As the halls of the Parliament House echo with the words ‘Madam Speaker’, I believe India has reached a new threshold in writing its own history. Of course, I’m proud.Meira Kumar, daughter of former Deputy Prime Minister and Dalit icon Babu Jagjivan Ram, left her job as a diplomat 24 years ago to join politics. Today she stands tall as the first woman speaker of the Lok Sabha in 57 years.
I am proud.Yes, proud because she was unanimously nominated by the august house as someone who would be respected and would live up to the standards set by Mr. Somnath Chatterjee (and maybe even surpass them). I am proud because she has devoted 24 precious years of her life working for India and the most backward people living in it. I feel proud because she was a well-deserving and well-qualified candidate for the prestigious post- five-time member of parliament, former career diplomat, former minister and someone with legal training. I am proud because she is a woman; she inspires me and has the capability and stature to become an inspiration for many more across the nation. But I do not feel proud when this woman whom I look up to, talks about the Women’s Reservation Bill.
The Women’s Reservation Bill, which will reserve 33% seats in the Parliament, is being promoted by none other than our female political icons-Sonia Gandhi, Meira Kumar, Sushma Swaraj and the likes. This bill will be a step towards women emancipation they say, wherein women will have the ‘opportunity’ to participate in politics and decision making in the country. Also, being women, they will pay special attention to women’s interests.
However, let me remind all, that our constitution guarantees equal rights to both men and women to participate in the decision making of our country. The right exists, the problem is not in creating a level playing field, but in the fact that majority in our country are not aware of this right and perhaps do not even wish to exercise it even if they know.
I feel saddened looking at how plagued we have become by a sheer sense of illogic. Therefore, to clear the air let me put forth a perspective often ignored by those in power. Women emancipation means that women are treated at par with the other gender, that of men. For a society which on one hand has been worshipping female goddesses for centuries and on the other hand inflicting evils upon women in the form of sati, dowry and female infanticide, let me highlight that the task of women emancipation is not an easy one. At times, I feel that women themselves are confused. On one hand they want equality and on the other hand they want reservation, which by its very genesis is a favour. Equality doesn’t believe in favours.
Some believe that once a woman comes into power, she will leave no stone unturned to empower other women. To this, let me quote what madam Shiela Dixit had to say on the murder of journalist Soumya Vishwanathan – ‘one should not be adventurous’. Lack of safety for women, increased incidents of rape and other crimes in urban India are, in fact, other areas of concern for women empowerment. Of course, ma’am had her reasons for saying what she did; however, her statement represented a deeply etched belief of women still not enjoying the same freedom as men.
When Vasundhara Raje was in power in Rajasthan, the priorities of her government were clearly infrastructure, tourism and reservation for the Meena caste. Not to say that she didn’t do anything for the women in Rajasthan, but clearly enough, priorities were different. I am not saying that this is always the case, but if it isn’t, then we must also realize that even the men in our political system aren’t so bad that they wouldn’t work for the cause of women. In fact, men at times feel more strongly for the cause than women themselves.
I realize that the problems with the female sex in our country are abundant. In spite of the laws in place for dowry, female infanticide, child marriage and sati, these problems are rampant, especially in states like Rajasthan, Haryana, Orissa, West Bengal etc. Widows if allowed to live are suppressed and live a life worse than death. Worst of it all is females being sold at a tender age just so that the families living in abject poverty can feed themselves. These are the problems relating to women empowerment. I ask, can a reservation bill do anything to affect these issues. Probably not.
This I feel has become the major problem with our political and social system today, a problem-solution mismatch, wherein even though policies target the correct area, the policy itself is flawed. Here too, the target i.e., women emancipation is correct; however, reservation is NOT the answer. What is required are basics- proper law and order along with implementation of laws so that the women feel secure, strong women empowerment campaigns so that women can be made aware about their rights and a change in mindset. Our aim will be achieved only when women feel proud of their existence- of their life.
Let us not make a mistake by reserving 33% seats for women in parliament, let all women come together and understand that this is not what they truly want. I wish our leaders, Pratibha Patil, Sonia Gandhi, Sheila Dixit, Meira Kumar, Mayawati, and others show the women of our country the light to rise from slumber just like they have. I am a woman; I want to be treated at par with men. I do not want to look back 30 years hence and realize that this 33% reservation brought my community forward. In fact, I want to feel proud that we fought for our rights and we are what we are because of our own efforts.