CBC Digital Archives

India: Trading the sari for the short skirt

India is the world's largest democracy and its second most populous, but for decades its image was mainly that of a poor nation with a rich history. Shaken by periodic religious strife and still largely a rural and agricultural country, India has nevertheless emerged in the new millennium as an increasingly important global player. From its colonial origins to the bright lights of Bollywood, CBC Digital Archives presents a collection of clips about India past and present.

media clip
In a short skirt and backless top, Vidhi dances, drinks and smokes to the throbbing beat of club music. In India, she's the face of liberation for young women, a group that is embracing modernity by dating freely, rejecting traditional clothing and refusing arranged marriages. Meanwhile, in a dismal slum, tradition weighs all too heavily on Divaliben, a mother of four girls whose husband has all but abandoned her because she has not yet borne him a son. This clip from CBC Radio's Dispatches contrasts the lives of two women in modern Mumbai. 
• Traditional practice in India demands that when a woman marries, a dowry - a large payment of cash, goods or livestock - must be paid out by her family to the groom's family. Girls are therefore viewed as an expensive liability, especially in poorer families.

• Ever since the advent of prenatal gender determination, via ultrasound or a blood test, many Indian families have chosen abortion rather than giving birth to a girl. The Lancet, the British medical journal, calculated in 2006 that such abortions resulted in 500,000 fewer girls being born in India each year for the previous two decades.

• India outlawed sex-selective abortions in 1994 but the law was often not enforced. Ultrasound technicians, though barred from revealing the sex of the fetus, would give parents-to-be broad hints such as distributing blue or pink candies. Selective abortion was so common in 2008 that the Indian prime minister decried it as "a national shame" that was "inhuman, uncivilized and reprehensible."

• The city of Mumbai was known as Bombay until the 1995, when its name was formally changed to more accurately reflect local preferences. Some residents, however, still call it Bombay.

Medium: Radio
Program: Dispatches
Broadcast Date: May 26, 2004
Reporter: Piya Chattopadhyay
Duration: 7:02
Photo: Piya Chattopadhyay

Last updated: January 16, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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