|Wednesday, March 8, 2000,
to tax payers
free is the woman of today?
INCOME tax payers across the country have received a second knock in as many weeks. First, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha increased the surcharge from 10 per cent to 15 per cent, although he had promised to lift it altogether this year. Now the Supreme Court has ordered that dearness, house rent and city compensatory allowances are income and attract tax. Theoretically, the ruling covers only the employees of the government and those of public sector undertakings and the two nationalised insurance companies since the original dispute arose from their petition. But the judgement is so general in nature that every salaried individual receiving any allowance of this nature has to pay tax on it if he or she is not already doing so. It is an old demand of those with a regular income that those payments which are compensatory in nature should be tax-free if the underlying idea is not to be perverted. DA seeks to mitigate the hardship which price rise causes and this relief comes after a time lag. It is unfair for the government to bite off a slice of it it can be as high as 34.5 per cent from April next. The same is the case with HRA and CCA. What is more, these two allowances have no relation to the actual expenses an employee incurs. Often one has to pay double or triple the amount as rent compared to the puny payment he or she receives. There are two other painful factors. One, every paisa that comes the way of the workers affected by Mondays verdict is accounted for and hence the tax is deducted even before the payment is made. Two, in these days of liberalisation, the demand for material goods has shot up without a corresponding increase in the purchasing power. This adds to the sense of frustration of the middle class and alienation of the low income sections. Equity and fairplay demand that all allowances designed to cushion the financial stringency of wage-earners should remain outside the tax ambit. At least a major part of it should enjoy tax exemption. The present policy of giving with one hand and snatching by the other must end and end soon.
The two-Judge Bench of
the apex court concedes the moral force of the case for
not taxing these allowances. But it has thrown up its
hands by referring to the unambiguous wording of the
rules. As the tax laws stand, the Judges have said, it is
not open to the court to interpret them in any other
manner than what one High Court has done: bring the
allowances into the tax net. It is regrettable that the
court has opted for this hands-off approach on an issue
affecting the living standards of millions of people and
in these days of creative interpretation of the law. In
several recent cases the Supreme Court has stretched the
laws to write opinions strongly favouring public good.
Nobody has challenged these judgements, nor has anyone
raised the bogey that it is acting as the third chamber
of law-making. If there was a case demanding strong
judicial intervention it is surely this taxing matter.
There are two powerful ethical props for a different view
than the one the court has taken. It is a plain fact that
many high-earning persons evade income tax by ruthlessly
exploiting the loopholes in the laws. Blackmoney is the
outcome of this practice. And neither the income tax
department has mounted an effective campaign to hunt out
these tax cheats, nor has the court, any court, felt
provoked to order a comprehensive crackdown. The second
is the widespread ruse of doling out big money to top
executives and others by describing it as reimbursement.
Normally only medical expenses of a genuine nature should
be reimbursed as health is almost a basic right and
health care has become prohibitively costly. But no, a
variety of payments are categorised under this omnibus
term and treated as taxfree. The government loses
hundreds of crores of rupees while it picks
legally, that is the pocket of those in urban
areas for whom life has become an unending struggle.
Their plight may get worse depending on what the apex
court has meant by a related remark. The Bench has said
it was not giving its opinion on a number of other
payments, including leave travel concession and
childrens educational allowance, since the matter
was not raised before it. That is uncomfortably close to
enlarging the tax liability.
GONE are the days when a Governor's Address used to unfold a state government's policy blueprint for the coming days. It has been reduced to a ritual which has to be gone through amidst graceless walkouts and disruptions. The situation was true to form in the Punjab Assembly on Monday when the opposition stayed away or staged a walkout. The irony was that the walkout by the Congress was on the RSS question, as if there were not enough issues relating directly to the state. The Governor, Lt-Gen J.F.R. Jacob (retd), pragmatically chose to skip many large sections of the 70-page Address. As expected, the central issue this time was the need to give top priority to the agricultural sector. Many proposals in the Union Budget have been construed to be anti-farmer and the Punjab Government was perhaps keen to strengthen the bridges with the community, which is its mainstay. The Governor informed the members that a scheme, "Mission for a second push in agriculture", had been framed. Till full details about it are available and, more important, till it is put into application, it will be hard to say how far it will succeed in taking the farm output beyond a plateau where it is stuck. On the face of it, the additional stress on agro-processing is a step in the right direction. One had expected that the IT sector would share the spotlight with agriculture, but that is apparently not the case. What has to be realised is that while agriculture is bound to be the kingpin of Punjab's economy for a long time to come, the state has to diversify into the field of information technology in a big way to improve its finances as well as the employment situation. The slow-track mindset can change only if the government hammers at the point with greater force.
The Governor did touch
upon the state's serious financial difficulties, but the
steps that he listed for improving the situation were
nothing new. The fiscal management strategy that he
unfolded was based on commitments like reduction in the
non-productive expenditure and relocation and
redeployment of manpower resources, that have been
enumerated repeatedly but have not brought about any
perceptible change at the ground level so far. Similarly,
there was a reiteration of many old demands like the
inclusion of Punjabi-speaking areas and Chandigarh into
Punjab and the sharing of the river waters on the
international riparian principles. These have become
perennial topics which are included in the Address year
after year. Quite expectedly, the Punjab Government has
fully supported the setting up of the Constitution Review
Panel. At the same time, it has demanded greater fiscal
autonomy and a say in the appointment of Governors. The
reference to the breakdown of the democratic structure in
the neighbouring Pakistan may have sounded a little out
of place but the situation on the border has such a
direct bearing on the future of Punjab that it was not
exactly inappropriate. The peace, amity and prosperity
that the Punjab Government has promised to bring about
are constantly a hostage to the conspiracies hatched
THE all-India anti-communalism rally organised in Delhi on Monday by the Congress merely helped expose the party's shrinking following at the grassroots level. In happier times the Delhi unit on its own would have been able to mobilise a larger crowd than the one cobbled together for the "all-India" rally addressed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi. It is evident that the Sonia loyalists had organised what was touted as a massive rally with three objectives in mind. The first objective was to display in Delhi the increasing nationwide popularity of the party. It was effectively negated by the poor turnout at the rally The second objective was to kill dissidence within the party against the top leadership, sharpened by the humiliating performance of the Congress in the recent assembly elections and by-elections. It would be an understatement to say that the Congress was humbled in Manipur, humiliated in Orissa, mocked at in Haryana and laughed at in Bihar. If the organisers thought that by making the Chief Ministers of the four-and-a-half Congress-ruled states share the dais with the supreme leader of the party they would make the dissidents fall in line, they had not taken into account the anger of the Congress representatives from Bihar against the high command's (read Mrs Sonia Gandhi) decision to support Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav for defeating the vote of confidence Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been asked to seek. The continued defiance of the diktat of the central leadership by the Congress MLAs from Bihar carries an ominous message.
It is becoming
embarrassingly clear to Congress loyalists (as opposed to
Sonia loyalists) that Mrs Sonia Gandhi lacks political
intuition. She was, as usual, wrongly advised by her
coterie that a rally in Delhi, attended by five Congress
Chief Ministers, would make the Bihar dissidents tremble
with fear and seek forgiveness for having dared to defy
the high command. Political pundits believe that what the
Sharad Pawar-led revolt could not achieve may at long
last be accomplished by the angry Congress legislators
from Bihar if the central leadership does not show tact
in handling the crisis. The third objective of the rally
was to somehow divide a wedge in the ruling combine by
harping on the "saffronisation" agenda of the
Bharatiya Janata Party and "acts of cultural
terrorism" of the members of the Sangh Parivar. To
get the crowd interested in the meaningless political
drivel Mrs Sonia Gandhi's speech writer added a few
sentences against the "anti-poor thrust" of the
Union Budget. The organisers of the rally are evidently
unwilling to learn that populist rhetoric alone cannot
take the Congress far in reinventing itself as the party
of the future. And if Mrs Sonia Gandhi does not work hard
on Indianising her diction and give up the embarrassing
dependence on prepared texts for making public speeches,
her political popularity both within the party and the
people would continue to take the direction which the
sensex took after the presentation of the Budget by
Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha.
THE pre-budget hype about hard choices on the tax front have turned out to be nothing more than loud noises. The budget, like the preceding Economic Survey, is lacklustre and without direction. It could best be described as a continuation of the rationalisation of the indirect taxation structure initiated a few years ago; nothing beyond that.
There is also no relationship between the two concerns expressed in the survey and the budgetary proposals. What are the major two concerns? After 50 years of economic development the agricultural production has not yet stabilised; the countrys agriculture is still dependent on the monsoon for growth. There is nothing in the budget which shows concern for attaining stability and steady growth in the agricultural sector. The second major concern was the increasing fiscal deficit year after year despite the loud concerns shown in a ritual manner.
Coming to the budget proper, it is more of an announcement to start new schemes rather than a budgetary exercise to balance the revenues and expenditures of the government.
There are announcements to set up an expenditure commission, to declare a year of women to start new schemes for elementary education to all, to provide insurance benefits to the poor and so on. When these schemes will begin and what their impact will be on the economy is yet to be seen. Going by the past experience, these schemes are likely to remain on paper only.
The budget is really harsh on the people, especially the salaried class as well as on industry. The average citizen is now under a double squeeze. On the one hand, though there is no change in the income tax rate, the surcharge on the tax payable has been increased from 10 to 15 per cent. On the other hand, the interest rate on provident fund, which is the real saving for a large majority of people for old age, has been reduced by 1 per cent. The other alternative savings avenues which are available to the average citizens like mutual funds, the tax rate on distributable dividend has been increased from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, which eventually means reduction in the rate of return on mutual fund investments.
On top of this as a result of the rationalisation of indirect taxes, whereby a single rate of excise duty of 16 per cent (in place of the existing three slabs, namely 8 per cent, 16 per cent and 20 per cent) with special tax of three slabs 8 per cent, 16 per cent and 24 per cent, the effective excise duty to be paid by the consumer will be much higher than what he is paying now. This is definitely going to raise the prices of various commodities between 5 and 10 per cent on an average. The fact that excise duty on certain items has been reduced to zero is no consolation as most of the items of daily use, which were earlier attracting 8 per cent excise duty, will now attract a 16 per cent, levy. Thus the average citizen, especially the salaried class, will bear the major brunt of this budget. He will not only be paying higher prices for the goods he buys but also find his savings being eroded in a big way.
As for industry, the effective increase in excise duty may act as a damper on the demand for goods, which will ultimately translate into lower sales and lower profits. The stock market has already shown its dismay over the budgetary proposals by going downwards. The doubling of the tax rate on distributable dividend from 10 per cent to 20 per cent will also affect the savings and investment decisions of a large number of people, including the corporate sector. The only welcome decision in the budget as far as the industrial sector is concerned is the modified MAT which will make all zero-paying companies to pay tax at the rate of 7.5 per cent of their book profits as defined in the Companies Act. As a result of this, there will be no zero tax paying companies now.
The Finance Minister has once again lost the opportunity to widen the tax base by bringing more people under the tax net. Bringing the income of farm house owners under the tax net is not going to add much to the revenues. The real problem with our tax system is the tax administration. It is so weak and corrupt that a large percentage of revenue which should have gone to the government kitty is short-circuited at the employee level. There is nothing in the budget which talks of streamlining of the tax administration. The tightening of the tax administration could itself have doubled the revenue collection without touching either the direct tax or indirect tax rate.
The government has been shouting for a very long time about the burgeoning expenditure all around, but no serious attempt has been made in the budget to control this expenditure and tame the fiscal deficit. Except for some reduction in subsidies on fertilisers and taking out of sugar from the rationing system for income tax payers, not much effort has been made to control expenditure.
There are a large number of areas where a reduction in expenditure could have been achieved. For instance, if the State Electricity Boards (SEBs) have been restructured or privatised by now the government could have saved a lot of money which goes to meet the deficit of the SEBs. Again, the concept of zero budgeting has been introduced to cut down expenditure, but as the past experience shows, this concept has never worked. People have always found excuses to continue with the projects they had initiated earlier.
The defence budget as expected has been raised by a whooping Rs 13,000 crore, representing an almost 28 per cent increase over last years allocation. After the Kargil episode nobody would like to take chances with the countrys security, but there is nothing in the budget which shows concern for better defence expenditure management. If one were to go by media reports, then corruption has permeated almost all defence purchases, including spare-parts. If one is to believe the report then the Army establishment is paying over hundred or thousand times more for spare-parts through the system of tenders. There is nothing in the budget which can help check corruption in this area.
The proceeds from the disinvestment of PSUs have been kept at the last years level of Rs 10,000 crore. It is difficult to see how the government will realise this as during the current financial year the government could mobilise less than Rs 1,000 crore only from PSUs disinvestment against the target of Rs 10,000 crore. What is needed on the PSU front is a quick decision on disinvestment. In this aspect the government machinery is moving very slowly. Moreover, no rigorous exercise has been done to determine the market value of the assets owned by the PSUs.
The way the value of some of these PSUs for disinvestment has been worked out shows that they are being given away at throw-away prices. It would be better if the disinvestment plan had been taken away from the ministries and given to an autonomous statutory body to carry it out after proper determination of the market value of a PSUs assets.
As for the banking sector the Finance Minister has proposed to reduce the governments share to 33 per cent in all the nationalised banks. This will be achieved through recapitalisation. Though this is a welcome step, there is no rational argument as to why the government should hold even 33 per cent share in the bank. Moreover, the budget has not paid any attention to the problem of weaker banks. Some of the banks are in such a bad shape that if the government was to withdraw its backing they would collapse immediately. How is the government going to have recapitalisation of such banks in which their market value will be almost nil? It would have made sense if the budget had included proposals of takeover and merger of these weak banks by/with strong domestic and foreign banks.
Normally, very little is discussed about the agricultural sector in the budget. However, when so many policy announcements have been made in the budgetary proposals, there should have been some indication about the governments thinking on the agricultural sector when farm products are going to be imported on a large scale in the next two to three years under the WTO agreement. It is really surprising that till date the government has not lifted curbs on the free movement of agricultural produce in the country. There is no mention of the formation of producers cooperatives in the agricultural sector or allowing public companies to enter the marketing sector of agriculture products in a big way. This is essential if our agricultural sector is to successfully face competition from foreign sources.
deserve a better deal
WOMAN is often described as the better half of man. But the actual condition of women in the world does not tally with this description. Although a lot has been done to ameliorate the condition of womankind, International Womens Day, which falls today, is a reminder that much more needs to be done to ensure a better deal for the female half of humanity.
Let us start with the status of women. In no country have women achieved equality with men. Of the worlds 1.4 billion poor people, it is estimated that nearly 70 per cent are women. Between 75 and 80 per cent of the worlds 30 million refugees are women and children. Womens life expectancy, educational attainment and income are highest in Sweden, Canada, Norway, the USA and Finland. The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, resulted in agreement by 189 delegations on a five-year plan to enhance the social, economic and political empowerment of women, improve their health, advance their education and promote their reproductive rights. Over 100 countries have announced new initiatives to further the advancement of women as a result of the Beijing conference. The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, often described as the Bill of Rights for Women, has now been ratified by 154 countries.
The situation regarding political participation of women has been improving. The first country to grant women the right to vote was New Zealand in 1893. Nearly 30 women have been elected heads of state or government in this century. Women hold 11 per cent of the seats in worlds parliaments. In early 1995, Sweden formed the worlds first Cabinet to have equal number of men and women. Of the 185 high-ranking diplomats to the United Nations, seven are women. The percentage of female Cabinet ministers worldwide has more than doubled in the last decade, from 3.4 in 1988 to 7 in 1998.
In India, politicians have been playing football with the proposal to reserve one-third seats in Parliament and state assemblies for women. This is a pity. If the proposal were to be implemented, it would go a long way in political empowerment of women and their general advancement.
Educational backwardness is a major reason why women are lagging behind men. Of the worlds one billion illiterate adults, two-thirds are women. Two-thirds of the 150 million children worldwide who are not in school are girls. However, during the past two decades the combined primary and secondary enrolment ratio for girls in developing countries increased from 38 per cent to 78 per cent.
Economically, women have been making progress, but still men enjoy a larger share of the cake. The majority of women earn on an average about three-fourths of the pay of males for the same work, outside the agricultural sector, in both developed and developing countries. In most countries, women work approximately twice the unpaid time men do. Women make up 31 per cent of the official labour force in developing countries and 47 per cent worldwide. Rural women produce more than 55 per cent of all food grown in developing countries. The value of womens unpaid housework and community work is estimated at between 10 per cent and 35 per cent of the GDP worldwide, amounting to $ 12 trillion in 1996. Women hold 35 per cent of professional posts in the United Nations Secretariat including 18 per cent in senior management position. By the end of this year there will be as many women employees as men in many industrialised nations.
Womens global demographic position makes an interesting statistical picture. Women outlive men in almost every country. There are slightly fewer women than men in the world 98.6 women for every 100 men. Out-of-marriage births have increased more than 50 per cent in the last 20 years in developed countries. One in every four households in the world is now headed by a woman. The life expectancy of women has gone up. In 1992, the average woman lived to 63 years in developing countries compared to 53.7 years in 1970. In industrialised countries, womens average life expectancy in 1992 was 79.4 years, up from 74.2 in 1970. By 2025, the proportion of women aged 60 or older will almost double in East and South-East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North Africa.
Womens health is a matter of global concern. Women are becoming increasingly affected by HIV. Today about 42 per cent of the detected cases are women, and the number of infected women is expected to reach 15 million by the end of 2000. An estimated 20 million unsafe abortions are performed worldwide every year, resulting in the deaths of 70,000 women.
Approximately 5,85,000 women die every year, over 1600 every day, from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. In sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 13 women will die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, compared to 1 in 3300 women in the USA. Globally, 43 per cent of all women and 51 per cent of pregnant women suffer from iron-deficiency.
Women continue to suffer violence at the hands of men. Each year an estimated two million girls suffer the practice of female genital mutilation. Worldwide, 20 to 50 per cent of women experience some degree of domestic violence during marriage. The primary victims of todays armed conflicts are civilian women and their children, not soldiers. The use of rape as a weapon of war has become more evident. In Rwanda, from April, 1994, to April, 1995, estimates of the number of women and girls raped range from 15,700 to over 25,000. Rapes during conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were investigated with a view to launching prosecution by international tribunals established by the United Nations.
Exploitation of women
for commercialised sex remains a big blot in the track
record of mankind as we enter the 21st century. A
prohibitive policy of legal ban on prostitution has not
succeeded anywhere in the world. On the contrary, this
restrictive approach towards prostitution has spawned
venereal diseases, crime and police corruption. India is
one of the worst examples of this phenomenon.
ON the day of his marriage, a bridegroom in Peshawar had to pass through seven interesting stages before getting on to his brides place. One, he had to take bath in cold or lukewarm water, a few drops of Gangajal mixed in it. Two, he had to put on a freshly-made boski (expensive silk) salwar and kameez Pathan suit.
Three, and that was something unique to Peshawar, he had to allow young girls and kids, related, of course, to tear off that suit here and there. No, nobody would go to the extent of stripping him naked. They would just come, tease him and participate in the tearing ritual, taking care that the bits they tore did not expose him absolutely.
Four, he would then allow himself to be turned into a perfect buffoon. That meant new Western suit in the case of sarkari mulazims and another made-to-order Pathan suit in the case of those in business. The dominant thing in both situations was the golden-threaded kulah and highly-expensive mushaddi lungi atop his head. Hanging by that headgear and covering his face completely would be dense but not heavy rows of jasmine flowers held together by a solitary string. He could see everybody from that fascinating curtain. Those interested could see him likewise.
Five, he would be made to mount a white horse or mare. His mother and father and elder sisters and bhabhis would come forward and move their right hand full of currency notes round his headgear. That was known as sirwarna. The money thus taken round was then passed on to the master of the band that had to accompany the marriage procession.
Six, the bloke was put on auction. It was called tambol. That meant that anyone wishing to give any money to his parents on that auspicious occasions was welcome to do that. One man would count the money thus given and then announce Rs 500 as tambol from Rai Bahadur Hukam Chand Chopra, the bridegrooms uncle. The name of the giver and the money given had to be repeated. To keep the record for future use, another man would jot that down in a notebook.
Seven, the horse or mare would then start moving, with the band playing loudly and relatives and friends dancing merrily. The bridegrooms father would come forward, take fistfuls of coins from a coloured, silken bag, move those coins round the boys head, symbolically, and throw them backward. Little boys and girls took special pleasure in collecting those coins.
I never had the
privilege of becoming a bridegroom in Peshawar. Before my
time could come, I was kicked out of that town in 1947.
But the drama of those lovely rituals comes to my mind as
I see the bridegrooms of our democracy, our worthy MPs,
getting ready to march into the new Parliament with their
breasts swollen legitimately. And I hear myself
whispering to myself: Good ladies and gentlemen,
now that we have elected you, for Gods sake, start
grappling with the problems that pinch you not but pinch
the rest of us all.
free is the woman of today?
THE woman that we see today driving a graceful Mitsubishi Lancer, dressed in designer wear with Ray Bans neatly settled on her nose, holding a mobile has not always been like this. She has come a long way.
Women were the first humans to taste bondage. She was a slave before slavery existed. Her inferiority can largely be attributed to her sexual peculiarities. Man has always played the role of a lord; as a result his physical and mental development took place at a good pace befitting his occupation and field of interest. On the contrary, the overall growth of woman remained stunted. She was compelled to overtax her physical strength. It is spine chilling to even dream of the events in the sixth century A.D. at the Council of Macon. The question seriously under discussion was whether women are human beings and possess a soul? Pitifully very few answered in the affirmative.
Since long she has been treated as an object of lust, slavery and exchange. So much so that even the Ten Commandments are addressed only to man and the Tenth Commandment refers to women along with servants and domestic animals. This prejudice is visible in the older regions of the world too. Almost all preach that woman is unclean and impure, the greatest sinner of the world, one who has caused the downfall of man. Also a very strange phenomenon that is found in the history of some states such as Greece, and Italy is the sacrifice of virginity publicly in temples. In some areas the girl was given to the highest bidder and the money went to the temple; in other areas she was presented to all those present in the temple.
From such practices evolved the greatest curse against women prostitution. It, too, is a representative of male dominance. The evil that came into being in the sixth or seventh century A.D. is yet to be done away with. In ancient times all unmarried girls were forced to do so while the married ones were made to follow a strict code of conduct by confining themselves to the four walls where there status was just one step better than the slaves. Brothels were established universally and churches and just the clergy headed many of these. Today we have changed the term prostitute to sex workers, but how this would help in curbing the problem is beyond the common mans comprehension.
However, with the discovery of the USA and the economic revolution, in many parts of the world women were hired to work along with men at lower wages. The cause of her gradual improvement in the so-called Christian world was not Christianity but the advancing civilisation of the West. Now after thousands of years we can say the woman today is self-dependent and free. But the immediate next question is How free? Is she really independent?
This question is evaluated and answered differently by different sections of people. To the elite of society, the woman of today is a paradigm. Sitting inside airconditioned offices managing her affairs efficiently: is this the woman of the new generation, who knows everything and holds a strategic position. It is this woman who is proudly celebrating the International Womens Day in senate halls of big cities. Ironically the maid coming every day to the house of this very lady is not even aware of any such day or even her own fundamental rights. This maid is not even granted any bonus or a half-day.
Woefully the majority of Indian women continue to live in slums, exist on meagre resources, serve the family before all, sacrifice all needs and have no desires. Admiringly she never complains. A woman is more tolerant and patient, with a stronger willpower and determination. It is these qualities that have helped her to endure through the antagonistic phases of history.
In spite of all this the woman is still counted among the minorities. Shocking but true. The whole idea of reservation proves this idea. No one talks about reservation for men. Why cannot we have 35 per cent reservation for men, 35 per cent for women and so on. Today when women have practically conquered all spheres of the world, reservation is a means of under estimating her capabilities. Now when she has a bright chance of procuring more strength in every field, why is her number being restricted? Why should she settle at 33 per cent when by proving her worth she can attain much higher than that?
Another very important aspect is towards which section of woman is this reservation directed ? As discussed earlier, the upper strata of society is already successful. They have the sources and means, the influence and contacts to reach anywhere. The rest the ignorant and the under privileged are not in a position to avail of these opportunities. Nevertheless, to say that all this implies the conditions are miserable would be an understatement.
The advent of the media
and the increasing awareness among a big chunk of women
in particular and the society in general is providing a
boost to their understanding of the changing concepts of
life. The woman has stepped out of her niche and is in
the field to compete with man. She is well versed and
fully equipped to fight all hurdles in her path to the
top. This definitely is in sharp contrast to her position
in the past.
rural womens emancipation
WOMEN the world over have traversed a long path of apathy, indifference, ridicule, criticism and acceptance. The last century saw them playing a dominant role in world politics. Sweden took the lead in reserving seats for them in its parliament. Germany, Argentina and Venezuela, following the footsteps of Sweden, framed legislation in favour of women so that they could play a decisive role in politics. South Africa is trying to keep 50 per cent of its administrative offices reserved for women. In Brazil, 20 per cent of the seats are reserved in parliament. In England, 119 women of the Labour Party have entered its parliament. Close on the heels of these countries, India is striving for reservation of women in both Houses of Parliament.
It has been a difficult path for the fair sex. In a male-dominated society, the main challenge has been male chauvinism be it in a developing country like India or a developed country like the USA. During the 20th century women had been successful in gaining their own identity.
The name of Golda Meir of Israel is most significant. She led her country at a time, when it was jointly attacked by Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. She led women into the battlefield. Margaret Thatcher of England was second to none: 20th century history of England will always remain indebted to her for bringing peace and prosperity to her country. Her economic measures even unnerved the Labour Party. Her rigid, strong and aggressive policy at home and abroad gave her the proud title of Iron Lady. She revamped the education department as Education Secretary from 1970-1974 and as Prime Minister, she overhauled the social fabric of her country.
Asian women also did not lag behind in establishing supremacy. After the killing of her husband, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first woman Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. She occupied this office in 1960-65 and then again in 1970-77. Following her footsteps, her daughter has won the crucial elections and is at present the Prime Minister.
Philippine woman leader Corazon Aquino has also played a significant role in strengthening democracy in her country during the last century. Her entry into politics was not by choice but due to circumstances created by the murder of her husband. The unhesitating and daring attacks of this steel woman routed Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos had to resign in 1986, thereby leaving the political road clear for Aquino. Though, the throne proved no bed to roses for her (she had to resign in 1992), yet she will always be remembered as one having entrenched democratic tendencies in the country.
Similarly, democracy was re-established in Burma by no one else, but a woman leader Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy. In spite of her being kept under house arrest in 1989, her party not only won the elections of 1990, but won it with an absolute majority. In appreciation of her role for human rights, she was honoured with the Nobel Prize in1991.
Pakistan and India, too, have the proud privilege of having women Prime Ministers, in Mrs Benazir Bhutto and Mrs Indira Gandhi, respectively. Politics ran in their blood. Mrs Gandhi, a symbol of both accomplishments and contradictions was a symbol of womens ascent to power and made female equality recognised in the political arena.
Besides politics, women have streaked into the citadel of men in space. In 1962, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. Kalpana Chawla too has given us proud moments in this field. We salute the preceding century for giving us the credit of having the most humane of the human beings, Mother Teresa, who always tried to minimise the agony of others.
Though politically, we can compare ourselves favourably with other countries as far as the role of women is concerned, but socially we are still far behind. In India, women have often been ignored, under-paid and even unrecognised as means of development and they also receive lesser benefits from the development process in the form of little food to eat, lesser education, inadequate medical care and opportunities in life. Female infanticide and sati has been replaced by foeticides and bride burnings.
The ratio of women to
men had decreased from 972 females per 1000 men in 1901
to 926 per 1000 in 1991 and is still dropping which will
create serious sociological problems. Eighty per cent of
women live in the villages, their involvement in the
development process, their empowerment in every sphere of
life is marginal and insignificant. Feminism has not yet
become a voice to reckon with as it has in other parts of
the world. The day Indian women, as mothers, do not
discriminate between their sons and daughters, then only
will they achieve true freedom for themselves and for
their descendants, without fear of retrogression.
WE entirely and wholeheartedly associate ourselves with the protest recorded by the Executive Committee of the Journalists Association of India on Sunday last against the Government of Indias decision to levy an extra three per cent demand on bearing Press telegrams.
There is absolutely no doubt that an increase in the rate for Press telegrams would adversely affect a most useful but at present not sufficiently solvent department of public activities.
Many of the newspapers in the country, can indeed, barely make their two ends meet, and an increase in the cost of telegrams will necessarily be felt by them as real hardship, with the result that some of them will either have to reduce their telegraphic services or to reduce their staff or to increase their prices in order to meet the increased charge.
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