Rahul’s Jaddu Ke Jhappi!
By Poonam I Kaushish
It was a jaddu ke jhappi which stumped Prime Minister Modi. In one bear hug Congress President Rahul Gandhi crossed the Rubicon and in a dramatic spectacle paid back NaMo in his inimitable Modisque —- embrace. Demonstrating, that even as he opposed the BJP politically, he did not “hate” Modi. Call it ‘Pappu-speak’, put it down as cheap Munnabhai antics and against Parliamentary decorum, but not only did his squeeze create a buzz but also sent political ‘Hindu’ circles in a tizzy. No matter if the BJP churlishly dubbed Rahul’s gesture “childish, mere optics without substance” and derided him for starting a ‘chipko andolan’ in a marathon No Confidence Motion in the Lok Sabha Friday.
Of course, it was a foregone conclusion that the Motion would be a damp squib as the Congress-led-Opposition did not have the numbers polling 126 against BJP’s 325. If they wanted to showcase their unity they fell flat on their face, notwithstanding cornering the Government on key issues: unemployment, Rafaela deal, farmers misery, economy etc. Even as the BJP’s win was predictable and muscular politics on full display to weaken the Opposition’s morale its ally-yet-internal-foe Shiv Sena played party popper by staying away from the House.
Will Rahul’s hug start a new phase in Government-Opposition ties? Is a new deal between the Congress-BJP in the making? More important will Mo-Ra present a new deal for women? Specially in the backdrop of India being dubbed a rape Capital and unsafe place for women. Think. Daily newspapers scream headlines of the Ugly Sexmanic Indian wherein young 2,4,8 year old girls are raped…minors in moving trains, teenagers snatched off streets in moving cars and working women in taxis. In a recent survey of 150 safe cities, New Delhi and Mumbai rank 139 and 126 at the bottom of the heap.
Alas, as our polity brags about Mera Desh Mahan and Brand India, women and young girls live in an increasingly unsafe environment. Pertinently, if Modi and his NDA storm troopers feel so strongly about uplifting the fair sex, offering a “new deal” and doing away with triple talaq and nikah halala, why doesn’t he usher in change from the top, by introducing the ‘defunct’ 108 Constitutional Amendment, Women Reservation Bill in Parliament, reserving 33% seats for them in Parliament and State Assemblies.
Remember, ‘her’ story was made when the historic Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha March 2010, thanks to Congress Sonia’s diktat. But our male chauvinists played spoil sports ensuring the “transformational” bill, a major step towards women empowerment, remained in cold storage.
What is it about this Bill that inflames our MPs to lose their head and refuse to legislate it? Why has it taken eight long years to even talk about it? And the final hurdle so hard to cross? Is it a pretense, a concession to humour a pocketful of educated women which is meaningless to the large majority? Is it aimed at influencing female voters? Or is it is a politically correct thing to do?
Both the Congress and BJP are grinding a different axe. Despite the right noises, they are simply doffing their hat to the cause of women’s empowerment than actually seeing the law through. Besides, there are several spoilsports to put a spoke in the wheel. In fact, they are confident that the “OBC block” led by Mayawati would stall the Bill. Thus, they support the legislation in public, certain it would never become law.
Those openly opposing reservations argue it would only bring urban elite women to power. Hogwash. Remember, no quota has ever seen a homogenous representation. But even if the argument were justified, are we to believe that Indian women would like to be represented by the Akhilesh’s and Tejasvi’s than by their urban sisters?
Look at the irony. India boasts of Indira Gandhi nicknamed ‘the only man in her Cabinet’, many women Chief Ministers and thousands village Panchayat heads. Yet all attempts to increase the fairer sex’s presence in Parliament and State legislatures have miserably failed. Women account for less than 10% of both Houses of Parliament.
In fact, women participation in electoral politics has remained more or less stagnant in successive Lok Sabhas. It ranges between 19 and 62 woman MPs: The present Lok Sabha has the highest till date 62 (11.3%), fifteenth had 58 (11%) twelfth 43 (7.6%), eleventh 40 (7.3%), the ninth 28 (5%) and sixth, lowest with only 19 women members, 3.4% of the House. Also, our record for sending women to Parliament is among the worst in the world. Out of 135 countries, India stands at 105th. Sic.
What is the reason for such poor women representation? Attitudinal inclination, their abhorrence for the rough and tumble of politics, lack of opportunities or purely male dominance? All this and more. If the 60s ushered in an era of free sex, burning the bra typified the emancipated 70s, the 80s measured equality with right to abortion and the 90s replaced rights and equality with empowerment.
In fact, women’s status has seen an evolutionary change over centuries. Every generation and decade has tried to move one step closer towards eradication of gender discrimination. But as a woman activist asserted, “Women are slaves to men. To cook, feed, mother and warm their beds”. And this persistence of gender inequality manifests from the low female-male ratio of 0.93, one of the lowest in the world. Preference for boys in fertility decision, neglect and death of a girl child, gender gaps in literacy, lead the deficit of women in a male-dominated society.
Arguably, it is precisely this gender distinction that results in lack of women participation in politics, governance and economic activity. The Bill on reservation in legislatures will only help bring women into the political mainstream and give them tangible political and economic power in the context of the emerging paradigm, assert feminists.
Indisputably, that there is a paucity of strong women in politics with Party bosses often being reluctant to trust them with handling the rowdy business of winning elections. There is also a certain neglect of women issues in most elected bodies. But can a Bill correct centuries-old imbalances and stigma against women? Will increased participation of women in the political process lead to less female infanticide, fewer dowry deaths, bride burning and trampling of female aspirations.
Experience shows that no amount of legislation has ended gender discrimination. Stringent laws against sex discrimination have not led to any decrease in crimes against a woman. Times out of number, the culprits go scot-free or, at best, get set off with light punishment. Empowerment of women has to come through the natural evolution of society. Instruments like education and family planning should be used to end feminine poverty along with legislation. Not just physical and outward application, but mental acceptance that both males and females are on equal footing.
It remains to be seen whether talk of a new deal for women will end up as nothing more than tokenism. In a country that ranks 114th among 134 in gender disparities, it is imperative that we create a level-playing field. Good governance is not gender-specific. The big challenge now for Mo-Ra is to take the move forward, give a push for empowerment and ensure that benefits of the Bill become a reality. Can we look forward to a naya daur? —INFA