Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Empowering Eves or Elites: Will women's reservation work at ground level in India?

A woman who was fed up of running from pillar to post, just to get the certificate that she was poor, attempted suicide in Ashok Nagar when the nation was busy celebrating the International Women's Day.

For millions of poor Indian women [and men], these are the horrendous realities of life, which include corrupt officials not issuing BPL certificate and refusing to sanction widow pension [For those who may not be aware, BPL certification gets you basic commodities at a cheaper rate]. Even innumerable women working in Congress' scion Rahul Gandhi's pet NREGA scheme don't get their due wages.

I can't forget the sight of the woman who was in the final months of her pregnancy with certain complications and wanted to avail the government scheme for delivery as Caesarian [operation] costs Rs 20,000 at a private hospital and this amount she couldn't dream of depositing in her lifetime.

Daughters of Dynasties

Will the reservation of 33% seats help this section of women? I sincerely hope and prey that this should happen though I have my own doubts. Across the political horizon, the daughters of dynasties are ready to take over. They are educated and belong to elite section and have never faced what ordinary middle-class, lower-class or poor women face. And they perhaps can never realise the real issues or understand these daily struggles.

From Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule to Sunil Dutt's daughter Priya Dutt, from Agatha Sangama to ABA Ghani Khan Chaudhary's niece Mausam Noor, the list of the Elites* keeps growing. As more seats get allocated for women, on rotation basis, the 'MP-Patis [hubbies]' will be proxy MPs and the politicians' wives and other kin will take over.

The first lady who I incidentally met Women's Day was a 24 year-old-girl, who lives 24 km away from her office and can't afford to travel in taxi as her salary is just Rs 7,500. She is quite a middle-class girl but barely gets to save money as there is no transport.

If she comes by her two-wheeler, her salary will evaporate in a fortnight on fuel alone. In crowded three-wheelers that are full of molesters, it's a daily struggle. Yes, Delhi despite its notoriety has an infrastructure but rest of the Indian towns don't even have basic public transport and women have to squeeze themselves between men in three-wheelers, auto-rickshaws, vans and matador buses.

My only worry is that politicians are just getting too sophisticated. They are not coming from grassroots. They do care for making grand statements and increasing their perks but are disconnected from the real problems of the large section of populace.

Higher education, sophistication not the sole key

Too much is made of education. But in Indian system, you need a politician who understands who things can be done, someone who can't be fooled by secretaries, middlemen and bureaucrats, one who understands the pulse of majority.

He may not tweet but should know how bureaucrats fool citizens and siphon off funds. The *Elites who never travelled in buses, who have never been to municipal corporations, never stood in queues and have no idea about the difficulty in getting ration card or how long women wait at fair priced shops to get a few litres of kerosene, are now filling our parliaments and assemblies.

State is hiding poverty, taking poor to outskirts

The poor is just being shifted. We can't see him. If there is Commonwealth, the slums would be shifted. Across India, slums are dislocated as per whims, while skyscrapers built in gross violation of rules are allowed as their owners can afford to pay 'compounding' charges and penalties.

On the International Women's Day, the Upper House passed the Women's reservation bill and clearly a majority of women appeared overjoyed, which is quite understandable. I sincerely hope that women, who are not disconnected, get elected and I wish that they at least see for once the scramble for getting kerosene--the most visible sight in every Indian city.

Perhaps, they will have a realisation then. Channels don't show such things as they don't sell. We don't see them as clusters don't fall in our way and we have little time or because these women and children go and stand at such shops from as early as 5 pm. But that's the harsh truth.

No one in Indian politics speaks [or cares] about it. 'Educated' Men and Women care about education and forget that MBAs, BEs, MBBS degrees are no longer for the poor or the lower-middle class at all. Government hospitals are meant for just the poor and the vocal middle-class doesn't go there, so they are in shambles across India.

The Hypocrisy

"The Congress' leadership has always been drawn from the upper castes. The same is true of BJP and strangely enough the Left....There is a distinct possibility that upper caste women can use their female identity to apeal to women and transcend caste identities, a little bit like rich Muslim leaders of the Muslim League appealing to poor Muslims exclusively on religious basis, bypassing class considerations.", writes Jaithirth Rao in Indian Express.

"Many have argued that the women's movement in US has done a disservice to blacks. By combining issues of racial discrimination with issues of gender discrimination, the beneficiaries have been white women and this has been detrimental to African-Americans". "We have discriminatory laws, for instance, women pay less income tax than men.....If Congress-BJP-Left combine to push through this measure, I believe that the opponents will have a strong case to get it struck down by Supreme court", the article further says.

Politician from grassroots is needed

With due respects to Brinda Karat, we need women politicians who may not have directly reached Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, but such leaders who have at least won a municipal ward election so that they know what are the real problems of poor women & children [and men] in India.

As far as Muslim representation is concerned, the fact is that the less the Muslim MPs the better it is. Slavish Congress politicians and glamdolls are useless. Further, its non-Muslims who raise Muslim issues better. In the last six decades barely 14 Muslim women have been elected in the dozen-odd Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress is back to being a bully. The BJP simply played along and the poor arm-chair communists from JNU too happy to oblige. Mulayam Singh, Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan would love it. Bihar polls are nearer and Ejaz Ali has arrived as the new 'fighter'.

MPs must have concern, social understanding

Whoever will be elected would surely keep getting their perks enhanced. In this case there is total unanimity in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha [as also Vidhan Sabhas or Parishads]. Lets hope that as more women get elected, at least some of them would come from the grassroots [chances are very slim, as only multi-millionaires can fight elections].

And some of them who get elected will have concern for the society. Concern, genuine concern. Kerosene, Widow pension, Destitute allowance, Public transport, Health are just a few things. Otherwise we will keep twittering, facebooking and blogging as usual. On this note, welcome the women.