Since the beginning of rebellious movements against the oppressive British regime in 19th century, women have played an integral part in freedom struggle in India. From Rani Lakshmibai in 1857 to Mantangini Hazra in 1942, women have always upheld the patriotism and love for their nation.
Sarojini Naidu, an Indian political activist, joined Indian Independence movement back in 1905 and later became the Governor of Uttar Pradesh in Independent India, making her India’s first female Governor.
In the post independent India, prominent freedom fighter Sucheta Kriplani became the first female Chief Minister of India for Indian State Uttar Pradesh. In 1966, Indira Gandhi became the first female Prime Minister of India.
But if women participated in Indian politics and independence movements so actively at a time when women weren’t even allowed to walk out freely, why do we see a sudden decrease in participation of women in Indian Politics in 21st Century?
In 1990s, there were about 6 sitting female Chief Ministers in India and in 2021, there is only one sitting female Chief Minister in India, that is, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. Let us see the reasons behind lack of participation of females in Indian politics.
Assault on Indian female politicians:
India holds a bad history of torture, discrimination and hostility towards female politicians. From Ms. Jayalalitha who was brutally assaulted in late 1980s to Ms.Mayawati and Ms. Mamata Banerjee who were assaulted ruthlessly in mid-1990s proves that Indian Politics has never been safe for women. These female politicians were assaulted especially by male chauvinists to intimidate them for being a woman and raising voice in politics. These assaults discourage women in India to join politics.
Indian Political Parties are Male-dominated:
Unless a political party is formed by a female, all other political parties be it left, right or centre are by nature male-dominated in India. Females are not given powerful positions in these parties which further lower their self-esteem and this influences other women negatively to not join politics.
Systematic Sexism in Politics:
Even if women are given political positions, they are mostly given those positions that are stereotypically considered “womanly”. Women holding positions are also often harassed by male politicians. Women who want to hold more prominent positions thus get discouraged. Although some things have changed in recent years where we have seen women holding powerful positions in Defence and Finance Ministry, still a lot more has to be done.
This is a bitter reality that our male-dominated society doesn’t love “dominant female leaders”. For instance, when in 2019, two Female MPs from West Bengal wore a shirt and jeans, they were criticised and shammed for wearing western whereas so many male members in Parliament wearing jeans wasn’t an issue. The fear of getting judged by the society also discourages women to join politics.
What can be done to improve the situation?
First and foremost, we should make a safe political environment for women and listen to the issues they face in politics. Second, society and the government must have a feminist approach so that women come out and lead political movements. And lastly, although India has women friendly laws, these laws aren’t implemented and thus proper implementation of these laws must be done, for example, taking strict action against male politicians who make misogynistic statements, abuse women and like.