Why women are missing out on jobs .

India needs a focused fight that involves government, the private sector, and civil society. The government can pass laws and policies such as expanding paternity leave and providing tax breaks for companies that promote inclusion


In 2017, when I began a 12-part investigation on women and work, people were surprised when told that Indian women were dropping out of the labor market in droves. “But you see women everywhere,” was the response I often got. At that time, women’s labor force participation at 27%, according to the government, placed us just above Saudi Arabia among the G20 nations.

THE BIG STORY: FAQs on love jihad

As the interfaith couple–Muslim man, Hindu woman–was about to enter the registrar’s office at Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh (UP) on April 18 to marry under the Special Marriage Act, they were accosted by a group of Hindu Yuva Vahini activists. This is ‘love jihad’ the group alleged. The man had befriended the woman on social media, using a fake Hindu name, it claimed.

The police was called in to file a first information report (FIR) with various charges slapped on the man, including kidnapping and abduction. Then, they informed the woman’s parents who live in Ludhiana to come and take away their daughter.

Miles away in Kerala, a day later, the high court declined to intervene in an interfaith marriage between a Christian woman and a Muslim man. The marriage has been causing quite a ruckus since the man is a member of the CPI (M) and a Christian MLA from his own party raised questions about ‘love jihad’.

The woman’s father had filed a writ of habeas corpus (literally, ‘produce the body’) claiming that his daughter was being brainwashed but when she showed up in court, the 26-year-old pointed out that she had the right under the law to marry the man of her choice. The court agreed with her.

Memories of Hadiya

It was a very different court that had in 2017 pronounced judgment on a 24-year-old homeopathy student who had converted from Hinduism to Islam after which she married a Muslim man. Convinced that her conversion was under duress and fearing that his daughter was about to be sent off to join a terrorist organisation (she later told the court that she didn’t even have a passport), her father filed a habeas corpus petition in the Kerala High Court.

Calling Hadiya ‘weak and vulnerable’, the court declared her marriage null and void, and observed: “As per Indian tradition, the custody of an unmarried daughter is with the parents, until she is properly married.”

A year later, the Supreme Court overturned that judgment and agreed that Hadiya had the right and freedom to marry and live with a man of her choice.

It was during the course of this hearing that the National Investigating Agency (NIA), the country’s premier investigating agency was asked by the Supreme Court to examine interfaith marriages in Kerala. The NIA told the court it had found no evidence of coercion.

Interfaith marriages

Less than 1% of all Indian marriages, found Pew Research in 2021 are with spouses who were raised on a different religion, but may have since converted. Indeed across all faiths, a majority of Indians believe it is ‘very important’ to stop men and women in their community from marrying outside their religion, found the study.

In a country where 93% of all marriages are arranged by parents in line with faith and caste endogamy, the mere thought of an interfaith union continues to be anathema. In October 2020, jewellery maker Tanishq had to, under public pressure, withdraw an ad that portrayed an interfaith union.

Given this data, ‘love’ marriages and in particular, interfaith ‘love marriages’ certainly seem to attract disproportionate attention.

Love jihad in a nutshell

A right-wing conspiracy theory that has its origins in Kerala, would have you believe that there is a vast conspiracy under which Muslim men seek to entrap innocent Hindu (and sometimes Christian) women under the guise of love with the sole purpose of getting them to convert for the purposes of marriage.

Apart from the obvious paternalism of such a theory, denying adult women the agency or even believing them to be capable of making up their own mind, there’s the inconvenient fact about proof.

In January 2020, National Commission of Women (NCW) chairperson Rekha Sharma called Kerala a ‘ticking time bomb’ that would explode unless the state government acted. In October she met with Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to discuss the ‘rise in love jihad cases’.

But there was no back-up for this sort of claim. Aniket Aga, a professor at Ashoka University, made an attempt to get details from the NCW under the Right to Information Act but was stymied (see more here).

That same month, the Syro-Malabar church complained to the National Commission for Minorities that 11 Christian women had been converted to Islam and taken to Syria. Once again, Kerala police, acting on the complaint, found no evidence of ‘love jihad’.

What is the love jihad law?

As of this time, 10 BJP-ruled states, starting with UP in November 2020, have laws to prevent unlawful religious conversions. These include Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Karnataka and, the latest to join, Haryana.

These laws have been enacted to prevent forceful conversion. But they also introduce administrative hurdles for interfaith couples who wish to marry. Within just one year of introducing the law in UP, 108 police complaints against 340 people had been filed. In this time, according to The Leaflet, there was not even one conviction.

Why the Special Marriage Act isn’t always the answer

Enacted in 1954, this law enables two individuals of different faiths to marry. Amongst its requirements is 30-day notice with details of the intending couple displayed in public so that anyone with objections can come forward.

But putting on display the personal details of the couple, including their address and phone number is also a red flag to vigilante groups opposed to the idea of an interfaith marriage.

In some states it is routine for police to call interfaith couples and their parents to the police station, Lucknow-based lawyer Renu Mishra of the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives told me.

The law does not require consenting adults to seek parental approval. But in a country where ‘honour killings’ continue–there is no separate data maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau for these crimes–couples don’t always have the luxury of waiting for 30 days. Religious marriages, on the other hand, require no such notice. So, it just becomes expedient for one of them to convert.

The anti-‘love jihad’ laws as well as the provision that requires 30-day notice are both under legal challenge in the Supreme Court.


Out of 54 central universities in India, just seven have women vice-chancellors. None of the 23 IITs has a woman director.

Source: Malabika Sarkar, vice-chancellor, Ashoka University who advocates for a policy that will ensure more women leaders in academia. Read more here.


In addition to Dalit History Month, April is also sexual assault awareness month. Here’s an oldie (but a goldie) from 2015 on understanding consent – it really is as simple as a cup of tea. If you haven’t seen it already, watch here. If you have, consider forwarding this and spreading the word.

(Uploaded by Thames Valley Police. Animation courtesy of Emmeline May at rockstardinosaurpirateprincess.com and Blue Seat Studios.)


Animal-like conditions in an ashram headed by a rape-accused absconder

The Delhi High Court said it was ‘aghast’ over the management of a Rohini-based ashram where nearly 100 women have been living in ‘animal-like conditions’.

The Adhyatmik Vidhyalaya ashram was set up by a self-styled godman, ‘Baba’ Virendra Dixit who has been accused of rape and luring girls, some as young as 14, under the guise of providing them with a spiritual education. Dixit was charge-sheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation in 2018 and has been absconding ever since even as his ashrams in Delhi and Rajasthan continue to function.

The court’s comments came over two hearings of a petition filed by the parents who said they had not been allowed to visit their daughter after they travelled from Hyderabad to see her. Represented by senior advocate Maneka Guruswamy and Sravan Kumar, the two judge bench of acting chief justice Vipin Sanghi and justice Navin Chawla asked the Delhi government to consider taking over the management of the ashram. They noted that the ashram had multiple doors with locks, that some of the girls appeared to be minors and several appeared to have been drugged.

“We are not, for a moment, suggesting that the institution and its inmates should not profess their religious and spiritual beliefs. They are free to do that so long as they do not contravene any law or constitutional provision,” the judges said.

Live-in relationships=promiscuity +sexual offences

In Madhya Pradesh, high court judge Subodh Abhyankar said live-in relationships are a ‘bane’ that result in increasing promiscuity and sexual offences. The judge made his remarks in the course of rejecting the anticipatory bail of a man accused of rape. The man had been in a live-in relationship with a woman who became pregnant twice during the course of the relationship, and had to have an abortion. After the relationship had ended, the woman filed rape charges against the man.

Trans toilets

The Delhi high court has asked the government to file a status report on the creation of separate toilets for transgender people in public places.


Les Hijabeuses

A group of 80 or so hijab-wearing soccer players in France are determined to play the game in their hijabs. Interestingly, French laws as well as FIFA allows sportswomen to play in hijab but the country’s soccer federation prohibits it on the argument that it would break the principle of religious neutrality on the field. Read the New York Times feature here.

Indonesia’s armed forces FINALLY chuck out virginity tests for women recruits

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the ludicrous, not to mention, unscientific ‘virginity test’ for women recruits conducting by inserting two fingers into the vagina has finally been banned. Despite a 2021 order by the then army chief to assess women recruits only on the basis of their physical capabilities, ‘virginity tests’ , which HRW describes as a ‘form of gender-based violence’, continued. The World Health Organisation has said these tests have no scientific validity.

Are we woke yet?

While carrying out a software update, Apple introduced new gender-neutral emojis, including that of a pregnant man and a pregnant person. The move reignited the controversial debate of whether biology plays a role (or should) in trans identity.

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That’s it for this week. If you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you would like to share write to me at: namita.bhandare@gmail.com.

THE BIG STORY: Designing cities with women in mind

In an event that got little public attention, the Greater Chennai Corporation launched a ‘gender lab’, the first such initiative by any local urban body in the country. Simply put, as the name suggests, gender lab is an experiment on what would happen, and what it would take, to design a city’s infrastructure keeping women in mind.

The fact that the gender lab, set up with assistance from the World Bank and the Nirbhaya Fund, was inaugurated in the presence of the mayor and the police commissioner is a sign of intent and gives cause for hope.

To start with, three specialists, all women, will review civic infrastructure projects to examine them from the lens of the safety of women in public spaces.

Cities are not gender neutral

“When you consider women, gender minorities, children, adolescents, the elderly and the differently abled, you are talking about more than two-thirds of the population,” says Sonal Shah, founder, Urban Catalysts which advises on sustainable and equitable transport, public spaces and urban planning. “Public spaces cater to and are dominated by just one third of the population – able-bodied men.”

What would an inclusive public space – a street, a park, a market—look like?

It would have adequate street lighting for women to be able to go out safely after dark. There would be enough CCTVs to act as a deterrent to crime. Footpaths would be wide and have access ramps.

It’s not just about safety in public spaces– though this is crucial to survival – but also about rights. Can women access public parks to enjoy some leisure time? Are there enough sports facilities for them and their daughters? What about clean public toilets, changing rooms and nursing stations for young mothers? Is there enough seating for everyone? Picnic spots for families under shady trees?

Inclusive and affordable public transportation is a big issue for women’s mobility. Beyond reservation for seats in buses and carriages on the metro, is there last mile connectivity?

“Mobility restrictions are one of the biggest reasons for the decline in female labour force participation,” says Mitali Nikore of Nikore Associates.

“During the pandemic when public transport was suspended, many women, including domestic workers and those in the informal sector had to leave jobs. If women are to return to work, then public transport must work for women.”

Less-than-equal residents

Cities and towns designed without keeping women in mind makes them less-than-equal participants. It denies them equal access to education, healthcare and employment. For instance, a study by economist Girija Borker unearthed the fact that women students in Delhi chose lower-ranked colleges if they were located close to their homes, making their commute shorter.

Census data tell us that only 22% of all commuters who use public transport to get to work are women. Most women prefer the cheaper option of walking and, so, opt for jobs closer to their places of employment, even if these are low-paying jobs.

But cities are waking up to the reality of excluding women.

“There have been a lot of small steps in the right direction,” says Kalpana Vishwanath of Safetipin, an organisation that works to make public spaces safer and more inclusive for women.

In 2019, the Delhi government made bus travel free for all women and a study examining the impact of the move is still underway. More recently, it has earmarked the licenses of e-rickshaws for women and declared that it will be training more women to drive public buses in a step that will boost confidence in using public transportation.

The under-construction Delhi-Meerut regional rail will be designed for universal access and gender-inclusivity. It is also supported by a grant that will support women e-rickshaw drivers to enable last mile connectivity. The grant will also provide digital, life-skills, self-awareness training, to female students in colleges along the corridor, says Sonal Shah.

Investing in inclusive cities makes economic sense, says Nikore. “The benefits of women’s economic inclusion and the positive economic returns to society far offset the financial costs,” she says.

study by ActionAid found that 73% of women surveyed (41% were below the age of 19) had been subject to some form of harassment in public–84.9% at markets, 83% in metro stations, and 82.4% around their places of study.

Eight in 10 women said they had taken steps to protect themselves by avoiding parks and poorly lit areas or changing a travel route. The solution lies not in locking women into homes. The solution is to enable their wider and greater participation in public spaces.

What steps can planners take to make cities more inclusive for women, children, the elderly and the differently abled? Email me at: namita.bhandare@gmail.com.


Dipika Pallikal who starred in two title wins, mixed with Saurav Ghoshal and women’s with Joshna Chinappa, at the World Doubles Championship in Glasgow. The 31-year-old’s remarkable win comes six months after she gave birth to twins and four years after she took a break from competitive sport in 2018.


Mimi Reinhard, the secretary who typed ‘Schindler’s List’ has died in Israel, aged 107. Reinhard was held at a Nazi concentration camp near Krakow but recruited by Nazi intelligence officer and businessman Oskar Schindler to work in the camp office since she spoke fluent German and could take shorthand. Schindler drew up a list of ‘essential’ Jewish workers who would be spared from annihilation in the camps and Reinhard ended up typing his list of over 1,000 Jews.


Uttar Pradesh accounts for 25.2% of crimes against Dalits, with 12,741 registered in 2020. Bihar follows with 14.6% with 7,368 cases/

Source: National Crime Records Bureau data for 2020.


TMC leader’s son arrested on rape charges, ‘love affair’ says Mamata.

The death of a 14-year-old girl in West Bengal’s Nadia district on April 4, allegedly after she was raped by a local Trinamool Congress leader, Samarendra Gayali’s son, Brajagopal and friends has sparked a political storm with chief minister Mamata Banerjee dismissing the incident as a ‘love affair’. Brajagopal was been arrested and charged with rape after the girl’s family lodged a police complaint.

From the courts

The Allahabad High Court has turned down a plea by a female same-sex couple to recognise their marriage. The Uttar Pradesh government had argued that marriage in India could only be between a man and a woman and same-sex marriage goes against Indian sanskar.

Elsewhere, the Bombay High Court denied anticipatory bail to a man charged with raping his minor wife. “Child marriages have to be stopped,” the court observed.

And in Delhi, the Supreme Court has admitted a petition asking for the adoption process to be simplified. There are 30 million orphans but only 4,000 adoptions every year, the plea stated.


Macron v Le Pen

Incumbent Emmanuel Macron will face far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election runoff on April 24. If he wins, he will become the first French president to be re-elected in 20 years. CNN has an analysis on what’s at stake for women. Read about it here.

Indonesia passes landmark bill to deal with sexual violence

The final draft of the law includes prison terms of up to 12 years for crimes of physical sexual abuse, nine years for forced marriage (including child marriage) and four years for circulating non-consensual sexual content, reports Al Jazeera.

Indian-origin doctor held guilty of sex offences

A 72-year-old Indian-origin doctor practising in Scotland has been found guilty of sexual offences against 48 women patients over a 35 year period. Krishna Singh, a general practitioner was accused of kissing, groping and making sleazy comments, charges he has denied.

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That’s it for this week. If you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you would like to share write to me at: namita.bhandare@gmail.com.