Women are the strength of Indian economy
Most of us have a feeling that the role of women in the Indian economy is limited and they play only a marginal role in the economic and business activities. One can see the pink media and business journals highlighting the lower representation of women in board rooms and executive positions in the corporate sector, making comparisons with selected western countries. This creates an impression that the Indian women contribute less to the economy.
Such a view is based on a narrow limited perspective, just like many other views without much substance. Field level and empirical studies conducted in different centres across the country indicate that much of the Indian economy revolves around women. Their role and influence in the economic and business activities is much more than what we think.
Like their counterparts in the west, they do promote and run businesses successfully. The Third All India Census of Small Scale Industries released by the Ministry of Small Scale Industries, Government of India, 2004 noted that there were 10, 63,721 women enterprises, accounting for 10.11 per cent of the total units functioning in the small scale sector. The Fourth All India Census of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector, 2009 notes that around 19.20 lakh women enterprises are functioning in the country. There are many women who occupy the middle and senior levels in the corporate sector, playing leading roles in management.
Numbers alone are not very significant in the Indian context, as many a times they do not reveal the full picture. Any objective student would know that the Indian economy cannot be understood by a few figures and percentages alone, however important they might be. This applies to the role of women in the economy also.
Women perform a variety of functions that help the growth of the economy, apart from maintaining a peaceful atmosphere in families. One has to remember that the maintenance of order in families is crucial for the smooth functioning of societies and nations. Businesses can flourish and economies can be sustained only when conditions are favourable.
The functions that our women perform for the development of their families and the initiatives they take vary from generation of savings, to the mobilization of funds for businesses, counseling and guiding people in business, to sharing of responsibilities in the ventures directly. One has to acknowledge the role of mothers and grandmothers for their frugal ways of life enabling families to save more. It is these savings that encourage the family members to take up risks by promoting enterprises and helping the banking sector accumulate higher deposits, which in turn is lent to the private and government sectors for various activities.
Evidences show that the habit of saving comes naturally to the Indian women. The role of ladies belonging to the rural farming households of the Gounder community in the Coimbatore region in accumulating savings has been recorded and appreciated by the foreign experts who undertook studies during the British period. The tradition seems to continue among most of the households across the country.
A study conducted at the Coimbatore flower market among the lady flower vendors coming from very ordinary backgrounds showed that they were saving money through chit funds on a daily basis, though they were conducting businesses with funds borrowed from the financiers every morning. The study showed that they were saving even after paying high rates of interest and taking home a part of their return to meet the day to day expenses of the family.
Many entrepreneurs in different centres revealed as to how they were supported by the womenfolk in their families – mothers, wives, sisters and even grandmothers – in different stages of their businesses. There are many instances in which the sons who got their seed capital for businesses from their mother’s personal savings, went on to become successful businessmen. Some of them reported getting funds from their housewife-mothers who had savings accumulated through simple methods such as selling milk.
Writing in the context of western Tamil Nadu, Sharad Chari notes that even dowries have played a role in the development of businesses. It is relevant to understand that housewives also take part in the family vocations when situations require. Mentioning about the success of Patels in business in the U.K, Patel and Rutten note: “It is observed that in many cases both husband and wife run the shop in rotation. Some of them are not very fluent in the English language though their clients are mostly whites, blacks and non-Gujaratis. However, they manage to communicate with their customers pleasantly with limited command over the English language.”
It is generally felt that the ordinary people without educational backgrounds are not productive, especially in their old ages. But this is not true, more so in the case of ladies. They contribute a lot to the building of families and making of future businessmen and women through their ways of life, approaches and activities.
To give an example. It happened in a village situated about twelve kilo metres from Tirupur, the well-known textile centre. About sixty years back, a boy of around eleven years fails in third standard. The father shouts at him. ‘How are you going to lead your life? We don’t have enough water for cultivation. I have a younger son to look after.’ After pausing for a while, he tells his son: ‘I will do one thing for you. There is that tea stall in the nearby temple town Avinashi. I know the proprietor who runs it. From tomorrow you go there and learn the business. After three months, we can set up a stall in the main road near our village. You can run it and manage your life.’ The boy did not like the idea of the tea shop but was afraid to tell his father.
He runs to his maternal grandmother living in the nearby village. He narrates everything. After listening, grandmother asks: ‘What will you do?’ Grandson says: ‘I will walk to Tirupur every day, work in a hosiery factory and manage my life.’ Convinced, the grandmother takes him to her daughter’s place. She persuades her son-in-law to allow the boy to go to Tirupur.
The boy goes for work and struggles hard. After about ten years, he accumulates some money and wants to start his own business. Since he lacked education, he takes one of his acquaintances possessing a degree and working as a manager in a company as his partner. The business goes on. After about three years when he reached his establishment in the morning, he learns that his partner had run away from Tirupur, taking the firm’s money. The youngster, who has now matured from boyhood, is full of grief. He goes home. Father shouts at him. He runs to his grandma. She says: ‘Don’t worry. I have my jewellery. You take this. Sell it and start your business again.’
He starts a new business and works very hard, wanting to prove himself. After having earned money during the next few years, he decides to enter exports. To his luck he gets a good order. He invests all his funds, makes the best items and sends them abroad. But alas, the ship carrying his goods gets destroyed in the seas and he loses everything. He goes home and again father shouts. As usual he runs to his grandma’s home. Grandma pacifies: ‘Why are you worried? I have four acres of land. Anyhow I am going to give two acres to your mother. You take that now. You either sell it or pledge it. But start your business again.’
The grandson starts his business once again. Ultimately he goes on to become the largest domestic seller in the country, as the promoter of the Viking group providing employment to hundreds of persons. Currently he is the President of the South India Hosiery Manufacturers Association, Tirupur. This is how the very ordinary mothers and grandmothers turn their ordinary children into very successful entrepreneurs. We have many such instances in different places across India.
The economic development of India is propelled by the love, affection, dedication and sacrifice of our women folk who remain the backbone of our families. It is impossible to measure all their contributions in terms of money. We can only salute them for they are the real strengths of our economy.
1. Annual Report 2010-11, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Government of India, New Delhi
2. Final Results: Third All India Census of Small Scale Industries 2001-02, Ministry of Small Scale Industries, Government of India, New Delhi, 2004
3. Kanagasabapathi, P., ‘Study on the lady flower vendors of Coimbatore’, Unpublished Report, 2005
4. Pravin J Patel and Mario Rutten, ‘Patels of Central Gujarat in Greater London’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.34, Nos.16 and 17, 1999
5. Sharad Chari, Fraternal Capital, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2004
( Published in Yuva Bharati, Vol.39, No.8, Vivekananda Kendra, Chennai, March 2012)