There are no women here.
What, what’s that you say? Those floating shadows, whispering beneath technicolor robes, those are – women? Women with thoughts and names and feelings??
Many women in India are all but invisible, save for their fabulously audacious saris and accessories. Walking in the street, men outnumber women by an extraordinary amount. Almost all shopkeepers are men. Restaurants are filled almost entirely with men dining in groups. There may be a few families, but it is exceedingly rare to see a group of women.
We went to the Red Fort in Delhi on a Sunday. There are separate entrances for men and women (for the security screening). The men’s line stretched back at least 100 feet. There was no one in the women’s line. Inside, the complex was filled with groups of men enjoying a leisurely Sunday together. The women were nowhere to be found.
At the beach in Kerala a few days later we saw a couple of families, but mostly we only saw groups of men. Generally, the men spent their time frolicking in the water in their underwear and gawking at Western women in bikinis. Women, fully cloaked in saris (i.e., wrapped in about 8 meters of fabric despite the heat), minded the children and prepared the picnic lunch. I try hard not to impose my liberal, individualistic Western values on the things I see when I travel, but I couldn’t help but feel incensed at women being denied the simple pleasure of a swim in the sea.
So where are they, India’s women? On this I can only speculate. Home making dinner perhaps? Cleaning house? Minding the children? I don’t know, I haven’t met them yet.
Allegedly, in the “New India” women are afforded much more autonomy and respect; surely we have all seen that darling of the news media, the Special Report on young, educated, upwardly-mobile Indian women working in high-tech call centers, doing things like meeting friends for coffee and going shopping. But from an outsiders perspective, this is far from the norm (though I could probably find it if I set my mind to visiting a shopping mall in an upscale neighborhood). So far as I can tell, the vast majority of the half-a-billion women in this country are still kept tightly under lock and key.