Freedom from Gender: Imagining Equality for Men and Women in India

Nilanjana S Roy – India Forbes – Tuesday, 20 August 2013 (originally published 16 Aug)

Woman and a man looking at clouds resembling interlocked gender symbols
Image: India Forbes

The idea that we are equal stops at the ground beneath our feet. The soil of India, the land of Bharat, is owned chiefly by men. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FAO), women account for only 9.5 percent of land-holders. Their figures drew on the agricultural census of 2000 and 2001, which found just 12 million women owned land, out of 120 million landholders.

Think of this another way: Out of all the factors that dictate whether you will own your own home—caste, class, economic status—the most significant is something you have little control over. If you’re born a man in India, you automatically have a chance in the land-owning lottery. If you’re born a woman in India, what are the chances that you will own your own home, inherit property, kneel down on a patch of earth and think, as you let a handful of dust slip through your fingers, that this is your land? Brutally low.

Think of the numbers I just cited. Those millions—the lonely, tiny figure of 12 million on one side, the large, dominant group of 120 million on the other—are not abstractions. They represent real people, actual families; those figures contain our histories as Indians, the history of families who were anxious to marry women into landed families, so that they would have something by extension, families who saw women as burdens, because they had nothing by definition. If we’re talking equality, and freedoms, this is where we start: With the absence of equality, built into the foundation stones of a society . . .

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