India is celebrating its 75th year of independence, having gained freedom from British rule and becoming an independent nation on 15th August 1947. Since then, it has made commendable progress in diverse fields, including the sharp progress its women
have made. This may be the right time for a review.
Education and Health
Let us take a basic health and education indicator each. According to 1941 census, women’s literacy rate was a cringemaking 7.3 percent; in 2021, India’s National Statistical Office puts it at a far less shameful 70.3 percent.
According to the country’s Sample Registration System (SRS) report from the Registrar General of India (RGI), maternal mortality rate during 2016-18 was a disappointing 113 per 100,000 live births; but that is remarkably better than the situation in 1940s India, where the maternal mortality was 2,000 per 100,000 live births.
The average life expectancy for females has increased by 100 percent in India since 1947 when the life expectancy of an average Indian citizen was only 32 years (yes, you are reading it correctly)!
It is heartening that according to the Ministry of Education related AISHE (All India Survey on Higher Education) 2019-20 report, women in India accounted for 49 percent of the total enrollment in higher education. At the national-level, there was an increase of 18 percent in female enrollment in higher education in India from 2015 to 2019, an indication that Indian women are not only progressing but are doing it fast.
However, the holistic or rather fantastic progress of Indian women in all spheres during these 75 years couldn’t be accurately gauged by mere statistics.
Politics and Justice
Though India is still a male dominated society with strong patriarchal values governing its socio-politics we have to acknowledge that during these last 75 years, millions and millions of Indian women have broken some patriarchal shackles and moved towards empowerment.
India got its first female prime minister in 1966 (Indira Gandhi) and two women presidents in 2007 (Pratibha Patil) and 2022 (Droupadi Murmu), respectively. Today, Sonia Gandhi not only leads the Indian National Congress, the oldest and the principal opposition party in India but is also the party’s longest-serving president in its 137-year history.
Fathima Beevi became the first female judge in the Supreme Court of India in 1989, and since then the highest court of India had 11 women judges.
Protecting the Nation
Exemplary ladies in India have proved over the years that women can not only lead the country and dispense justice effectively but can also protect us from social evil and state’s enemies through their courage and prowess.
Today many brave and strong women in the Indian Police Service, like Sanjukta Parashar (who shot down 16 militants. caught many terrorists alive and seized tons of arms and ammunition during her tenure in Assam), Merin Joseph, Sangeeta Kalia (daughter of a retired carpenter) and Dr. Ruveda Salam (the first women IPS officer from Kashmir) are making the country proud of its growing women power.
If Kiran Bedi, the first IPS officer of India, showed that Indian women can be as tough as nails and can lead a multitude of men in uniform to success in tackling crime, by being the first woman of Indian origin to go to space, Kalpana Chawla did probably inspire millions of Indian women to think that sky is not the limit.
Avani Chaturvedi scripted her story when she became the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo, thereby indicating that Indian women are geared to come through the air with flying colors. This May, Captain Abhilasha Barak became the first woman combat aviator in the Indian army, which exemplified the welcome trend of Indian women breaking through all male bastions.
In Oceans and Skies
Today India has the highest proportion of female pilots among all countries of the world (12.4 percent). So it was not that surprising when in 2019 Aarohi Pandit became the first woman pilot in the world and the youngest pilot (she was only 23 then) to cross the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean solo in a light-sport aircraft.
In 2018, six women officers of Indian Navy circumnavigated the globe, reflecting their fortitude in tackling challenges.
Business, Sports and Bollywood
Today India has three self-made women billionaires (Falguni Nayar of Nyakka, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon and Radha Vembu of Zoho) who are among the country’s top business leaders. The number of successful female entrepreneurs in India has also increased manifold since 1947, thereby destroying the myth that women are not suited for business; a myth that prevailed in the Indian society even two decades ago.
In sports, too, in the last two decades many inspiring sportswomen, such as Sania Mirza, PV Sindhu, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Mithali Raj and many, many others, have brought honor to India through their talent and grit.
Even Bollywood is dispensing off its long-held sexist stance and is now making films with strong female protagonists fairly regularly. Since the last decade, many interesting women-oriented films with nuanced and powerful characterizations have come up in Bollywood, wherein the female protagonists have been shown as independent and not confirming to patriarchal stereotypes.
To put it succinctly, women in India have made huge progress in almost all fields of human endeavor since India got its independence but of course, there are several more seas remaining to be crossed, several more deserts to be flowered…