Talks on Empowerment but Silence on Women’s Reservation Bill

In his first speech from Red Fort Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned “Women led Development‘’ and all of us were highly impressed. In last two years he has spoken many times on various issues of women’s empowerment. As of today, there are 7 women ministers including6 with cabinet ranks in the 45-member Council of Ministers headed by Prime Minister Modi. If I recall correctly, I think that during the 2014 election campaign he talked a lot on Women’s right and empowerment issues, being a good orator and by his catchy statement he was able to create massive impact on women voters and hence managed impressive support from them.

I do not say that Mr.Modi does not want Women’s empowerment. But my point is despite a powerful leader with absolute majority and a person who always talks on new India, Powerful India, Digital India, Clean India, Empowered India- why so much silence on Women’s reservation bill? I am sure many women are thinking why there is no discussion in the Parliament about this long pending bill? If passed, it has the capacity to execute Women Led Development in the real sense. My question is, How do we imagine a Women Led development in India without adequate participation at the policy level ?

I would like to remind Mr.Modi that in his blog he has clearly mentioned that Asian nations have had an influence of the Indian culture. Countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Srilanka, India, Indonesia accepting women as the Head of their nation is quite natural. History is a witness to it.

On the other hand, there are nations, in the more developed Western world, that consider preaching to others as their fundamental right and carry the mantle of flag-bearers to Women’s Empowerment. Such nations have developed cold feet in accepting a woman as their Nation-State Head in this 21st century! Even in the most developed country like the US of America, the cradle of Democracy since 1776, women had to struggle for voting rights, put in lot of sacrifices, and endure sufferings. Then in 1920 women secured the right to vote. For 150 years only the men had enjoyed the privilege of voting rights!

Secondly while addressing the conference of women legislators in Parliament’s Central Hall, the PM called upon them to make valuable interventions by strengthening their grip on the subject of their choice and becoming tech-savvy as mere changes in the system would not suffice. In the same occasion he also said wherever women got opportunities; their success ratio was higher than men’s. “Who are men to empower women- I cannot digest that,” the PM said.

I appreciate his comments and thought process on women’s empowerment but this silence on women’s reservation bill brings many questions and doubts in my mind. I hope all of you will remember that in the year 2010, WBR was passed in the Upper House when Congress was in power and BJP supported this bill along with the Left party but it could not be passed in the Lok Sabha. Now the Modi Government has the majority in the Lower House to pass the bill. Then why is the strong voice of a Gender Sensitized person so silent to handover the key of empowerment to the women to bring women led empowerment in the country?

I would also like to mention that I am surprised by seeing BJP’s minutes of the National Executive Meeting(Resolution-2) which was held on 19-20 March 2016 New Delhi, has kept the women’s empowerment issue as one paragraph under the agenda namely Inclusion & Integration: Key to Social Justice. There was no discussion on WBR.

33% reservation of women in the Parliament is one of the most crucial issue to discuss. In the recent state level election campaign,no discussion was held on women’s participation in the politics and the Government has not also mentioned to their state level political party units to voluntarily increase the number of women candidates to contest the election. Who decides this? Who can influence?

Last but not the least I would like to mention that during the 2014 Loksabha election campaign as a Prime ministerial candidate Mr.Modi did a Chai pe charcha on the eve of International Women’s Day. At that time he interacted with people in 1500 different locations through the Internet. At that time he had mentioned that I am seeing so many men in front of me. At least today I would have hoped to see more women. Women are playing an important role in nation-building, we can’t deny that.

I agree with him and respect his view. Though current status of WBR and last two years Women’s Empowerment issues, has compelled me to ask our honourable Prime Minister “Have you forgotten the above statements?

I must say that the Women Reservation bill is an extremely important legislation and it has the capacity to change the entire scenario of Indian Politics.

Juthika Banerjee
Juthika Banerjee is Head of Gender Training Institute at CSR

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