Professor Amartya Sen is well recognized for having added a strongly moral dimension to the discipline of economics. What is rather less stated is the consistency with which he has brought gender into his economic analysis, causing some to even salute him as a ‘feminist economist’.
Both these attributes – the moral dimension and the gender concern – informed the JRD Tata Memorial Oration, hosted by the Population Foundation of India (PFI) that he delivered recently in Delhi, wherein he undertook a magisterial survey of women’s place in contemporary India. Entitled ‘Women and Other People’, it revealed that the Nobel laureate in his 78th year is as engaged as ever with making sense of the world - particularly of the country of his birth and its social and economic evolution.
The position of women in India has long been a source of disquiet for Sen since he regards gender equity and equality as fundamental for social development. He began his talk by stating that he found it hard to accept the fact that the biological fact of women having to play a reproductive role in society should deprive them of their freedom to do other things with their lives.
This led him to interrogate the family and unpack it, layer by layer, deploying economic models and analogies as he went along. Men and women, he observed, have both congruent and conflicting interests within the family. Since there are extensive areas of congruence, families typically arrive at a compromise by seeking the cooperation of both men and women, and coming up with some agreed solutions to tackle the areas of conflict.
Such family arrangements are usually grounded in what Sen termed as cooperative conflict. Some of these arrangements are particularly unfavourable to women, and if the cooperation is to such kinds of division it can yield tremendous gender inequality. The fact that women conceive and produce children makes them more dependent on the harmony of the family and less demanding of their fair share of the family’s joint benefit. They end up, therefore, getting the worst end of the bargain.
Here Sen drew on the analogy of globalization, which is often presented as benefitting all countries equally but which, in fact, has some countries gaining very little and others gaining very much. What makes the situation of women perhaps even more complex is the fact that this conflict is well-hidden in various cultures of family living. Dwelling on conflicts, rather than on family unity, tends to be seen as aberrant behaviour. Apart from this, women themselves are sometimes unable to assess the extent of their own deprivation.
Having reviewed the bad deal that women get, Sen went on to analyse how their contribution to family prosperity in terms of home work is consistently undervalued. To address these inequalities and inequities that blight women’s lives within the family, Sen underlined the importance of women’s ability to earn independent incomes outside the home. This, of course, is linked crucially to their levels of literacy and education. Ownership of property can also add to the influence and power exercised within the family. In fact, for Sen, all these attributes together add to women’s agency, independence and a stronger role in decision-making within the household and beyond.
Women’s enhanced decision-making powers are particularly significant. As Sen put it, “From the crude barbarity of physical violence against women, to the complex instrumentalities of her neglect, the deprivation of women is not only linked to the lower status of women but also to the fact that women often lack the power to influence the behaviour of other members of society and the operation of social institutions”. But in order that women can work outside the home, they need both institutional support, in terms of child care, as indeed social acceptance of such a course.
What is important to note here is that gender equality is not for the well-being of women alone, it has direct impacts on national development. Sen cited the fact that reduction of birth rates has often followed enhancement of women’s status and power that are most constrained by frequent child bearing. “Any social change that brings voice, not just to women in general but young women in particular, has a tremendous impact on fertility decisions,” he said.
Bangladesh is a good example of the close link between enhanced women’s agency and positive national outcomes in Sen’s assessment. He devoted a good part of the JRD Tata oration in considering how that country had proved wrong the prophets of doom who had once seen it as a basket case.
Although Bangladesh is still one of the poorest countries in the world, it has made rapid progress particularly over the last 20 years, overtaking India in terms of the most crucial social indicators – including the gender specific mortality rate – despite having a GDP half that of India’s and a public expenditure that is a mere 10 per cent.
So what did Bangladesh do right? A significant clue, Sen said, lay in a sustained policy change in gender relations – measured in terms of the levels of school participation of girls and workforce participation of adult women. “It looks as if we can conclude that Bangladesh would have been a very different country and far less successful if it was not for the positive role played by women,” he remarked.
But gender agency, even where it exists, can often be restrained by a lack of access to information and knowledge and also by the absence of courage and temerity to think differently. It is only when women’s agency is marked by the ability of independent thought that it acquires the power to end inequities that feed into social practices and arrangements accepted as part and parcel of an assumed natural order. This is where Sen touched upon the vexed issue of sex selective abortions in Asia. It is striking that despite China and South Korea having achieved high levels of female literacy and economic independence of women, both countries have been unable to stem the tide of inequality in the form of sex selective abortions of female foetuses, although South Korea has made some progress in its attempts to counter the trend.
India, too, while it has seen a reduction in excess female mortality, is witnessing the growing tendency of new technologies being used to abort female foetuses, and women’s education alone has not been able to address it. This seems to suggest that combating the trend would require not just freedom of action, but freedom of thought.
Sen, who was the first academic internationally to examine the concept ‘missing women’, is presently grappling with the data thrown up by India’s 2011 census on child sex ratios. His talk reflected his recent thoughts on the conundrum. Taking the German ratio of 94.8 girls to 1000 boys as the cut off mark, he finds it intriguing that the 2011 census repeated a pattern first registered in the 2001 census, in which the states of the north and west had a child sex ratio that was substantially lower than the German cut off, while the states in the east and south of India had a sex ratio around the German cut off. As Sen put it, “I was struck by the fact that this difference within the country is very different from just the classical distinction between the north and the south.”
This is yet another riddle about women and other people that continues to intrigue Sen. But he is not discouraged by questions. He concluded his talk with the words, “We will never get the right answers, if we don’t ask the right questions.” (Women’s Feature Service)
Women star in commercials chasing change
Two ‘Pretty Young Things’– PYTs in college jargon – are in a car when they see a hapless elderly couple being knocked down on the road, their provisions lying scattered. While one of the girls only pontificates about the plight of the elderly, her friend chooses to get out of the car and help the couple.
A pair of office-going girls go out for a cup of tea. They come across a huge rally which leaves the road littered with papers and other trash. While one girl merely deplores this fact, the other girl gets going by picking up the litter. The message in both instances: Actions speak louder than words.
In these chasing the change commercials on television, such women are being portrayed as the proactive face of Young India, standing out as symbols of social sensitivity and positive action.
The two commercials, put out by a well-known sanitary napkin brand, project today’s young Indian woman in the role of a change enabler and, in a sense, they reflect the evolution of the social advertising storyboard.
It is against this background that the latest ‘Women for Change’ initiative has been unveiled – on television screens as well as in the newspapers. For this, Brand Stayfree has collaborated with UNICEF to articulate the voice of the village or small town Indian girl. Addressing hygiene and other health concerns of women in their growing-up years, the commercial shows how adolescent school-goers are unable to step out of their homes despite wanting to roam free and unfettered. Its jingle on TV Mujhe pankh de do (Give me wings) is projected as the catchphrase for building the confidence of young girls on the threshold of becoming women. The print version, on the other hand, raises the question, ‘Why does 1 out of 3 girls in India have to drop out of school?’ And ends with the line, ‘A hygienic, healthy and happy life is every woman’s right’.
Though essentially targeted at the Other India, it seeks to assimilate the rural-urban divide and strike a chord with metropolitan audiences as well by drawing upon brand ambassadors who appeal to women across all classes - yesteryear cine star Sharmila Tagore and the popular small screen faces of today, Sakshi Tanwar and Sneha.
These recent ‘women for change’ scripts are a sample of how the social messaging storyboard has been evolving to articulate the angst of the 21st century woman and capture her evolution from a passive victim to proactive warrior of change. In that sense, such ads mark a step forward in the projection of the Indian woman in social responsibility roles and, in fact, consolidate on the legacy of trail-blazing campaigns like Soch Badlo (Change your mindset).
Tata Tea’s Soch Badlo commercials celebrated this change-maker, the new-age woman of every Indian household, by projecting her as an epitome of positive thought and action; as the one who looks at the negativity that ails our society with a positive perspective. It was an extension of their earlier Jaago Re (Wake up) campaign against corruption, its message being driven not by the common man but the supposed common woman.
The Soch Badlo ads showed a pessimist husband discussing newspaper headlines with his wife, ranting on about how the nation suffers disgrace in the face of innumerable scams and scandals. The wife, however, responds with optimism, becoming the voice of hope in a climate of cynicism.
Of course, this new wave of social advertising also presents a shift in the projection of women in popular media – from being perceived as victims, they are now change makers. For years, the stereotyped social advertising space had drawn its content largely from familiar social ills with the woman being shown as the hapless victim of atrocities like sex selective abortions and domestic violence.
To this conventional public interest message-scape belonged the path-breaking Bell Bajao campaign. NGO Breakthrough's innovative initiative called upon men and women alike to become joint partners in ending the pandemic of violence against women and promote women's human rights. It aimed at channelising the citizens into becoming change agents by ringing the bell of any household where they noticed domestic violence.
And like the Bell Bajao commercials, there came many initiatives that addressed other conventional crimes against women – from the ‘Save the Girl Child’ campaigns to public interest messaging against eve teasing (that commercial brought out by Aaj Tak news channel showed an elderly gentleman coming to the rescue of a young woman being teased in a bus, where all the girl had to say to her violators was an indignant idiot!)
The biggest challenge for social messaging, today, is to address concerns that are increasingly becoming common in a cosmopolitan milieu. In the current climate of rape and sexual assault in public spaces – whether it is the recent molestation of a 16-year-old girl by a mob of men on a Guwahati street, the Noida rape case of a Class X girl by car-borne boys, or the manhandling on a Gurgaon highway of a mother who was made hostage in her own car when intimidated by men in a fit of road rage – social messaging now needs to mirror the mounting safety concerns of women.
In the clutter of celebrity endorsements and Corporate Social Responsibility ad scripts, there are hardly any voices articulating the angst of the women on the move, unsafe and unprotected in the country’s towns and cities. It seems the time has come to speak up for the new concerns of the new woman. ( Women’s Feature Service)
Games : Darksiders II
Darksiders proved that you can successfully combine a mature storyline with Zelda-esque dungeon gameplay and some fast paced God of War combat. Vigil Games stepped it up for Darksiders II, adding even more content, a bigger map, more moves, a loot system and a brand new protagonist. The end result is an extremely satisfying action/adventure game with a gripping storyline.
Darksiders II’s story runs parallel to War’s from the first game. War is awaiting his sentence, while Death is on a quest to prove his brother innocence through any means necessary.
There are a lot of similarities between the two games, but Vigil did include some great additions that make it stand above its predecessor. The combat is largely the same, as you can hack and slash away with your Scythes as your primary weapon, and a myriad of secondary weapons you’ll find along your journey such as slow but powerful hammers, or extremely fast fire imbued gauntlets. You even get access to your brother Strife’s gun which you can use to pick off airborne or at a distance enemies with ease. A huge part of combat is dodging as some enemies truly pack a punch, especially the bosses, and luckily its as responsive as it was in the first game.
The mechanics of combat can certainly change depending on what skills Death learns as he levels up. Whether you want to summon minions to help you battle, or a deadly attack that sucks health out of your enemies, there is plenty of variety, though don’t expect the depth of a skill tree in an MMO for instance. Death can also unleash his true form to do some massive damage, all while looking like the deathbringer he is.
Like in Zelda games, you’ll spend a bulk of your time in various dungeons, which will require some puzzle solving skills to get through. The difficulty in puzzles has certainly been scaled down, as now they didn’t seem to involve much except for shooting a bomb to make a switch explode, or something of that nature. You also have access to Dust which is your ‘pet’ crow that with a press of a button will fly in the direction you need to go in. Certainly a helpful feature.
The map is a lot larger this time around, but you’ll have access to your trusty steed Despair, which will not only make traveling long distances much quicker, but you can also use his speed boost ability to do some extra damage to incoming enemies. Darksiders II however also allows fast travel to any previously visited location. The best thing about this is it even manages to save your location within a dungeon, allowing you to fast travel out to sell your goods and then resume exactly where you left off. The environments vary quite a bit as well, which provides a nice change of scenery with every new accessible location. Quite possibly one of the biggest and meatiest additions to Darksiders II is its loot system. Very much like any other action RPG with a heavy emphasis on loot, you’ll be killing monsters, bashing crates and opening treasure chests to reveal a bunch of loot that you can outfit Death in, and improve his skills. The now standard color classifications of loot are also present, so you’ll know to switch out that green shoulder piece for that legendary yellow one. It’s sweet to also watch Death progress through the adventure, looking more bad ass with every new item you acquire.
Knowing when to equip or store each new item is also made incredibly easy and accessible due to an onscreen indicator which displays whether what you’re about to pick up is better or worse than what you’re wearing. It’s quite similar to how Borderlands indicates loot quality, and honestly I wish almost any loot oriented game started doing this. The amount of time saved by not having to go through menus is quite immense. The music, composed by Jesper Kyd, has absolutely got you covered for any occasion within the game. From the epic battle sequence between you and a fake War, the serene melodies of the Maker’s Theme, to the dark and foreboding sounds of the Demon Realm, every single song truly fits every environment and moment.
Darksiders II doesn’t manage to make it without a few hiccups however. My game did freeze a few times during gameplay. There are also a bunch of graphical glitches that pop up here and there. Death would sometimes get stuck inside the environment, then would float above ground, or enemies would disappear and reappear again. Now bear in mind these didn’t happen frequently, but enough to warrant a mention. A great example of this is even right after you leave the initial area and access the map for the first time, you’ll find a wide open field in front of you, with no enemies to fight. It takes a good few minutes until you get to another part of a forest until you finally start seeing enemies you can decimate.
Darksiders II is a great follow-up to the first game. The action manages to be even more exciting thanks to the game’s varied loot, and the story compels you to continue on your quest to redeem your brother from damnation. A few hiccups along the way are easy to overlook when the entire package is just so great.
GAME RATING: 8.5
Beauty Tips : Tips for oily skin
1. Make a puree of fresh tomatoes, apply to the skin
2. Mix half teaspoon honey with egg white and one teaspoon lemon juice. Add fuller’s earth or brewer’s yeast powder. Mix into a paste and apply. Remove after 20 minutes with water.
3. To prevent the problem of your makeup becoming patchy either on the forehead, chin or nose due to excessive oiliness in these areas, apply a little cucumber juice on the excessively oily parts of your face, dry thoroughly and then apply your makeup.
4. Mix one tablespoon youghurt with fuller’s earth and apply. Youghurt itself can be applied o the face. It helps to soften the skin and restores the natural acid mantle.
5. If your skin is excessively oily, mix in a few drops of eau de cologne. This not only helps keep oiliness away but also helps in refining the pores of the skin by acting as astringent, thereby preventing acne.
6. Make a pulp of raw papaya and apply. Papaya has a cleansing action, softening dead skin cells and aiding their removal.
Book: The Liberals, Author: Hindol, Sengupta, Publisher: Harper Collins India, Pages: 309, Price: Rs 350
The middle class will decide the course of liberalisation in India which will become more micro-level in search of solutions to problems, says writer and journalist Hindol Sengupta in his new book, The Liberals.
“It is imperative for us to focus on local problems in the next phase of liberalisation. The idea of liberalisation is a dystopian utopia. It is like what Kipling had said about the east - it is true yet untrue. We might be conservative in public life, yet at the core, our deepest desires are all liberal,” Sengupta said.
Sengupta’s book takes a look at the 20-year journey of India’s liberalisation through stories of the common man - and the everyday aspirations of the country’s growing middle class with their dilemmas and new adaptability to cope with the bottom-up dynamics of empowerment and wants of the grassroots.
Middle class is like the modern Indian woman, who is now the greatest enemy because after thousands of years of suppressed patriarchy, tools of education have given her an identity, the writer says.
“The Indian middle class, the beneficiary of liberalisation, is now facing a backlash from people who have benefited less. The modern Indian middle class has to battle with the idea of that strata of society (lower than us) getting re-imagined,” Sengupta says.
The middle class has to realise that “unless it can extract equitable social distribution from the upper class, we will not be bale to hold the lower strata below us,” he says.
“It is a very scary situation for India,” Sengupta says, predicting a future of “multiple wars on all fronts and the challenge to balance rising aspirations against dwindling resources”.
The book moves between three cities - Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, where the writer has spent his life. A couple of chapters on Pakistan at the end gives an outsider’s view of the country, making a comparative note with India’s liberalisation.
The book often comes across as chatty, skimming the surface in its rush to negotiate through all the realities that the writer has encountered in 31 years of life. But the observations are sharply defined - the language easy and almost familiar in their references to the immediate surroundings.
The absence of intellectual debates based on the realities to arrive at profound perceptions makes the volume more of a young liberal’s engaging travelogue through a changing India.