Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

International Women’s Day.

March 8, 2016: I arrived in Jaipur last evening for an overnight stay. As in Jaipur and Rajasthan, there is a lot of buzz and activities to mark the International Women’s Day across India.
A lot of changes have taken place in the Indian society as far as the lives of women are concerned. As a Rajasthani, I have seen the changes happening in the lives of Marwari women. Over the past 30 years or so, more and more women have stepped out of their houses to help their families in business and earn a livelihood. Some have pursued their own interests rather admirably.
Though the conservative Marwari society has also come to accept the fact that it is important to educate the daughters like their sons, a daughter's marriage still remains more important than her career.
I have seen my mother Dr Prabha Khaitan who was one of the first women to break away from the tradition in ways more than one. Not only was she a highly educated lady and a successful industrialist, she was a strong believer of womens' emancipation. Her writings and pennings reveal her boldness, strength and firm belief in gender equality. It is perhaps this belief that made her translate Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in Hindi.
On the other hand, I also witnessed the fact that after my father’s death, my biological mother did not have any control over her tax papers or the shares in her name. In fact, her signatures on these papers were done by some other male members of the family.
I have seen several other Rajasthani women, who, despite belonging to well-known business families, have worked very hard to establish their own identity. Many other young women of the next generation too have turned entrepreneurs and several are well-known corporate honchos today. I feel happy and proud for them. However, there are certain reasons to feel sad too as there is a dark side as well.
To the public eye what may often seem as gender equality is actually far from the truth. Wives of Marwari businessmen may be directors in their husbands’ companies or seem to be business partners but in most cases they end up as the signing authority only for their companies. They actually have no real financial or decision making powers – something that is very crucial for women emancipation.
In most cases, the legal power lies with the husband. I feel sorry to say that I have sometimes seen a convent-educated wife having a major difference of opinion with her husband but she is unable to take any action since her hands are tied. She has no power to sign even where her own bank account is concerned. The real power is held by the husband. In such cases, the women end up giving a nod to their husbands or fathers.
It is a sad and shocking fact that still a majority of these Marwari women have little or no say even in their own financial matters like their bank accounts or income tax returns. It is always a male member of the family who controls it. The patriarchal values are so deeply entrenched in the Indian society and in the psyche of a Marwari woman that despite all the education and finesse, they have not been able to free themselves from these shackles. Not only that, there is very little awareness about it and the women have to accept all the wrongdoings as a part and parcel of their family values and tradition.
I feel very strongly about this and I definitely consider it social ill. It is important to sensitize women on these gender issues and especially the women of Rajasthan since this state is still among those states which covertly or sometimes overtly indulge in female infanticide by throwing newborn girl child in a well or bury her.
On the Women’s Day the first thing that needs to be done is to change the existing situation by formulating a law that will ensure a woman to exercise her financial rights. It is only then that a woman can really call herself free. Till that happens, it would be a mockery of her freedom.
ess bee

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