Issue 23

A New Law Aims to Open Government Data to the Public. Can We Trust It to Deliver?

However unnerving the feeling of being surveilled is, collecting information about our interactions with the government has the potential to be immensely fruitful for journalists, researchers and the public. Whenever we fill out a government form or get our vaccinations done through public hospitals, the records we leave with them can be harnessed by those looking at it to trace back that interaction. Not only does this ensure transparency and accountability, but it can also be used to deduce important information about our economic and social reality.

Public institutions like government hospitals or the Statistical Ministry collect a massive bank of data from everyday operations and research. A new law, the Draft India Data Accessibility and Use Policy revealed on February 21 this year, has proposed to open this data to the public and controversially, put it up for sale in the private sector. Under this proposal, all data collected by every government body will be open by default unless specified otherwise and some other ‘special’ datasets will be out on the market. 

This move is in line with the international Open Government Data (OGD) movement which aims to liberate non-personal data collected by public entities and use it to formulate effective policy. According to the Working Group on Open Government Data at the Open Knowledge Foundation, OGD is essential for modern, democratic societies since it ensures readability, shareability, and transparency of government activities–citizens and civil society have the ability to peruse the state’s working together. 

While this sounds utopian for evidence-based policy-making, the historical records of governments generating, storing and releasing data in India have been muddy and many researchers have low levels of trust in the process. This is best illustrated by the Central Government’s ongoing fight with the WHO about the estimated pandemic deaths in the country. The WHO has estimated about four million excess covid deaths, which is in line with other scientific reports and shows staggering disparity when pitched against government data. The Center has disputed the report’s methodology and has itself come under fire for not providing coherent objections.

The story of India’s public data problem runs beyond the pandemic though, which has rightfully occupied our imagination for two years now. There are real issues with the way we collect data on the ground and they are not limited to emergencies like Covid. Long term policy goals like eradicating rabies by 2030 are getting stalled by the disaggregation of bodies responsible for collecting the relevant data and a lack of standardization. If two essential datasets generated by separate government offices do not use the same language or format, making them talk to each other and gain real insights becomes harder. 

Moreover, instead of obfuscating data to fend off criticisms, the government also has the option to simply not conduct the required surveys. The Household Consumer Spending Survey is one such important data collection drive which we have not heard of since 2011, until it was finally resumed this year. The National Statistical Office (NSO) is supposed to conduct the survey every five years but in 2017, the last time it was due, the NSO spoke of “data quality” issues that had prevented them from going forward with it. Many believe, however, that the survey was withheld due to an expected decline in consumer spending which would have reflected badly on the incumbent Modi government.

The overarching goal of OGD is instrumental–it is not only that government data should be open, but it also has to be actually useful. These foundational issues in how officials deal with data can make OGD platforms seem performative at best. The UN’s E-Governance survey conducted in 2020 which measured how robust a nation’s digital governance framework is relative to others placed India at the 100th rank amongst 193 countries included in the report. Without pooling resources to centralise, organise and secure the system that will eventually generate and carry the data, OGD might prove to be fruitless.

Rutuparna Deshpande is a second-year student of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Unsplash

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 22

Sri Lanka’s State and Economy Are Crumbling. Could This Be the Watershed Moment for State Reform?

Despite being South Asia’s oldest democracy, having constituted a universal franchise as early as 1931, the island nation of Sri Lanka is far from donning the hat of a stable one and the path toward democratic prosperity remains murky.

The country has seen a bloody civil war between the minority separatist Tamil Hindu community and the ruling Sinhala Buddhist majority from 1983 to 2009. Post-war, its polity has been turning the page for the worse toward an authoritarian and hyper-militarized state under the stewardship of the Rajapaksa family, which has sowed its members in multiple important government positions.

The frontrunner of the family and Sri Lanka’s current President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has today found himself at the centre of boiling anger on the streets over his mismanagement of the economy, leading to the biggest economic crisis since the country’s independence in 1945. 

Ailing with a host of structural issues within the state machinery of Sri Lanka, ordinary citizens who had put their faith in the Rajapaksa government’s Sinhalese nationalist project are starting to turn against the dynasty rule. Change in this nation seems eminent, but what does change look like? To answer this question, we can begin by understanding how the post civil-war state was set up to create conditions for a failing state and the on-ground situation during the current economic crisis.

The Governance Crisis

While most media outlets have been focusing on the economic aspects of this crisis, Sri Lanka had been going through a much more deep-rooted crisis of governance that has set up the stage for its near collapse. Since 2009, when the ruling Sinhalese nationalist government decisively and unexpectedly defeated the separatist group Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Rajpaksas have been in power for most of the period. The current president’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa was the president from 2005 to 2015 and is now the prime minister. In 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidency with 52% of the vote share and his party, the Sri Lanka People’s Front or SLPP enjoyed a supermajority in the parliament. 

This grip that the Rajapaksa family have had over the Sri Lankan state has resulted in policies that mainly benefit the ruling family and the Sinhalese majority. Violence against the Hindu Tamil minority and the even smaller Muslim and Catholic minority groups has been well documented. Since a major source of employment for the Sinhalese community is in the military, there has been widespread acceptance of increased military presence on the streets and further colonisation of the country’s Northern and Eastern provinces, where the minority population is concentrated. 

Infrastructure and other investments taken under this government have resulted in numerous dead or sinking assets for the state. Not only is this affair costly for the public, who pay for the Rajapaksa’s self-aggrandization (for example, the Mahinda Rajapaksa Cricket Stadium), it distracts from actual governance projects which have been given petty attention. Even civil society organizations have been silenced, journalists have ‘disappeared’ and political opponents have been humiliated. 

Civilians, even those who have previously supported the government’s agenda, have now come out to protest against Gotabaya. The slogan most prominent during protests is “Go Home Gota” after every other member than the president and his brother had resigned from the cabinet, including the finance minister who was sworn in just a day before. The public sentiment right now seems to be to oust the Rajapska family and move on. 

The Economic Crisis

The most jarring tell of the true severity of this crisis can be seen on the streets in the country’s capital Columbo. The city has been plunged into darkness with electricity cuts lasting for more than ten hours at a time. Essential supplies are sparse to find, including food and medicine – this has caused massive queues at shops and many hospitals have had to cancel routine services. 

For Sri Lanka’s poorest, the situation is unforgiving — most people have to make the choice between standing in long lines or going to work. Transport is also in peril because of fuel insufficiency, there simply is not enough energy to power public transport or for taxis and rickshaws to make even a marginal earning. Prices for every good on the market have soared due to inflation. The middle class, despite having its safety net of household savings, has not been spared from this wide-reaching conflict.

On the macroeconomic level, the country’s foreign reserves of the US Dollar have been depleted to three times its sovereign debt due to the tourism sector–the major source of dollar earnings for the nation — being hit hard during the pandemic. This has led to banks being unable to finance the import of the essential items that have disappeared from the market shelves. 

A shortage of the dollar also means that Sri Lanka will be unable to pay back the $51 billion debt it has taken from other countries and thus has led international agencies to downgrade the country’s credit rating. This has added to its woes by effectively cutting it off from international credit markets. 

What’s next?

Looking at this monumental crisis from a comprehensive state, society and economy angle we can deduce that this really does appear to be a tipping point for Sri Lanka. Though, if we have learnt any lessons from the Arab Spring, we know that authoritarian leaders who have embedded their power deep into the structure of the state can quash widespread protests. It is now up to Sri Lankans to consolidate their anger across ethnic and religious lines to have a successful watershed moment.

Rutuparna Deshpande is a second-year student of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Balkan Times

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 20

The Economic Cost of Putin’s March Towards Kyiv

Tense security reports had been trickling in for months that Russia’s autocrat President, Vladimir Putin, was growing alarmingly restless about Ukraine’s affinity to the West. As early as November 2021, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia of “costs” if long-standing peace on the European continent was disturbed.

The talk surrounding this conflict, which took its full form on February 24, has often hinged around economic terms like ‘costs’. That’s no surprise since the coming of war in any part of the world induces sudden and potentially deep bruises on economies. After a draining pandemic, world leaders and economic institutions have been flurrying to balance tough economic war efforts and save national economies from being hurt. 

Joseph Borrell, the foreign affairs chief of the European Union, heralded on the eve of Russia’s march towards Kyiv that the bloc would impose the strictest economic sanctions it ever has against Russia. It was clear, that economic sanctions–actions by countries to hurt the economic interests of belligerent countries–would be the prime bargaining token against Putin. Though, critics have always pointed out that sanctions also hurt the economies of countries imposing them–sometimes considerably more. In our hyperconnected and intricately interdependent world, the ‘hurt’ brought on by sanctions is felt across regions and borders. How has this Catch-22 impacted lives? 

First, let’s put Russia’s place in the world economy into perspective. The largest country on Earth also harbours the largest natural gas reserves in the world, second largest coal reserves and eighth-largest oil reserves. According to OECD data, trade counts for more than 25% of Russia’s nominal GDP and energy accounts for half of that trade. In short, the world is heavily dependent on Russian energy to fuel its economy.

This is why European leaders like German Economy Minister Robert Habeck have resisted sanctions on Russian energy. Other sanctions have already caused a “big impact” on all sectors of the German economy, he said. Despite the German caution, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s February 6 announcement that embargoes on Russian oil were being considered drove up oil prices to historic highs. 

Crude oil is crucial. We not only use its products in our private cars and homes, but almost all other goods need it as production fuel. Each good also needs transportation. This means that as oil prices skyrocket, prices for almost everything also rise. Indian Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman has expressed her concerns that such flaring oil prices could impact the provisions in the Union Budget presented last month. 

In the short term, consumers have largely been sheltered from rising prices. Domestic prices for oil have remained unchanged. Though, worries about the long-term effect of the conflict on India’s growth are abounding with some economists projecting a growth rate of less than 8% in FY23. Jayanth R Varma, Economist and member of India’s Monetary Policy Committee, has also called attention to inflation rates in light of the unpredictable conflict. 

Key industries in India also depend upon trading goods with Russia and Ukraine. In the last financial year, Bilateral imports and exports between India and Russia amounted to $9.4 Billion and with Ukraine, to $2.3 Billion. A slowdown in trade with the affected States due to sanctions has increased the domestic prices of automobile components, pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, agricultural products, and telecom equipment since the outbreak of the war. The exclusion of Russia from SWIFT, a system used by most major international banks to coordinate cross-border transactions, has also led to insecurity for Indian exporters about the $400 million currently stuck in the system. The uncertainty of Putin’s next moves and the subsequent retaliation by Western powers has also spooked the financial markets with value of the Rupee plunging to historic lows

The bridle that economists and leaders have been trying to put on a frenzying economy after a devastating pandemic has been greatly disrupted by the unpredictability of the war. While Ukrainians face the military might and imperialist dreams of Vladimir Putin, officials at home now have the task to control inflation, secure alternative routes to trading while walking a diplomatic tightrope and hope for a soothed financial market. 

Rutuparna Deshpande is a second-year student of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Reuters

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 19

Debating Women’s Rights Against Marital Rape

In the wake of the recent hearings at the Delhi High Court, the question of criminalizing marital rape is once again revived in the public sphere. Currently, exception 2 under section 375 of the Indian Penal Code protects the sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife provided the wife is not under eighteen years of age (this age was earlier fifteen years but was modified to eighteen years by Supreme Court in Independent Thought versus Union of India). The exception presumes that marital consent is equivalent to sexual consent, the latter being a legitimate legal defence against the offence of rape. Consent in law refers to an unequivocal voluntary agreement when the woman by words, gestures or any form of verbal or non-verbal communication, communicates a willingness to participate in the specific sexual act. By doing away with the condition of sexual consent between husband and wife, the law and the society are inclined to believe that sex is central to conjugal relations and married men have a right to it regardless of their wife’s choice. To deny women this choice, the law ensures that the fictive institution of marriage and the men in it are protected at the expense of the life and dignity of women, for whom the law was supposedly enacted in the first place.

Holy matrimony has been accorded protection in both religious personal laws as well as laws codified since colonial times. The common law doctrine of coverture while explicitly obsolete in the twenty-first century, still covertly influences the rationale of many judgments passed in matters of conjugality. The doctrine states that the husband and wife are one person after marriage. As romantic as it may sound, it has resulted in the legal existence of women being suspended during the marriage, or at least consolidated into that of the husband: under whose protection, and cover, she performs everything. As recently as the early 2000s, this doctrine prevented daughters from becoming successors in their ancestral assets as they were legally considered the property of their husbands after marriage. Similarly, several women welfare legislations such as the Domestic Violence Act were passed only a few decades ago even though women have been abused in their matrimonial homes for centuries through well-known practices like sati.

Following suit, the insensitivity of the laws on rape is an obvious repercussion of a highly patriarchal society. Arbitrary punitive standards set for the offence of rape disregard the very personhood of a woman. The sentence for punishment of a convicted rapist is not dependent on the physical and mental injury of the woman but instead relies on the status of the woman – single, married, separated or minor. A woman in a live-in relationship can file charges of rape against her male partner while a wife cannot claim any relief against marital rape. Similarly, a seventeen-year-old wife can allege rape though a wife of age eighteen years cannot. To add to this inconsistency, a larger sentence of punishment (seven or more years) is awarded in case of the rape of an unmarried woman as opposed to the rape of a separated wife by her husband (two to seven years).

The law not only demeans the autonomy of women within matrimony, it also bifurcates desires into those that are acceptable in our society and those that aren’t acceptable. The boundaries of the laws on rape, sexual harassment and other sexual abuses demarcate good versus bad, pleasurable versus disgusting and right versus wrong desires. Ironically, the good, pleasurable and right desires that require no interference from the law are almost always heterosexual, matrimonial and endogamous in nature. With such a legal and social framework, alleging marital rape is deemed to be as good as conjuring an impossible event that serves no social good but destroys the divine contours of matrimony.

Those blinded by their faith in marriage seldom concern themselves with the idea that the act of rape in general, is a severe violation of the bodily agency and dignity of a woman. Several judgments have upheld the offence of rape as an infringement upon a woman’s right to live with personal liberty and dignity under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Privacy Judgment of 2017 also affirmed the view that refusing to participate in sexual activity is a part of the right to personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. Undermining the gravity of the physical and psychological harm in rape, men’s rights organizations are instead panicked that criminalizing marital rape may open the floodgate of false charges against husbands. An argument like this holds little legal value when separate provisions already exist to deal with false criminal charges. Moreover, in Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India, the Supreme Court has observed that “the possibility of misuse cannot be a ground for holding a provision of the Statute to be constitutionally fragile”. Several government surveys publicly released over the years have also highlighted how abysmally low percentages of women report any form of domestic violence, let alone sexual violence by the husband. It will be a feat of its own if women muster the courage against societal shame and stigma to report marital rape when it is criminalized. A hue and cry over misuse of the law is indicative of the fears that stem from a woman being able to make use of the law in the first place. At present, married women have access to alternative reliefs in the form of compensation or grounds for divorce in instances of marital rape. However, the remedies are not only inadequate punishments for marital rape, they also conflate the several types of oppressions that different marginalized married women face in our patriarchal society. As long as the fiction of matrimony is revered at the expense of women, their lives, their choices and their desires, no women welfare legislation would achieve the justice it claims to. We must strive to make laws in legislature, in courts and in societies that serve women as they are beyond their societal and marital roles of wives, daughters, mothers and sisters.

Shreyashi Sharma works as an Assistant Manager at Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Ashoka University. She is trained as a lawyer with litigation experience on issues of gender violence. Alongside other things at the CSGS, she is enthusiastic to focus on the questions raised by the entanglements of law with gender and sexuality. You can find her on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

Picture Credits: Tom Chen / Unsplash

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Issue 19

Art Is Personal, the Personal Is Political, They Are Social and to Most Ephemeral

The solar system known to man has one sun. All the planets in spite of being individual entities, revolve around this fireball, and it dictates when days start and end, where, when and why shadows fall if at all, across these planets. The world of art too works along similar lines.  Though marked by various ‘isms’, it finds itself in a state of the ‘contemporary’ unregulated by any one visible entity but regulated by many that aren’t visible to the layman. The art that is visible on the hallowed walls of institutions committed to ‘encouraging’, ‘preserving’,  ‘promoting’ and ‘teaching’ art, function as peepholes. They cease to be passive observatories,  for these institutions are functioning within a community that lets very few cross from the fringes to the inner world.  

Art, often understood as the application or expression of human creative skill and/or imagination, would lead us to question whether imagination works within the defined, or does it instead navigate its way around what is known and negotiate a new understanding by creating something that isn’t. While art has been written about through the lens of practises and periodisation in abundance, it continues to remain a phenomena that eludes many. By virtue of its scope to permeate the various categories we live within to compartmentalise life,  it is personal, the personal is political, they are social and to most ephemeral. If art in itself conjures up this thesaurus marked by subjectivity, then what is contemporary art? How is it connected and altered to the larger idea of economics, and where do institutions come into this large network of connections, while attempting to decode this phenomena? 

Contemporary Art refers to specific conditions of artistic production that have flourished under the latest phase of global capitalism, also known as Neo-Liberalism in some areas. This segment of artistic production insofar is maintained by a global network of art institutions. 

Contemporary Art, thus as we know it today can be seen as a product of post-socialist transition. The fall of the Berlin Wall, 1991, was seen as the fall of one of the superpowers,  the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but more importantly the failure of the ideology it represented, Socialism. This political event rooted in history becomes an important place to find the initial beginnings of Contemporary Art, in the margins of the Western World. The manifestation of the institutionalisation of contemporary art took place at its own pace in the  Western world, but did so more clearly in Eastern Europe, where the transition of political regimes were taking place from socialist to capitalist. This has also been dubbed as  ‘Capitalism by Design’

It is thus visible, how the inception of contemporary art, one that altered artistic behaviours across an entire region, modelled after the Western world was heavily rooted in the idea of capitalism, thus being directly related to economics, and politics. 

Museums, both privately and publicly funded, galleries, university departments etc present an image of ‘art’ to the viewer with a sense of authority. An educated gaze might raise questions, but more often than not, the layman will absorb this as the definition of what art is in present times. Thus, altering the present narrative of this world, and its functions. After jumping down this rabbit hole, I further started linking these institutions to the larger understanding of economics. The art world too is affected by it, as can be seen by what we know as the ‘boom’ periods, when art sales sky-rocketed, this too cannot be devoid of the collectors and their collections, for they fall at the heart of this economic marriage, but how big a role does economics have, is a question I am nurturing. The Soros Centre for  Contemporary Art network (SCCA) for example, played a huge role in establishing what contemporary art was in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This was a philanthropic model 

which was implemented throughout the 1990s’ in eighteen post-socialist countries. Its activities created a series of changes that led to a managerial revolution in the arts. The main outcome of this revolution was the eclipse of the patron, and the rise of philanthropic initiatives. 

This can be seen as one of the many ways institutions that ‘facilitate’ art, alter the artistic behaviours and the language of contemporary art on a whole. One of the manifestations that represents the poignancy of how the period of ‘transition’ for these nation-states affected art can be seen with the help of Documenta as an example. The history and the name of  Documenta – a or perhaps one of the most influential spaces for contemporary art. Its history is connected to the ‘transition’ period as well as the institutionalisation that took place in the aftermath of World War II, in West Germany. Its early artistic objectives were intricately related to documenting the advance of democracy and the spread of the ‘free market’  ideology, it in a way mapped West Germany’s break with its authoritarian past. 7 

In light of how the change of political and economic ideologies changed the nature of these institutions, it is important to note the interaction they have with the world at large. While the role of ‘contemporary art’ has been influenced by larger forces, it has shaped these forces in turn. Contemporary Art and its supporting structures thus become important tools in cultural diplomacy. They have the ability to represent through the means of an artwork or an artist’s concern, alternatives to a larger question. 

These linkages thus hold merit in my eyes, as an artist and academic. In light of the connections one makes, it gives Barthes’ analogy of the ‘Death of the Author’ a new meaning. It questions the free will and the choices that exist behind these manifestations and decisions, is the artist being created, or is the artist creating out of free will? The very conception of contemporary art was political, and its growth ever since has only intensified its ties to the forces of economics and the politics of the globe. It would not be premature to recognise art as something that goes beyond the idea of a vocation, but as powerful collateral to negotiate and mediate the world at large. 

Vishnupriya Rajgarhia is a Levett Scholar from the University of Oxford, and represented the British Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. She is currently the youngest Assistant Professor at Anant National University, previously having taught at Ashoka University as Visiting Faculty.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 19

Art on the Gram: 4 Art Pages We Love Right Now

  1. It’s Nice That

An editorial platform founded in 2007 that champions artists, photographers, and magazines. Consider the platform a one-stop-shop for everything creative and currently trending.

  1. Nancy Spector

A curator, art historian, and author, Nancy is the chief curator at the Brooklyn Museum, New York. Her stunning Instagram is a perfect window into the galleries of America and other parts of the world. 

  1. Art Basel

An international fair staged across Miami, Hong Kong, and Basel, the fair’s official Instagram page is a treat to the eyes for all lovers of art and beauty. 

  1. KEIN magazine

A magazine based in Istanbul, KEIN’s Instagram page is perfect for fans of provocative art. From pop culture to photoshop, the magazine features a diverse blend of different art forms. 

(P.S: If you love political artwork, this account is for you!)

Jaidev Pant is a third-year student of Psychology and Media at Ashoka University. He is interested in popular culture and its intersections with politics, gender, and behaviour.

Picture Credits: Social Cut

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 19

Employ and Empower: Upskilling Homemakers in India

Females in India aged six and above spend nearly seven hours a day on household chores while men contribute a measly three. The findings of a 2019 survey highlight the crucial role that 160 million homemakers play in the well-being of their households. Post-pandemic, only 7% of men lost their jobs as compared to 47% women, a significantly larger chunk. Predictions that fewer women will return to work, while employment levels for men will recover to pre-pandemic levels make such statistics jarring. 

Interestingly, homemakers from various backgrounds have begun transforming their vast skillsets into potential businesses to help their families financially. From providing tiffin services in Patiala, selling candles in Chandigarh, and designing macrame wall hangings in Mumbai, homemakers are setting up an assortment of businesses. Their success is aided by Instagram and other platforms that are actively promoting small businesses. 

Government policy has begun to recognize homemakers as a part of the workforce and as significant contributors to the national economy. Homemakers are being promised financial tools to venture into the sphere of small businesses with notional incomes in compensation-related cases, and sums of money from political leaders as an attempt to recognize their daily work and encourage entrepreneurship. 

However, in an age where online education on platforms such as Coursera and Indian portal Swayam aim to equip individuals with diverse skills, is providing homemakers with kitchen-based business opportunities and interest-free loans enough? Or is there a need for digital upskilling to exercise these opportunities? 

As per a recent study assessing the lives of homemakers from Tier-1 cities, 19% of homemakers aged between 20-37 years frequently take up online courses to upskill themselves, while around 15% are in the process of ideating and developing their business strategies. However, 55% of the homemakers aged 48 and above showed no noteworthy interest in starting businesses. 

Source: Ernst and Young

Therefore, policymakers might benefit from exploring schemes that upskill younger homemakers in urban India with the requisite digital skills. Such skills, which complement the financial assistance offered by government interventions will allow homemakers to launch and expand their small businesses. 

While the results of the aforementioned study were largely limited to homemakers in Tier-1 cities, various non-profit organizations are working towards imbibing digital skills among homemakers in rural India. For example, the Mann Deshi Foundation seeks to empower female entrepreneurs in the rural areas of Maharashtra and Karnataka. The organization aims to provide female micro-entrepreneurs with an enhanced skill set via courses in financial and digital literacy, agri-business training, basic computer programming, and other vocational skills, to successfully set up their businesses. 

The foundation also uses a community radio in these areas to spread awareness of schemes launched by the government to promote entrepreneurship among women. This is particularly important given that only 1% of women participate in government schemes due to reduced awareness. 

While several schemes have been launched by the government to promote entrepreneurship in the country, hardly any focus particularly on upskilling homemakers. Some exceptions like the Credit Linked Capital Subsidy Scheme (CLCSS), which aims to improve technology and mechanization in small-scale industries like coir and khadi production give preference to women entrepreneurs. Even though an upgradation in technology is a welcome step towards the introduction of modern skillsets, it cannot be equated with digital upskilling. 

The 2022-23 Union Budget saw no mention of the CLCSS, and technology upgradation saw a massive slash of 75%. Contrarily, there was an overall increase in the allotment for MSMEs. This suggests a unidimensional approach to the expansion of local small businesses, which promotes the growth of the local economy without introducing any schemes specifically for women and homemakers, who face additional domestic and societal challenges.

A large number of sectors in the economy remain heavily weighted against the employment of women. This was most recently exemplified by the State Bank of India’s (SBI) circular preventing women pregnant for more than 3-months from taking up jobs in the public bank until after delivery. In such scenarios, small businesses run from home provide some respite. However, in a primarily digital world with facilities like online banking and transactions essential to running businesses, homemakers must be provided skill development in digital services that can uplift them to professionals. Though such initiatives cannot completely eradicate the gender gap in the economy, it is a promising step towards achieving some semblance of economic equality. 

Despite some progress in this sphere, social and domestic constraints surrounding homemakers remain a harsh reality in India. As of 2018, only nine countries in the world, including Syria and Iraq, have a lower working population of women than India, with most homemakers primarily running households. India’s Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) fell to 16.1% in 2020 from an earlier 20.5% in 2019. The pandemic was a significant contributor to the decline in the FLFPR, particularly with an increase in household duties for women. In 2020, 43% of female small-business owners in urban areas reported a drop in productivity because of household distractions, as per a report by Bain and Company. 

The central government has launched various initiatives to aid the economic recovery and growth of MSMEs in India, such as the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS). This scheme enables small and medium business owners to extend emergency credit facilities with banks to stabilize their businesses post covid-induced lockdowns. 

What remains missing from a majority of such schemes is a recognition of the additional burden of the family and household duties that homemakers face. Not just homemakers, even general schemes to specifically assist women-led business remain absent. This highlights a prominent gap in policymaking since almost 73% of female-owned enterprises were negatively affected by the pandemic, and 20% are on the verge of shutting down, as per the same report. Thus, recognition of this uniquely female experience might prove to be useful in future policies aimed towards upskilling. 

Jaidev Pant is a third-year student of Psychology and Media at Ashoka University. He is interested in popular culture and its intersections with politics, gender, and behavior.

Picture Credits: Mexy Xavier

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).