Monday, July 16, 2007

Moving beyond symbols

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, July 1, 2007


In the 60th year of India’s Independence, a woman becoming the President of India is symbolically important. So we are told. Leave aside the politics surrounding the forthcoming election to the post of President. Forget that electoral mathemati cs ensures that the United Progressive Alliance’s choice, Mrs. Pratibha Patil, will indeed become the next President of India. The question before us women is whether her election to this high office has any meaning for us, whether it will make any difference to women in India, and whether we should welcome such a symbolic gesture on the part of the ruling alliance.

There is no doubt that symbols do have a place. They hold a meaning if they are backed by efforts to bring about changes that go beyond symbols. They are important at times when such a change seems difficult but is part of a struggle. But if they become an excuse to postpone what can and should be done, then they become empty symbols.

Uneven progress

Sixty years after Independence, it is true that the lives of millions of women in India have been transformed. They are now more educated, many of them have skills and economic independence, many have reached high positions and entered careers their mothers could never have dreamed of. But there are also millions who remain as badly off as their mothers, women who have no education, no life skills that can pull them out of poverty, no access to decent health care, often not even a roof over their heads.

For these women, such symbols have no meaning. They need real policies, real action, real change. They need to see and believe that a free India will also mean they can dream of a different life, one that is not crushed under the burden of unrelieved poverty. They need to know that their children have a future where they can aspire for a better existence. They need to hear that their daughters will be able to survive and be valued as human beings.

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