HomeAsia-Pacific Social Science Reviewvol. 17 no. 3 (2018)

Poverty, Women, and Dignity: Reflecting on the Writings of Ashapurna Devi

Arup Mitra



Poverty and women are two closely connected themes in developing countries. Even in households with higher levels of living, intra-household inequality in terms of resources exists considerably, leaving women worse-off. Further, women-headed households are more prone to poverty as they lack resources to pursue productive activity and biases of the society against women are at times irreconcilable, falling outside the realms of all tolerable limits. Women in low-income households, particularly, undergo a great deal of struggle for survival in comparison to their male counterparts. The gender inequality involved in consumption, health, and education leads to greater vulnerability of women in the face of poverty compared to that in prosperity. In other words, gender inequality in high-income households is of less severity than in households struggling for livelihood opportunities. More importantly, such severity does not remain confined to economic domain only; rather the social and other implications are serious. The economic vulnerability challenges the basic dignity of women, though poverty in general means deprivation for both the sexes, with bleak prospects of upward mobility over time. It is not just the “identity” that suffers. Specific to women, the immorality issue gets interwoven with economic hardships. Ashapurna Devi, being one of the most humane writers of the contemporary age, has focused on this theme in various ways with her sharp intellect, in-depth feelings, and skillful articulation. While laying considerable emphasis on women issues in general, the “poor woman” with low social status and inadequate resource base takes a special position in her work.