Agency

In the crowded Ghantaghar market in Jodhpur I saw a stall selling bangles. Behind and to the side was the girl whom you can see in the photo above: face veiled and looking on passively. I jumped to a conclusion about the social standing of women in the town which The Family disputed. “The stall is managed by a woman. The buyers are women.” she said, holding that women participate in the economy. I could not disagree. There were as many women in the market as men. “But all the women are on foot, whereas the men are on two-wheelers,” I argued.

Later in the evening we walked through the Tripolia market, named after the triple gates in the walled city. The narrow lanes buzzed with scooters, and The Family pointed out that I had spoken too early. “Look at all the women driving scooters,” she said. Not only were they driving, there were also instances of two women on the same scooter (see the photo above). This was some kind of real-life Bechdel Test. In defeat I pointed out to her the wonderful triple gate which you can see in the photo.

The still widespread use of veils in Rajasthan has attracted a lot of comment. An audio guide in Mehrangarh claimed that it was adopted from Islam. I found a contrary view in an article in the venerable newspaper from Chennai, The Hindu: “Historians said the veil system was prevalent much before the Mughal invasion. “There is evidence of construction of separate `zanana’ chambers for women in the Chittaurgarh fort in the 11th century,” said Varsha Joshi of the Institute of Rajasthan Studies.” Varsha is a woman’s name, of course.

So both of us are still puzzled about this. Do women in Rajasthan have as much agency as those in the rest of India? It has the worst gender pay gap among Indian states, with women earning 59% less than males. In spite of that, this is a very ill-defined question in a state with a woman chief minister. Also, the 27 women members of the state Legislature (two of whom are from Jodhpur) make up 13.5% of the total strength. This places Rajasthan in the top half of India’s states when ranked by the fraction of women members of the legislature.