This appeared in Asian Age....
Happy, Happy… Women of the World…. It’s our day!
After a really, really long time, here I am facing yet another Women’s Day, and not feeling cynical. Has anything changed? Not really. Which can only mean one thing : I have . Changed, that is. Gone is the raised , skeptical eyebrow, the scornful comment and the mocking smirk, the disillusioned air, the lofty disdain … hell, I may even celebrate! This is the time for optimism and hope. As women, we cannot afford to give up on ourselves. We are a month away from Elections 2014. And the scenario is changing by the minute, as it were. There are no givens, this time. There is nothing we can take for granted. Forget Poll Pundits and all those predictions. The arithmetic simply does not add up, no matter who is doing the calculations. Which is why it is important to hang on to our common sense, observe the goings on carefully, engage in the process with passion and commitment, and do ones bit with sincerity, keeping US and our specific interests in sharp focus throughout.
Sure, the shifting political narrative is leading to serious confusion in the minds of voters. More women in the Prime Ministerial race means more to think about. There’s a fresh cast of characters and the race has just hotted up. Mamata now says she will support Jayalalitha as prime Minister. Hey Bhagwan! Miraculously, as it were, we have feisty Didi on ferocious Amma’s side. Which ought to scare opponents. Two ambitious power ladies with their loyal supporters, ganging up against the usual suspects are bound to generate panic in political circles. Throw in Mayawati, and the game gets hotter still. All three are formidable , single women who talk turkey and terrorise those who stand in their way. Mighty male colleagues of this triumvirate are known to shiver in their pants when the women are on a war path. Known for their quick tempers and harsh words, these are women you don’t ever want to mess with. Will they make good prime ministers? Big question.
Narendra Modi’s shrewd self-positioning as a no nonsense strongman, out to crack the whip and straighten out India, is seen as a virtue by supporters. His megalomania is also touted as a positive trait (“ Narendrabhai’s personality is such… we need a leader who projects power”). Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, is displaying softer skills and channeling his inner woman convincingly. There is a great deal of appeal in his approach, especially for Young India and the female voter. As of now, these are the choices in front of us. And I am not throwing Mulayam Singh into this khichdi. Nor Arvind Kejriwal, for that matter. Arvind on the outside, may do much more for the country’s larger interests than Arvind on the inside, expending precious energy on aiming for the top job ( a case of premature ejaculation).
How does any of this pan out for the women of India? Well, there is an upside to the issue in that women count big time in 2014 and will without a doubt swing the votes in this election. We saw that happening with Arvind in Delhi. It was women who voted out another woman ( Sheila Dixit). And women who backed Kejriwal. This, of course, was directly related to the Nirbhaya case and Dixit’s arrogant response to it. If one can give the benefit of the doubt to Kejriwal for that shocking comment on khaap panchayats ( Yogendra Yadav insists his own response was misquoted), it would be fair to say that Arvind is seen as being sympathetic to women’s issues. With Modi, it is a case of accepting his bombastic promises, while also examining his track record ( to be fair, Gujarat has indeed introduced several important pro-women initiatives).
These are the main political actors we have to pick from, unfortunately. But the story beyond politics, beyond legislation, is the more interesting one. If real, ground level change is taking place, it is inside the heads and hearts of our women. This emphatic refusal to remain passive onlookers and stay mum, is the driver that will eventually bring about change in real terms. There is a quiet, female revolution underway that is making itself evident through popular culture ( perhaps, the most sensitive barometer to monitor attitudinal shifts). It is movies like ‘Queen’ which will push social boundaries and act as a wake up call for a complacent society. It is time to acknowledge what is actually going on across India (a lot!). Translated, it is indeed leading to something positive and inspiring for our women.
Meanwhile, I am tempted to participate in all those Women’s Day activities I once shunned and deemed ‘meaningless’ – awards functions, special screenings for women, discounted cocktails, mad, giddy parties for women, by women. Why not? Lectures and seminars are one way of reclaiming our space. But hey – what about something jolly and frivolous, too? Women’s Day need not be a grim reminder of all that is terrible about our lives. It can equally be a celebration of all that is wonderful. This year, I am opting for wonderful. Here’s to us!!!