Every year, in the month of October, 80% of Indian population, the Hindus, celebrate the festival of Sharada Navaratri in the honor of female goddess Durga. The festival isn’t trifling by any means — observed for a duration of nine nights (and ten days), the entire country rejoices in feasts, dances, prolonged fasting and numerous other religious ceremonies. Every day a different avatar of Goddess Durga is worshipped with same devotion as the day before.
While there is no age-limit to the idols the country adores, India’s patriarchy begins to surface the moment divinity is translated to humanity. Young girls typically under the age of 11 are considered as ‘Devi Roop (Goddess’ Image) and devotees wash their feet symbolizing that respect. Girls who have had their first period on the other hand, are ‘not chaste enough’ to be considered equally respectable. The entire country has normalized this tradition by closely tying it to religion. In fact I did not question it for more than three decades, convinced, there is a voice of reason behind this sacred tradition. Never cared to inspect further. Not until the pandemic.
A few months past March 2020, a few of my married female friends decided to take unpaid vacations or quit jobs altogether. The disproportionate burden of childcare, motherhood and domestic chores was impacting their performance at work. Their husbands ‘supported this decision’ by volunteering to ‘run the house as a single earner’. The conversation of trying to redistribute domestic work amongst themselves did not happen since his job was ‘important for his career trajectory’.
Placed next to this reality, the image of a nation worshipping female divinity started to fade out. Why do we worship female incarnation of God but disassociate ourselves with the tragedies of real-life earthlings reflective of her? Who decided that the cost of opportunity for an entire household is to be borne by the women? And why do we think the conversations around gender equity are only a matter of regulation and not religion?
Out of curiosity, I started looking at pre-pandemic state of affairs. All of my questions would always stop at ‘culture & beliefs’. Unsurprisingly, the burden of upholding societal expectations grows exponentially as a woman’s economic status depletes. Deeply entrenched social norms in favor of males have pushed a giant load of thankless work towards women, denying them access to opportunities, dignity and safety.
Unpaid Care and Domestic Work
Women in India spend 312 minutes/day in urban areas and 291 minutes/ day in rural areas on unpaid care work. Men correspondingly spend only 29 minutes (urban) and 32 minutes (rural) on unpaid care work. (2). This roughly translates to a difference of 577% !
Although unpaid, women’s contribution to domestic work acts as a ‘hidden subsidy to the economy’. Supporting men and society via every day chores sometimes take away 7–8 hours of their day, leaving no time for career, education or just leisure. There is no social protection system invested in the care economy nor does the definition of ‘work’ by NSSO, recognizes domestic work as an economic activity. In fact even household conversations around re-definition of ‘work’ and redistribution of domestic work are met with immense criticism and in some cases, violence:
The knowledge of cooking doesn’t come pre-installed in a vagina. Domestic work is a skill both men and women should have. It is also a skill that can elude both men and women. — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2016)
Access to Opportunity
When there is job scarcity, women continue to believe that men have more right to opportunities than women. A Pew research study in India found that there is a strong societal belief, amongst both the employer and employee, which favors this notion. By conceding their opportunities to men, most women in the country pave economic pathways for men towards independence, stability and power.
84% respondents (including women) agree that privilege to an opportunity is reserved for men, showcasing the disturbing reality of a society where ‘The Man of the house’ continues to be in a position of power.
An Unsafe Country
Every day, 88 rape cases are reported in India while the conviction rate is a mere 30%.
With a 70% chance of walking away with minimal or no consequences at all, the rape monstrosity of ‘use-and-throw’ , ‘use-and-kill’ and more recently ‘use-and-burn’ is compounding unchecked.
Indian women are constantly worried for their safety as well as that of their daughters and feel dependent on the support of a male. There is an extended mental exhaustion as they face everyday dilemmas of consequences to expressing an opinion or standing up for a cause they believe in. Fear is an emotion that persistently drains India’s women, always putting them in the ‘dependent’ bucket.
Goddess Or Not?
One might argue that there have been extensive regulations and laws in recent years to promote female workforce participation and to help women finally get the workplace dignity and respect they deserve.
The fact of the matter, however, remains that our religious beliefs and how we actually treat our women are two disparate realities. To be a woman and co-exist in both these realities is only the work of a true Goddess. The sooner we realize that and truly re-engineer our societies towards what our scriptures preach, will we become a society of ‘culture and beliefs’. Until then, we are simply a slush of barbaric norms slyly cast as ‘ Parampara & Sabhyata’.
- Menon, S., Tomy, D., & Kumar, A. (n.d.). FEMALE WORK AND LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION IN INDIA — A Meta-Study. Retrieved from https://www.sattva.co.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Sattva_UNDP_Female-Work-And-Labour-Force-Participation-In-India.pdf
- Singh, P., Pattanaik, F. Unfolding unpaid domestic work in India: women’s constraints, choices, and career. Palgrave Commun 6, 111 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-020-0488-2
- TIMESOFINDIA.COM / Updated: Oct 7, 2. (n.d.). India sees 88 rape cases a day; conviction rate BELOW 30%: India news — times of India. Retrieved March 06, 2021, from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/78526440.cms?