Women fume at night work ban
Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi
A selective ban on women working after 8pm is to be introduced in Karnataka state in southern India.
The restriction, applying to hotels, business centres, shops, spas and recreation centres, has outraged and mystified women.
The ban will not apply to women doing night shifts in hospitals, factories and essential services. Information technology companies and call centres also will be exempt. Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, is the IT capital of India.
The reasoning offered by the government is that these companies provide security for their female night-shift workers.
Karnataka Labour Minister Iqbal Ansari said he was acting on women's complaints.
'Many women have told us that they feel unsafe working at night,' he said. 'This measure is meant to protect them.'
The move to draft a new law was taken without consulting the Karnataka Women's Commission, employers or women's groups.
'This is not just paternalistic but discriminatory,' said photographer Anandi Guha.
Critics have asked why women in hospitals and essential services are somehow less deserving of protection than women in hotels or shops.
'The government should treat crimes against women as a law and order problem, instead of pandering to a patriarchal mindset that tries to restrict the mobility of women, ostensibly to ensure their safety,' said an editorial in The Times of India.
Women are a growing presence in the labour force. Poor women have no choice but to work and even middle-class families are becoming accustomed to lifestyles that can only be supported by two incomes.
'A ban will throw women out of work when we should be working to ensure equal rights for women in the workplace,' said Karnataka Women's Commission chairwoman Pramila Nesargi.
A similar move by state authorities to function as women's moral guardian was made in Mumbai last year. Women were banned from dancing in bars, again for their own 'protection'.
And in Haryana, just outside New Delhi, authorities tried two years ago to stop call centres from employing women on night shifts.
Protests from the companies and women forced the officials to back down.