-Dr. Sanjeev D Kenchaigol, Programme Officer
Hard was thy fate in all the scenes of life
As daughter, sister, mother, friend, and wife;
But harder still, thy fate in death we own,
Thus mourn’d by Godwin with a heart of stone.
These were the lines written by the 19th century British poets in response to memoirs by the English Philosopher Godwin Brown after the death of his famous wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of modern feminist movements. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), a 17th century British feminist was a first ever to write on the essence of equal rights for women in a most aristocratic and monarchic society of her times. In the year 1790, Mary wrote ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ which became a path breaking and a classic work in the domain of feminist writings. For the first time ever, it unravelled the essence of emancipation of women with the lenses of her own experiences as a growing child and as an adult woman. In her book, she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men but appear to be only because they lack education. In her childhood she protested against her father’s violence on her mother and often tried to protect her mother and her younger sisters from her father’s drunken rages. As a young woman, she suffered humiliation, misery and orthodox social norms that suppressed her till her death. Throughout her life, Mary championed liberation and education for women. In the year 1797, Mary gave birth to her second daughter and a few days after delivery she was diagnosed with septicaemia and died at the early age of 38 due to persistent agony. Today, Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding philosophers of feminist movements and feminists often cite her for advocating equal rights for women.
In 1929, a well-known British author, Virginia Woolf described Mary – her writings, arguments and ‘experiments in living’ – as immortal: she is alive and active, she argues and experiments, and we hear her voice and trace her influence even now among the living’.
Now, after more than two hundred years of Mary’s ‘rights of woman’, many feminist movements, world agencies and governments are fighting hard to provide the much desired pie to Mary’s fellow women. The recently published Public Affairs Index (PAI) report presents the position of each state in terms of ten selected themes and ranks them. In the wake of MDGs turning into SDGs and placing women’s empowerment and gender equality at the top among other goals, the PAI report, among its ten themes, places Women and Children in the fourth place with regard to essence of the theme. Considering the multidimensional nature of theme, the report delves in some important indicators of contemporary importance and ranks the states.
Consider the bigger states, Kerala, a better performing state in social indicators tops the list while Tamil Nadu stands at the 2nd rank. The North eastern state, Assam secures third rank and Karnataka, a medium developed state is placed at 6th rank. As usual the BIMARU states lag behind in ranking in women and children’s development. It is notable that an economically well off state such as Gujarat stands at the lowest and is among the BIMARU states. The newly created Jharkhand stands at the lowest.
As far as the smaller states are concerned, the north eastern states such as Manipur and Mizoram are respectively positioned at 1st and 2nd ranks while most modern and developed states like Delhi (the National Capital) and Goa at the bottom in terms of women’s and children’s wellbeing.
What these rankings speak? For instance, Kerala, a most progressive state on all the social indicators, has had a long tradition of land reforms, public participation and better delivery of public services. The living standard in Kerala is comparable with life in any other developed world. The egalitarian attitude towards women in society has rendered a high level of female literacy, among other indicators. A true human development perspective is being manifested over the decades and it still continues. The north eastern states such as Assam (Big state) and Manipur and Mizoram (small states) demonstrate much progressive attitude towards gender and long tradition of women’s activism in socio-cultural movements.
Although, the developed state such as Gujarat has witnessed much progress in terms of GDP but lags in transforming the fruits of development into human progress. This is fairly true with regard women’s development too. Similarly, Delhi, being the national capital and political hotspot, is concentrating much on the physical infrastructure than on the progressive policies towards women’s safety and human development. The similar situations can also be found in most modern state Goa, yet performing low on women’s welfare.
A gross thinking is that the Public Affairs Centre’s initiative of PAI, in this theme, directly or indirectly tries to dig for the respective pies that ought to be given to the other half of the citizens as envisioned by Mary Wollstonecraft. It also suggests that gone are the days, when a lift in GDP would have shown a hint of nation’s progress, but the new era of development puts its citizens first at the development agenda and hence their rights. The least progressed states lag much in this regard. The governments need to be more sensitive towards gendered norms and children’s deprivations to provide their due pie at the fullest.
I hope somewhere Mary is present and watching us. Somewhere much saddened…somewhere smiling happily… and perhaps somewhere asking for more…!