Source: Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

India is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-linguistic society. There are numerous diversities that make India unique, however, it is the gender behaviour and role which has a sense of uniformity throughout India. Since ancient times it has been the role of men to go out in the fields and work while women used to stay back at home looking after domestic work and children. Such compartmentalization of gender roles continued all throughout Indian history. Unfortunately, it took the form of a stereotype where women were not even seen worthy to attend education and perform other roles. Such stagnation of Indian society endangered the very existence of Indian culture. It was only during the Indian reform movement during the colonial period that some progress was made and women were accepted to have multidimensional roles in society. The Indian freedom movement was fought on the principles of women's equality and the Indian constitution as enshrined such principles in the fundamental rights and directive principles. However, more than six decades after independence have we been able to achieve such objectives? Are Indian women able to practice their right to equality? such questions need to be introspected.

There has been a continuous imbalance in the levels of women's representation in parliament and legislatures. Similarly, there has been poor progress in the fields of maternal health and adolescent pregnancies. The gap between women having completed secondary education with their male counterparts having age above 25 years is the highest among the BRICS countries. The same is the case with the huge gap in labour market participation between male and female workers. India has continuously been ranked poorly in the gender inequality index (140). So, why is it that even after enshrining the ideals of women's equality all throughout post-independence history have we not been able to achieve that?

One of the foremost reasons for such instance is the patriarchal mindset of the Indian society which identifies women's role with a narrow outlook. The biggest manifestation of such an outlook is the continuous land deprivation that women are subjected to. According to the estimates about 90% of the agricultural land is owned by men. Similarly, in urban regions majority of the property is owned by male counterparts whereas even the liberal legislation related to property rights has not been able to make a difference. Families prefer to name their property and land in the name of male members and somehow get around with the laws. So why is it that Indian society still prefers to have males as owners of the land property?

The Indian society is basically more tilted towards the theory of females being a temporary member of the family and once married would go to the other family. This further leads to the theory where sons are seen as the caretakers of parents during their old age. Such beliefs are not restricted only to the lower sections but continued to persist in the educated and advanced most sections of the society.

Particularly even if the female member is earning her income is seen as a secondary source of income. Mostly it is the women who need to adjust with their job work after marriages. In the same way in rural areas, there is an emotional attachment to the land and ancestral property. Females want these to remain in the family thus prefer to name them to male members. Though there has been legislation related to women's property rights but these are rarely followed due to the low levels of awareness and the beliefs that a daughter's share is to be given during her marriage in the form of the dowry.

The ownership of land by women has multi-dimensional advantages. it will empower women and increase their decision-making power in family matters. They will have more control over family income. This will reduce domestic violence, greater savings for the family, food security, nutritious diet; better health indicators, and hence better productivity. Also, it would allow women to have bank accounts in their name thus welfare subsidies and other transfers would be directed to them. This will lead to financial literacy and awareness of their entitlements. More women would come to the forefront of decisions regarding economic growth and development. Apart from it, empowerment at home would lead to societal changes and women's status would be upgraded. They would be seen in new rules and of their homes. More labour market participation would lead to a larger workforce, hence more production and higher economic growth.

Thus a reformation in contemporary society is the need of the hour. The current phase is transitional in character where women's role is changing. Hence need is to felicitate these changes. The government needs to include community and civil society into decision making thus ending over-centralisation.

There is a resistance to liberal property laws and obstacles to implementing the already passed laws. This needs strong political will as religious orthodoxy would blind to resist such changes. Such sensitive issues need to be handled with utmost care. To increase women's bargaining power the continuity of SHG programmes has to be maintained with the larger coverage. Probably greater cooperation between state and Central Government is needed as land is a state subject.

The momentum gained due to the passing of the land acquisition Act should not be lost. Its implementation is a necessity for an effective land reform process. Ultimately it's the mindset of the society which needs to be changed. Thus women and land are inherently related to women empowerment. India being an aspiring nation having a huge young population cannot let such discrimination continue. It will hinder India's progress. As Gandhiji said,

"To call women weak is injustice to them. It is the women who have such endurance so as to talk about self-sacrifice".
Hence it's the women who need to come out to fight for their rights. Gender sensitization is the only way to progress. Then only India can call herself a just, equal, and democratic society and fulfill the vision of the Indian constitution.

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