“Kal tak paiso ke liye TV par thumke lagati thi. Aaj chunavi vishleshak ban gayi” (You used to dance on TV for money, and now you’ve become an election expert).
Sanjay Nirupam passed this remark for Member of Parliament Smriti Irani in a news debate broadcasted on national television. Sanjay Nirupam is not the only member of parliament or legislative assemblies to have dared use derogatory remarks for a woman when he fell out of dissing arguments. Mr. Narendra Modi, the head of the Union Government called Sunanda Pushkar a ’50 crore girlfriend’, in an attempt to mock Mr. Shashi Tharoor. Whatever the situation may be, it does not suit well for the head of the government of a country ranked first in a list of unsafe countries for women to mock any women with a slanderous comment, especially when he does a ‘crying show’ in his speeches while sympathising with rape survivors.
At a time when the country is going through a bottleneck and a flood of issues have been raised in the society to deflect our attention from the ongoing communal hostility, now is the time when real issues like The Constitution Bill or the Women’s Reservation Bill is needed more than ever. Earlier the bill was introduced by the UPA government, but it never made it through Lok Sabha, and the bill lapsed.
In a 2017 report by Inter-Parliamentary Union and United Nations Women, India ranked at 148th in the representation of women in government. As a country taking pride in its economic growth and democratic environment, it’s high time that we start taking the issue of women representation in the parliament seriously. In a country that is under the burden of a past filled with sexism and toxic patriarchy, just 64 members in a 542 member strong Lok Sabha is something that the state should be worried about.
A recent study on local panchayats, which have the provision for women reservations, showed that the panchayats with a female sarpanch performed much better when it came to drinking water issues. It is true that many women sarpanch end up being a puppet in their husbands’ hands and never actually take decisions themselves, but we have to understand that this is a direct result of the deep-rooted patriarchy in our society and it should always be counted as a false negative of a law and never as a direct disadvantage. We must realise that if the representation escalates to a national level, then the puppeteering becomes a bit difficult and is susceptible to public scrutiny.
Hence, it should seem logical that more is the representation of women in the parliament, higher will be the acceptance of the society to see women leaders in the same light as we look at the men who have maintained their monopoly over Indian politics. India is far below the world in average women representation and as a country that is seen potentially as a developed nation, if we do not take care of representation of the different sections and aspects of our society that form our diverse culture, then we are failing at the idea of what India should represent.
The fifteenth Loksabha has the highest percentage of women MPs, and it is still 11.8 %. Thus, we must understand that the political parties have only used the reservations as an electoral device to gain votes. At present there are seven women out of 51 members in INC working committee, 18 out of 88 members in Communist Party of Indian (Marxist) and just eight women out of 95 executive members in the largest party of the world, BJP.
It should be evident that it does not matter whether the ruling party had the reservation bill and still never introduced despite having opposition support or the opposition party who itself does not have enough women representation in its working committee, tried to gain public attention through a letter to the government. The political parties have always used reservations as a device that gets them to vote among the divided Indian society and they will continue to do so unless there is a frequent public check on the opposition and the government.
It must be clear that reservation is not a means to solve economic disparity but a social one and it doesn’t matter whether a woman belongs to the upper class or a socially and economically backward class, sexism is always on the menu card. Reservation for women in the parliament will and must only serve as an entry facility for representation. Past the entry point, it must lie in the hands of the voter to choose whom he or she wants to vote in favour of. The argument that women in parliament are not active is as stupid as it can get. First of all, if 4 out of 10 women do not speak up and 90 out of 100 men do speak on any topic in discussion, it is not wise to conclude that answers in a statement along the lines of inactiveness of women parliament members.
A UNDP report on Corruption, Accountability and Gender: Understanding the Connections, implied that leadership by women leads to less corruption. When we have examples of Nirmala Sitaraman and Sushma Swaraj holding critical ministries, it must not lead to a conclusion that women are well represented but instead to a fact that being a woman does not affect your capability as a lawmaker. The chances are that it might be a bit beneficial for a body to have more than just 11.8 % of women when it is passing laws on issues related to women and social structure.
It is the responsibility of an honest citizen to demand a democratic representation of Indian society when it comes to law-making. Just because political parties use it as a device to gain votes, we should not ignore the actual need and importance of the issue. Being part of the largest democracy in the world, it becomes our moral responsibility to question those whom we have elected for our social upliftment. In a time when we have the likes of Gurmehar Kaur, Shehla Rashid, Kavita Krishnan, Karuna Nundy and many more social change makers who are actively contributing to the society, it is high time that this empowerment also gets reflected in an assembly that we choose to safeguard our society and bring social change in our nation.
(This is first of the many articles that I’ll be writing in the issues that I view of the importance to the Indian society and politics.)