Updated: March 14, 2021 8:36:02 am
Written by Annie Raja
India is going to celebrate 75 years of its Independence. The Union government has announced a 75-week programme to mark this historic occasion. A day before it became a Republic, on January 25, 1950, India established its Election Commission. The country started its journey with adult franchise. This equality, the only one, is the luxury of women of India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi identified five agendas for the celebration. “Freedom Struggle, Ideas at 75, Achievements at 75, Actions at 75 and Resolve at 75 — we have to move forward with these five aspects. All these should include the ideas and feelings of 130 crore people of the country,” said PM Modi.
Women in large numbers participated in the freedom struggles and suffered a lot and sacrificed their lives. It is one thing that the ‘historians’ have highlighted men’s participation and showed women in a secondary or supportive role. When the country celebrates its 75 years of freedom and development, it cannot do so without looking at the socio-political and economic conditions of women, almost half of the population. It is true that women have also marched a long way but recently, reports after reports, whether international ones like HDI, GII, GHI or national ones like NSSO, NCRB, NFHS-5, clearly show that women are being pushed back into more precarity, vulnerability, hunger, starvation, malnutrition and anemia.
The pandemic and the unplanned lockdown resulted in the deepening of socio-economic uncertainty. It has exposed the vulnerability and fragility of the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who were already suffering from the loss of livelihood, increasing unemployment, mass migration, etc. The livelihood of women from the poor and marginalised sections have been lost completely.
The pre-Covid phenomenon of the disappearance of female workforce had increased during lockdown. The recent farm laws are yet another institutionalised attack on work, food security and sovereignty. Codification and dilution of more than 40 Labour Laws into 4 Labour Codes will lead to more disappearance of women from employment.
Violence against women has become another pandemic in India. There are many laws to prevent crimes against women but these mostly remain as paper tigers. Sexual crimes against women with unprecedented cruelty have become a daily affair. The sheer volume and cruelty of this violence are being ignored by the government. The NCRB report reveals the fact that sexual violence is the number one crime among many other crimes against women, especially against Dalit women. The intersections of caste, class, religion and sexual orientation aggravate her situation.
Due to Covid-19, the schooling system in India has moved from a classroom setup to an online one. The digital divide is pushing a large number of students, particularly girls, out of school.
When a majority of the Indian population depends on public sector provisioning for essential services, the mad push for privatisation, corporatisation and the stepping away of the government from sectors like health, education and employment has further devastated the lives of the people. Women are the biggest victims of the pro-corporate policies of the government. The alarming increase in anemia and malnutrition levels among women and children will end up as a silent genocide.
During the pandemic when almost every person lost their livelihood and income, corporate profit has grown exponentially. Corporate greed was aided in its mania by the dismantled laws, policies and programmes that had some semblance of social security.
The Budget should be the reflection of the government’s sensitivity towards the sufferings of the people. But the Union Budget of 2021-22 did not reflect the reality of the people and the country.
PM Modi’s agendas of “Actions at 75 and Resolve at 75” should reflect the ground reality of inequality, marginalisation, gender-based discrimination, visible and invisible violence etc. The real challenge for the people, especially women, is to know how to break the corporate-fascist-government nexus and create a violence-free, dignified and gender-just society. This will be possible only when the gender agenda is placed at the forefront of the celebration agenda as well as the future agenda of governance. It needs uncompromising joint struggles led by women and supported by all sections of society against Manuwadi-patriarchy. For that, women in sizable number should be there at decision-making bodies — the Parliament and state Assemblies.
The Women’s Reservation Bill, which proposes to amend the Constitution to reserve 33 per cent seats in Lok Sabha and all state Assemblies for women, was introduced 25 years back and passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2009. The Bill is waiting to be introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha. PM Modi is maintaining a deafening silence on the passage of the bill. Almost every party — from the Left to Right — find it convenient too. India is going to celebrate 75 years of its Independence by keeping half of its population out of the ‘House’.
This column first appeared in the print edition on March 14, 2021 under the title ‘Half of the population out of the House’. The author is General Secretary of National Federation of Indian Women. National Editor Shalini Langer curates the fortnightly ‘She Said’ column
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