This appeared in Gulf News....
The Aam Aurat speaks … We, the women of India demand…
It’s time to talk turkey. A bit late in the day, perhaps. But if not now, then when?The formidable female vote in India has led to the coining of a new word : Femocracy. Sounds fanciful at this point, but believe me, any politician foolish enough to ignore women and exclude them from the political narrative, is in for trouble. After centuries of being treated like she didn’t exist, the Aam Aurat in India has suddenly established her presence at the polls. From being ignored to getting courted, it has indeed been a long journey. Today, this aam aurat is raising her voice and asking to heard. Those who plug their ears and shut their eyes hoping she’ll go away, do so at their own peril. This woman isn’t budging. She’s not going away. And what’s more, she is winning the lop- sided war finally. The struggle to get here has been long and arduous. It would have been even longer and still more arduous but for one single defining moment that altered the scenario… perhaps, forever. That moment happens to be tragic in the extreme. A hefty price was paid for it. Let’s call it the Nirbhaya Moment. Everything changed in an instant, as soon as gory details behind the shocking rape became public. Nobody can fully explain why this particular rape became the pivotal point around which thousands of citizens rallied, given India’s terrible track record ( 3 rapes every hour!). But the spontaneous outpouring of outrage and grief that New Delhi witnessed in the aftermath of the brutal crime, is something that nobody could have anticipated… and nobody can afford to forget. Least of all the arrogant political class, Even after the streets of Delhi had been virtually taken over by angry citizens demanding justice for the victim, the aloof Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit, refused to climb down from her high horse and meet the protestors. This level of callousness proved to be Dixit’s nemesis and the last straw for the enraged public. It underlined once again how marginalised women were in the overall scheme of things. Women simply did not matter. Women did not count. Their safety, their lives, their existence – none of this mattered to the ruling class.
Now it does.
Arvind Kejriwal replaced Sheila Dixit as the newly minted messiah of the masses.It’s another matter that he didn’t last more than 49 days in his job. But even Team Kejriwal had to acknowledge the role played by women voters who backed him and formed his main constituency during the local elections. It was indeed the precious female vote that propelled Kejriwal to victory and made a cult hero out of him. It’s therefore, a big shame that Kejriwal has failed to cash in on this overwhelming wave of female support. Today, this key constituency of energized women is bewildered and let down by the one leader who they thought would root for them and be solidly on their side, come general elections. Instead, Kejriwal short sightedly lost that early advantage when he endorsed khap panchayats ( thereby indirectly condoning horrific honour killings), by providing what he called a ‘cultural context’ to this medieval and illegal method of delivering instant justice.
Fighting well entrenched social practices in a patriarchal society is never easy, and it’s possible Kejriwal preferred to cop out rather than stick his neck out. But he has paid a huge price for back tracking. Women are in no mood to support him in the same numbers or with as much enthusiasm. The troubling question still remains : if not Kejriwal, then who? Where is that champion we seek? Can we expect anything better from Narendra Modi of the 56” chest? A Prime Ministerial candidate, no less, who has famously claimed his single status makes him less prone to corruption? That should apply equally to Bachelor Boy Rahul Gandhi at 43, who coyly admitted he’d marry when he found the ‘right girl’. But at least Rahul redeemed himself a little when he kept repeating his ‘women’s empowerment’ mantra like a parrot during ‘the interview’ with Arnab Goswami. It’s a good mantra, but it would help if Rahul spelt out what exactly he proposed to do for women if his tattered party managed to grab power. On the other hand, the indifference of the three power ladies ( Mamata, Mayawati and Jayalalitha) isfar more disappointing. Not a squeak has come out from their respective mouths to suggest they are even thinking about the welfare of their own tribe. So, we have a Didi, Amma and Behenji jostling for position, nursing high hopes of occupying the prime ministerial seat, but keeping mum on critical women’s issues. So much for sisterhood.
This is a pretty awful home truth to digest. In real terms it means just one thing – nothing is likely to change for the women of India, regardless of which party cobbles the next government together. Every leader is hanging on to the status quo and concentrating on vote bank politics at the expense of everything else. The Aam Aurat is being left out in the cold once more. But wait a minute – the political class may not have changed its foul mind set, but the women of the country certainly have altered their position. They will no longer lie back and enjoy it, metaphorically or literally speaking. With 23 dowry deaths per day, their very lives are at stake. With females being snuffed out in the mother’s womb, their survival is under threat. Yet, despite daunting odds, the women of India are not just managing to stay alive, they are thriving and flourishing like never before and across varied fields. They are excelling in professional areas that were denied to them for decades. Today, driving through Mumbai, you are likely to see an impressive number of policewomen patrolling the streets. Take a commercial flight in India, and every so often the captain of the big bird is a woman. 10 of our largest banks are headed by women. Bollywood divas today are bringing in the big bucks at the box office. Several media empires are owned and run by women. Change is in the air. The only idiots who haven’t noticed are our netas. Too bad for them. Without a coherent narrative for women in place, their political agendas remain half complete. If women are stridently demanding equality, opportunity, safety, security and overall progress, it is their absolute right to do so. And, mark my words, they will eventually get it all.
There is no doubt in my mind that the biggest game changers in Elections 2014, will be women. It’s time for politicians across the board to wake up and smell the perfume!