The question is pertinent to all regions of the world, all religious persuasions and all cultures. A few women in politics, public life and commanding positions in government or corporate sector, a few social activists, some in the fields of art, literature and science and a few names excitedly put out by the media of women-pilots and women-officers in the armed forces should not lead us into thinking that women are coming into their own. They are still permitting themselves to be cast in their traditional mould.

Take a simple and even trivial thing as the mode of addressing the husband by a wife in the Indian setting and in the 21st century.

Almost of all of them, to the extent I have been able to keep count in response to my informal and casual queries, address their husbands in the second person plural (which is a form of respect in Indian languages), while the husbands enjoy the liberty of using the second person singular.

This tradition is so ingrained that even when a modern-minded husband pressures his wife to deal with him on equal terms, the wife, even if she is educated or otherwise progressive, flatly refuses!

Similarly, many Muslim women tend to conform to the burqa and abide by the restrictions imposed upon them.

The revolutions in knowledge, information, communications, technology and social mores seem to have made no difference to women’s perception of themselves as submissive and deferential subordinates, as home-makers, child-bearers and child-rearers and generally as the supporting cast, and not as decision-makers and game changers in their own right. So much so that they would rather silently put up with domestic abuse, including beating and other forms of mental and physical torture, than complain to their parents, leave alone suing the husbands under the provisions of appropriate laws relating to penal offences or divorce.


In Indian mythology, epics, history and public affairs there are, of course, examples such as those of Durga, Ahalya Bai, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Matangini Hazra, Medha Patkar and Aruna Roy; other countries too can boast women of daring. But these are scattered examples with no perceptible or lasting impact on the course of events.

The wonder about the issue of providing for one-third representation to women in legislatures by amending the Constitution is not that it has been hanging fire for years (it is known that men will do everything possible to scuttle it) but that women have not resorted to any sustained, vigorous, unstoppable, national movement to make it happen.

On the contrary, they have been content to meekly occupy the sidelines, leaving the field free to men to make their stalling moves.

Apparently, women themselves do not know of what enviable stuff they are made. A number of national and international surveys and the experience of those in public life have consistently highlighted the fact that women are best fitted to play the role of change agents and are far more industrious, honest, diligent, efficient and effective than men in carrying out responsibilities entrusted to them. They are also endowed with phenomenal multi-tasking capabilities.

When I was Member (Vigilance), Railways, in 1977-78, I used to receive daily some 300 complaints of corruption and harassment of various kinds against employees (mostly male) posted to ticket issuing counters in major metropolitan cities.

As an experimental measure, I made them all-women counters and the number of complaints dramatically dropped to 20 or so per day!

For nearly 20 years after retirement, I have been involved in developing grass roots leadership among women, along with the late Lakshmi Krishnamurthi, the spirited daughter, made in his image, of S.Satyamurti, a national hero who sacrificed his life fighting for the country’s freedom, a great orator in Tamil and English and a terror to the British members of the Central Legislative Assembly.


Our overall impression was that panchayati raj institutions with women presidents invariably did better than those under the control of men. The Self-Help Groups too, to a large extent, owe their success to their being managed by women.

How long are women going to be occupying the back seat, watching things happen and waiting for things to happen?

When are they going to make things happen?

A special responsibility lies in this respect on enlightened (which does not necessarily mean formally educated or English-educated) women to develop the needed social commitment and public spirit to become the spearhead of a nation-wide movement for combating the ills and evils of society.