HER WORLD Sunday, August 26, 2001,  Chandigarh, India

Women in politics: The impact is evident
Women in politics: The impact is evident

Vimla Patil
his is women’s empowerment year in India. Every party which fights the elections has promised that it will give more political rights to women if they win. The law to give 33 per cent reservation for women in all elected political bodies is rusting on Parliament’s shelves. Are women doing any good in politics despite all this?

Action groups: Need for new life, new thrust
Neelu Kang
omen’s participation in social struggles such as the National Movement, Chipko Movement, anti-price rise movement, Naxalbari Movement has a long history. These were male-led movements in which women participated in large numbers. Women, however, could not develop an autonomous platform for articulation of women’s specific demands.

From the days of Rajni...
Sonia Dogra

Not that I ever knew why she stood her ground. Not that I ever wondered either! For someone who stood barely four feet above the ground, Rajni’s battles seemed incomprehensible. Still I loved her. Because everyone else did. Because my mom loved her. 




Women in politics: The impact is evident
Vimla Patil

This is women’s empowerment year in India. Every party which fights the elections has promised that it will give more political rights to women if they win. The law to give 33 per cent reservation for women in all elected political bodies is rusting on Parliament’s shelves. Are women doing any good in politics despite all this?

This year, with so many major political events happening to change the direction in which India is headed and with so many state elections coming up, Indian women are still waiting patiently for empowerment and real power in the political corridors of the nation. Gone are several generations of national-level women politicians. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sarojini Naidu and her intrepid daughter, Padmaja Naidu were the first generation — Indian women politicians who participated alongside Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru in the non-violent struggle for Independence.

The second generation of India’s political women came into the government in the 1960s and 1970s, led by Indira Gandhi. Nandini Satpathy, and later Margaret Alva did make some impact on politics and showed that given a chance, women could handle their portfolios with elan. But the real political power game for women began during the Emergency, when Indira Gandhi became the virtual dictator of India. In more recent times, Najma Heptulla, Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia, Sushma Swaraj, Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Sonia Gandhi, Maneka Gandhi and others have come to the forefront and because of circumstances, made an impact on India’s political scenario. In spite of this, the participation of women in the nation’s august bodies like the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha has averaged between 2 to 6 per cent in every election during the last 54 years.

However, on a quieter front, India’s grassroots woman politician is slowly and steadily becoming a reality in rural India. Within the next few years the Panchayat and local government bodies, with a much larger number of women politicians, should be able to show dramatic results at the rural level. Their unsung success has shown that given an opportunity to understand the complexities of politics, they work with greater resolve. The effective participation of women at the gram panchayat and local municipality level should, in time, create a cadre of women who will grow in time to demand power in the states and the Centre. Thus, the reservation of 33 per cent of seats for women may become a reality in a resurgent India, even though the bill is being delayed indefinitely by political warlords.

Reports of this resurgence are beginning to reach the media already. For instance, the state of Maharashtra boasts of many women mayors, corporation members and gram panchayat members in smaller cities and villages. Though not highly educated, such women show true grit and an earthy wisdom. "Women are politically more aware because of the reservation policy," they say. "They are also extremely confident. Of course, men are envious of the new equation between men and women politicians but they also enjoy the ‘power base’ which a woman politician brings into her home," says an observer.

Other women, unaware of the laws and their provisions, still feel scared of upsetting the applecart of male dominance in politics but they are aware and being shrewd, they get their work done by fitting into a system and changing it from the inside with a quiet confidence. "Men cannot suppress good workers," they say, "But in normal circumstances, we women would never have got the opportunities which have resulted from the reservations. Because of the responsibility women have been given with their political positions, they can show results in their own special way. Earlier, there was so much debate over women’s safety in political life but now, lakhs of women have settled down in political jobs and are producing extraordinary results."

A woman politician nominated to be the chief of the district co-operative bank, says that though the bank has been set up for giving agricultural loans, in her tenure, she has helped women to set up small industries so that financial independence for women at the village level becomes a reality. She says that once women are ‘awakened’, they are very active and enterprising and though they might be illiterate, do not sign any paper without getting it read and explained by an educated woman known to them. Most women who have had some experience of working in any political body say that the reservation of seats for women in all political bodies will show wonderful results because hitherto, the benefits of development in 54 years of Independence have neither reached villages nor rural women. The argument that women politicians are from the families of men who are already in politics may be right for the time being. A primary example of this phenomenon is Rabri Devi, the Chief Minister of Bihar by proxy. But all cases cannot be compared to this one example.

"Even then," women say, "For whatever reason, women are out there facing life and are held responsible for others’ welfare. This profession suits women eminently because they are nurturers by nature. The work is part time and endowed with a definite purpose. Women’s participation in gram panchayats, panchayat samitis, zila parishads and nagar parishads has started a new revolution in rural and small town India. Camps and workshops held for training women politicians cause cross-fertilisation of concepts and ideas and the women develop collective courage as a result. Government-run schemes have brought a tremendous awakening among women. It is a wonderful sight to see a woman leader hoist the national flag on Independence Day or Republic Day in many rural areas of India. Further, this situation has resulted in diminishing the ill-treatment of women within their homes and making them respected members of rural communities. Men are getting used to women politicians and their interference and bossing has decreased steadily," they add.

Sixty three per cent village-level women politicians said, in a recent survey, that they felt ‘honoured’ to participate in the development of their villages. They enjoyed their experiences and said that there are few problems they cannot solve by co-operation. Though men cause serious pressure when economic matters are concerned, women’s unity in wanting to introduce reforms wins the day. According to most women panchayat members, their entry into politics has brought them social recognition, self-respect, knowledge of new subjects and a sense of participation in the job of nation-building. A small number has had negative experiences too. A lower caste or backward caste woman still suffers humiliation when she tries to assert herself.

Several others complain that their families dislike their power and cause mental torture to the women when they became assertive and bold. In some cases, women politicians come under fire because of party politics, intrigue, family disputes and caste prejudices.

But, today, rural women have certainly shown the way. Most women feel that 33 per cent reservations will result in giving women a new sense of accomplishment and self-respect. Till today, say all the women, no woman politician at the village or zila level has been involved in a corruption or criminal scandal. This in itself is a great ray of hope for India’s future. The change in the political scene seems slow because urban media do not publicise this aspect of Indian life adequately. But the growth is steady. It may soon become a torrent which can no longer be contained by opposing forces or the benignly negligent, city-based media. There are approximately 86 lakh villages in India. If there are an average of two women politicians to each village, the number of women in politics is impressive even on a global scale. Reservation in the Lok Sabha may be a logical and natural outcome of this situation. The 81st Amendment to the Constitution, if passed speedily, could offer an optimistic picture in all the Vidhan Sabhas and finally the Lok Sabha.

The writer, a leading columnist, is the former Editor of Femina.Top



Action groups: Need for new life, new thrust
Neelu Kang

Women’s participation in social struggles such as the National Movement, Chipko Movement, anti-price rise movement, Naxalbari Movement has a long history. These were male-led movements in which women participated in large numbers. Women, however, could not develop an autonomous platform for articulation of women’s specific demands.

Struggle for women’s equality with conscious intervention started in the late 70s. Thus, the need for change gave way to an independent women's movement. As a result many action groups came up, signifying an ideological shift in the analysis and understanding of women’s issues. It was a shift in perception from the concept of charity and social work of the post-Independence era.

Women action groups worked vigorously for women’s empowerment.The aim was to advance the status of women in the family, the workplace and the community so as to achieve equality between sexes and ensure full participation of women in social, economic and political spheres. It called for the recognition of women’s struggle for full and equal representation on decision-making bodies.

They are instrumental in bringing about many changes through their educational programmes, effort to raise public awareness and to increase sensitivity or to politically lobby in order to protect basic principles and legal rightsaction. Their effort produced some positive results in raising women’s status.

However, with the passage of time ,their enthusiasm and vigour flagged. At present, it appears as if the women’s movement has been paralysed. Active members have become non-agile and passive. Loss of their interest and commitment is also evident from the fact that many women action groups, for instance Hamsheera, Sihani and Shamshir etc. that were formed in Chandigarh are non-existent today. They have disappeared without achieving the objectives for which they had been formed. Talking about the gradual collapse of Shamshir, that was formed in early 90s, when like-minded people got together to do something for women, Harleen Kohli says " Gradually, I realised that there were so many issues which were not

"women’s" issues alone but at the same time could not be separated from women’s issues as such. Those issues could not be dealt within a ‘purely’ women’s organisation. There were many constraints. I became inactive and started working on other issues, particularly on those related to children. Gradually, others also became inactive and withdrew." Harleeen’s experience shows that when members became passive and non-agile the group died its natural death.

Where as Rama Rattan of Shamshir, defending the status of her organisation contends: "I won’t say that it has closed down. The work goes on but at a very slow pace. Earlier, we used to have frequent meetings and now we don’t. But if any emergency arises we get together immediately. "She also revealed that Shamshir is women wing of apex body Sahit Rang Gathan (SARANG) which is opening a cultural centre in Mohali in December. She hopes for the revival of Shamshir. (Here the two once active members of Shamshir have contradictory views)

The major pitfall of women’s movement, according to Ms Kohli, is a large gap between affluent and poor. It consists of elite women who deal with women’s issues in their own style without realising the economic disparity among women as a class. They do not realise that first of all equality per se is important. She says "It is more of a status symbol/a stage show for them. She believes that party-affiliated women’s groups do work at the grassroots level to increase their membership.

In her view, there is hardly any group (except Sutra at Jagjit Nagar in Himachal Pradesh) which is working in real sense of the term and the rest do seminars or family counselling, without equipping themselves for the same, because it is more in demand.

Talking about the present status of women’s movement, Sheila Didi, vice-president of Punjab Istri Sabha and executive member of National Federation of Indian Women, says: " Women activists at present do not have the same spirit they had during the national struggle for freedom when they came in thousands to achieve their common goal. After Independence, they got alienated. Had that spirit continued, things would have been different." She believes that there is need for more women, especially from the younger generation, to come forward and actively participate in the movement.

She feels that women groups can deliver goods if they are empowered more. "Though we were successful in forming NCW (National Commission for Women) and state commissions have also been set up, yet these have not become statutory bodies and do not have as much power as minority commissions in India have." She suggests co-ordination of NGOs and government to have real impact.

During International Women Decade (1975-1985), the women’s movement in India was in full swing. After that it lost it zeal. She is, however, optimistic about it, "After the Beijing conference and with the inception of new millinieum fervour has again come". She says that women all over the world culminated their global march into a demonstration and meeting in New York on October 17, 2000 on the U. N. Poverty Day with submission of several crores of signatures of people gathered from different countries along with a charter of demands against poverty and violence. Women organisations in India participated actively in this signature campaign. About 22 organisations in Chandigarh and Punjab formed Joint Women’s Forum for this cause.

Rekha Bannerji and Shreshta Mehta, former Honorary General Secretary of YWCA and ICSW respectively share the same view when they disagree to the view/idea that women action groups at present are non-functional. They opine that women organisations work through out the year in their own areas, in their individual capacities and capabilities which most of the times is not made public and ,therefore, goes unnoticed. They also contend that women organisations make a common platform whenever required to show their solidarity on women’s issues.

As a matter of fact, organisations once formedgenerally do not close down as such. They exist at least in papers. To make their presence feel they occasionally hold meetings or seminars to fetch funds and grants. But practically they are

]non-existent/inactive. By and large those groups have been able to survive which have wider network and operate at national level (with their head office at one place and branches all over) and/or have political affiliation, generally, acknowledged like All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), All India Democratic

Women’s Association (AIDWA), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), Young Women Christians' Association (YWCA).

This is so because they have a large mass base, hierarchical structure with well-defined roles to monitor their activities. This facilitates their co-ordination and networking. It may be noted that their continuous working, no matter how little or slow it may be, could be because their priorities are by and large determined by government or party politics. On the other hand autonomous groups lack all these attributes and operate with informal and implicit rules without clear-cut leadership and centralised authority (like Shamshir) and have a relatively short life. Though more committed towards women’s cause, paucity of human and economic resources, lack of time and focussed attention contribute to a large extent in making these groups inactive.

Sustenance, commitment and dedication, particularly of the younger generation, can show some silver lining in this direction. Women help/action groups need to bounce back.Top



From the days of Rajni...
Sonia Dogra

Not that I ever knew why she stood her ground. Not that I ever wondered either! For someone who stood barely four feet above the ground, Rajni’s battles seemed incomprehensible. Still I loved her. Because everyone else did. Because my mom loved her. Every time Rajni appeared armed with courage, I could sense my mother smile in anticipation of something similar happening in her life. But mom and I weren’t working for DD you see. And in real life battles are hard to fight..... still harder to win. Time elapsed. It flew. My four feet added another one. My mom didn’t grow taller. I thought the onerous kitchen stunted her growth. But I wasn’t too sure. Because she always smiled, even though she had been declared guilty of having borne two girls, like some "water-borne disease." My education was embellished in the best available institutes in order to rehabilitate some sublime aspirations. And I never felt the need to question, to ask. I never felt she needed to remember Rajni.

You are never aware of some crude realities (realities are almost always crude!) until....My mom still stood in the kitchen. And now she walked me ko stand beside her. I had no qualms, although I wondered how anybody could spend a lifetime there! But some deep secrets must always remain buried. And so I never asked.

My nineteen years had added a good deal of feathers in my cap. And yet life takes bizarre turns. Nirmal uncle stayed with us for four days. My dad’s friend—I had heard of him every time they spoke of America on TV. He was always mentioned at home then. That evening he was to leave us all and go. Mom went out and about shopping for him. I stayed over. His American talks lured me.

Nirmal uncle left and I was nowhere to be found. The dingy storeroom in the basement was where I hid. Despondent, forlorn. The door screeched and my mom entered. I shrivelled and slid into a corner for fear of any ray of light (hope) reaching me. I never wanted to be discovered. Never ever. My mom came closer. She met a hollow gaze. Last night we had witnessed a discussion on sexual abuse, harassment and rape. My mom and I followed a long silence. I knew that this silence was to stretch into eternity. There was a session of some serious talk between my mother and me. No, it was a monologue. My mother spoke. I listened and I understood. I had to understand. Some incidents are too gruesome to be mentioned at all. The chapter had to be shut. And with every argument that my mother gave, I reached the grand finale of a life born, nurtured and buried in silence.

I lay on my back and looked at the sky. I saw Rajni. Beckoning and calling,, I looked downstairs and saw my mom.... some distances, are inconceivable.Top



Picture of courage and grit

This refers to the article, “Picture of courage and grit” by Priyanka Singh (Aug 12) wherein the writer has depicted the way Poonam Guleria, the young wife of late Capt. Guleria, has endeavored to stand up on her feet to fight out the battle of life for herself and her young son.

It is a befitting tribute to him that she has stood up to take charge of her life courageously, instead of just crumbling into a state of helplessness. We are deeply thankful to the infrastructure of the Army that looks after the dependants of the army personnel even after they have gone and helps them to lead a dignified and self-dependent life. This infrastructure traditionally extends the family feeling and boosts the morale of the family facing the loss.

Amrit Pal Tiwana, Kalka

What holds back Indian women?

This refers to “What holds back Indian women?” (Aug 12) Neelam Prabha rightly deserved the first prize. Remember Sahir Ludhianvi’s famous poem.

Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko,

Mardon ne use bazaar diya

Jab jee chaha masla kutchla

Jab jee chaha dutkar diya......

In Bombay, during a meeting of the Progressive Writers Association. I asked Niaz Haider who was sitting by my side, “Who is that gentleman? “Legitimate son of an illegitimate father,” was an expected reply. During my 75 years, I have never come across such a bold poet.

In May 2000, I happened to visit the Bhisham Pitamaha Mandir at Kurukshetra. From a queue of about 200, I refused to bow and came out of the queue saying:“How can I bow before a head of Royal Kauravas family, who kept mum, when his grand-daughter-in-law ‘Draupadi was being disrobed in the open court?” It was Lord Krishna who prescribed the most horrible punishment for Bhisham Pitamaha for his sins during the Mahabharata

Pran Salhotra, Gurdaspur

Let the bride decide

This refers to “Dulhan Wohi Jo Degree Thukraye” by Thangamani. (July22). Girls getting professional degrees should be made to sign bonds for rendering minimum service. By becoming housewives or accepting jobs that do not justify the training they have been imparted, at the cost of the taxpayer. They are guilty of a serious crime. The spoil other people’s chances, kill their own potential and fail to pay back a nation that has great expectations from the educated lot— be it male or female.

Education is not about learning to forget but to learn to improve the lot of mankind. Some may argue that narrow mindsets and age-old family traditions do not permit them, but why at all do they venture into this serious business.

The bride’s in-laws also need to mend their way, and should let the lady decide for herself and honour her decision.

B.M. Puri, Solan

Mute womanpower

The article, “Mute womanpower, the valley’s only hope” was thought-provoking. It is not only in Kashmir but everywhere in the world where the youth is drugged into communal madness, that the women suffer the most. The women can save their wards from the horror and calamity caused by war, provided they are aware of the dangers of religious exploitation. If the mothers instil patriotism in the children in their infancy, terrorism will evaporate and the children will not be lured by foreign powers.

According to Manu II.145, the rank of the mother has been considered a thousand times more than that of a father. Skanda Purana, Kasi XI 50 ordains that even the sanayasi whom all people pay obeisance to, should pay obeisance to the mother. But mothers should also do their duty and teach their children to love the Motherland. Chaman Lal Korpal, Amritsar.

Working mothers

In the article “Working mothers could do with some empathy...”, Vimla Patil has rightly said to be or not to be a working mother seems a million-dollar question. To go on moving in a circle is simply not only monotonous but also tragic. A woman has to realise that totality is the basis of her freedom. A woman should not ask for sympathy. It is a poor substitute for development. Man has such a fragile ego that he claims to know things he has no knowledge of. A woman should give herself a push and stop calling herself only a wife, because it makes her fall into a ditch. A woman is the backbone of humanity. She is the ladder which her children can use for development. A successful mother who contributes towards the development of her children is certainly a boon.

Even if you are not appreciated, you should not worry because what is happening inside you is more important. Happiness is in your own hands, do not look for it else where.

Hans Raj Jain, Moga