Home > Musings > The politicians India desperately needs …

The politicians India desperately needs …

April 28, 2014

The last couple of months were not just confusing but also contradictory in terms of the message that one received. While International Women’s day was celebrated on the 8th of March across the country, events that unfolded in April was not something that would make us proud. While political parties vied with one another to demonstrate their support to the cause of women, none of them had the courage to walk the talk. The number of women contesting the elections from all the mainstream parties including those controlled by women themselves was abysmally low and a cause for concern. It looked as though their commitment stopped with discussing the women’s reservation bill in parliament but taking it no further.

What we need to recognize and appreciate is that in the critical areas for the well-being of the nation, women are now coming onto the front lines. This is not just true for rural India but for its urban areas as well. The future of India depends on overcoming enormous challenges in health, education, nutrition, population and environment. Women bear primary responsibility in every one of these areas – day after day after day. It is women who know best what needs to be done, and it is women who are most committed to taking these actions.

Yet for thousands of years, India’s women have been systematically denied the freedom, resources, information and decision-making power they need to carry out these responsibilities. In many parts of India, women have been kept in an almost unimaginable state of powerlessness, illiteracy, isolation and malnutrition. India now faces a historic opportunity. As local democracy and expanded opportunity flourish around the world, India must not be left behind. The first step has been taken with the unprecedented 73rd amendment to India’s constitution, which mandates the transfer of decision-making power and resources in the rural areas to local Gram Panchayath. Most revolutionary of it all is the mandate of reserving 1/3 the seats for women – guaranteeing them a role in determining the future of their communities.

The transfer of power to one million women elected Panchayath members – many of whom are illiterate – is the greatest social experiment of our time. Nowhere else in the world is such a political process underway. These women are struggling against all odds to improve the lives of their families, their villages and our nation. They are the key change agents for a new India. By ensuring that they gain access to the resources and information they need – and by allowing their voices to be heard – India can finally become one nation. In doing so it will fulfill its destiny and reveal its true greatness. While some political scientists may observe that it is men who seek to control power by proxy in these Panchayaths, there is no disputing the fact that a quiet shift is already becoming evident.

Rural India today depends on its women for survival. Its children and families are fed, clothed and sheltered by women’s labour. Its water and firewood are gathered by women’s hands. Its families, farm and rural economy are productive because of women’s works. Yet, when the men are asked, many say that women do nothing at all. Because of women’s low social status, their work goes unrecognised, unvalued and unsupported despite making indispensable contributions in all areas of rural life and economic maintenance. Let us look at some startling facts which most of us have taken for granted but never given a deep thought to. Within the household they have taken on the traditional responsibility for most of the work, and caring and providing for their families. They have taken on the task of collecting water, fuel and fodder. They also cook, clean and wash and care for the children and the elderly. Most women who cook using firewood inhale smoke equivalent of 20 cigarettes and suffer from all the consequent lung, chest and eye diseases. Apart from all this, they also participate in agriculture, dairy-farming and other related tasks. Though they contribute to more than 50% of the economy, they are rarely compensated for these efforts. And when they are in control of their incomes, they invest in the well-being of their children and their families. Not to be left behind, their urban counterparts are now participating in all sectors including those that were traditionally of the men. Whether it is driving public buses or running corporations or newsrooms, from being a scientist to sitting on boards, from running NGOs to being senior bureaucrats, from academicians to engineers – we are now seeing them where they richly deserve to be.

We also need to understand that the subjugation of women is ingrained in Indian society. It has been so much a part of ordinary reality that it largely unseen, unexamined and unquestioned. Yet today, after thousands of years of suppression, the women of India are awakening to a new possibility – a future based on self-hood, equality and full participation. Despite the general reluctance of the men, women will soon enter the world of national and state politics and policy and leave their imprint. Already women are holding the mantle of governments in a few states. Whether one desires it or not, whether one provides a legal framework or not, it is in the interest of the nation and its future that women take on leadership positions. And this leadership need not be something that is at the state level or in very visible positions alone. Women can quietly and meaningfully demonstrate a leadership that is at once humane and devoid of any political or electoral undertones. I recently was witness to one such incident. Seethamma (name changed to ensure privacy) was a very poor and elderly widow in Mogarahalli village in Srirangapatna taluk of Mandya district. Her close relatives had stopped caring for her and she was drenched in her own urine and pus dripping out of her sores. The smell was so strong that one could not enter her room without closing one’s nostrils. It was in this condition that the dedicated personnel of the palliative care unit of SVYM met her. They wanted to shift her to a center providing care for such patients but her family members refused to allow this. A false sense of family pride and an eye on the little property that she had, made them immune to all the pleading of our staff. The local villagers and traditional leaders did not want to get involved. It was then that we were witness to this silent power of the local women. Rukmini, Sundaramma and Komala were members of the local Gram Panchayath. They decided that enough was enough and took the family members of Seethamma to task. They berated them for not only neglecting her but also for preventing her from accessing care. They took matters into their own hands and had the Panchayath pass a resolution permitting the women to be shifted to the local care center. They did not stop with this. They informed the local police, mobilized resources from the village, cleaned up Seethamma and moved her to the Terminal Care Center run by a humanitarian NGO in Mysore. When I met these women to understand them and their motivation, I realized that no political undercurrent was motivating them. All that they were concerned about was the well-being of a fellow human and the dignity and self-respect of another woman.

India’s political spectrum needs such women – not only to cleanse our system but also to bring in the selflessness and the leadership that this sector is desperately crying for. Are our major political parties listening?


Categories: Musings
  1. April 29, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Yes sir, our major political parties will definitely here this but they can not work on this!!!

    I would support you what you said. Am getting shameful for what and where exactly our major political parties stands. No parties are about to speak on real challenges facing by India and what are there planning or agendas to come across these problems. I will just touch upon those issues like Poverty reduction, Food security, Over population, Access to Education and Health, Terrorism and Naxalism, Corruption, Environment protection, Sustainable Development, Unemployment, illiteracy, Domestic violence, Value of currency against Dollar, GDP and GNP, Water and Sanitation, Pollution etc. Now i would like to share my opinion on Women Empowerment.

    In India women continue to face burden of poverty. Yet we know it is possible to take effective practical action that enables girls and women to fulfill their potential. And we know that the benefits of investing in girls and women are transformational – for their own lives and for their families, communities, societies and economies. Empowering women has effects for economic growth and achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals.

    If we reach girls, in particular, earlier in their lives, we can transform their life chances. Giving girls greater choice and control over decisions that affect them helps reduce or break the cycle of poverty between one generation and the next. It enables us to stop poverty before it starts.

    For effective action, here are my views which can be helped with the aim that girls’ and
    women’s lives are significantly improved.

    Improving maternal health and access to family planning, increasing the number of girls completing primary and secondary education, promoting the economic empowerment of girls and women through jobs and access to financial services, improved legal frameworks that protect women’s rights to eliminating violence.

    Yes, through education girl’s or women will get awareness on about their health and it will enable to access to health and to take decisions on when to get marry and pregnancy and also gap between pregnancy.

    Work to ensure that girls and women get direct access and control over economic assets. It support for increased access to financial services, increased incomes through more jobs and better working conditions for women; and programmes supporting land rights to secure women’s rights to own and use property.

    To preventing violence against women support interventions to reform and strengthen security services, police, and policy and decision making bodies to improve women’s access to security and justice services.

    Support to women participation in national and local decision making processes as
    politicians, leaders including reform of electoral systems and supporting campaigns for equal representation of women and men.

    We know that these changes require direct action, free environment and will of government that seek to improve a girl’s or woman’s relations with the men and boys around her and her status within her family and society. These factors determine the importance placed on her attending school or a health clinic, her ability to make decisions that affect her life to control household resources, and to take an active role in her community and beyond.

  2. Anand Narayan
    April 29, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Better late than never, yes this article needs to be published in all dailies, at least by 2018/2019, women of this state/country, I hope if the women’s reservation/empowerment bill is passed, we will see a new era but primarily we need to see that education to all particularly education to girl child up to PUC/Graduation should be made mandatory, until then they should not marry or get married, and those interested in taking politics as a career/service should attend your institute for further fine tuning. Kudos Dr.Balu for this wonderful article.

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