Even before we landed, the majestic skyline overlooking the Arabian sea made a powerful statement – Mumbai is one of the world’s financial and business capitals. Surely, it would be forward-focused on the future.
I wasn’t surprised when we drove by the architecturally stunning Rajiv Ghandi sea link (bridge) reflecting the modernity of Mumbai. Nor was it surprising that tuk tuks and other small vehicles are not permitted in the heart of the city, and that we would not be encountering cows, goats and bulls wandering around alongside the traffic. This was indeed a 21st century city, focusing on progress and growth, welcoming international businessmen and hungry for power and economic development.
However, Ladies be aware … when I said “businessmen”, I was not using the term in a generic sense. Ghandi may have succeeded in liberating his beloved India from the rule of the British, but he did not succeed in his goal of establishing equality for all his people. Centuries-old traditions die hard, especially when they are related to the primary religion of a country. Approximately 80% of the Indian population are Hindus, most of whom still believe in the caste system and still follow the tradition of arranged marriages. I pondered upon this as our very erudite guide brought us around the city, where we saw mainly men working and walking about, and while our guide explained the beauty of the “dhabbawallah home-cooked lunchbox delivery system” which is designed to bring freshly cooked food from the wife at home to the husband working in the city. Clearly, the women’s role – even in the modern city of Mumbai — is in the home while the husband is out working. And this was as true in the flower markets of Mumbai as it was in the vegetable markets, the dhobi ghats (laundry washing services), and the hotel restaurants or cleaning staff where men predominated.
While there are, of course, exceptions to these generalities and very successful and impressive professional women do work in India, India ‘s philosophy of life still leads to a primarily male-dominated society, something which extends even to Security check-in at Mumbai’s airport. Not only are women not allowed to go through the same lines as men, but there are 3 lines exclusively for men and only one solitary, very slow-moving one for women.
When I discovered that the young woman behind me shared my indignation, I walked up to the front of the line. Not too surprisingly, nobody was working. Finally the “man” in charge appeared. I told him that this slow-moving line was discrimination, that I wanted to be with my husband, and that I would miss my plane at the ridiculously slow rate the line was moving. He insisted I stay in the “ladies’” line (undoubtedly because of the personal body checks ) but that I just put my things on the conveyor belt and go through. The women around me supported my efforts to label this treatment “discrimination” and graciously encouraged me to go through ahead of them. Despite my efforts to rally them to complain, complacency ruled … or was it “tradition”?
For Mumbai and, indeed all of India, to truly come into its own in the 21st century, Ghandi’s principles of “equality” for all peoples and for women need to be realized.
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Rita Fagan says
Lynn, this is an excellent article–it’s a speech in itself! We are at least 50 years removed from public discrimination like that in the US. Complacency or tradition–time will tell for India. You have also given your women readers a tip to be aware of if they are visiting India. Wonder what your “line keeper” would do if a husband yanked his wife out of the line to go into the men-only lines! Thank you for sharing this experience. I’m glad you didn’t get arrested.