The largest and most deprived minority is neither the Muslims nor the Dalits, but women. Indeed the fact that the gender ratio is favourable to men is a sign of discrimination against women from before birth and onwards. Much has been done during the NDA regime to raise awareness of the gender problem. The issue of outdoor defecation is a women’s issue which all political parties have hitherto shied away from or been plain ignorant of. The idea that women cooking over the traditional chulha were inhaling smoke in harmful quantities was first raised by Narendra Modi. The replacement of chulha by cooking gas is a significant step forward in women’s health improvement. Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao has taken forward the issue of girls’ education.
Even so, women’s condition continues to be precarious. Every day news comes of brutal rape of girls and women. The rapists are men of power, often politicians or family seniors. Recently, it has been proposed by the UP Chief Minister that an outstanding case against a former Union minister should be dismissed. In Jammu, the rape of a girl has become an issue of rivalry between communities, with lawyers obstructing the investigation. It is as if the horrendous shock of the Nirbhaya episode and the powerful reaction of men and women from around the world were in vain.
What do women have to do to focus the attention of the political power system to get justice? Should they riot and stop trains and burn buildings? Should they demand reservation in Parliament? Should they launch a women-only political party?
Perhaps they should, because it seems that lately the trend of politics is against women’s empowerment. Consider the Congress under Rahul Gandhi’s recent revamp. Old men are being replaced by slightly less old men. Gone are names such as Sheila Dikshit, Margaret Alva, Meira Kumar, Ambika Soni, Renuka Chowdhury. Of course, no attempt has been made to replace them, since they are women.
The same is true for parties led by women. The TMC and BSP have no women leaders in deputy positions. The AAP is of course a boys’ club, as is the AIADMK since Jayalalithaa died. The Yadav parties are patriarchal so the women get elevated only if their menfolk are disqualified or in jail. There has never been a woman general secretary in the CPI or CPM. The new Dalit leadership is all male, as are the Patidar and Jat leaders.
In the Cabinet, there are two women out of four in core positions — Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman, the first time that the External Affairs and Defence Ministers are women. That is welcome. Otherwise, the BJP is like the rest.
The 33 per cent reservation Bill for women is languishing. It would do Narendra Modi no harm if he revived it. It would be worth a try as the BJP is at its best position in both Houses of Parliament. To assuage male anxiety, he could even propose that the number of seats in the Lok Sabha be increased to accommodate the growing electorate. Ideally, there should be one seat per million voters. So if a third more seats were to be added, with 727 (545+182) seats, at least 242 women would be elected. It is about time. Do it.