Engendering Democracy

He is a fierce figure in the pockets of North Mumbai, known for his embellishing FIRs rather than public work. This Samajwadi Party’s Member of Parliament inspires fear in the same common folk whom he is said to represent, when he cruises in his open roof Mahindra, sporting solitary remains of a past civilization of hair. However, on the morning of May 6, 2008, a cluster of women Parliamentarians did what forced even the Mumbai Police to sweat.

They stood against Abu Azim Azmi, who was rampaging with fellow Samajwadi MPs to sojourn the Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj from presenting Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill 2008 in the Upper House that would provide one-third of the seats to women in the Parliament and State Legislatures. The voice of the largest democracy at an extreme decibel.

While a serene Manmohan Singh watched, women of his party barricaded the Law Minister and Renuka Chaudhary shoved Mr. Azmi back. Amidst this, former apex court barrister tabled the bill and it swiftly passed in voice vote. Before the Amazons could be jubilant, the torn pieces of the bill rained from the sky, and swamped the house floor. Azmi has done his part. We have YFE’s attention now; method of protest noted.

With the bill torn by the male members, commotion escalated and the Prime Minister still stood watching. Maybe he did not; maybe he cringed thinking about the day when his beloved nuke deal, if ever put in the house, would meet such an end. Or maybe, he was simply wondering what the heck he was doing there. Most probably, he might be daydreaming about the delicacies he might be served at Soniaji’s house. Wishful Thinking I say!

Among the honorable bickering Parliamentarians, who made every effort to palliate the colossal significance involved with the bill, one face was missing – that of former Cabinet Minister, Margret Alva. The Manglorean had headed the now defunct Ministry of Women in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, and had brought the Women Reservation Bill for the first time in the Man’s House. Spear heading the bill in time of Shah Bano, Alva went ballistic against her male counterparts who refused to give in to her demand of reserving 181 seats for the women of India. The brotherhood made sure that bill met its silent demise and Alva, or anyone else for that matter, was kept away from such feminine imageries of inclusiveness. The Women Ministry was consolidated into HRD Ministry, and remained there until UPA government took power in 2004. And Alva, accepting the decree of the great Indian democracy, sublimed herself in the kitchen Cabinet of the righteous Gandhis. Startlingly, the bandits of twenty-four hours English news channel, who had everyone from High school Cabinet to National Cabinet on the 4X6 inch, never did mention Alva, even by a mistake. Instead, we saw the Red Brinda, the Saffron Swaraj and the colorless Renuka gloating over the phenomenon of feminist plethora, forgetting the shameful ‘tearing the bill’ incident. In sync as never before.

Abu Azam Azmi, the pride of Indian democracy did not appear on television after his admirable act of valor and manhood. He had urgent business in Dubai. As his substitute, the Younger Brother, Amar Singh insinuated that his Party (Samajwadi) and fellow members as the real feminists, who respect women (FIRs would vouch for that), and therefore have been demanding a ‘quota within a quota’ for backward and minority class women. They were, he prowled on one woman journalist, for the Indian women. Mr. Singh might be a man of prodigal company and prosperity, but not of memory. His party honcho Mulayam Singh Yadav warned the parliament a decade earlier, when the Bill was introduced for the second time in the Parliament (and consequently torn off) that it would open the Pandora’s Box and would incite other backward groups and minority to ask for such incentives. Further stating, “It will destroy our political base.” Finally the truth.

As it happened, Singh would later helmed the socialist leaders who would promise their backward and Muslim voters of reservation. Never mind.

The country that was among the first few in the world to have a woman premier (actually, second; first was Sri Lanka), that had a woman in the first National Cabinet, that gave the world Nooyi, Majumdaar and Chawla. That country, the elephant democracy does not need reservation of women. Its women do not need pity of the chauvinists who talk of their oppression, who talk of high mortality rate of girl child (apparently only one-third survive of every 12 million girls that are born), who talk of honor killings, who talk of low girls-boys ratio ( 793:1000) in progressive lands of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. There might be some instances of drowning new born baby girls in milk, in the scaffolds of Rajasthan. Big deal, look at Bangladesh, Middle-east. Look at Afghanistan

Yadavs, Azmis, Singhs have spoken the veritable; women were and are self sufficient without reservation. They have been for years; safely in the dungeons of patriarchal society, behind the purdah. They do important jobs like running families, cooking meals, cleaning utensils, you name it. Parliament is in no need of motherly instincts. It is in capable hands of Men like Pappu Yadav and Abu Azmi. Or the reputed socialist leader and former Cabinet Minister Sharad Yadav, who resonated his thoughts on the bill, in a statement given to The Hindu, “Baal kati mahilla nahi hain” (A short haired woman is not a woman at all).

The irony is that the most ferocious opponents of women reservations are the Men who have sustained their political ideology on reservation.

No, the word is not irony. The word is bigotry. The word is insularity. Status quo.

The frightened demagogues of Indian political fraternalism proposed an alternative when the Bill forayed in the Parliament, in the summer of 1996. They suggested to amend the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, that would compel political parties to nominate women candidates for at least one-third of the seats on the pain of losing recognition.

According to the former Chief Justice of India, Rajendra Sachhar, this is politically flawed and constitutionally not permissible. “It may violate the fundamental rights to form an association guaranteed under Article 19(1) (c) of the Constitution. The only permissible restrictions are those in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India or public order or morality, and such an amendment would not fall within these.”, he wrote.

Mr. Sachhar, if one forgot, is the head of the controversial Sachhar Commission appointed by United Progressive Alliance and has advocated mandatory reservation for Muslims. Incoherent paradigm.

The perception of reservation is the most frowned upon issue in Neo India. And while writing on it, a lot of painful memories emerged haunting where one was always at the end of the axe. From the vapid days of pre medical tests (which have just 30 per cent of open seats and mostly give reservations to women), to the prodigal colleges of South Mumbai (which provide mandatory 50 percent reservation to minorities, Sindhis, Punjabis, Marathis, Gujaratis et al, depending on their religious and cultural affiliation). Yet one can not help giving a voice to this endeavor, especially after noting the success of its implementation in the lower electoral bodies (Panchayat), where women have been guaranteed thirty-three per cent reservation since 1992. Till a decade ago, those who were varmints are now dictating their terms. This is happening in the orthodox Indian villages where women were nothing more than dirt. Clearly a lot has to be done. Still, some instances show women as mere puppets in the hands of male members of their family. If amended to bring more sovereignty to women, the Women Reservation Bill could become one vital element that would morph the Indian political scenario from what it has been in the past six decades. It would be more than the prolix outside Sonia Gandhi’s residence. This encouragement would procure the confidence of Indian women towards politics, and their enhanced numbers in the Parliament and legislatures would be a glorifying step to an inclusive democracy. Not to mention, it would block the entrance of chauvinists like the Azmis and Yadavs.

Parakh Chouhan

[Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthieu-aubry/264939660/]