Before Manu, the status of women in India was much better.
For centuries Indian women suffered also due to the Sati tradition that goes back to 2000 years A.D. Sati refers to a virtuous woman who burns herself on her husband’s funeral fire to go straight to heaven. A widow who did not burn herself had worse life because she was not allowed to marry again and was forced to shave her head, eat once a day and sleep on the floor. When the British came, they banned the custom of Sati in 1829.
There had been also a mysterious and controversial cult who had girls called Davadasis. Under the cover of temple women this cult exploited girls for prostitution. In some areas, several wives are allowed for men for economic or other reasons. There are several other ways to degrade women.
There are women also in orthodox Muslim families who are not encouraged to go to schools and are forced to live under veils from head to toe. They are not allowed to choose their spouses and to work outside their homes. Education of most women, particularly in the rural areas, stop after their arranged compulsory marriage at an early age.
The status of Dalit women is most tragic in some parts of India. The word Dalit includes untouchables. Dalits have been trained for centuries to believe that they are impure. They live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated and beaten. They are forced into unclean jobs at minimum of wages. They suffer as females and also as untouchables. They suffer from the upper cast Hindus and also from their own folk. In some parts, they are no better than the slaves had been in the United States of America. Slavery was abolished about two hundred years ago in the USA. In India, millions of women from Dalit communities are still being treated as slaves and sold in the concubine trade. Roughly, there are more than one hundred millions Dalit women in India. There are countless human rights violations against them. According to Zee News of March 9, 2007, “A United Nations panel has expressed concern over what it called an alarming number of allegations of acts of sexual violence against Dalit and tribal women in India, who were being trafficked and forced into prostitution.”
There have been reformers who tried to free women from their chains. What they and the laws have not been able to achieve, the digital technology is going to achieve. India has started basking in the sun of the digital era. Once this sun starts moving towards its zenith, it will massively melt the effects of the adverse opinions and discriminatory practices against women. Economics largely shapes human relations and government policies.
If democracy is to be strengthened in India, it is vitally important for its population of more than one hundred million Dalit women to be free from the shackles of illiteracy and
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economic miseries. These freedoms are the central pillars for the success of democracy. Without a proper democratic structure there cannot be peace and real prosperity within the country. A democratic constitution is not enough in itself. In order to be democratic, a country needs a free press, independent judiciary and free participation in decision-making processes by minorities and especially by economically backward communities. Also, the country needs an atmosphere of tolerance. Dalits deserve a climate of tolerance and also the means to remove the boulders of illiteracy and poverty. The absence of this climate poses a tough challenge to the structure of democracy. Education will let women know their rights and responsibilities and to discharge them intelligently. Economic freedom will provide them a climate to exercise their votes properly. Poverty and illiteracy reduce democracy to a shame and lay the groundwork for corrupt politicians. With illiteracy among more than one million women, the oak of democracy cannot nourish. Illiteracy and poverty are the natural enemies of democracy. Education is the gateway to women’s empowerment that solidifies the base for the edifice of the constitutional rule to be meaningful. Women can contribute to prosperity and peace only if they are also educated, economically independent and healthy to be able to make decisions and implement them. A population that is poor, ill-informed, oppressed and unhealthy cannot be of any help to a nation.
The digital era will prove that Shakespeare was right who towards the end of 16th century said that men rule the world but women rule the rulers. The world would be a better place to live if these rulers of the rulers are enlightened. It is also said that educating a woman is educating a generation. Information technology would help to say goodnight to illiteracy among Dalits and even others who are far from the big cities. They will become productive partners of the nation.
The author of Manusmrit and its followers would faint to hear that man of today has failed to create peace and a time has come to give a chance to woman. Its journey may start from India that has produced and is still producing prominent women in the fields of arts, diplomacy, administration, teaching, business, army, space technology, medicine, engineering, politics and the list can go on. Where men have failed, women may emerge to lead the nation to new heights of peace in the digital era.
In the digital era, the process of peace will not be handled just by activists and politicians. This process will be handled also by knowledgeable and economically independent women who will eventually realize that their love for their children will shape their sons and daughters to become better administrators and politicians of tomorrow. Peace is the outcome of love and mothers can give it in abundance and intelligently when their baskets are filled with the flowers of education. The new technology that is impacting all aspects of life is expected to impact dramatically the alchemy of peace in and outside of India. The emerging digital era will give women more muscles of enlightenment to be able to play their roles more independently and intelligently in domestic and international affairs.
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The new era will foster an unprecedented migration of women to distant geographical regions and will encourage interracial and intercultural marriages that would build bridges for understanding. Immigrants and the new generation from these marriages would accept other cultures more readily than their parents did. Even those immigrants who preserve their ethnic identities closely are open to admire other cultures. The practice of marrying outside one’s ethnic and religious group promotes a universal outlook and social harmony. This practice is going to be widened in the digital era that will accelerate the process of understanding among nationalities and races. Christian theologians, including St. Thomas and St. Augustine, were against marriages within clans and families because they wanted to overcome obstacles in the way of larger social institutions. The digital era would go one step further. It will encourage marriages with partners of other nations.
International and intercultural marriages through the internet will become more common. This would remove caste and religion from marriages. Mobility will be more frequent. Most religious and social stigmas are also due to fear from parents, relatives, friends and members of own caste. Once women, particularly from Dalit communities, move to unknown areas of the world, they will be able to marry the men of their choice without any stigmas of the birth. Immigration, the greater ease of travel and digital communications will bring down barriers and encourage intercultural and interracial marriages that would improve the status of women, particularly from Dalit families. This will contribute to the understanding among nations and improve the climate of peace in India and around the world.
These intercultural and interracial marriages are going to shrink the world further. Mobility among the citizens of different nations will increase. The birds of new cultures will sing freely everywhere. Interracial marriages create an atmosphere that is conducive to the garden of culture to flourish to a degree unparalleled in the history of civilization. Immigrants and new generation from such marriages will realize that a minority in a country is no longer weak, and the majority is no longer as strong as it used to. be. The philosophy of live and let live is the moral beacon for the mutual survival that has been a constant message of the sages of the East.
What those sages from the East have not been able to achieve, the digital era that was initiated in the West, will achieve through women. International corporations, that are more powerful than some national governments, will set up their outlets for jobs wherever the labor is cheaper and more profit is possible. They do not care for birth stigmas, men and women and black or white. Information technology is based on knowledge and intellect and it is available to the powerful and rich as well as to the weak and poor. This technology has demolished most of the walls and boundaries and is going to demolish even more. There is no discrimination in the digital industry against women, who are already on the
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increase in colleges and universities. Women software professionals have dramatically increased now. Some call centers prefer women because of the softness of their voice. Moreover, this industry is flexible to hire employees on an hourly basis that provides good incentive to housewives. Also there are sites on the internet for women to take care of their health and education. This knowledge would stop the female infanticide that is common among uneducated Dalits. Through the internet women will come to know what their counterparts are doing in other countries.
However, there are millions of poor Dalit families and others who do not have access to digital technology. Eventually, governments and international economic forces will make use of these unexplored sources. The profit-seekers of information technology may go to these unexplored areas and communities. In return, these depressed and outcast communities would be economically powerful and independent. Women would be freer and able to express themselves in the newly-found environment of economical freedom. The digital era has started changing housewives from diffident to confident civic conscious citizens. Reformers, including Guru Nanak, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Swami Dayanand and Mahatma Gandhi, could not bring the desired results. Even the laws of the British and free India have not improved the status of women. In certain sectors, the situation has grown more unpleasant. The air of change will free women from most miseries in the digital era. This air has started blowing and will be blowing harder and pleasantly in less than five years from now. The digital era will achieve for women, particularly Dalits, what reformers and laws could not. This will alter the destiny of India.
This encouraging fast trend that has the capacity to alter the destiny of India can be seriously impeded by two major disasters. These disasters can sap the energy of India. One of them is war. Wars arrest the progress of a nation and destroy the natural resources. Even during peace, bombs and tanks are not productive- they do not bring any revenue. On the other hand, the country needs money to take care of them.
Another disaster is caused by terrorists, who hit the belly of economic prosperity. Terrorists do not want tourists to bring foreign exchange in to the country and also they do not want businesses to prosper. Most of the time the national governments spend money and time to find these terrorists and to defend the rights of their citizens.
India loses its natural resources, manpower and taxpayers money whenever there are wars and terrorist attacks. Tourists shun the countries which are unsafe and international investors look for safe environments for their businesses. Under the threats of wars and terrorism, the digital technology would remain confined to large cities in a limited way, whereas most women who are educationally and economically backward in the areas that are far from the centers would continue suffering. These are mostly the Dalit women who will pay the price under those situations.
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It is in the interest of democracy and human rights to encourage information technology to enter the backward areas. The government and service organizations can work to make its entry easy and rapidly feasible. Just the cell phones are known to have benefited women in small businesses where they have handled their businesses and also their family issues. At present, most benefits are largely confined to towns and cities because most rural areas do not have the equipments and skills for women to take full advantage of this technology.
Among the negative factors of the digital era, isolation is a major one. Working from home would bring more isolation to women. However, women from orthodox Muslim families and Dalits are already isolated. They will not be as isolated as they are at present because they will be in touch with the rest of the world. They will be able to pass their time in meaningful persuasions. At the same time, they will be close to their home environment, particularly their children.
Canada based multiple award winning Stephen Gill has authored more than twenty books, including fiction, literary criticism, and collections of poems. He is the subject of doctoral dissertations, and research papers. Eleven books have been released by book publishers on his works and two more are to be released shortly. The main area of his writing is world peace. (Websites: www.stephengill.ca www.stephengillcriticism.info )
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Mar 2015.
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