Women In Indian Politics
India is the largest democracy in the world and to sustain its democracy, it has undergone various struggles. As soon as it was freed from the clutches of colonialism, it was faced with the challenges of social and economic development of the country. The Constitution of India has bestowed various rights to its citizens to ensure equal rights and equality, liberty, gender justice etc. Though the constitutional provisions allowed the women to leave the relative calm of the domestic sphere to enter the male-dominated political sphere, the involvement of women in politics has been low key (Khanna, 2009). Khanna has classified the factors which affects the political participation of women in politics into three categories-psychological variables, socio-economic variable and political variable. The questions of reservation for women in representative institutions has long been debated in India. The issue of reservations for women had come up in the Constituent Assembly had been rejected by women representative as it was felt to be unnecessary, since the working of democracy in the normal course would ensure the representation of all sections of Indian society. The suggestions were also seen to underestimate the strength of women to compete as equals (Menon, 2000).
Reservation as a strategy for enhancing women’s status within the new polity had been rejected very early on by women leaders as a retrograde step (Rai & Sharma, 2000). But by 1996, women had emerged as a significant force in politics and almost the same representative of women’s movement who rejected any such demand, demanded reservations. Women had been at the forefront of the movements against corruption and price-rise that preceded the imposition of Emergency. The 1980s saw the emergence of the vocal and visible autonomous women’s groups (Menon, 2000). The question that looms before these is-if increase in the number of women in parliament will bring any socio-economic benefits to them. However, while the political ground in India is shifting with regard to women participation in politics, this is a slow and difficult process, which needs constant vigilance by movements and groups within and outside of state institutions (Rai and Sharma, 2000).
The debate regarding women’s reservations in parliament has taken various shapes. There have been number of arguments for and against it. But a fact that cannot be ignored is that women in India have climbed the ladder too. Although they are not huge in number but they are there. But being a woman, they have faced many brickbats and mud slung. The criticisms that they faced carried an ingrained sexism reflecting the very nature of a male dominated politics.
Access to politics for women has never been a bed of roses. Participation of women anywhere has never been easy but politics being a male bastion traditionally, makes it difficult for the presence of women in it. To penetrate this highly male dominated arena, women have to go through various struggles to consolidate one’s position in it. While it becomes relatively easier for some as compared to others, but it’s never without any struggle or completely easy for any woman.
If we analyse the journey of three women i.e., Indira Gandhi, Jayalalitha and Sushma Swaraj to politics, it will come to view that – initially, these women were not into politics either because they wanted to pursue some other career or they had no one to guide them to it but eventually as in the case of Indira Gandhi, the atmosphere (her house being the centre of freedom movement) during her time as well the pursuance of her father got her into politics. In case of Jayalalithaa, her mentor and guide MGR introduced her to politics while Sushma Swaraj after the pursuance of law developed an interest in politics with moral support from her family. Though Indira Gandhi had a background – involvement of her family in freedom struggle as well as in Parliamentary politics and Jayalalithaa was introduced into politics by the most loved figure of his time MGR and Sushma Swaraj dug her own well, none of these women had an easier path. Being a woman, they had to fight to consolidate their positions in the party. The path through which they got into politics and the intensity of struggle faced by them though differ, but nevertheless, they had to work twice as men to stay, to establish themselves. Jayalalithaa’s modesty had been violated in the Assembly Hall; Indira Gandhi had been dubbed as ‘only man in the politics’ and Sushma Swaraj had been the target of derogatory online trolls. Evaluating the leaders on the basis of their decisions in a democracy is one thing while criticism based on sexism is an entirely different thing.
Being from different family background, lives of every woman is bound to differ, the only common thing is that they are ‘woman’. Being a woman is all that takes for people to throw harsh comments. Indira Gandhi’s tenure was termed as authoritarian while Jayalalithaa was termed as irresponsible and inconsistent. It was so because they were able to keep in check their male counterparts. Any action by a women minister is judged by a gendered perspective and the online trolls faced by Sushma Swaraj while she was the Minister of External Affairs points to this. Jayalalithaa claimed that baseless questions were asked to her because she is a self- made woman.
Why is it that the corruption case of Jayalalithaa has been in the talk for a long time and not that of Mr. Karunanidhi (Jayalalithaa was condemned for arresting him on corruption case just because he was an old ‘man’)? Why is it that the decisions of Indira Gandhi have been equated with an authoritarian rule and not that any other male counterparts? Why the evaluation against every women politician involves threats of rape and beating? Is it because in this highly male dominated politics, participation of women is not accepted for it seems to threaten the authority of men?
The point is that it is not at all unfair evaluating any leader-women or men on the basis of their decisions but criticising them with ingrained sexism in it doesn’t seem to be compatible with the values that we cherish in our democracy. Women continue to be target of sexist remarks but it doesn’t mean that they have stopped asserting themselves with force. Women have taken very active part in various political activism. It doesn’t apply only to urban areas but also to rural women. They have been engaged in political acumen from protesting against the British rule to demands for equal wages. Feminist issues usually appear something else in public discourse (Menon, 2000) be it Uniform Civil Code or Women’s Reservation Bill. While women participation in politics is improving overtime but they constantly have to fight for their presence to be felt. They have to constantly engage in negotiations to consolidate their positions. India, though largest democracy in the world has long way to go to sustain its democratic principles and rights. It still lacks in many ways in terms of gender parity, not only in politics but in many other spheres. But participation of women in politics become important because until and unless women are in decision making position, safe and sustainable cities or lifestyle will be out of reach. Though, legally women have been granted rights but only with social development as well as change in the mind-set will bring life to these rights!
P.S. This is an opinionated piece – believing that everyone is entitled to opinions!
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