Monday, March 17, 2014

Today's Editorial 18 March 2014

    Why eves don’t get fair share

Source: By Sunanda K. Datta: The Free Press journal
If a country’s advance is to be measured by the number of women in parliament, Rwanda must lead the pack.

Male chauvinists might even ascribe the genocidal warfare between the Tutsi and the Hutu to this gender domination. International Women’s Day, which was celebrated last Saturday, March 8, must certainly have a special significance for Rwanda. Fifty- one of its 80 legislators are female, making for 63.8 per cent women’s representation, the highest in the world.

In contrast, India with 62 women among 545 MPs ( 11.4 per cent), ranks a low 111th among the 145 nations listed. Of course, these figures provide no conclusive evidence. Other factors must be taken into account. But providing we bear in mind certain qualifying conditions; women’s emancipation does give some idea of social, economic and political progress.

One of the qualifying conditions is that whether or not they have an overt public presence, many women exercise a powerful influence on public affairs, even from purdah. A British anti- suffragette famously said she did not need the franchise because any woman worth her salt saw to it that her husband and son voted according to her wishes. The British historian, who wrote that it was strange “ to see a woman’s arm sustaining the falling empire of the Mogols,” had in mind Begum Sumroo, a former nautch girl from Old Delhi, who administered the jagir of Sardhana, commanded a freelance army and proved to be Emperor Shah Alam II’s most trusted ally. He bestowed on her the titles of Zeb- un- Nissa ( Jewel among Women), Farzand- i- Aziz ( Most Beloved Daughter) and – most tellingly -- Umdat- al- Arakin ( Pillar of the State).

Nothing could be more banal in the light of the above than Mulayam Singh adav’s ill- advised comment during the abortive debate on the Women’s Reservation Bill to set aside 33 per cent of parliamentary seats for women, “If all of you want to join politics, who will make the chappatis?” The Samajwadi Party leader’s hat is now in the ring for the prime ministerial stakes. Another prime ministerial aspirant, West Bengal’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, says “ I am not a feminist.” The implication is that a feminist promotes women’s causes at the expense of general issues. No wonder her Trinamool Congress has not allocated one- third of the 42 Lok Sabha seats for women. But at least Trinamool is putting up 11 women; the Left Front, which ruled West Bengal for 34 years and flaunts the CPI( M)’ s Brinda Karat at the top, has nominated only six women. There are only three women ministers in West Bengal’s 42- member ministry, although Trinamool claims that 50 per cent of its candidates in the last panchayat election were female. Other states can’t claim to do much better.

In fact, there is irony in the conjunction of the announcement of Lok Sabha elections and International Women’s Day because apart from a few stellar figures, women are so poorly represented in Indian politics. Women might have held up half the sky in Mao Zedong’s China and constitute nearly half the electorate (47.73 per cent) in India, but the number of women members of the Lok Sabha crawled up from 45 in 2004, to only 59 in 2009. Sonia Gandhi might head the Congress Party, but there were only 28 women among the first 194 candidates the party announced. If 15 per cent are women, as a senior party spokesman boasted, that is still less than half of the 33 per cent target the country has supposedly set itself. In fact, sociologists might investigate whether Indira Gandhi, her daughter- inlaw and Mamata Banerjee conform to a pattern where – for whatever reason – women who make it to the top are not particularly anxious to be surrounded by a crowd of women. It must be peculiarly satisfying to be the only woman in a man’s world. Or, as was famously said of Indira Gandhi, the only man in a Cabinet of women.

As for other states, it is not surprising that Gujarat has never had an influential woman politician like Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee or Jayalalithaa. Karnataka offers some interesting insights because it was from there that two prominent Nehru- Gandhi women -- Indira Gandhi in the 1978 by- election and Sonia Gandhi in 1999 – found a perch in the Lok Sabha.

Chikmagalur and Bellary merit a place in history. But the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are not expected to field more than two women each this time from Karnataka, although the Janata Dal (Secular) might do slightly better.

Ever since the first election in 1952, when Karnataka was Mysore, the state has never boasted more than three female Lok Sabha MPs at any one time. The 1991 polls saw three brave Congresswomen upholding Karnataka’s pride in Delhi. The current parliament boasts J Shantha of the BJP and the Congress’s Ramya, who wasn’t elected until a by- election last year.

Could it be that Karnataka women are apathetic about politics? The Aam Aadmi Party’s state president, Prithvi Reddy, lamented he had “received very few applications” from women. et, the state’s very first woman MP, Sarojini Bindurao Mahishi, is still remembered for her report on reservation for Kannadigas in central government jobs. She enjoyed the distinction of winning four terms continuously between 1962 and 1980, and was also a member of the Rajya Sabha twice. According to Pramila Nesargi, a former BJP MLA, “ All political parties are guilty of tokenism on the women’s question and political reservation for women has remained a mirage.” Nesargi is a founder member of the Mahila Meesalathi Horata Samiti, a forum of women politicians established in 2005 to pressure political parties to push through the reservation Bill.

I hope they succeed, but are not sure that conditions will change automatically when the law is changed. We have seen that with the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Reservation implies inherent inequality. Second, it becomes a crutch that is never abandoned. Third, it perpetuates inequality by creating what was called a “ creamy layer” of beneficiaries at the top of the supposedly disadvantaged group. Perish the thought, but if quotas led to the Brahmanisation of some Dalits, might not similar privileges led to the masculinisation of some women? Unlike Begum Sumroo, all women who reign do not also rule. Nor was Laloo adav unique in hiding behind Rabri Devi when he couldn’t be chief minister.

When the rules debarred George Wallace from standing again for governor of Alabama, he put up his wife Lurleen instead. Alabama was an exception, an instance of marital collusion rather than exploitation.
It’s different in India, where women lag behind in politics because they lag behind in all other aspects of life – education, employment, wealth generation, handling responsibility. The answer lies in social emancipation. The examples of Sultan Raziya, Begum Sumroo, Ahalyabai Holkar, Lakshmibai of Jhansi and many others demonstrate Indian women are not lagging behind men in ability. They just need the opportunity.

No comments:

Post a Comment