Saturday, March 08, 2008

Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi

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Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi

Living a hard but independent life.

[Pictures and text by Mayank Austen Soofi]

They don't look glamorous. They don't have the best paying jobs. Their employers are not listed in stock exchanges. There is nothing enviable about them. They are the working women of Delhi.

A silent revolution is in process in this conservative capital of a conservative country. The women have started coming out from their homes. They commute in tightly packed buses, with shoulders touching the arms of men who are not their relatives. At work they spend a major part of the day with men who have never met their husbands or fathers. With these men, strangers to their families, they distribute their workload, crack jokes, and share midday meals.

The women of Delhi have started coming into their own. They earn their own salaries and operate their own bank accounts. They do not have to ask for shopping money from their husbands. If something tragic happens--the death of a husband or a father, for instance--they don't have to look to others for support. They now stand on their own feet.

But concerns remain. Although in urban India, a growing number of households have started discovering the advantages of working women and appreciate the consequent increase in monthly income, life for them is tough. The husbands do not yet share work in the household management, a domain still considered a woman's job. These women essentially are obliged to do straight double shifts(!)

For a woman employed in a 9-6 job, she has to wake up early in the morning, help the children get ready for school, iron clothes for the husband, prepare breakfast and lunch for the family, and all of it to be done efficiently and in time so as not to miss the bus for work. If it's a traditional joint family, the women are also expected to care for their aging parents-in-law.

For their bosses at work though, these women are treated simply as employees, not as mothers, wives, and daughters-in-law. Once back home after an exhausting day, there is no time to rest. Dinner needs to be cooked, children to be assisted with homework, and husband to be given time.

It is hard, but the women are not complaining. After all, sweet is the taste of independence.

Employed as house-maid, she is crossing the busy highway

Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi

Running to catch a bus that has already started moving

Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi

Dressed and to Office--in a rickshaw

Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi

Do they all work and in the same office?

Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi

A Flash of Her flowery shalwar

Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi

Long day ahead

Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi

An Employed lady with handbag and work tool--a broom

Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi

9:30 AM--Behind the bank counter

Women's Day Special - Chasing the Working Women of Delhi


Shaheen Sultan Dhanji said...

International women's day is an important day to not only celebrate, but, also to recept an open dialogue on the many pressing issues faced by women. Yes, in some fraction, women are emerging out of their domestic sphere and pursuing employment and so forth...but, there still lacks a strength in many South Asian women to become the 'complete' woman, they aspire to be. For instance, the domestic violence is very rampant in the lives of rural areas, where the patriarchy is the factor. They are the victims of dometic violence, which leaves cataclysmic emotional and psychological scars....Thus, we celebrate women's day, but, should also keep committment in vocalising, protesting and reaching platforms of massive communication to enrich the lives of women all around.

Let's see...what we (women) are celebrating? The right to equal opportunities. Crushing patriarchal - submission and dominance cycle both external (society) and internally (domestic). It is a celebration for the 'right' denied. A woman is a mother, daughter, sister, lover, wife, friend, a professional - but most of all, she is a complete person, when she is able to nurture her independence and have the right to educate herself.

Men can also help to celebrate, by being an equal to a woman.....and not succumb to centuries reservation of patriarchy. Every human has the right to a life of dignity and equality -regardless of gender.

I heard a man telling his (male) friend, "here they (women) go again, women's day, they will bash men on everything".... Livid I was at that remark, for it is the same lopsided nonsensical behaviour. It is not a men-bashing celebration, on the contrary, it is a celebration to invite positive energy and aspirations for a prosperous future. Oh I can write few more pages, but, am sure Mayank is better at his blog and his articles.....Over to you Mayank!

Neha Mirchandani said...

Mayank Austen Soofi,

You've surely got lots of talent and energy to keep posting amazing things. This is what I miss about India, the sense of culture that is lost in USA. (right now I feel like packing my suitcase and moving back to India, let the hubby keep the house, kids and our dog). Will continue to visit your blogs.

Vidya Rao said...

How nice to read a piece which honours the courage, resourcefulness,hardships, strugges and victories of the ordinary woman. Too often nowadays, International women's day has got hijacked and coopted to become some kind of consumerist ocassion to celebrate with a spa or lunch or shopping for diamonds or some such-- you just have to look at the ads in the papers to know this! It makes such a mockery of the struggles and lives of ordinary women, working women, poor women. It wasnt always like that. I cut my teeth, so to speak, on the women's movement in the early 80's--- issues around dowry, female foeticide, caste-gender violence etc. Those were stirring times-- and we were hopeful of real change. There has been some, and then there have been huge backlashes too. On the whole though I'd like to believe there is more awareness now, more clarity, and people, both women and men are willing to speak and act. Still-- theres miles to go.Thanks for your piece.

Jawahara Saidullah said...

Lovely piece. However, to be fair the working outside the home Indian woman is not new. For the lower classes being a working woman was nothing new. The maid servants, the agricultural laborers, the sweepers, etc. have existed for a long time.

This revolution is new only for the middle (including the lower-middle whatever that means) and upper classes.