‘What is also truly remarkable is the consistent manner in which disproportionately larger numbers of women and their work either become invisible in data systems or get captured in categories that fall outside the purview of protective legislation’
A remarkable achievement of economic development in post-independent India has been, not just the growth of the informal sector and of those being employed informally, but also the phenomenon of informalisation of the formal sector.
What is also truly remarkable is the consistent manner in which disproportionately larger numbers of women and their work either become invisible in data systems or get captured in categories that fall outside the purview of protective legislation. Over the years official documents such as the Towards Equality Report, the Shramshakti Report, the Report of the Time Use Survey – to mention the more important ones – have traced the trajectory of the simultaneous exclusion and (peripheral) inclusion of women in paid work even as the enormous time spent in unpaid – not to be equated with unproductive – work was shown to sustain not just the household but also the country’s economy.
These documents strongly recommended, among other things, the enactment of new laws, modification and expansion of coverage of existing laws and the stringent implementation of all laws in the spirit of enhancing the status of the marginalized, women included, from being non/second class citizens to full citizenship. In the process, these documents laid bare the continuing disjunction between development processes that expressly require the contribution of women in both their productive and reproductive roles and institutions, including legal ones, that were set up to regulate development outcomes.
In 2004-05, of the 148 million women workers in the Indian economy, 142 million – or almost 96 per cent – were unorganized workers. This includes 91 per cent of women workers in the unorganized sector plus those working informally in the organized sector. In terms of status of employment, the bulk of unorganized sector employment is self-employment, followed by casual employment. The self-employed category consists of own account workers, employers and unpaid family workers. Data reveal decline in the proportion of own account workers and employers but an increase in the share of unpaid family workers.
That in 2004-05, the bulk of women workers should still overwhelmingly belong to the self-employed category and also dominate the unpaid family workers category within the category of self-employed, is a telling comment on how India Shining has not only bypassed women but is actually overburdening the bulk of them while not compensating them adequately.
Literacy has an intrinsic relationship with employment. The analysis of literacy levels of the worker population for 2001 reveals a disturbing contrast between male and female workers. While almost 71 per cent of male workers are literate, the corresponding figure for women is only 36 per cent. In other words, while development may have increased the work participation rate for females, it has not translated into a greater proportion of literate women becoming workers, as has happened in the case of men. This national picture of relatively greater illiteracy among female worker population is repeated even in socially and economically developed states such as Tamil Nadu.
The debates among feminists and women’s studies scholars around issues of relatively larger numbers of women workers being crowded in low paying jobs and in tasks designated as unskilled needs to also factor in the question why employment and education are moving in opposite directions as far as females are concerned.
Also to be noted is the proportion of population returned as non-workers and the proportion of literate non-workers among males and females. For the country as a whole, 48 per cent of males have been returned as non-workers against 74 per cent for females. The urban areas have a larger proportion of population categorized as non-workers when compared to the rural areas. However, unlike in the case of males, the rates of literacy for female non-workers are higher than the rates of literacy for females in the population in general. This is the case in both rural and urban areas.
The same holds true for states such as Tamil Nadu, underlining the phenomena that social and economic development are not necessarily gender just. Despite the fact that States like Tamil Nadu reveal higher than national level work participation rates for females, these rates are still far below the rates obtaining for males in Tamil Nadu. Further, the rising levels of female literacy in Tamil Nadu are not reflected in the literacy levels of the worker population. Development then, has not been able to reverse the trend of literacy and employment moving in opposite directions for females, both at the national level as indeed in states whose economic and social indicators of development are better than the national figures.
Even legislation has not helped. An important law in post-Independent India is The Maternity Benefit [MB] Act, 1961. Over the years, the Courts have had to deal with several cases from aggrieved women workers who have alleged the denial of benefits under this Act despite, according to them, being eligible for them. I conducted a content analysis of a few cases filed for relief under this Act to help comprehend, among other concerns, the categories of workers who have been so denied, or given less than entitled benefit; the nature of establishments that deny such benefits; the reasons cited by establishments for denying benefits and the reasons for the Courts’ acceptance or rejection of arguments by employers/petitioners.
The larger question that the exercise evaluated was the oft-repeated argument that India has the necessary laws but they are poorly implemented. The manner, for instance, in which women employed by State Governments have been excluded from provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, has been several and varied: One, contrary to all norms of justice, the State has employed women workers but used nomenclatures such as daily, ad hoc and casual and then justified the denial of maternity benefit on the ground that even the amended Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, applies only to regular and temporary workers, not casual, daily or ad hoc. Two, while recruitments have followed a set procedure, appointment letters have been arbitrarily changed to render the woman employee ineligible for any benefit, maternity or otherwise. Three, when the Supreme Court came down heavily on state governments for denying maternity benefits to women employees in this way, the bureaucracy has come up with other ways of making woman employees ineligible, namely, by citing that women employees on consolidated mode of payment of salary are not eligible for benefit under the MB Act, 1961.
It is against this background that the signal contribution of feminists and gender studies to macroeconomics needs to be recognized. They have questioned the assumptions on which economic policies are anchored, the methodologies that limit an understanding of economic problems, and the solutions that macroeconomics uncritically offers. Nevertheless, the relegation of gender to the social at one level, and the anxiety of feminist researchers – including feminist economists – to be seen as practically relevant all the time, at another level, is one small example of the continuing tensions that keep surfacing. This is largely also because macroeconomic policies have failed in their basic objectives but those who propound them have no qualms in transferring these failures to the social sector – a euphemism for considering all these problems as women’s issues. How feminists continue to engage with this concern is a never ending but ongoing challenge. (Women’s Feature Service)
I look at India through a woman's eyes: Diplomat-author Vikas Swarup
“My books are about ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations who are able to draw upon their inner reserves to challenge the status-quo in life and navigate compelling human relationships”
Diplomat Vikas Swarup, the celebrity author of the novel Q & A adapted into the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire has stepped into a woman’s shoes to explore the changing face of 21st century middle-class India in his new book.
His new novel, The 7 Tests Of Sapna Sinha is a dramatic narrative about an ordinary middle-class working woman in New Delhi who is offered to run a company by an eccentric billionaire; provided she passes a series of seven tests.
The novel, to be published by Simon & Schuster later this year, is similar to the frame of Q&A told in a voice of a woman from the female perspective, Swarup said an interview.
The book is set in the west Delhi neighbourhood of Rohini.
“My books are about ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations who are able to draw upon their inner reserves to challenge the status-quo in life and navigate compelling human relationships,” Swarup said. “The second similarity is that like Q&A, The 7 Tests of Sapna Sinha is a high concept and structured novel. Sapna’s seven tests harks back to stories in Indian mythology in which kings put their prospective successors through tests to find out who is worthy of the mantle. My novel is in a contemporary idiom.You could call it a fairytale,” Swarup said.
Swarup said the book had begun with the voice of a man. “Sometime, you conceptualise something and the characters speak for themselves. Initially, it was a man - eventually the voice speaking to me was the voice of a woman. And that voice had more vulnerability,” the writer said.
“It was also more interesting to see the life of a woman in Delhi,” Swarup added as an afterthought. The writer said he has lived his book to experience reality. “I travelled from Connaught Place to Rohini by the Metro rail surrounded by women. I wanted to see how long it takes, how people are pushed around and investigate the mindset about Delhi being an unsafe city for women.The whole culture of how we treat women. I wanted a broad-brush picture of India,” Swarup said.
The writer spent one-and-half years on the book. Looking at India through Sapna Sinha’s eyes, Swarup points to three sweeping changes, “First, the starting of the reality show with the KBC (the inspiration for 'Q&A'), the civil society or NGO activism which was not so prominent even seven years ago and the material culture which has grown exponentially with the huge shopping malls”. The diplomat, who is the consul general of India in Osaka-Kobe in Japan, began his literary career in 2005 with the Q&A, which has been published in 42 languages and made into a contemporary classic movie, earning director Danny Boyle and his team eight Oscars.
His second novel, Six Suspects published in 2008 has had its translation rights sold in 30 languages. The writer says his books are mirrors of a contemporary and multi-ethnic India which is on the fast-track to becoming a global power-centre. My book, Six Suspects, has a very polyphonic narrative with four Indians, a tribal from Andamans and one American, Swarup said, adding, Q&A on the other hand is about the power of the underdog. Swarup believes that India is going through a literary churning and various genres are being explored for the first time.
“The books that are available now did not exist 10 years ago. When I was growing up, there was no bookshelf barring names like Agatha Christie, R.K. Narayan or Mulk Raj Anand. We are maturing as a reading nation. I was a judge for the Man Asian Literary prize this year - and the maximum submissions were from English-speaking nations like India,” Swarup said. Indian literature is part of the mix of the country's emerging soft power, Swarup said.(IANS)