On June 18, 2016, three Indian women scripted history, on being formally commissioned into the Indian Air Force as fighter pilots for frontline combat duties. Flying Officers Avani, Bhawana and Mohana earned the coveted “wings” from the Defence Minister, breaching another male bastion. What made the commissioning more interesting was the fact that all three hailed from either Tier-2 cities or towns of India. This and many other noteworthy achievements prove that empowerment of women has come a long way from debates and awareness campaigns to hard statistics.
In a run up to what is perhaps one of India’s biggest festivals—Dussehra, urban and rural neighbourhoods are awash with pandals as part of the festivities that will stretch over nine days. Dussehra, the last day of Navratri, symbolizes and celebrates Shakti, the all-powerful feminine force. This Navratri is particularly significant, as young Indian women are emerging from the shadows of stereotyped profiles to reveal aspirations and hopes in true reflection of the millennial intersect. This young generation, across both urban and rural India has found common ground in aspirations, with ideas, behaviours and preferences converging.
Over the last decade, the hinterland of India has witnessed a surge in the number of women pursuing higher education—a percentage leap from 39 percent to 46 percent between 2007 and 2014. Breaking taboos and mindsets, young Indian women have breached glass ceilings in virtually all walks of life. Bucking international trends, 11.7 percent of Indian pilots are women, which is an impressive comparison to 3 percent women pilots worldwide. In IT-BPO industries across the nation, every third employee is a female, while on the roads of Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, it would not be out of place to spot women at the wheel of cabs and autos, ferrying passengers.
Many reasons contribute to the rise of women, who were earlier denied their rights or equality. The urban-rural divide has been digitally bridged with greater internet penetration and a hunger for infotainment that streams into rural households through 800 TV channels. A report by the Boston Consulting Group predicts that 50 percent of India’s internet users will belong to rural areas, and 40 percent of them will be women. Newspapers from more than 70,000 publishing houses find their way into homes, enriching citizens with information. On its part, successive governments have slowly lent support to empowerment of women through policies and much needed reservations. For instance, more women now don combat roles in defence forces, pursuant to policy changes.
In alignment with the trend of taking charge of their personal happiness, Indian women have fuelled online shopping of over half-a-billion dollars last year and the estimated growth for the same is five-fold in the next three years. Post demonetization in November 2016, mobile wallets such as MobiKwik play a key role in driving the retail industry, primarily because Indian women want a safe and secure mode of payment to invest in retail therapy. Mobikwik is easy to use, with the one-click process, it has become the quick checkout option when you are shopping online.
Navratri, which holds a special place in Indian culture and tradition, has acquired more meaning as changes sweep the Indian demographic. Young Indian women, from urban and rural India have shaken out of societal strangleholds, and relate better to the Indian goddess who is revered, respected and feared for the cosmic rage, in battling the demon of Mahishasura. Women empowerment has unleashed the same Shakti of the goddess in the pandals that dot the Indian landscape.
The next time a fighter jet screams across the skies, it could possibly be a young woman in the cockpit, breaking not just the sound barrier, but barriers of gender and the urban-rural divide, exemplifying the millennial intersect of a young Indian populace.