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The political empowerment of women in India is one of the most widely discussed topics. Women constitute almost half the populace of India. Therefore, the emancipation of our country from the perspective of all the spheres of life, in one way or the other is related to emancipation and resultantly with the empowerment of the female sex of our country. In this regard, the domain of politics or the realm of political empowerment of women is not aligned to, in the process of the overall empowerment of women.
If we devolve into the history of India, especially, since the inception of the modern period of Indian history, we would find that, women have played a pivotal role in igniting the spirit of nationalism among the countrymen and resultantly leading to the overall process of liberation of our country from the clutches of British imperialistic rule.
All these facets of Indian women might have compelled our ‘Father of the nation’, Pujya Mahatma Gandhiji to comment on the women’s power of our country as–
“Woman is the equal companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the minutest details in the activities of man, and she has the equal right to liberty of freedom and liberty with him.”
Political Empowerment of Women in India: A myth or reality
“Right to vote” in our country, India is a political right. At the same time, this political right, the “right to vote” gives the right to franchise to the voters of the country. However, the ‘right to vote’ is not corollary to the right to get elected. As far as, the ‘right to get elected’ in our country has not yet been gender-neutral in the same way as the right to vote has been.
Therefore, it is seen that the female sex in our country has found it, a quite erratic and troublesome procedure as far as marching ahead and resultantly getting elected in the specific context of the political scenario of the country as a whole is concerned. It is in this light that, we need to ponder and introspect the whole fact of political empowerment of women in India and thereby in this backdrop analyse the whole scenario of the political empowerment of women and resultantly find out whether it has been a myth or a reality in our country, India.
I. Women in politics: The pre-independence scenario
During the pre-independence days, women came eye to eye along with the then male sex in their zeal of sending and thereby ending the British imperialist rule from our country lock, stock, and barrel. Yes, indeed, pre-independence days politics against the Britishers was naturally an agitation politics. In such a scenario, there was no power-sharing in the mind of those nationalist leaders. Moreover, at present, it may also be predicted that the trend of women’s seclusion in politics was a rarity during the pre-independence days.
We have women nationalist movement leaders like Sarojini Naidu, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit to name a couple from the mainland India and female personalities from the north-eastern part of the country like Rani Gaidinliu of Manipur and Martyr Kanaklata from Assam.
These female freedom fighters never took the plea of their gender to keep themselves aloof from their respective revolutionary and anti-imperialist movement against the British. Thus, if we compare the agitations of the Indian nationalist leaders of the pre-independence days taking the similitude of a coin then, the two sides of this coin are represented respectively, by the male and the female revolutionaries.
Thus, in this way, the involvement of the women in the agitational politics of the pre-independence days cannot be dispensed with and they were very part and parcel of it. Therefore, women’s zeal, vigour and the ability to march ahead for the cause of the country were in no way lagging behind their male counterparts and they were in fact at par with them.
II. Women in politics: At the eve of independence.
With the independence of the country came the partition of the country into two in August 1947 — namely India and Pakistan and further in 1971 the further division of the pre-independence day’s mainland India in the form of a new country namely, Bangladesh came into existence.
With the tri-furcation of the pre-independent days, mainland India with it is associated the process of hatred and the resultant bloodshed, agony, and hardship in these three countries for the common masses in general and the female sex in particular. Many a life were lost, many women were raped, molested and many women’s character was assassinated on the eve of the partition due to the emerging hate politics in the country. Therefore, women in such a scenario did not find themselves to be quite an at ease in the emerging scenario to jump themselves in the then political culture.
Moreover, the ease with which they joined the anti-British agitational politics was not the same scenario in the political arena on the eve of independence for the fairer sex. Therefore, it would not be wrong to state that women on the eve of independence found it quite cumbersome to join in the murky water of politics without becoming themselves dirty in the process.
At such a juncture, serving the country in the political field and thereby emboldening their spirit of nationalism took a back seat as far as the fairer sexes are concerned in the then-emerging political landscape of the country. This was mainly due to the fact of stormy and turbulent atmosphere all over the Indian sub-continent especially on the pretext of partition and its allied development in this part of the world.
III. Women in Politics: The post-independence scenario.
Yes, many women’s personalities have indeed emerged and flourished in the country especially in the post-independence scenario. Foremost among them are the women members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
The frontrunner and the most influential female politician of the country from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty have been Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. As far as her might and influence is concerned, it becomes clear, from what former President of the Indian National Congress Deva Kanta Barooah has said about the stature of the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi who, herself at that period was at her heydays in politics, as, ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’.
Doesn’t it prove the fact about the influence Indira Gandhiji had in Indian politics? Certainly, it does! With it, it must also be accepted that the name Indira Gandhi, still cannot be seen or in other words, her political cult cannot be imagined without associating the name of Pandit Nehru, with her name. Thus, women in Indian politics whether it is in national politics as is the case with Mrs Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, the sister of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru or that of Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru cannot be what they are in politics without the lineage of the male members of their dynasty.
The same yardstick still applies to Priyanka Gandhi and her mother Sonia Gandhi and their respective political cults which are interrelated and intertwined with firstly, Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and secondly with their respective father and husband Rajiv Gandhiji. Similar is the case with state politics. What are the stature and the cult of Rabri Devi in politics if her name is not associated with the name of Lalu Prasad Yadav her husband and the former Chief Minister of Bihar?
Similar is the political cult of Amma Jayalalitha in the state politics of Tamil Nadu as her name is closely associated with the name of her mentor MGR. Even though women in politics of the post-independence era have scaled the political ladder but, still their names to date are associated with the names of their male political bosses of their families. Therefore, women’s entry in politics is certainly a reality in the post-independence political arena but at the same time what has remained a myth is their independent female personalities as a politician without any male boss’s shadow in such a personality in this regard.
IV. Women in Politics: From the perspective of 1/3rd reservation conundrum.
It is certainly true that women in Indian politics have been lagging as far as their political representation is concerned. Keeping this fact in mind, the need for 1/3rd reservation of seats in all the forms of legislative bodies from the top to the bottom of it has been a long-standing demand as far as the fairer sex are concerned in Indian politics.
Yes, to a little extent the demand for women’s reservation has been fulfilled by the 73rd and the 74th Amendment Act of 1992 of the Constitution of India. By dint of these amendments, the female sex of the country got 1/3rd reservation of seats in the local self-governmental bodies namely Panchayats and Municipalities respectively. At the same time, the 1/3rd reservation of seats for the fairer sex has not seen the light of the day till date in the case of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and the respective State Legislatures.
This is happening at a time when most women’s organizations are demanding the same. Thus, it is not only a pointer towards the fact that, but women in the larger forums of politics are also getting deprived as far as their representation is concerned. I believe male political bosses’ unwillingness to leave their political seats to the women politicians may also be considered as a prime cause for the non-passage of the 1/3rd reservation of seat bill for women in our country.
It is also a pointer towards the fact that patriarchy or male dominance in Indian politics is still prevalent in our country. In this regard, the non-passage of 1/3rd reservation bill for the fairer sex in the higher echelons of power is a pointer towards this fact and all these developments cannot be seen akin to the factor of patriarchy or male dominance in our country.
V. Women in Politics: How it can embolden Indian nationalism?
The preamble to the Constitution of India begins with the phrase, “We, the people of India….”. The “We the people’ of the preamble, a preamble which itself forms the heart and soul of the constitution of India is very comprehensive. This is so because, it is all-encompassing, as it covers under its ambit one and all irrespective of gender, ethnicity, caste, creed, etc., Then it is natural for the world’s largest democracy, India, that, to flourish and prosper as an independent nation and thereby achieve its all-round development, the development of the female sex is quite pivotal in this regard, All round development also includes the fairer sexes active political participation.
If the spirit of nationalism is a sense or feeling of our love and care for our country then, this spirit of nationalism cannot be a success in the true sense of the term provided the women sex leads a dominated and secluded life in the country. The realm of politics is not akin to it. Therefore, power and power politics must be gender-neutral.
Then only the politics led development process will be a success in the true sense of the term. I believe, this is the greatest lesson that we have learnt in the last seven decades of being an independent republic in the comity of nations. If politics in India for the female sex is considered as a process of nation-building then due to the lack of political representation of the female sex in this process, their share has been an unkindled and loop-sided one. The eventual casualty of the whole process has been a blow even if to a minuscule extent to our sense of nationalism.
Moreover, nationalism is the greatest unifying force for a country. Then how can it bind one and all under its ambit if the fairer sex of our country is left out in most of the spheres of life in the whole process of nation-building which also includes the process of their political representation?
Thus, the paradigm that, nationalism unites can only be a reality when and only when the female sex in our country will get its due share in the process of nation-building especially via the domain of politics and political representation.
Like any other country for India too if the female sex of the country leads a secluded life how can the spirit of nationalism ignite and flourish in our country. It is in this light that we need to analyse at this point of time on the aspect of whether shortly we would make women empowerment in our country a myth or a reality. In this endeavour, we must treat the fairer sex of the country as an equal and indispensable part of the society as a whole. In this process, it is also the bounden duty of the male sex to leave a little bit of space for the female sex to help them in representing themselves in politics.
Therefore, in the long run, it will itself have repercussions in our spirit of nationalism. This is so because, the true spirit of “We the people” then only reverberate in the minds of we, the Indians and thereby not only reshaping our sense of nationalism but also, at the same time, make women’s involvement in politics and their political representation in the true sense of the term reality
By: Jnandeep Bora,
Senior Judicial Assistant, Guwahati High Court, Assam