Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Indian Woman - A Perspective

India is undergoing seismic shifts which are transforming the country’s economic setup, consumer attitudes, political system and even the traditional family unit. While in most other spheres the function of most stakeholders has altered; in the case of the household it is the role of women that has experienced the most visible changes. No longer confined to the four walls of a house, a tempting description of the modern Indian woman could be - a highly educated and driven career woman, fighting neck to neck to create her place under the sun. While not entirely incorrect, this would be an incomplete description. However ambitious she may be, the Indian woman is still the strongest pillar supporting the family architecture. She still remains a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister before embarking on the journey of realizing her professional dreams.

India has the world’s largest number of professionally qualified women
[1] and the highest number of women executives heading financial institutions[2]. With intelligent women abounding globally, it is not talent alone that has enabled Indian women to attain this distinction. It is not even that India is not a male dominated society so that women have it easier; much to the contrary actually. There are no gender biased judicial privileges that make it simpler for Indian women to scale these heights. However, in their mothers (and mothers-in-law) Indian women find invaluable and selfless contribution in running the household and bringing up children. It is the affection, devotion and stamina of mothers (and mothers-in-law) which have allowed the modern Indian woman to lead a satisfied life without compromising either her family or her career.

Co-existing with this Fortune magazine cover gracing female personalities is another segment of the modern Indian women which believes that the utilization of education, experience and exposure is most worthwhile in grooming children into becoming worthy and stable individuals. The tremendous sacrifice of these women, who give up lucrative career opportunities to provide early guidance, emotional stability and a support system, enhances the independence and intelligence of their children (as research has proven
[3]). The Indian youth owes its success and well being in a big way to the Indian mother.

It is not just as a mother that the Indian woman cares for her family. The quintessential Indian wife has always walked along side her husband partaking some of his responsibilities. It is often for this reason that the modern Indian woman works, to guarantee that there is more than ample not just for her husband and children but also for the extended family. While she works hard to bolster the family, the modern Indian woman also handles compromises and change with equanimity to ensure that any transition is smooth for the family. It is a well known fact that today’s global enterprise and pride of India, Infosys, was started with the savings of Mrs. Sudha Murty, wife of the current Infosys Chief Mentor. Mrs. Murty’s faith in her husband, her unflinching support towards his passion, and her ability to successfully run the household with a smaller financial corpus has given the world one of its leading IT and consulting firms.
[4] Not only did she provide the monetary means but in the subsequent year quit her promising job to relocate with her husband and help him in his business endeavour. No wonder they say that behind every successful man there is a woman! The modern Indian woman should be proud of herself for the same.

And while the mothers and the wives do their bits, the daughters can only learn from them. A society that has since time immemorial been biased towards the male child, is today beginning to witness an unthinkable tide. Daughters are providing for and taking care of their parents increasingly. Sullaja Firodia Motwani is an example of a daughter who is a father’s pride. Despite being born in a business family, Sullaja carved her own path and worked for a financial consulting firm in the US before returning to India to head that same company’s operations. However, when her father’s business started to see tougher times, Sullaja gave up her job and donned the hat of the co-captain in order to manoeuvre the Kinetic group out of troubled waters. She could have left the task to her brother alone and stuck to the identity she had created for herself. But acknowledging her responsibilities she stepped in and accepted the challenge.

The world talks about female infanticide, dowry deaths and female sexual harassment in India. What the world forgets to realize in the interim is that in these changing times, the contemporary Indian woman is sometimes faced with contradicting identities. While the feminist activists push her to one extreme, the tradionalist conservatives push her towards the other. The woman herself in the process is lost. However, in my opinion the identity of the Indian woman is what it always has been and can be simply described as:

"Kaaryeshumantri Karaneshudasi Bhoyjeshumata Sayaneshurambha
Dharmanukula Kshamayadharitri Sadgunmetatv hi Pavitranam
Syabharya Bhartasmanugamini Nityam Madhuvaktri Sabharya hi Bhakti"

Translated from Sanskrit in my interpretation as:

The one wise as a minister, who toils with endless energy and is the provider of food and luxuries,
The one who helps pick the right from wrong, has an endless capacity to forgive, is a collection of virtues and a pillar of purity,
The one who walks along side providing unconditional support, always has a kind word to say and is an epitome of sincerity

There remains little room for confusion now but ample for progress and prosperity.

This piece is dedicated foremost to my mother, a qualified lawyer and an accomplished classical singer, who gave up her career possibilities for her family. We are all indebted to her for the same. Next, this is dedicated to my elder sister who in my childhood was a second mother (much to my dislike). A very qualified dietician and a nutritionist she has decided to work only part time as her priority now are her two children. And lastly this is for my maternal grandmother, who from an early age taught me the importance of discipline and devotion.

[1] Source: www.mapofindia.com

[2] Three of the world’s largest surviving banking institutions’ operations in India (JP Morgan, HSBC and UBS) are headed by women. Fidelity Asset management, PWC and rating agency Crisil are other examples of organizations with women at the helm. Indian banking institutions such as RBI and ICICI have had women steering them for a long time now and in that respect are a global rarity.
[3] Jim Brown, Agape Press, November 14, 2005

Two new studies indicate parents might want to reconsider sending their children to daycare or preschool. In one study, Stanford University and University of California researchers found that children who spend more than six hours a day in center-based care outside the home showed poor social skills. According to the researchers, the children in the investigation showed "diminished levels of cooperation, sharing, motivated engagement in classroom tasks, and greater aggression. And in another study, this one conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a researcher found that kids who spent long hours in daycare and preschool exhibited "poorer work habits and poorer social skills through third grade." These children, according to the study, tended more than others to have trouble concentrating and completing their school work.

[4] Source: Sudha Murty’s Autobiography: “In 1981 Murty wanted to start Infosys. He had a vision and zero capital…initially I was very apprehensive about Murty getting into business. We did not have any business background .. Moreover we were living a comfortable life in Bombay with a regular pay check and I didn’t want to rock the boat. But Murty was passionate about creating good quality software. I decided to support him. Typical of Murty, he just had a dream and no money. So I gave him Rs 10,000 which I had saved for a rainy day, without his knowledge and told him, this is all I have. Take it. I give you three years sabbatical leave. I will take care of the financial needs of our house. You go and chase your dreams without any worry. But you have only three years!”

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