“Women aren’t smokescreen of men’s politics”- 17 August 2011

It certainly was good news that Union Cabinet passed a resolution to move a Bill in Parliament to make 50% reservation for women in Panchayat Raj Institutions. This means that the talk has now shifted upwards from 30% reservation to 50% for women in local self-government bodies. Naturally, for all protagonists of women’s liberation, this is unmitigated good news.

However, there are a few reservations in one’s mind about any such move in the political circles. The first thought that erupts in the mind is whether the move is fraught with some silent, hidden agenda. Of course, one has also learnt over time that even if there is any hidden agenda, one must accept whatever is coming one’s way and then press for more. So, the proposal that women’s reservation in Panchayat Raj Institutions be raised to 50% is most welcome.
Yet, as the proposal comes in for a deeper consideration, the apprehension about a hidden agenda continues to trouble the mind. And this apprehension must be expressed unreservedly.
There was that big man – Laloo Prasad Yadav – who was made to step down as Bihar’s Chief Minister for charges of massive corruption in the infamous fodder scam and a few other unholy deals. But before he stepped down, Laloo Yadav pushed his wife, Rabridevi, into the emptied slot. So, the woman who was only a housewife with many children started working as her ousted husband’s proxy Chief Minister. Laloo, thus, had the last laugh, the super CM, enjoying all powers without direct responsibility.
The apprehension is that with 50% seats in Panchayat Raj Institutions reserved for women, men in their life – husband, father, brothers — are quite likely to operate their hidden agendas without any direct responsibility. Women, thus, may be treated as smokescreen for men’s politics. By any standard, that is not at all desirable. Women deserve a place of honour not as gratis from men, but as a matter of their right to have an equal say in collective decision-making process.
Of course, we have the great example of Ms. Indira Gandhi. She was young and very new to highest level of politics. So, some men in the Congress party chose her as their stooge – a proxy Prime Minister, so to say. What followed was a great, historic twist – the young woman just refused to be goaded by a few men who operated from behind curtains of secrecy. She refused to be a smokescreen for those few men who felt they had a puppet, a doll, in their hands and they make her dance to their tunes. Rest is history.
But every woman is not an Indira Gandhi! She is more likely to be vulnerable to pressure from men in her life. She is quite likely to nod to whatever men decide. There are quite many examples of this type – men running the show in the name of their women, playing dirty politics, cutting their rivals politically (and even physically at times). In some places, women have been known to resist such shenanigans. But in other places, they are known to succumb, which is not desirable. But this is how political games are played at least in India.
If this is going to be a universal experience after the Government enacts the law to make 50% reservation for women mandatory in Panchayat Raj Institutions, then women may have a reason to shudder in their skins.
As a representative of modern Indian woman, I feel strongly that women deserve a better deal, again not as gratis but as their right. If left to themselves, women are quite capable of handling their responsibilities quite efficiently. So, if the Union Cabinet is trying to enact a law making 50% reservation for women mandatory in Panchayat Raj Institutions, then it must also make appropriate provisions in the law to ensure that men are not allowed to play their political games hiding behind their women. If men play their political games, then they will only spoil the party.

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