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On the wheel
Photo essay: Women in India

Ali Akbar Mahdi
September 15, 2004

Indian society is a patriarchal society, despite efforts by many female activists, feminist organizations, and even government agencies. Many families still follow the dowry system, which is more conspicuous among the rural and less educated population. Caste system is still operative in the lives of many Indians. Abuse of women, both inside and outside home, is prevalent. Like Islamic societies, inheritance rules treat women differently. It is hard not to see the disregard for female voice even in social interactions in the streets, shopping malls, and home fronts >>> See photos

Still, for an Iranian-American, who has lived in and seen several Middle Eastern countries, it was a refreshing surprise to see so many women on the wheel. Not even in America do I see so many women on scooters (it reminded me of Amsterdam where you see many women on bicycles). Surely, this is a function of the specific needs of this society.

Nevertheless, in a still traditional setting, the presence of women in public arena and their ability to be on the wheel, without restrictions that are often found in other societies, is quite progressive.

Though out of necessity, and often limited in its liberating effect, this makes Indian women much more mobile than women in the Middle East. With so many women in the public arena, it was hard to see why adequate washing facilities did not exist, especially for women.

Indian women work very hard. They even work on construction jobs, as seen in a couple of these pictures. In most families, they do most of the cooking, cleaning, and child-care, without adequate recognition and respect. If widowed, they are treated unfairly, often resulting in painful consequences. A good deal of problems faced by Indian women is rooted in Indian cultural traditions >>> See photos

Ali Akbar Mahdi is a Professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in Ohio Wesleyan University. Homepage.

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By Ali Akbar Mahdi


Here and there
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Book of the day

Crowning Anguish
Taj al-Saltana, Memoirs of a Persian Princess 1884-1914
edited by Abbas Amanat

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