The BJP government has been in power at the centre for two years now and yet, they have failed to fulfill any of the gazillion promises they made during the campaign for the 2014 general elections. They had projected Narendra Modi as the savior of Indian people, our own knight in shining armor, leading us rapidly to “achhe din”. The people believed in them (at least 31% of the people) and BJP got the majority in the Lok Sabha. On many occasions, during the campaign and after winning the elections, Modi has spoken about the women of this country and how the development of the nation is impossible without their development. His views on women are so generous that one might think that during the two years in the office he must have worked tirelessly to improve the situation of Indian women in public and personal life. But, on the contrary, the reality is that the BJP and the Prime Minister are only interested in making speeches and are not very keen to transform their words into action.
The BJP in its election manifesto for the 2014 general elections, had called the women of this country ‘nation builders’. In spite of this, they are formulating such “development plans” which will eventually kick the already marginalized dalits, women and minorities further away from the mainstream. Let us have a look at some of key issues on which the BJP governments, both at the state and central levels, have betrayed women.
Exclusion of women from elected positions
The Women’s Reservation bill is amongst the many issues which have been met with either silence or vague promises by the Modi government. The BJP in its manifesto clearly mentioned that the party is committed to pass the bill in Parliament. It’s been two years now and the Bill, which has been passed by the Rajya Sabha, is nowhere on the agenda of the Lok Sabha. They promise to bring it soon, but their definition of the word ‘soon’ must be different from everyone else’s. Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence but the representation of women in the 16th Lok Sabha is merely 11%. The idea behind the Women’s Reservation Bill was to improve the representation of women in Parliament, as it has been done in panchayats and urban local bodies, and some state Assemblies.
The BJP’s silence might have been tolerated as none of the previous governments had been very enthusiastic about increasing the participation of women in mainstream politics. But the BJP governments in the states of Rajasthan and Haryana have directly attacked the constitutional right to contest election by putting arbitrary conditions on the qualifications of candidates in panchayat elections. This assault has been strongly resisted by the democratic and progressive forces of the country.
The BJP government in Rajasthan brought an ordinance on 20th December, 2014 just before the announcement of Panchayat elections in the state and the commencement of winter holidays in the courts. In the ordinance, the government has made minimum educational qualifications of class V, VIII, and X for different posts, and having a functional toilet in the dwelling unit, mandatory to contest panchayat elections. Due to these conditions a large number of people have been exempted to contest panchayat elections, especially dalits, women, and minorities, because educational backwardness is more rampant among these sections. After all, that is why they are marginalized.
This anti-constitutional move on the part of the BJP government in Rajasthan deprived almost 80% of the women in the state of their right to contest election. This figure was revealed by the petitioners - Norati Bai and Kamla Meghwal - in the case against the Rajasthan government’s ordinance. They didn’t find any relief from the court. As a result, many of the seats in different panchayat across Rajasthan are vacant because no eligible candidates were found. In many seats, candidates won unopposed because of this. This goes against the very concept of democracy.
A similar ordinance was brought by the BJP government in Haryana. It was stayed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. But the government surreptitiously placed it in the Assembly as an amendment Bill and, without due discussion, got it passed in a very undemocratic manner. The Bill was amongst the last few agenda items, and it was passed in a hurry, with the Governor signing it late at night. The next day the panchayat elections were announced. AIDWA filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the amendment, but in a highly controversial judgment it decided against the petition. The Rajya Sabha compelled the government to include a criticism of the Supreme Court’s elitist judgment in the President’s address. Because of this anti-constitutional amendment around 83% of dalit women and 67% of women from other sections have been excluded from contesting panchayat elections.
The BJP came to power by popularizing their promise of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas”. But the amendments made in the Panchayati Raj Act in the BJP ruled states of Rajasthan and Haryana have stripped a large number of women of their constitutional right to contest election. They have not only stalled the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Loksabha but also have driven out a vast majority of women of the decision making process at the lowest level of our democracy. This shows that they are only interested in ‘Sabka Saath’ (everyone’s vote) but not in ‘Sabka Vikaas’. They are booting out the ‘nation builders’ out of the public sphere where they can be an active member of democracy.
Sex Determination Tests and BJP
Apart from these anti-women moves at the states level by the BJP, the Modi government is also displaying its inherent ideological bias against women in its actions. The Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, earlier this year suggested making pre-natal sex determination compulsory and then monitoring the mother. This suggestion was severely criticized by women’s organizations as it goes against the PCPNDT Act, 1994. This law was created to tackle the inhumane practice of female-feticide. The law made it illegal for the doctors and ultrasound technicians to tell the parents the sex of the fetus. The doctor’s lobby has been trying to get the onus removed from them for a very long time now and the Union minister has also gone on record to say that the very same thing. This shows exactly how serious the Modi government is in the matter of female-feticide. The declining sex ratio amongst children in India is already a glaring problem that our society is facing. The patriarchal system prevalent in India makes it difficult for women to lead their lives on their own terms and in a dignified manner. The girl child is not allowed to be born in the most parts of our country and in this situation the Union minister’s suggestion can only be called anti-women. Because we are aware of the fact that medical science has also become a very lucrative money-spinner, driven by profit like everything else in the capitalist system. The nexus of pharma companies, medical equipment makers, and the doctors lobby is treating this noble profession as a money making scheme. If the government makes the pre-natal sex determination compulsory for parents, it will only open a new area of making money. Can the government honestly assure the nation that they have the resources and machinery to monitor each and every mother-to-be in the country? The governments, at the centre and states, are not being able to monitor the existing ultra-sound centers to stop the pre-natal sex determination and they are daydreaming of following the many mothers-to-be. In reality this approach is to let medical equipment makers and doctors off the hook and shift the whole onus on to the women themselves.
Marital Rape and BJP
And this wasn’t the only time when Maneka Gandhi took an anti-women stand. In March, just a few days after the International Women’s Day, she said that the “concept of marital rape can’t be applied in Indian context”. She, like her ideological colleagues, has a very archaic and brutal concept of what construes as ‘Indian’. If the BJP’s and their ideological fathers’ version of ‘Indian’ is applied to the whole Indian society then it will be impossible for the women of this country to ever become equal citizens, let alone the other half of the society to treat them as one. The BJP’s and the RSS’ ‘Ind(iot)ness’ allows a man to rape his wife and get away with it. The Union minister also said that if we criminalize marital rape, it would strain the family ties. Does she think that ‘family’ and its unity can be preserved on the basis of violence and crime?
Education for women and BJP
The Modi government with utmost pride announced the ‘Beti padhao, Beti bachao’ scheme. According to reports, the Rajasthan government has closed down around 13000 schools. This is the same state which has decided to make minimum educational qualification essential for contesting the panchayat elections. The female literacy rate in Rajasthan is just 52%, lower than the national average of 65% (Census 2011). Shutting down government schools will have the most dire effect will be on the girl child as they would not be allowed to go to schools in other villages or to ones that are very far. Even the Haryana government is considering shutting down schools. A recent incident of rape of a school going girl in Rewari, Haryana shows how the concern of security is also becomes a crucial factor in the issue of educating the girl child. After the rape incident of a girl, who went to school in a different village, all the girls from her village have stopped going to school as they don’t want to fall victim to such a crime. This is not an isolated incident; we can easily find other examples. If the government starts shutting down schools then education will become even more inaccessible to the girl child.
These were a few examples of how the Modi government, along with the state governments run by his party is betraying the women via formal means. There is a continuing list of how BJP MPs, MLAs and other party members or the Sangh parivar people are continuously creating an anti-women environment in the country through offensive and derogatory statements and movements.
The Hindu fundamentalist ideology, which the Sangh Pariwar and the BJP uphold, is itself detrimental to the status of women in the society. This ideology also objectifies women, and understands and defines the woman and her rights only in the context of the traditional role they play in a man’s life. This is why they notice when our dupattas slide off our shoulders to bring disgrace on the male members of our families, they see our jeans or pants and skirts distracting the whole male community that is not related to us by blood or otherwise, they have decided that if we marry a person belonging to another religion it has to be because the guy is conniving and not because as a person with a full functioning brain a woman has the ability to make her own choice and face the consequences whatever they may be. They have even appointed MLAs to count the number of used condoms in a central university so they can issue the female student community their character(less) certificate. They see all this but when it comes to the political, social, and economic rights of women, we as a whole community become invisible to them. The Modi led BJP government is working to implement the agenda of the RSS and women are the ones at the highest risk of losing everything they have achieved through continuous struggles.