Recently, village caste leaders in the state of Uttar Pradesh in the north tried to prevent women from working outside the home in a country where only about 27% of women are employed and the number is going down rather than up.[i] The illiterate Nat elders resorted to shunning the seven women and their families after a supposed temple communication from the goddess Kali, excluding them from the village water pump, beating up one of their husbands, throwing bricks at their houses, and bribing police not to interfere. The excuse was they were protecting the women from men at work, but the real issue was women’s earnings gave them more power. Some of the workers reported beating by their husbands and mother-in-laws stopped. A young woman named Geeta who was married at around age 10 said, “When you start working, your heart opens up. Then you’re not scared anymore.” The women formed a financial cooperative to share resources and make loans. This is a community where women must sit on the ground or stand if an older man approaches. The women fought back by going to a local politician, a lawyer and police but when they were finally were able to go back to work, the buffalo meat processing plants were closed due to drop off of buyers from China and Brazil. The head elder confirmed that women have lower status and it’s not good to challenge that practice.
[i] Ellen Barry, “Indian Women Seeking Jobs Confront Taboos and Threats,” New York Times, January 31, 2016.