Pretty in Pink- The economics of social change in India
I do not care much for the colour pink. I have very few pink outfits in my closet, I squashed the idea of a pink cover for my first novel and have never bought pink toys for my daughter. However, I was happy to see the pink cover latest economic survey says columnist Nirupama Subramanian.
Pink, whether one likes the color or not, has been associated with women. Pink, explained the economic advisor shows our support for women’s movements across the country.
Women’s empowerment and gender equality are not just sociological or cultural issues. When the government links these parameters to the economic development of the nation, it is no longer a fluffy pink issue, once the domain of feminists and khadi clad activists. Recent IMF research says that women’s participation can boost the Indian economy by 27%. Women’s issues are mainstream, urgent and important.
Women’s empowerment and gender equality are not just sociological or cultural issues
The survey does not throw up anything new. India has performed better in several parameters but we still have a meta preference for sons, kill off female babies and deny right to education to many of our girls. The government has introduced several schemes to support girls like the Beti bachao, beti padhao scheme the Sukanya Samridhi scheme etc. The current budget offers a higher take home for women employees, loans to self help groups. Niti Ayog is actively supporting women entrepreneurs. All good. So, parents should now be happy to have daughters and women should happily enter the workforce contributing to economic growth and development.
Here is where it gets bizarre. Imagine investing your life’s savings in a blue chip stock and then forgoing all claims to the dividend. Foolish but this is exactly what happens in our society.
The current budget offers a higher take home for women employees, loans to self help groups.
As per The Married Woman’s Property Act, a woman’s earnings after marriage are separate and she is entitled to use it as she deems fit. But the reality is different. It is expected that the boy will support his parents when they grow old. For this undertaking, he is glorified at birth, pampered and well nourished as a growing boy and pandered to as a man. A man who abandons his parents is a villain, a social outcast. A girl is expected to give up hers. She is given to her in-laws to do with as they please. There are no expectations from her parents. She will be treated as a ‘guest’ at their homes if she returns. Her earnings are now the property of her in laws, as she herself is. Even in affluent urban households, many in-laws frown upon their bahus giving anything to their parents. His money is his but hers is also their money.
A married daughter’s earnings are taboo. There are women who do provide some financial support to their parents, but they are the exception not the norm
Even if the woman does earn a living, the returns do not flow back to the original investor. Usually, any money or at least a portion of what a single woman earns is put aside by the parents to pay for her dowry. A married daughter’s earnings are taboo. There are women who do provide some financial support to their parents, but they are the exception not the norm.
A quick dipstick survey of the women in my neighborhood revealed that all parents baulked at accepting any financial support from their daughters. My mother is not pleased when I insist on paying for her air tickets to visit me. My friend’s in laws visit for two months and expect expensive gifts but parents rarely stay longer than a week unless it is to help out with grandchildren. Many daughters and the sons-in-law are willing to help out with finances but the parents of daughters would not accept such help unless it is a dire emergency. This is the situation in educated urban households.
We cannot expect the government to change mindsets through budgetary provisions. Everyone needs to take collective responsibility
Ironically, in the so called underprivileged class, most of the main breadwinners of the family are women. My maid works five homes to support her family- her husband is a useless wastrel. My cook lives away from her family in Japlaguri and sends home her earnings. In the village, the women are the ones who toil in the fields, feed the cattle and care for the family. They are still treated badly, assaulted by strangers, beaten by drunken husbands; their rights are still curtailed by the community.
Tradition seems to trump economics and the law.
It is time to break out of this vicious cycle. I know that many parents in my generation would hate to be dependent on our children-boys or girls, when we grow old. I would like to believe that more people are having children for reasons other than social security. But the numbers are too few, the change too slow. Our economic condition and social infrastructure is not well developed enough for everyone to become altruistic saints and let go of all expectations of monetary support from the children. The solution lies, not with yet another Supreme Court judgement or government scheme but in the minds of people.
This will take longer. We cannot expect the government to change mindsets through budgetary provisions. Everyone needs to take collective responsibility. If parents can stop looking at a male child as a pension plan, it eases the pressure on the man to become the main bread winner, to carry the burden of being the sole provider and caretaker. If parents can stop treating a female child as a long term liability, she can grow up to become an interest bearing security. Then perhaps economic growth and social change can go hand in hand.
Views are the author’s own.