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Gandhi and Empowerment of women - Miles to go

*By K. D. Gangrade

EMPOWERMENT has become a fashionable and buzz word. It essentially means decentralization of authority and power. It aims at getting participation of deprived sections of people in decision-making process. In other words giving voice to voiceless. Activists want government to empower poor people including women by legislative measures and welfare programmes. Unless capacity is built in those sections in reality, the power is used by others rather than the sections for which they are meant.

In my opinion, empowerment may mean equal status to women to develop herself. Man should give woman opportunity and freedom to develop herself. Man should control the pleasures of senses and not consider woman just a sex object. Sensual pleasures have no bounds.

Gandhi said.... "The mind is a restless bird, the more it gets the more it wants and still remains unsatisfied. The more we indulge in our passion, the more unbridle they become."

Goal of empowerment I believe, depends on a threefold revolution. First, to change people's heart. Secondly, to create a change in their lives. Thirdly, to change the social structure... I do not aim at doing more act of kindness. I want both man and woman to come out of "psychological trap" in which they have been entangled.

Much more work needs to be done at the grass-roots levels especially in the thousands of Indian villages. The village workers through living and working alongside the villagers, act not merely as advisors or technical assistants but also work to promote a sense of self- reliance and communal responsibility amongst the villagers that transcends divisions of family, caste, class, religion and gender. In working to encourage the participation of villagers in collective decision-making at community level. In encouraging the women to meet together for such purposes where a forum is created wherein they gain confidence in their own abilities and collective strength, and thus begin to make their 'Voice heard' in community affairs and the Panchayat deliberations and the Gram Sabha (usually dominated by men).

The ultimate goal of empowerment of women based on Gandhi's vision is Sarvodaya the welfare of all through cooperation and trusteeship in the economic sphere, equal participation in the political sphere, and mutual aid in the social sphere without regard to caste, or class or gender. Thus, empowerment of village women cannot be imposed from above, it must grow from the bottom upwards.

In brief, empowering women socio-economically through increased awareness of their rights and duties as well as access to resources is decisive step towards greater security for them. Gandhi asserted, "Ganges of rights flow from the Himalaya of duties." The 72nd and 73rd Constitutional Amendments on Panchayati Raj and Nagarpalika with 33 percent reservation of seats in Parliament and States legislatures. This will go a long way to have their say. We should be ashamed of ourselves that after more than half a century of freedom we have neither been able to clothe our women nor been able to provide them something as basic as secure and adequate number of toilets and shelter even in the capital city of Delhi.

The paper has five sections. First, deals with the women's influence on Gandhi specially of his mother (Pultibai) and wife (Kasturba). Second, critically examines discrimination and preference for son over daughter. Third, gives glory of Indian women during the Vedic period. Fourth, this is the heart of the paper devoted to Gandhi and the empowerment and conclusion to say we still have miles to go.


I

Women's influence on Gandhi

Women is God's greatest gift to humanity. She has the power to create or destroy. Kalidas and Tulsidas became great poets because of their wives. There is a saying that behind every successful man there is a women.

Similarly, Gandhi was influenced by his mother (Putlibai and wife Kasturba). Gandhi said: "The outstanding impression my mother has left on my memory is that of saintliness. She was deeply religious. She would not think of taking her meals without daily prayer. She would take the hardest of vows and keep them without flinching. Illness was no excuse for relaxing them." He got his mother's permission to go to England for studies by taking an oath: " I vowed not to touch wine, women and meat." These three vows shielded him throughout his stay in England.

Gandhi married at the age of thirteen. But he lost no time in assuming the authority of husband to lord over her life (emphasis added). However, as the years passed, she became his active partner and supporter in all his activities. She was a devoted wife who was content to live in the shadow of her illustrious husband. She had many sided personality. She was fiercely independent woman. Kasturba became Ba-mother of all who took care of Bapu's extended family.

Their eldest son Harilal had resented Bapu's denying him a formal education and therefore had been in revolt against Bapu ever since. He had taken to bad company and converted his religion. And though he had left his family, deep in his heart, Harilal had a warm feeling for Ba.... once when .... train stopped at a station.... on way back from Wardha.... a cry from the crowd was heard that was different "Mata Kasturba Ki Jai" This cry was from an emancipated Harilal. From a pocket of his ragged clothes he took an orange and said, "Ba, I've brought this for you." Breaking in, Bapu said, "Didn't you bring me anything?" said Harilal, "No, nothing for you, I only want to tell you that all the greatness you have achieved is only because of Ba." When Ba died in captivity, her body was cremated in the premises of Aga Khan Palace. Illness had made her body water logged and cremation took a long time. Friends suggested that Bapu should go inside and rest but he refused. "How can I leave her like this after sixty-two years of companionship? I am sure she won't forgive me for that," he replied laughingly. "I cannot imagine life without Ba. I had always wished her to go in my hands so I would not have to worry as to what will become of her when I am no more. But she was a indivisible part of me. Her passing away has left a vacuum which will never be filled. Gandhi stated unequivocally of Kasturba, "it is because of her that I am today what I am." No doubt, as Shyama Sinha states," Mahatma Gandhi has almost  threatened to throw Ba out of the house for which she admonished Bapu in firm and measured tone that shook Bapu to his sense and realized his fault. At this time and many other earlier in his life, Gandhi tyrannized Kasturba. But she would not be dominated by him. She was his living "model" of Satyagraha: "Her determined resistance to my will on the one hand and her quiet submission to my stupidity on the other hand, ultimately made me ashamed of myself... In the end she became my "teacher" in non-violence. And what I did in South Africa was but an extension of the rule of Satyagraha she practised in her life.

Gandhi learnt much from Kasturba and perhaps even more from his mother. His spiritual bent of mind seems to have come from her. Millie Polak, a close co-worker of Gandhi in South Africa, wrote that "Gandhi's mother was largely responsible for the extremely tolerant, religious disposition of Gandhi," with Kasturba being the second major influence."

His devotion to women began with his devotion to his mother and Kasturba, most particularly to women as mother. Motherhood became increasingly his model for liberation of India and his own life, a mother, having brought forth a child, selflessly devotes herself to his care till he grows up and becomes independent. Even after children are grown-up her constant desire is to make herself one with them. Unless we have feeling and devotion for our motherland many countries will be lying in wait to crush us down. He told a co-worker, "he saw no hope for India's emancipation while her womanhood remained un-emancipated. He held men to be largely responsible for the tragedy. In the course of his social reform work the realization came to him... that if he wanted to reform and purify society of the various evils that had crept into it, he had to cultivate a mother's heart.

Richard L. Johnson says, he learnt the fundamental aspects of his soul politics from his mother and his wife. but women's influence on him was not limited to his family. The bhadra mahila (responsible or new women), created in nineteenth century by Indian cultural reformers, became the model for Indian women on the nationalist era. Women in late nineteenth and early twentieth century created organizations and founded predominantly among the upper-middle class in urban centres. Although many associate the ideals and organizations of the "new woman" with Gandhi, as Elise Boulding indicates "well before Gandhi was calling women to practice Satyagraha, the grandmothers, mothers, wives and daughters of the educated classes in India were forming organizations providing educations and action-training for other women, in order to re-build an Indian society freed from colonial structures."

He was profoundly influenced by Annie Besant, a British militant feminist and a Theosophist, Sarojini Naidu a trusted Gandhi's co-worker, Kamladevi Chattopadhyaya, a fiery Satyagrahi. Geraldine Forbes examines the model that Sarojini Naidu developed in her speech as President of the Indian National Congress", a model with India as the "house", the Indian people as "members of the joint family and the Indian woman as the "Mother". Naidu, Gandhi, and many other advocates of women's and national liberation agreed wholeheartedly that women and India would advance together to the extent this new familial model for India was adopted by the women and men of India.

Gandhi believed women could do much to transform India on all levels. He believed that equal rights for women and men were necessary but not sufficient to create a more just social order. What good does it do to us to have equal rights if we are divided within ourselves and unable to attend true unity with others?


II

Discrimination

Gandhi did not like Indian society's preference for a boy and a general neglect of a girl child. In fact, in most cases a is not allowed to be born. If born her survival is not ensured. If somehow she survives she is subjected to neglect. She does not get respect and the status she deserves equal to that of a boy.

Given the frantic preference for a male child in India every year about four million women risk lives and get illegal abortions done. Many pregnant women die in the process but their deaths are never reported by their family members or by those who carry out these sex selective abortions.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 15 million illegitimate abortions take place in the world; most of these happen in Asian countries. In India, of the reported abortions about 6.7 million are done in unhygienic conditions thereby risking the woman to a host of infection which may turn fatal.

The Capital of India (Delhi) witness a large number of illegal abortions. With the high rate of population growth an increase of about 50 percent over the last decade- illegal clinics promising secret abortions have mushroomed all over. This is despite the fact that Medical Termination of Pregnancy act says abortion can take place only in the government institutions or medical establishments approved by the government. In a survey, conducted under the union Government's Family Welfare Programme in Delhi, more than 25,000 abortions were conducted. But these are only those carried out in approved centres.

Of the total, 94 percent were conducted on women in who were within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy. The rest were between 12 to 20 weeks. It is important to note that by the end of 10th or 11th week, it is possible to make out the sex of the foetus. According to the survey, almost 66 percent of women sought abortion due to failure of the contraceptive devices.

About 18 percent of the abortions were justified saying "pregnancy may cause grave injury to the mental health of the mother" and for another 12 percent, the reason read "grave injury to physical health to the mother but there is another reason too". Private Sewa Sansthan, a voluntary organization which runs four health clinics in Delhi, conducts about 12,000 legal abortions in a year. Poonam Arora of the organization points out, We get a number of women who come to us for an abortion after having found out that they were carrying female foetuses. We counsel them and send them back home. But I am sure a large number of them go to private clinics and eventually get rid of the foetus. Thus, girl child is not wanted in many families in India.

Gandhi was totally opposed to gender discrimination. She is, the noble sex. If she is weak in striking, she is strong in suffering. Gandhi described; "Woman as the embodiment of sacrifice and ahimsa." he further states:

;"A daughter's share must be equal to that of a son. The husband's earnings are a joint property of husband and wife as he makes money by her assistance.

If a husband is unjust to his wife, she has the right to live separately. Both have equal rights over children. Each would forfeit these rights after they have grown up, and even before that if he or she is unfit for them. In short, I admit no distinction between men and women except such as has been made by nature and can be seen with human eyes.

Gandhi prepared a primer for the children for a primary school. This primer or Balpothi is the form of a mother teaching the child. In a chapter on housework, the mother asks her son, "Dear Son, you should also help in the housework as your sister does."

Son answers : But she is a girl. I am a boy. A boy plays and studies.

Sister says : How come I also like to play and study?

Brother : I do not deny that but, dear sister, you have to do housework as well.

The mother : Why should a boy not do house work?

Son : Because the boy has to earn money when he grows up, therefore, he must study well.

The Mother : You are wrong my son. Woman also makes an earning for the family. And, there is a lot to learn in house work-house cleaning, cooking, laundry. By doing house work you will develop various skill of the body and will feel self-reliant. In good housework, you need to use your eyes, hands and brain. therefore these activities are educative and they build your character. Men and women, both need to be educated equally in housework because the home belongs to both.

Gandhi expounds this theme further. More often than not a women's time is taken up not by the performance of essential domestic duties, but in catering for the egoistic pleasure of her lord and master for her own vanities. To me this domestic slavery of woman is the symbol of our barbarism mainly. It is high time that out womankind was freed from this incubus. Domestic work ought not be take the whole of women's time. His policy of empowerment was that man must participate in the housework and reduce the drudgery of women's home work.


III

Gandhi and Empowerment of Women

Gandhi was not only a great political leader but a passionate lover of humanity. An implacable enemy of all injustice and inequalities, he was a friend of the lowly and the downtrodden. Harijans, women and the poor commanded his most tender attention. He had almost an instinctive understanding of women and their problems and had a deep abiding sympathy for them.

In a letter written to RajKumari Amrit Kaur from Wardha on 20-10-1936, Gandhi writes, "If you women only realize your dignity and privilege, and make full sense of it for mankind, you will make it much better than it is. But man has delighted in enslaving you and you have proved willing slaves till the slave and holders have become one in the crime on degrading humanity. My special function from childhood, you might say, has been to make women realize her dignity. I was once slave holder myself but Ba proved an unwilling slave and thus "opened my eyes to my mission."

Gandhi further said: " I began work among women when I was not even thirty years old. There is not a woman in South Africa who does not know me. But my work was among the poorest. The intellectuals I could not draw ... you cannot blame me for not having organized the intellectuals among the women. I have not the gift... but just as I never fear coldness on the part of the poor when I approach them, I never fear it when I approach poor women. There is invisible bond between them and me." This mass of poor women were those whose dignified upliftment craved. Poor women understood what he was saying because he spoke in the religious pantheon and referred to the facts of caste and gender. Some times highly progressive, other times conservative, he created an empathy with his audience through this culture fine tuning.

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur echoing this aspect of Gandhiji's personality says: We found him not a "Bapu" - wise father, but what is more precious, a mother, whose all embracing and understanding love all fear and restraint vanish.

Though pre-occupied with heavy responsibilities his views in this regard were clear and he tried to educate the public to accept women as equal partners. He said:

I am uncompromising in the matter of woman's rights. In my opinion she should labour under no legal disability not suffered by man. I should treat daughters and sons on an equal footing of perfect equality.

Again he said:

To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is a man's injustice to woman. If by strength it is meant moral power then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not more self-sacrificing, has she not great powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non- violence is the law of our being, the future is with women. He described discrimination against women as ad anachronism as already stated: he said: "I fail to see any reason for jubilation over the birth of a son and for mourning over the birth of a daughter. Both are God's gifts. They have an equal right to live and are equally necessary to keep the world going.

Women could play a significant part in the freedom fight under his inspiring leadership, his fostering care and loving guidance. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, says:

Of all the factors contributing to the awakening of women in India none has been so potent as the field of nonviolence which Gandhiji offered to women in his "war" against British domination of India. It brought them out in their hundreds from sheltered homes, to stand the furnace of a fiery trial without flinching. It proved to the hilt that woman was as much able as man to resist evil or aggression.

Fundamentally, man and woman are one, their problems must be in one essence. The soul in both is the same. each is a complement of the other. The one cannot live without the other's active help.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that at some point there is bifurcation. Whilst both are fundamentally one, it is also equally true that in form there is a vital difference between the two. Hence the vocations of the two must also be different. The duty of motherhood, which the vast majority of women will always undertake, requires qualities which man need not possess. She is passive, he is active. She is essentially mistress of the house. He is bread-winner, she is the caretaker in every sense of the term. The art of bringing up the infants of the race is her special ands sole prerogative. Without her care the race must become extinct... The division of spheres of work being recognized, the general qualities and culture required are practically the same for both the sexes....

He had profoundly said that the woman is the incarnation of Ahimsa: ahimsa means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering. Who but woman, the mother of man, shows his capacity in the largest measure? She shows it as she carries the infant and feeds it during nine months and derives joys in the suffering involved. What can beat the suffering caused by the pangs of labour. But she forgets them in the joy of creation. Who, again suffers daily so that her babe may wax from day to day? Let her transfer that love to the whole of humanity, let her forget she ever was or can be the object of a man's lust. And she will occupy her proud position by the side of man as his mother, maker and silent leader. It is given to her to trade the art of peace to the warning world thirsting for nectar. She can become the leader in Satyagraha which does require the stout heart that comes from suffering and faith.

By giving an example of the bravery which a woman showed during child birth by not taking chloroform, which would have risked the child's life and undergoing a very painful operation. He further says: "Let not women, who can count many such heroines among them, ever despise their sex or deplore that they were not born men.

I earnestly feel that it is not possible to repay the mother's debt. This is evident from the case of Birbal and his mother.

"Akbar, the great was very much fond of Birbal for is intelligence and presence of mind. Birbal was able to solve many difficult riddles in the Darbar of Akbar. He got a number of awards from the kind Emperor for his prompt replies and wit. He wanted to repay the debt to his mother by giving her a bag full of gold, diamond and money.

He measured the mother's love in material goods. One day he handed over the bad to his mother. She asked him: "What does the bag contain?" He replied, "Mother there is a token gift from a son to the mother for rearing and developing his personality. All my coveted positions and status in the Darbar and society were due to your up-bringing."

Mother was very appreciative of the gesture shown to her. But she replied that she would like him to sleep in her room. She being old and due to failing eye sight she was not able to getup to take drinking water. He agreed to do so. At 10'O Clock in the night she fell thirsty. She awoke Birbal and asked for a glass of water. Birbal brought the glass of water. She drank a little and spilled some on the bed. Both of them went to sleep. Birbal was deep in the sleep snoring. At about midnight mother had to again ask Birbal to get a glass of water as she was feeling thirsty. Birbal was visibly annoyed with his mother. However, reluctantly brought the water for her. This time she spilled half of the glass on the bed telling him it was difficult for her to hold the glass steady in her shaking hands. Birbal, thereafter, went to sleep by folding the wet portion of the bed.

Mother, at 4 o'clock in the night again asked for a glass of water. This time it was difficult for hi to get up from sound sleep. But repeated requests of mother forced him to get up. He was full of anger. He shouted at her. But brought the glass of water. She was not able to hold the glass of water in her hand. Consequently the water spilled on the bed. Birbal found he had no place to sleep as the whole bed got wet. His anger crossed all limits. He further shouted at her and began to scold her for not being careful in handling the glass.

Mother, affectionately reminded Birbal that he was disturbed by one night's events. On the contrary she had slept with him, nursing him and rearing despite his bed wetting a number of times. She would spread her saree and other clothes to save him from wet places. She herself would sleep in the wet bed and remain sensitively vigilant to meet his needs even without his asking.

She got her debt back in shouts and scolds from her son. Birbal realised that no child can or could return debt to his mother for the loving care and affection she showered on her children. Similarly, we can not return our debts to Mother India or Earth which has given us everything. We should remain loyal to her and cease to exploit. We should "rediscover" status of women and give them full respect and support needed by them in domestic and other works.

As per Varna theory, according to Gandhi: "the present state of Hindu society may be described as that of anarchy; the four varnas exist today in name only. If we must talk in terms of Varna there is only one varna today for all, whether men or women; we are all shudras, in the resuscitated Varna Dharma, as I conceive it, a girl after her marriage would naturally adopt her husband's varna and relinquish that of her parents. Nor need... any such change.... imply a slur since... the age of resuscitation would imply absolute equality of all four Varnas." (Harijan, October, 1934). Nor only does Gandhi automatically accept the "secondary stratus" of the woman vis--vis the social identity  of her husband of father but he goes on to say: "I do not envisage the wife, as a rule, following an avocation independently of her husband."

Again in a letter to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur in answer to a question about the religion of children in mixed marriages, Gandhi reveals his patriarchal bias. "I am of the opinion that the children of mixed marriages should be taught male parent's religion.

Feminist researchers differ widely in the assessment of Mahatma Gandhi's theory and practice of women's emancipation during the Indian Nationalist Movement.

Ketu Katrak maintains, for example, that "like other Indian social reformers, Gandhi reinforced British liberal and imperial policies since he did not challenge women's subordinate position in the patriarchal family structure.

On the other hand Madhu Kishwar asserts that "Gandhi saw women not as objects of reforms ... but as self- conscious subjects who could, if they choose, become arbiters of their own destiny. In this way Gandhi represents a crucial break from the attitude of many of the leaders of the reform movements of the late nineteenth century... The main contributions of the Gandhi to the cause of women lay in his absolute and unequivocal insistence on their personal dignity and autonomy in the family and society."

However, Phyllis Mack contends in his Feminine behaviour and Radical action: Franciscans, Quakers, and the Followers of Gandhi" that St. Francis, Fox, Gandhi and their followers placed women's experience at the heart of the movement. She suggests "that we (contemporary feminist and peace activist) would do well to contemplate the virtues of these partisans of nonviolent public behaviour, and that we can find affinities with their compassionate activism very close to home to embrace our own political and spiritual struggle.

It took several years for Gandhi to overcome the forms of sexism, classicism, and racism that he internalized as a young man. The process was painful for him and for Kasturba. But from the perspective of social feminism, he made enormous progress. The new women (women engaged in feminist movement) loved Gandhi because he spoke their language, he did what they wanted men to do, and encouraged other men to follow suit. Given the stark contrast in Indian society between man and women's cultures broadly speaking men is more bellicose rigid, controlling culture and woman's more relational, egalitarian, fluid, opened peace-loving culture, it is not surprising Gandhi chose the latter. The extended family, even with its patriarchal modes of dominance, gave many women a wide scope of expression than either the British or the Indian public spheres. Gandhi's effort to model Indian public life on the joint family brought thousands of women into social and political institutions of the nation. Equity-feminism, on the other hand, seemed foreign to women during the Indian Nationalist women with the exception of a small number if middle-to-upper class women who lived primarily in cities.

Gandhi had advocated three distinct levels of women's participation in the national movement.

First, women who had familial responsibilities such as care of children and the aged were to fulfill only their primary duties which were not to be given up for the sake of the national movement.

Second, a group included women from whom he expected a sacrifice of the pleasure of house keeping and child caring. If already married these women were expected to remain celibate for the sake of the nation. He advised Vijay Lakshmi Pandit and her husband, for instance, to practice celibacy after having blessed the marriage.

Third, full time workers were expected to stay single and dedicate themselves entirely to the struggle for independence.

Gandhi is known to have opposed the marriage of the Kriplanis because he was afraid of losing devoted workers. Thus, he was trying to safeguard images of women, he could not always avoid rupturing the model.

It is clear that Gandhi theory and practice-which unfolded over five decades on two countries were enormously complex, as the voluminous research about him has shown. Equity-feminism has been so central among western feminist that social feminism is ignored, marginalized, or seen as an earlier and less radical precursor to real (Equity) feminism. Based on an equity feminist analysis of Indian women in the nationalist era, Forbes states of Sarojini Naidu, "by linking feminism with nationalism, she and her colleagues hindered the development of a radical feminist critique of women's work.

Within the Indian context today, feminism continuous to be a major issue among women dedicated to women's liberation. An increasing number of Indian women are embracing western form of feminism as India becomes more westernized, but others remain concerned that feminism is not an appropriate ideology for them.

It appears the women of colour are bringing greater balance in the general flow of ideas so that western values are no longer as dominant as before, at least not within progressive movements. Many western feminists have taken to heart the critique of women colour. In the West now the tendency among feminists is to include as analysis not only of sexism but also of racism, classism and imperialism. This development seems consonant with Satyagraha which for Gandhi was an inclusive quest to find creative solutions for all forms of oppression. In India and elsewhere, there are healthy movements of Gandhi's followers, and there are more moribund Gandhians who speak in Gandhi's name but also subvert the power of his theory and practice by failing to be open to new movements. Feminists and other women are engaged in many forms of action that Gandhi may not have anticipated. We have much to learn from Gandhi's theory and practice, but not to the exclusion of modern ideas and movements. He was never against any idea/s coming fro any quarter/s. He said: "I do not want my house to be walled on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people's houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave. "

Former South African President Nelson Mandela and follower if Gandhi has an interesting tip to give to women to bring their men around. He said: In the ancient Greek comedy Lystistrate by Aristophanes, the women of Athens refuse to do anything for their men- including make love- to get them to stop fighting the Spartans."

Mary Beth Sheridan writes that for the first time in 23 years, Icrene Ortega of Mexico city slept late this week end. She was participating in one of the most unusual work stoppages Mexico has ever seen: A one day national strike against housework, intended to highlight women's contributions in a society famous for machismo. This is aimed at converting the "invisible" into the "visible" ... women have poured into the work and force and universities. What has not changed is their place in the home. Even those without side job, such as Ortega, find they must do the household chores that have traditionally fallen to women... Thus she works seven day a week, in addition to keeping the house... They want men to pitch in more at home. And they would like the media and the text books to portray housework as a mutual responsibility.


IV

Present Situation and Conclusions

One of the biggest illegal trades going on in the world is the smuggling of human beings from poor to rich countries. Globally, about 1.2 million women and teenagers are trafficked for prostitution each year and many are trapped forever in the flesh trade in European countries.

Despite fifty three years of Independence atrocities on women continue unabated. Seventy per cent of the rape victims disappear from their homes, according to a recent study. They leave due to the scornful attitude of their parents, relatives; threat and continued harassment from the offender. The offender is mostly a known person and only 4 per cent of them are convicted.

In the month of June, 2000 in Mumbai, a 50 year old man in broad day light  poured kerosene over a 41 year old woman and burnt her in front if several people because she refused to marry him. Not to be out done the brave people of Nagpur stripped naked a woman and burnt her to death because she was supposed to have practiced witchcraft. Bala, 26 years old was beaten to death by her in-laws for not fulfilling the demand for a scooter. The daily newspapers are full of crime against women and dowry deaths.

The greatest tragedy of present day situation is that even after almost 53 years of our development work we have not been able to clothe our women.

This problem was brought to our notice in 1917 by Mahatma Gandhi. He said: I happened to visit a village in the Champaran district of Bihar. I found some of the women dressed very dirtily. So I told my wife to ask them why they did not wash their clothes. She spoke to them. One of women took her into her hut and said: look now there is no box or cupboard here containing other clothes. The Sari I am wearing is the only one I have. How am I to wash it? Tell Mahatmaji to get me another sari, and I shall then promise to bathe and put clean clothes everyday. This cottage has no exception, but a type to be found in many Indian villages.

Nalini Singh's interview ("Encounter", July 16, The Times Of India) on the pathetic state of women in Bihar is shocking. Their sub-human existence can be described, in the words or Rousseau as solitary poor, nasty brutish, stark/ These poor helpless women who live without food, clothes, shelter have thankfully caught attention of Singh. It is perhaps heart rending to learn that the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in a household wear the same saree without petticoat and choli (blouse) in rotation. Something needs to be done on a war footing to mitigate their "suffering".

It is a "wake up call" for women activists to get in action to uplift their sisters. Empowerment-without sharing is not possible. Sharing requires sacrifice. In short, this is the Gandhian formula (sharing and sacrifice). Nobody has done as much as Gandhi has done to bring out masses of illiterate women from the four walls of their houses. A few talented women were spotted by him who worked shoulder to shoulder with him, like Midas touch, anybody whom he touched became vibrant and active soldier of movement and not a lifeless idol of gold. Many of us have to change our life style.

Women have to be conscious and aware to feel and realize at every step of their life that they are builders of their nation and the peaceful world.

The hand that rocks the cradle

Is the hand that rules the world!

Despite the fight for gender equality there has not been perceptible change in the perception about women. A women is still considered delicate. Her mild behaviour and nature is seen as a negative point.

Let the pursuit of power be not only aim of the women empowerment. It should be "total emancipation". No one can double the efforts made by Gandhi to empower women. He had attracted so many millions of not only literate but illiterate women without the power of state, without the modern information technology and offering in return only sweat, toil, and pain, is an exceptional feat! His insistence on Women's education is the first step in right direction. We still have miles to go to achieve our cherished goal to empower women.

In one sentence we can hazard to say if women cease to be inferiors, men cannot be their superiors. This has become evident in the recent Panchayat Elections in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. In these States women are displaying a confidence and a skill which will soon challenge the bane of proxy politics.

*The writer is the vice-chairman of Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, Rajghat, New Delhi.)

[Source: Empowerment of Women: Miles to Go By Dr. Savita Singh]