By Esha Rao

Edited by Namrata Caleb

Doodling away in Math class a month or two ago I was posed a question by my teacher.  What is the opportunity cost of you sitting here and studying economics? Regardless of the fact that the question was answered with some mundane replies it left a profound impact on me, and in a way made me wiser,.

For those who are not aware of the concept of opportunity cost, it refers to the next best alternative forgone in order to consume or produce a certain commodity. For an average college student the opportunity cost of attending a lecture is a movie or lunch with friends. However, on a closer look it’s much more than that. It’s an hour of your life you don’t get back. Time, according to any economist is the most expensive commodity and poses the highest opportunity cost. It has taught me to take everything I do seriously be it an assignment, studies, people, the world etc.

While thinking of all this my mind slowly drifted to the question- What is the opportunity cost of being a woman in India? This biggest opportunity cost that comes to mind is that you were not born a ‘ladka’. Women for years have been confined to the narrow domestic walls of patriarchy, they have been compelled to endure rape, dowry, child marriage and are made to feel as if they will never be good enough. It is not odd when you hear a mother sobbing “ladki kyu paida hui” for in a country like India the birth of a girl child is considered a burden. Though times have changed, the Indian mindset remains as primitive as ever where a girl is concern.

Parents consider education for a girl unnecessary because she eventually will leave the family meaning an investment with no return. The female literacy rate is 65.46% according to the 2011 census. This is not even remotely close 82.14%, the male literacy rate. 309546 crimes against women took place in the year 2013. Eve teasing; rape, molestation etc are considered a woman’s fault. Mobile phones, chowmien, tight jeans and the “she was asking for it” mentality are some excuses that attempt to validate these crimes.

Hypocrisy of society has stripped a woman of her dignity, respect, pride and freedom. Our society for years has followed the system of arranged marriages. With all its benefits they have often proved to be fatal, 267 people died due to dowry harassment in the state in 2011, 218 in 2012 and 277 in 2013 reports the National Crime Records Bureau. I personally believe that arrange marriages is a step for a girl to get into the web of social and cultural dilemma. (the ‘bahu’). Another example of hypocrisy is the clothing mentality harboured by the Indian society. “Six inches between a blouse and a saree is considered modest and cultured but a 2 inch gap between a top and jeans is considered uncultured”- was a popular quote trending social networking sites. It could not have been put any better.

After the heinous and horrifying rape of a medical student on 16th December 2012 followed by other high profile rapes, the government responded with introducing several sexual assault laws. This includes- a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for gang rape, establishment of six new fast track courts solely for rape prosecution, several help lines for women etc.The Government of Karnataka launched a 24/7 helpline (1091) to be operated by the state police to register sexual abuse complaints from women. The Government of Tamil Nadu also announced a 13-point action plan to ensure safety of women in Tamil Nadu. The chief minister also said that daily hearings would be conducted in all sexual abuse cases in the state for speedy trials at specially constituted fast-track courts, and women prosecutors would be appointed as government counsels. The Jammu and Kashmir government also announced plans to change the state’s laws against sexual offences and gender crimes. The Government of Himachal Pradesh decided to set up state and district-level committees to review progress of all cases of crimes against women. It remains to be seen if all these measures work.

Many historians claim that women enjoyed an equal status with men in ancient India. It is said that women were educated, had a say in family matters, took important decisions of life and were free to choose their own husbands. With time, women started to lose their importance and their status began to wane. The freedom given to women was curtailed slowly, I wonder why ?

Though the government has introduced several laws for our protection, it is just sad when being an 18 year old girl in a so called ‘developing’ country I have to constantly watch over my back and worry about my safety.

The opportunity cost of being a woman is stifling.

Esha Rao is a first year student pursuing Economics Honours at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University. Being an avid reader she loves books by Paulo Coelho, Khaled Hosseini and Corban Addison. Esha has also represented her schools at various command level basketball matches and finds immense pleasure in playing the sport. She enjoys debating, turn quotes, symposiums, extempore, group discussions etc. Social service has been one of her utmost priorities. Being a part of Enactus LSR has helped widen her reach. She is also fortunate enough to work with the women of the National Association of the Blind.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind