The Glass Ceiling: Women Subjugation in India

Nilantika Banerjee*


Farakka, May 12, 2014 (Alochonaa): For the past decade or so there has been a lot of talk about women breaking the proverbial ‘Glass Ceiling’ in the Indian corporate context. Recently, on the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8th, our office decided to raise a toast to the fact that recently Nishi Vasudeva has been appointed as the chairperson of HPCL. The first woman to head the oil & gas sector in India – the so called proverbial “male bastion”. And just a few months back Arundhuti Bhattacharya has taken over the reins of SBI – the largest & leading public sector bank in India. Very encouraging facts indeed!! So the numbers of  women like: Indra Nooyi, Chandda Kochhar, Naina Lal Kidwai, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw are increasing- more women are occupying the top rungs of the strategic decision making strata in the corporate scenario. But what really struck me odd in the celebration is the gender of the person to have achieved the powerful position is celebrated rather than the achievement itself!! This rather subtle & sophisticated form of women subjugation indeed got me thinking..

Well I am not going into the gory facts & statistics of female foeticide, dowry deaths & rape cases in India – some of the worst form of women subjugation that has been around for centuries!! And we as Indians are also extremely fortunate to have taken birth here – knowing that places like Taliban occupied Afghanistan does exist – where you can get shot for espousing the cause of education, if you are a girl – however unbelievable that might sound but we know it’s a reality!!

I have been extremely fortunate to be born and brought up in a community where I didn’t get to observe these brutal & ghastly forms of woman subjugation from close quarters. But in the community where I grew up or for that matter the urban or semi urban women like me grew up, subjugation has taken a much more subtle & sophisticated form. For example if we take the celebration & sense of awe surrounding Nishi Vasudeva’s appointment as the chairperson of HPCL – the first women in the Indian context – it looks as if she has surpassed herself in doing something which is not expected from women!! The very fact the we are celebrating a Women’s Day serves as a constant reminder that women still need encouragement, nurturing & that occasional nudge & pat on the back from the male world to progress!!

Why can’t Nishi Vasudeva’s or Arundhuti Bhattacharya’s achievement be celebrated merely on the merit of the achievement itself – what has gender got to do with it!! A hard fact to digest for our so called patriarchal society is that, till date if there has been a small number of women to reach apex career positions in our society it has been a voluntary choice of them. But then again we cannot call it completely voluntary – after all society has already pre-defined the roles for womenfolk! Family first!!
As if a woman’s natural maternal instinct is not enough for her to care for her children – our society has come forward and defined her moral code of conduct!! The obvious fact is, to excel or reach certain top-tier positions in any field, a tunnel-visioned approach is necessary rather total & complete dedication to the subject, not having to bother about anything else! In the past it has always been so easy for the man to do that because he always had the assurance that back home his wife is there to take care of his kids & later on when he would eventually reach his goal, his not being around the children enough, would be compensated. His family would make the children feel proud of their father’s achievement – that if he had been away it was on a vital purpose. What if a woman did the same? Will her husband back at home explain her absence in the same manner or will she be branded a ‘Neglector’ – a person who couldn’t strike the balance, a person who had way too much ambition something which is a not a very desirable trait in a woman – this is still what a gargantuan percentage of our middle & upper class societies think!! Will she not be made to feel guilty to have mismanaged her priorities!!

True liberation will be in the offing only when a women will chose her own priorities – be it family be it her career!! It has been this lack of support and archaic notions about a woman’s priorities that has prevented more number of Nishi Vasudeva’s & Arundhuti Bhattacharya’s at the top. It really has no relations to a woman’s merit or skill or ability or power of exertion. In middle & upper middle class societies the forms of women subjugation are subtle & but not in any sense less harmful. The forms are myriad!! Sharing a personal experience I am saying, I work in a power utility where shifts jobs are there. As per the rules of the Indian Factory Act – women or adolescents are not allowed inside the factory premises between 10 pm to 5 am!! So being a woman you are automatically made ineligible for a job behind the control desk!! Why?? For no fault of yours but because of the fact that our society has been unable to provide a safe enough environment for you to remain in the premises at night!! The long term consequences – you don’t have enough exposure of how a power plant works in spite of working there, which in the long run is going to hamper your career!! A veiled & subtle way to side track you from the race to the top!!

And there are many more myth-busters!!

A common example I have come across is if there’s an accident & a woman is behind the wheels, the fault invariably is of the woman! I think it’s high time our society accepts this fact with a pinch of salt that women can be just as good drivers as men!! For the left brained people out there I’m stating that there is no rational or logical explanation of the link between driving skills and gender. It is just a notion invented by men to satiate their inflated male egos – like ‘At least there should be something exclusive for us!! Why should women poke their nose into our affairs – it’s better if they keep to the kitchens!!’

Another common misconception that rules the roost in our country is that women never have to work for a living. It’s something they do for pocket money or as a passing fancy!! Many women do work as breadwinner’s in our country & their numbers are steadily on the rise!

Most of the times parents educate their girl child, so that the degrees look good in the ad on the matrimonial site!! If this is done from a young age even the girl herself will grows up believing that the only aim in her life is to get married & her education is not for the purpose of empowering her but to make her more marriage worthy!! Many a times a women is made to feel that the only way her life can have a purpose is if she gets married & mothers children!! I would like to state here that marriage is only as in important in the life of a woman as it is in the life of a man – no more no less!!

If there is a married couple and by any chance one of them has to leave the job, to accommodate in a place together or because of some inconvenience – it inevitably is the woman. This assumption needs to stop & if women were to leave the job it should be out of their free will!! Inspite of the biological constraints in the life span of a woman, it is she who should take the decision of how she wants to proceed with her life!!

Another clichéd example of a liberated, modern day women that I recently come across is one who dresses fashionably, parties late night or drinks!! But I think the women – men are truly in awe of are the ones with a mind of their own!! Modernity is more than skin-deep, it’s in the mind!! And it is also upto women to build up more on their confidence levels, not be held captive in their thoughts because of the archaic notions that society has imposed on her and truly bask in the glory of womanhood!! She should set her own limits & define her own boundaries!!

But being the optimist I am, I know it might take time – but surely the scenario will change for the better & men will not be left lagging behind to boast “Behind Every Successful Woman There Is A Man” just as women have been doing about the reverse for ages..

*Nilantika  is a regular writer of Alochonaa. She is the author of the novelTo The Anya In You. She now lives in the rural part of India as part of her job posting. 


** is not responsible for any factual mistakes (if any) of this analysis. This analysis further is not necessarily representative of’s view. We’re happy to facilitate further evidence-based submissions on this topic. Please send us your submission at


Categories: India, Philosphy, Women

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5 replies »

  1. well written Nilantika. you have very nicely captured the dichotomy that a woman faces between her career and family. it is not she who can decide, but the circumstances would be such that she will be left with no choice. given the lack of social security benefits in most of the work places, this is all the more derogatory.

  2. Xactly…And women r really good drivers… infact men r more accidental.. beautifully written nilantika

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