Women In India Are Caught In The Battle Against Patriarchy And Political Oppression

ढोर, गँवार, शूद्र, पशु, नारी, सकल तारना के अधिकारी – श्री रामचरितमानस
(Dhols, illiterate people, Shudras, animals and women – they should all be controlled and beaten in order to get something good out of them – “Shri Ramcharitmanas”)

Women who swear by the idea of Hinduism should be well informed about what religion has provided them with, in return. The power and respect the women had in the Vedic age started diminishing with the advent of the medieval age. That era, which was more of a ‘men-appeasement’ period, lasted for a period long enough to get this idea deeply rooted in the Hindu community.

After relinquishing a section of people to horrible misconducts and atrocities, it was time for the patriarchal bandwagon to march towards the women community. The community which was once worshipped and paid obeisance was now put under the clouds of prolonged oppression and misconduct. Their rights to be a part of intellectual discussions, to attain knowledge of the Vedas, and to participate in religious activities and to choose their own spouses were virtually scrapped. Now, they were at the mercy of the patriarchs who owned or disowned them as per their fancies. The oppression continued and Hinduism received some of its biggest blots. Women started being burnt for dowry and via the practice of sati. They were snatched and ‘abducted’ – like materials to be used and thrown later.

Patriarchs made sure that women remained meek and ‘fancy’ – just like that lovely portrait which adorns a wall and cannot ask a question in return. They made provisions for the ill treatment meted out to women to pass on to the next generation, often through the agency of women themselves. This way, patriarchs became an enigma – and also apparently, an epitome of ‘poise and responsibility’.

The whole ‘game’ even turned towards women fighting amongst themselves. What could have been better than passing this deep-grown sadistic ideology within women? Wars within families started, never to end. Women probably started hating each other, while they served men with equal dedication. The ‘game’ became interesting because now, the patriarch had to just sit and watch, while the women of the house did exactly what he liked without being blamed for it.

Women continued to be trumped till one fine day when they started sharing things with each other. That was the first step towards understanding the whole ‘game’. They started being vocal. Mothers started fighting for their daughters so that they could have equal rights to education and property. Sisters began supporting each other during their doom days. Mothers-in-law extended their hands of affection towards their daughters-in-law to end a seemingly ages-old civil war within Hindu households.

Men also eventually joined the march. They started being vocal and positive about women’s upliftment. Their participation sped up the progress which led to daughters having a confident upbringing; wives got freedom to chose their lifestyles, while sisters now had a sense of security. The question that stand in front of the women now is – “Are we there yet?”

British colonialism haunted almost the whole world for hundreds of years. However, are we aware that there was a time when even British women had no right to vote despite being independent and masters of their own selves? The change came in 1918 when this right was granted to women who were above 30 years of age and ran a household. Men, on the other hand, always had this right from the early age of 21, which is probably indicative of the fact that the British considered the intellect of a 21-year-old single man equal to that of a 30-year-old married woman.

We have never had such garish and gender-discriminating laws, but are we really any different? Adult women have been voters since the advent of Indian democracy, but do they have a substantial strength to influence political parties to notice them and work for them?

Let’s take a look at various vote banks in India. Muslims, for instance, are among the largest of all vote banks. Their strength and inclinations are strong enough to determine election results. Political parties reach out to them while campaigning and often strike deals with them. Parties have Muslim stalwarts who generally get involved in these negotiations, and they crack the Muslim vote to ensure victory for their party.

We have also seen such instances in the case of Hindu sub-castes like the Jats, who have been vehemently looking to get a nationwide OBC quota, and are capable of organising large-scale stirs and demonstrations. The Jats can change the demographics in North India due to their vote-share. Hence, politcal parties give space to Jat leaders to gain their vote when the need arises.

The BJP, for instance, target the Brahmin/Baniya population during the time of elections. They ensure that they have representatives who listen to their grievances and can understand their ‘terms and conditions’. The demand of a new religion in Karnataka is again a child of vote bank politics. The Lingayats have a strong foothold in several sections of Karnataka, and political parties have grabbed the opportunity to win them over – like they always do.

I would like to ask all women voters if they know of such women stalwarts and leaders who are appointed only to lure women voters. Do political parties make the same effort to gain the votes of women like they do to win the votes of people from various religions, castes and other sections of society? You don’t have to answer that – I know they don’t. Irrespective of our total voter count, we have failed to emerge as a vote bank.

In my opinion, women’s participation in political parties face the same fate as their involvement in women commissions and NGOs in our country who get tax rebates and are invited to news debates once a case of rape or harassment gains national attention. However, their standing in political circles still remains a farce.

Over 260 million women voted in the 2014 election, while only around 12% of the Rajya Sabha members are women. Looking at the numbers, we don’t look like a group that can be ignored by political parties if they need to win. Where, then, is the glitch? When a community looks for quotas in jobs, they assemble in large numbers and makes their presence felt. They feel for the rights of their community and put them first. Their caste and religion bring them together, but do men really need to gather for men’s rights? Hilarious? No! They are not deprived and discriminated against; hence, their communities are their ‘personality-markers’.

Women, on the other hand, are a deprived section. Irrespective of their religion, community or caste, their destiny stays in the hands of family patriarchs. Hence, the ‘illusion’ of caste or religion as their ‘personality-markers’ should be brushed away, in my opinion. They need to come together for the rights of the community they are a part of – and for womanhood.

Even in today’s well informed and connected world, women look for support from either their husbands or fathers while taking political decisions. It might surprise you that educated, independent women too often have less or no knowledge about the political scenarios and lean on to the men of their family to come to a decision even while voting. In a country where an absolutely small portion of the working women population is involved in investing and saving their own money, it’s no surprise that political parties don’t consider them a threat. The campaigns where candidates reach out to the people mostly have male participants who generally have the understanding that if a patriarch favours a particular party, the women of the family are bound to follow him and the party.

It’s appalling that the number of women voters are unable to put pressure on political parties to ensure a mammoth participation of women in the Parliament. What are we losing here? Several women-centric bills and ordinances never take a shape because of the lack of voter awareness and the inadequate representation of women in the Parliament. We are still fighting for the right to education, women’s quota in the Parliament, against marital rapes, and for laws against rapes, honour-killings, child marriages, and their proper implementation. The list is endless.

Endless possibilities are waiting for us. Initiatives can be started at the ‘ward level’ where like- minded women can come forward and start discussing about many-point agendas, specifically for women. These groups can head on to interact with the parishads or mayors and have their agenda clear. Young participants from colleges or schools can be encouraged and used to spread awareness about the existence of such a group. Other women can also incorporate a small political discussion in their agendas. These many-point agendas can then be presented to the candidates with signatures to negotiate the requisite support. This can be done on various levels – and this can even become a success if women take it up with as much dedication as they do, when their careers and homes are concerned.

It’s time women stop allowing the country’s government to take their numbers for granted. It’s time that political parties are forced to present their ‘set of offerings’ to ensure that they also gain women’s votes. We need to realise our priorities. In political language, we need a ‘shakti pradarshan’ to shake and overturn some chairs.

_

Featured image used for representative purposes only.