This year's Nobel Prize in economic sciences went to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer. Amongst the three, Abhijit and Duflo are a couple. As Abhijit happened to be from India, the news spread out quickly in the subcontinent. But unfortunately, all the news that has appeared has introduced Esther Duflo as Abhijit's wife instead of a prominent economist.
In this regard, The Business Standard spoke with two academicians, Abdullah Al Mamun, Professor of Department of English, University of Rajshahi and Dr Susmita Chakrabarty, Professor of Folklore Department, University of Rajshahi.
Dr. Susmita Chakrabarty
In the patriarchal societies we do not want to give recognition to women. We ignore all her works and thinks her as a shadow of a male person. And this has also reflected in the case of Esther Duflo as well in this subcontinent. We have introduced her as Abhijit's wife instead of an economist.
Ester Duflo has been working for a long time and she is a senior economist. But it is really funny how we have portrayed her. In this subcontinent we always look for something else before telling a female "a woman". We look who is her father or who is her husband. And, I am sure if she had a son who is an economist as well, our society would use that name too.
In broader aspect, this denial of identity to women is nothing new. Also, our society does not even have the mentality to accept that a woman can have an identity of her own without being a shadow of her counterpart.
For example, in Khona's time, she was the philosopher. She used to give cautionary remarks on nature and environment. But it became a problem for the king and her husband as she was being popularly regarded for her own knowledge and identity! While teaching Chandravati's Ramayana of the 16th century, we can see professors would call her the daughter of Dij-Banshidas. But she has an identity of her own!
The problem lies within us, and as long as we hold our archaic mentality this problem will not be solved. We need to accept that a female person is a woman of her own first, while being someone's mother, wife or daughter. The fast we realise it the better it is for us and the society.
Abdullah Al Mamun
Women's identity is generally decided by the identity of the men in her life—the father, the husband, in some cases even by the brother. It is nothing new in the subcontinent. Also, some of the Eastern European, African and Latin American countries practice this as well. For that reason, being aware that Esther Duflo is a professor at MIT, it became more important that she is the wife of Abhijit Banarjee.
In a male dominating society, we assign gender roles to biological identity. So, by definition of patriarchy, a woman belongs to somebody and she does not have any identity of her own. And this is how we assign gender roles.
This is not based on particular religion or society rather it is a common practice. As they are politically correct, the westerners do not write "wife of somebody" to introduce a woman. But in practice, their thought process is not very different from us.
Being under the feudal system for a long time, despite our attempt, we couldn't significantly change ourselves with the present and new capitalist flow.
Our major difference from the west is that, we have not developed ourselves fully in the means of industrialisation, technological advancement, modernisation and family concept. The west has advanced a long time ago. But the subcontinent did not see a natural integration of capitalism. The reason behind this is the colonisation we went through. And even now, we are under neo-colonial practices.
We cannot say that we are lagging behind many countries in terms of defining identity of women, contrary to the west's perception of us. For example, we still use labour force for productivity, where women are overlooked to a degree. We also have the tendency of seeing motherhood as a simple biological job of women instead of fitting it into a broader perspective.
With time, this mentality will change. And, if we can restructure the social and economic condition, the change will occur even faster.