Saturday, April 30, 2005

Lower down

I was ten years old when I learnt one of my earliest lessons in my Std V Social Science book (Civics - Part 1) - 'women are equal'. The first page of that book introduced me to the preamble of the Indian constitution. There it said, quite clearly, that no one shall be discriminated against, on the basis of race, caste, sex, religion.....

There's a lot I forgot from the Std V Civics - Part 1 book, but I clearly remember the bit about how, professionally, women have never been treated on par with men (the author blamed the British Raj for creating unequal wages... and for droughts, famines, communalism, partition, the population explosion), and how, it is not just a fundamental right, but also a moral duty, to refuse to settle for anything less than equal wages for equal work.

It just struck me today, I have never got round to writing the business of unequal wages for women, though I saw it and heard of it, every single village and town I went to - simply because it was so commonplace, and simply because noone's complaining.

In Assam, I heard, men get paid Rs 50 for a day's worth of hauling bricks and building roads. Women get paid Rs 40, or Rs 35. Men working in tea estates get Rs 50, and if they're lucky, Rs 60, even if they're just helping in the 'laboratory'. Women get paid Rs 40, for standing out in the sun, heavy baskets on their heads, plucking leaves.

In Bihar, women get paid Rs 40, while men get Rs 50, for exactly the same kind of work in the fields. In Chhatisgarh, women get Rs 35, while men get Rs 50, for collecting forest produce. In Delhi, a live-in domestic maid gets paid Rs 1000 to Rs 1500. A manservant gets at least Rs 2000, sometimes more.

(It's a different story that most families don't want live-in maidservants. Maids get pregnant, you see. So, the woman comes in to work at 6 am, does everything from making that first cup of bed-tea, to washing your lingerie, but must leave after dinner's done, to sleep out on the streets, or in some shanty-shack where she has no privacy, and where, of course, she's going to get pregnant.... and we won't give our maids the benefit of three-months' paid maternity leave, do we?)

And yet, everyone I meet talks about it so matter-of-factly... "Men, they get paid Rs 50. Women, they get paid Rs 40."

There you are! As if, it were some indisputable, inexplicable vagary of nature. Like summer's hot and winter's cold. And just as there is no point fussing about how the temperature drops in the latter half of the year, there is no point arguing about the wage rate difference between the sexes.

The sad bit is, it's not just women who work in the fields, or the forests, or in factories, or in the newsroom. Surveys indicate that journalists - we who have voices; we who have the public ear - suffer from the same indignity, the sdame crippling professional discrimination, as our maidservants do.

Finally, it doesn't matter whether we work with water or words, we're not equal. Anywhere. Not in Japan, not in Korea, not even in Norway or Sweden.

And all because we take the inequality in our stride - like the heat of summer and the chill of winter.


Anurag said...

It really is bad, I agree. I would, however, like to claim that at my workplace we don't discriminate against anyone. People holding same positions get paid the same, get treated the same. The sad part is that most people would hail this as progressive even though it should be the norm.

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