“Purush, thoda dhiraj rakhen (Men, please have patience).” UP Assembly Speaker Satish Mahana had to constantly remind the male members of the House on Thursday as they frequently tried to speak on behalf of woman MLAs or try telling them what to do.
The day — in a first-of-its-kind initiative by the UP Legislative Assembly — was reserved for women members to speak on issues concerning them.
The day began with male members nudging their women colleagues with “bolo, bolo” (speak, speak)” refrain as some looked nervous with long handwritten notes in their hands, others getting their speeches approved by senior party leaders. But soon, the nervousness petered out.
As the session progressed, men showered compliments on their women colleagues for their oratory and cheered them by thumping desks.
“Arrey aap to bahut achi speaker hain (You are a good speaker),” said a BJP minister with a tone of surprise in his voice as party colleague Anupama Jaiswal concluded. Jaisawal was the first one to speak. Soon, others followed, “Bahut acha bola apne (You spoke very well),” “Kamaal kar diya aapne (You were amazing)”.
The special session turned out to be an “eye-opener” for political parties, be the ruling party or those in the opposition, as they discovered new orators among them, who not only voiced their own issues and the problems faced by them, but also talked about their constituency and their party’s ideology.
Some cited anecdotes, others quoted former US First Lady Michelle Obama and French philosopher Albert Camus, making many of their male counterparts sit up and take note of them.
Of the total 47 women MLAs in the 403-member strong Assembly, 38 attended the special session – 24 from BJP, 10 from SP, three from Apna Dal and the sole woman MLA of the Congress.
Some of them spoke for the first time in the Assembly on Wednesday.
The House witnessed camaraderie as seven women MLAs stood in support of Samajwadi Party MLA Pooja who demanded that her notice be taken up by relaxing all the norms.
Samajwadi Party MLA Ragini, who is a practising MBBS doctor and a first-time legislator, said that despite being elected representatives, the women MLAs have to face bias as their colleagues and officers do not take them seriously. “Despite women constituting half of the population, their representation in the UP Assembly is merely 9 per cent,” the MLA from Macchalishahr pointed out.
Congress Legislative Party leader Aradhana Mishra said she drew inspiration from former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who changed the map of the world by the creation of Bangladesh.
BJP minister Gulab Devi said women were being made self-reliant by the government.
The condition of women has improved in the state after the formation of the Yogi Adityanath government, she said listing the schemes of the UP government.
At the start of the session, Speaker Satish Mahana said that when he floated the idea of reserving a day for women MLAs to speak, many had expressed surprise whether they would be able to speak at length for the entire day. I will now make a list of male members who are hesitant to speak and have not got the opportunity to speak in the Assembly. I will give a similar opportunity to them to speak,” the Speaker added.
In his speech, Chief Minister Adityanath spoke about the initiatives taken by the state and the Central government for women empowerment, and urged women legislators not to be hesitant in raising their voices. “Today, the largest legislature of the country is moving towards creating a new history. After 75 years of Independence, voices of half the population will reach 25 crore people of the state,” Adityanath said, stressing that it should have been done long ago.
“UP ko nayi pehchan milegi is tarah ki charcha, paricharcha se (UP will get a new identity with this discussion),” the CM said, adding that the day’s proceedings would be sent to the library of the Parliament as well as all the Legislative Assemblies in the country.
SP chief and Leader of the Opposition, Akhilesh Yadav, demanded zero-tolerance against “hate crimes” against women and 33 per cent reservation for women, especially in the police force. “The problems related to women are so vast that it will need many days to discuss them. Even if we debate throughout the session, they may not end,” Yadav said as he thanked Speaker Mahana for the initiative.
Later, BJP legislator Anupama Jaiswal presided over the House. Dr Manju Shiwach of the BJP and Syeda Khatoon of the SP were also given the opportunity to preside over the House.
While the women members welcomed the initiative of setting aside a day for them to speak, they at the same underlined the need to take them seriously in the leadership role.
“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead Walk beside me,” Dr Ragini, quoted Camus, as she signed off.