Empowering women will bring India forward
Published: May 24, 2017 10:13 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

After my article "Revolution sets China and India apart" was published in the Global Times on May 3, I received plenty of feedback from Indian readers.

Some believed that India's cultural traditions and the non-violence principle that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru adhered to have led to incremental reforms and shielded India from the disastrous consequences that would be brought about by revolution.

I agree with this analysis. I did not mean to belittle India's traditional values, rather, I had hoped that people would realize the tough challenges India faces in entering modernity by comparing it with the Chinese revolution.

"Revolution" in India is different from that in China. It is slow and incremental. But how long will it take for India to become the powerful country that Nehru envisioned? It is difficult to answer this question.

When I walked in the streets of India's metropolises and saw homeless and impoverished women, I kept thinking that if there were a revolution during the Nehru era and women were freed from the restraints of religion and tradition, would they still be the same as they are now?

When India was still under British colonial rule, Nehru said that a country's progress could be measured by the status of women. Almost eight decades have passed since that observation. When I traveled in India recently, I read from The Times of India that a famous Indian actress Vidya Balan said, "The country never belonged to women, we were second class citizens."

The inspirational Bollywood movie Dangal has recently gained enormous popularity in China. The film resonated with many Chinese parents who had always encouraged their children to work hard and strive for success.

But the deeper message of the film is that it praises and encourages the liberation of women. In it, Mahavir Singh Phogat, played by Aamir Khan, does not ask his daughters to follow old conventions, but instead trains them to be independent in a society in which women do not enjoy equal status.

Only when one acknowledges how serious the problems that Indian women face are, such as poverty, enslavement, illiteracy and rape, can one better comprehend the meaning of this film.

Equal rights for women are one of the major social problems facing India today. The issue also impedes the process of India's advancement toward modernity.

Some asked Nehru in his later years what his greatest achievement in Indian politics was, to which he replied without hesitation that it was his reform of Hindu law to improve the position of women.

After India gained independence, Nehru did empower women and granted them many rights, but this did not free them from Hinduism or Islam by way of a revolution. Social discrimination against women did not change either. Some Indian elites even tried to resist the intrusion of Western civilization by favoring the outdated traditional customs.

Indian scholar Deepak Lal calls the millennium-long social tradition "the Hindu equilibrium." He believes this stable social system has been accepted and internalized by most people and no one is willing to challenge the status quo and no power can break this normalcy.

If India can break out this historical restraint with progressive and slow reforms, the India model will succeed sooner or later. When China and India realize modernization via revolutions of different speeds, the "Asian Century" projected by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping will eventually come.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn.