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CULTURE ,IDENTITY AND POLITICS
RESEARCH PROJECT

WOMEN IN POLITICS

Y.Sneha 200601123

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Abstract The history of the nationalist movement has been rewritten on many occasions, existing histories share a common gap on the plane of gender. While drawing links between gender and nationalism, and between gender and colonialism, I have discussed the 'experience' of women in the nationalist movement in India. I have tried to expose the contradictions that arise in analyses focusing on issues of gender, nationalism and colonialism. In existing discussions of nationalist discourse, two different levels of analysis have been prevalent. Firstly, there has been an attempt by the nationalist movement and its leaders to project a 'correct' picture of the nationalist activities of middle-class women. One of the consequences of providing a 'correct picture' has been that women have been projected as a homogeneous and uniform category. Consequently, women have been misrepresented in historical tracts and the diversity of their activity, varying political consciousness and the conflicts and ambiguities to which they were prey have been downplayed. Women harboured different attitudes and opinions on the basis of their consciousness, age and religion. This article has also tried to show that the nationalist movement benefited both by projecting women as a homogeneous category and constructing them as special role models. On the second level, Indian historians have reproduced this 'correct' picture of the nationalist movement. Though it is difficult to identify why Indian historians have reproduced nationalist discourse and what benefits they gained by so doing, it remains clear that, at both levels, women's activities have been marginalized. Women in historical records, it has tried to show that the success of some political movements is dependent on women's contribution. The Indian nationalist movement benefited not only from the nationalist activities of women but also from the way it confined its women to various constructs and role-models.

Women are underrepresented in Indian politics. The issue has come sharply into focus for some years now, partly because of the thwarted moves towards providing one-third reservation for women in legislative bodies including Parliament, along with the more successful moves to enforce

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such reservation in elections to rural panchayats. Of course such an issue naturally becomes more apparent during a period of elections as well. What emerged quite clearly in the current very long drawn out election process is how little has changed at one level since Independence. The candidates fielded by the various political parties are still dominantly male: women account for only five to ten per cent of all candidates across parties and regions. What may be more significant in terms of political power than the proportion of women fighting the Lok Sabha polls is the importance of women in inner party structures. In most parties, the women members are by and large thin on the ground if not invisible in the actual decision-making bodies and rarely influence the more significant party policies. This is most evident in the proliferation of women leader s and in the fact that, even though some of them may head parties that are relatively small in the national context, they simply cannot be ignored. With a lack of female leadership in the lower political ranks, one must question how women come to be heads of state in India. Often it is through being a widow, a mother, a daughter or a daughter-in-law of a past leader. Through accepted gender roles in Indian society, women are able to find access to the public, largely-masculine world of politics and escape from the circumscribed boundaries of the private: home and family. Women leaders in South Asia, heralded for being in positions of power in largely patriarchal societies, find their political currency through their relationships as women of men. Women Politicians have acquired certain status in public sphere and is partially constructed by the media. Inidra Gandhi is portrayed as “Durga”and ”Kali”.Sonia Gandhi is seen as St.Sonia for her voluntary step down from highest position in country. Jayalalitha is known as “Amma” for her deeds even though she is not a mother. Print media gives a biased version of women politicians. Movies which were based on women politicians lives were of two types either she is a clean politician who dictates over the men or a women who is suppressed and has faced hardships and joins rebellious groups.In the end politics comes to her rescue to legitimize her ambitions like Phoolan Devi. Women’s reservation bill repeatedly flounders in Parliament is recognized as a discourse of women’s empowerment. More than one million women function in these bodies as members, which certainly is a great experiment, notwithstanding the fact that many function as proxies of their

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husbands, fathers or brothers. Often, women belonging to lower castes are not allowed to wield power. Although participation in local bodies promotes women's role in politics, it does not make them contribute to the legislative process .That would be possible only when women's representation becomes sizable in Parliament. While it is relatively easy to reserve 33 per cent seats in local bodies, it is very difficult to do so for Parliament and state assemblies. The controversy hinges on the envisaged sub-quotas, in order to include OBCs and Muslims. Since there is no constitutional provision for these categories to get quotas in the legislature, the political debate is combustible .

Shelter and nursing care were also provided to nationalist leaders who were in hiding from the British authorities. The nationalist project gained major benefits from the active participation of women as mentioned above. poems and propaganda material. arguably the most important aspect of this movement for Independence from a historical point of view was that it saw mass participation by Indian women. In addition they held meetings and demonstrations.P age |5 Women’s Contribution To National Struggle: Construction of Woman India's struggle for independence is of tremendous importance in the history of anti-colonial movements. both within and outside the home. Age and religion informed the consciousness of women as much as their class background. In various writings on the nationalist movement it is argued that both the participation and leadership of women's activities was provided by 'middle-class women'. In what follows. It also managed to make a significant impact on a susceptible populace by projecting women as powerful symbols of a 'unified' nation. However. The nationalist movement set the precedent of achieving independence through non-violence and thus a whole new philosophy based on ahimsa was born. picketed toddy and foreign-cloth shops. the women took over the leadership roles and provided guidance to the movement. women who had till then been confined to the domestic sphere. middle-class women were not a homogeneous and undifferentiated category. therefore. and also served to divide the class. held classes to educate other women and contributed significantly to nationalist literature in the form of articles. They were involved in diverse nationalist activities. Lastly. The culmination of the movement in the partition on religious grounds of a country as big and culturally diverse as India was also significant. when the nationalist leadership were in gaol. Within the home they spun and wove khadi. Outside the home Prabhatferis were organized in which women from all castes and classes would walk to the local temple singing songs to rouse the nationalist and patriotic feelings of the people. together . went to prison and also suffered brutalities at the hands of the British police. I first examine the formulation of various constructs of women and their use to the leaders of the nationalist project for the furtherance of their political aims. To this end the concepts of 'motherhood' and 'femininity' were modified in accordance with the prevailing political ideology. The contribution of women to the Independence movement was significant. I also attempt to show how these constructs were modified. However. took part in satyagraha.

female infanticide. The task before the nationalist leaders was now to protect the inherent qualities of the 'spiritual domain'. without changing the basic social relationship characterized by male dominance. companionship. that is the non-European people. in British eyes. Hindu culture had to be rendered more consistent with Western ideas of liberalism and humanitarianism.P age |6 with the attributes of 'femininity' and 'motherhood'. polygamy. the nationalist leaders also realized that the 'spiritual' domain had to be made more consistent with the outside world and its new ideas of equality and liberalism. purdah and child-marriage came under British criticism. The woman was supposed to be the guardian of the 'spiritual' domain. Institutions of sati. Opposed to this domain was the 'spiritual' domain. The construction of the 'new' woman In the late nineteenth century the construction of the 'new woman' was an issue central to nationalist discourse. Education was also seen as making the 'new woman' more responsible towards her familial duties. with the virtues of cleanliness. These Western values were seen to form apart of the 'material' domain. a domain representing the culture and 'Indianness' of the people. Thus the construct of the 'new woman' was formulated. Hindu culture by contrast was regarded as superior to Western models. to suit the changing requirements of the nationalist movement and its leaders. Education was viewed as a means to enhance the social presence of Indian women and enable them to adapt to a changing external situation. This was because while in the material domain colonizers had 'subjugated' the colonized. an indicator of the 'modernization' of a country. This was also the time when the status of women in Indian society became a political issue and focus of debate and controversy. This construct was relevant to women from the middle class. The position and status of women was. it was in the spiritual domain that no encroachments had taken place. a domain dominated by Western science. in order to avoid British criticism. discipline and self-control . Amongst Indian reformers. The success of this construct was dependent on the formal education of women. the demographic section which was the cornerstone of the nation in late colonial India. . She was supposed to be inculcated. which was seen as representative of the 'true identity' of the Indian people. Thus there was a perceived need to protect the sanctity of this domain. technology and methods of statecraft. These qualities were added to her traditional role in the family. through education. However. it was recognized that. It also reflected on the ability of its citizens to rule themselves. At the same time.

as opposed to the 'new woman'. The woman was supposed to be devoted to her husband and to show reverence for elders. these women. The choice for a woman was thus limited to being either a 'new woman' or a 'common woman' . like that of 'masculinity'. the 'common woman' construct was created. it was essential for the nationalist leaders to project 'femininity' in ways which would enhance the 'masculine' or worldly virtues of Indian men. The concept of 'femininity' in the 'new woman' construct which thus emerged was based on mythology. literature and history. was also subject to British criticism. were forced to eke out an existence on the streets. but also a sign of women's 'newly acquired freedom'. However. was coarse. due to economic compulsion. could experience. in the course of their political participation. The construction of the 'common woman'.P age |7 The spiritual role of the new woman was not only represented as a mark of the superiority of Hindu as compared to 'alien' culture. Femininity had to be projected in a particular way so that while it facilitated the Indian man's efforts to prove his 'masculinity' in the external domain. The common women were the street-vendors. The concept of 'motherhood'. All these virtues were considered non-threatening in the traditional male hierarchy. The mythical figures of Sita and Savitri were considered the epitome of ideal Indian womanhood. The creation of the 'common woman' construct set moral limits on women's behaviour and their code of conduct.a choice imposed by nationalist leaders. a result of child marriages. fisherwomen. It can be argued that there were benefits to be gained by the nationalist movement and its leaders in the creation of these constructs. to cite but a few. it also maintained traditional patriarchal relations within the family by offering no threat to the dominance of male attitudes. I would suggest that these came from the way the 'new woman' construct could explain and contain the activities of women (including ensuring that they adhered to non-violent activities during their participation in the Independence movement). was seen by the British as one of the causes of the . in order that the new woman's 'newly acquired freedom' still be contained within the parameters set by the nationalist leaders. They thus lacked the attributes of docility and submissiveness which were ingrained in middle-class women.In this context. In addition she was supposed to be her husband's Ardhangini (complementary half) and Sahadharmini (helpmate). 'washer women'. promiscuous and vulgar. Besides lacking the veneer of gentility. eliminated any possibility of a public exploration of the differences and conflicts that women. Closely associated with the construct of the 'new woman' were the concepts of 'femininity' and 'motherhood'. The 'common woman'. This was because early motherhood. There was at the same time equal stress on her acquiring the practical skills of running a house and rearing children. as well as to possess the virtues of benevolence and self-sacrifice. on the other hand.

acknowledged her motivation to join the nationalist movement 'as a desire to fulfil her dharma' . Thus women were ideally suited to participate in his movement. action and deed) and satyagraha: 'If non-violence is the law of our being. Indian society was already undergoing changes in matters related to gender. This sanctified image of the mother was now considered an important vehicle by the nationalist leaders to convey the idea of a strong 'civilization' to the British. but also producing healthy progeny (the mother as race nourisher). Saraswati. the future is with women' . 'Motherhood'. he realized how the construct of the 'new woman' had to be modified to bring women out of their homes. Gandhi advocated self-reliance by weaving one's own cloth and boycotting foreign cloth. The emergence of Gandhi on the political scene in the 1920s as the nationalist leader had tremendous impact on women. was spinning and weaving khadi. as thus defined. It was easy to identify spinning and weaving khadi as women's dharma (the eternal law of the Hindu cosmos) or duty. and one for which women were particularly suited. Though he believed in gender-specific roles.In the Indian tradition the mother has always been deified. implied a woman not only loving or caring for her children. He argued that the qualities of self-sacrifice and 'silent suffering' were ingrained in Indian women. Spinning on the charkha (spinning wheel) was an integral part of Gandhi's Constructive . dowry and the devadasi (temple dancers) tradition. goddesses like Durga.P age |8 depraved nature of the Indian men. like purdah. Sita and Vaishno were regularly represented as mothers. She had also to undertake the task of educating her progeny to be the future en. It is pertinent to discuss how Gandhi envisaged the participation of women in nationalist politics. the core concepts of which are ahimsa (nonviolence in thought.lightened citizens of India The 'new woman' in the twentieth century By the early years of the twentieth century. It was argued that the west did not stress mattabhav (motherhood) qualities as they were in India . Sarladevi Sarabhai. Gandhi thus stressed those attributes of women which were beneficial for his political campaign. since it was primarily women's responsibility to feed and clothe her family. he was very critical of those roles that cloistered women in ignorance and affected them adversely. His ideas about women's roles in the nationalist movement were considered 'revolutionary' for that period. Thus. He realized the significant role women could play in the nationalist movement by their active participation. An integral feature of Gandhi's civil disobedience movement. Also. and the political movement for Independence was gaining momentum. the construct of the 'new woman' and the associated ideas of 'femininity' and 'motherhood' were beginning to be modified to meet the requirements of a changing political atmosphere. an activist. for example.

. Uttar Pradesh (who fell under the category of the 'common woman') were stopped from joining the movement and were said to be 'unfit to sit near other ladies' by members of the District Congress Committee . Also.. I must relinquish the desire for children and wealth and live the life of a vanaprastha (Gandhi. he believed that political participation could not take place at the cost of domestic duties. because paradoxically the 'new woman' had to picket 'on the streets' herself. The modified construct incorporated qualities like strength of will. If I wanted to devote myself to the service of the community. It became my conviction that procreation and consequent care of children were inconsistent with public service . he was careful that their activities did not threaten men's masculinity in any way. The woman of this construct was supposed to bear stoically long separations from her husband and patiently bear the mental and physical trauma of his imprisonments. Gandhi remained a 'traditionalist' in the domestic sphere.. His construct called for no reorganization of familial duties. Yet when the need arose. Thus. The charkha was identified as the national symbol and later incorporated in the national flag of India. Spinning and weaving khadi enhanced the significance of women's contribution to the movement in their own eyes. steadfastness of purpose and fortitude in the face of adversity. In fact. At this point. he realized the dilemma of distinguishing 'women of the street' from 'women on the street'..P age |9 Programme and his campaign against the colonial masters. while Gandhi encouraged women's political participation. however. Thus the 'new woman' construct had to be modified to allow for women taking to the streets. the more tradition-bound women could have the satisfaction of participating without going on the streets. The nationalist leader Gandhi himself refused to accept the prostitutes as Congress members unless they gave up their 'unworthy profession'. his maltreatment at the hands of British police and his disappearance for days on end. Gandhi's stress on the familial responsibilities of women may be explained by his need to secure support from the 'guardians' of women by assuring men of the safety and protection of their women. this woman was exhorted to come out of the home and undertake leadership roles in the absence of her husband . 1942: 196). Despite all the above. An example of this can be seen during the civil disobedience movement in the 1930s when prostitutes from Kanpur... In the 1930s.. Gandhi began to encourage the emergence of women into and the of the home that he had earlier stressed was disturbed. One of the worries of the women activists involved in street demonstrations was about distinguishing themselves from 'women of the street'.

Often picketing relied on . aroused the national sentiments of the population as a whole. The mother of the nineteenth century was now identified with the 'motherland' or Bharat mata. Women were also made responsible by Gandhi for picketing liquor and foreign cloth shops. diverse. by contrast. others just gave support to the movement. The idea of Bharat mata served a dual purpose. Literally translated Bharat mata means 'mother India'. Such symbolic representations of women enabled them to emerge as active participants in national processes. literature and the movies. Secondly. Salt was a commodity that affected women from all walks of life equally. whose honour had to be protected. The benefits to women of participation in the nationalist movement. The nationalist leaders realized the significance of the concept of a unified 'motherland'. or of the same woman holding aloft a trident and leading her countless sons and daughters to battle. Firstly. could summon her 'countless' children to her aid. While some women participated actively on the streets. an activity which was illegal. Bharat mata was projected as the ultimate mother. the allegiance of women as mothers to their nation prevented women from expressing displeasure when their sons/fathers/brothers were hauled in to jails or thrown in kala pani. the deified image of a 'single' mother of the whole nation. for example. This mother. If this tactic did not work they would lie in front of the stores and effectively stop customers from going in. Invariably. the image was of a crowned and beautiful woman in 'shackles' weeping 'tears of blood'. a motherland that stretched from the 'Himalayas to the Indian Ocean'. Their activities within the movement were. But it is pertinent to note that the nationalist leaders benefited the most from the manipulations of representations of women. Nationalist activities of women The mass participation of women in the nationalist movement is a well-recognized historical reality. were always limited by their responsibilities for 'women's work' in the home. Women all over the country marched to the sea depots to manufacture salt. The idea of Bharat mata was propagated through poetry. The image of the 'nurturer of civilization' of Indian mothers was expanded to include the idea of the mother as 'defender of civilization'. when in danger. This idea aligned the duties and responsibilities of the mother with the duties of a woman towards her nation. however.P a g e | 10 The associated concept of 'motherhood' was also broadened in the twentieth century to incorporate more qualities. The women would sit outside the shops and dissuade customers from making purchases. One activity which received a particularly eager response from women was. the breaking of salt laws. with all Indians as her sons and daughters.

for example.one towards their duty towards the nation and one towards the family. in such formulations as. Swarup Rani. It can. Often. The projection of a unified political role is often argued on the basis of the number of women participants. moreover. holding meetings and courting arrest. in her autobiography. Not all women took to political participation like 'proud warriors' or because of their awakened consciousness of modern Indian womanhood. the anti-colonial struggle.e. if anything. Yet what this obscures are all the conflicts and differences of opinion on participation that existed in the nationalist movement. 'in an audience of five thousand.so for example most of the women involved in pickets were from the same caste as the men visiting the liquor stores.000 were women . mentions that her mother. The most visible participation in all these activities came from 'middle class' women. However. a presupposition in most historical tracts on Indian nationalism that middle-class women were united on the basis of their gender. of the 80. should have been to look after people's morals instead of meddling in family matters . They also held classes in various ashrams on spinning and weaving khadi. i. they were beset by guilt and anguish at having to neglect their homes and children.. religion and political consciousness. found it difficult to adjust to the changed lifestyle and the constant infringement of her privacy which activism produced: This was a time of great domestic strain and constant adjustments were asked for. The political motivations and activities of women differed on the basis of age. be argued that middle-class women were not an homogeneous and undifferentiated category. .P a g e | 11 the social pressure that it could exert . however. How could she take sides (with husband or son) or understand this new 'Mahatma' whose business. no less than two thousand were women' or 'thousands of women strode down to the sea like proud warriors' . Thus even as women stood ready to respond to Gandhi's call. shared a common political goal. Many women were thrown behind bars: so. Women who did not take an active part contributed by spreading the message of Swadeshi.000 people arrested during the salt satyagraha. They were thus torn in two directions . Vijaylakshmi Pandit. Not all women shared the same political opinions towards their activities and organizational tasks. There is. Other forms of agitation involved leading processions. and had the same political consciousness. In some meetings proscribed literature was also read. 17. the reality was more complex. women leaders would make speeches exhorting their fellow-activists to achieve greater heights of patriotism. Mother felt acutely miserable over all that was happening. There were conflicts with women's lives which were raised in the course of their participation. after leading a procession.

young girls in their teens. and is seeking an outlet in many ways and directions. was in charge of a bomb factory under Chandra Shekhar Azad. Most of these women had earlier served as members of the youth league. Revolutionary organizations increased their sabotage activities in the 1930s. Muslim women's participation also introduced the . Youth leagues have sprung up in all parts of the country and individual young men and women. Young middle-class women. Miss Mrinalini and Radharani Debi had been members of the Benares Youth League and had earlier taken part in picketing. by contrast. they did not do so in such large numbers as Hindus. However. Begum Hasrat Mohani and Mrs Abdul Kadir did. Just as men and women were positioned differently within the same class. This factory produced picric acid. District Magistrate of Comilla in December 1931 . contribute actively to the movement. Thus. the religious imagery used by young terrorist women was different from that used by women of the non-violent programme. The activities of the younger generation were markedly different from the activities of women following the Gandhian nonviolent programme. were active in organizing underground activities. aggressive and violent qualities of the feminine deities (Shakti and Kali). Though Muslim women participated in the nationalist movement. especially by picketing shops owned by Muslims who resented the activities of Hindu women. constituting the radical wing of the Congress. In the Benares bomb case. The leaders of the first nationalist generation were quick to identify the potential in the younger generation. Santi and Suniti. When Pandit Nehru and Subhash Bose. disenchantment with the non-violent programme caused them to resort to terrorism. In Delhi. organized by the Congress. founded the Independence League in 1928. until they were arrested under Sections 4 and 5 of the Explosive Substances Act and 19F Arms Act . Women like Bi Amman. aged seventeen. are groping for a path which might lead them to a fuller realisation of themselves . however. for example. Roop Vati Jain. gun-cotton and other ingredients for bombs. The province of Bengal was very active. Begum Mohammed Ali. Women of the older generation lacked the courage to try and establish new social norms which had been kindled.P a g e | 12 The activities of women from the middle class differed also according to age. shot dead Stevens. nitro-glycerine. Differences in perception due to religion also affected the motivations and nature of women's activities. weary of the continual and barren strife of many of their elders. Women involved in sabotage stressed the destructive. Jawaharlal Nehru commented: After long suppression the spirit of youth is up in arms against all forms of authoritarianism. women were positioned differently with respect to each other within the middle class.

the difference between Muslim and Hindu opinions is particularly significant. In a nationalist song composed in honour of Urmilla Devi (an activist in Meerut). Clearly. For the Muslims. Muslim women from the middle class did not in general discard purdah. and their participation in processions was more a gesture of solidarity than a challenge to the purdah tradition . Giving bangles to men as well as leaving the 'veil' behind reflects the drive towards sexual reform often voiced in nationalist songs and poems.P a g e | 13 important issue of purdah to the nationalist movement. Seen in the light of the construction of the 'new woman'. either in terms of class. Indian Women and the Indian National Congress The early Indian National Congress decided to avoid topics associated with women’s status and delegated education . Some Muslim men. Purdah was an issue for social reform brought up in women's meetings and conferences.transformed Indian women or they condemn Congress and Gandhi for manipulating women for political . Yet it should be noted that Gandhi's movement. A possible reason for Muslim women retaining the burqa was the resentment expressed by their menfolk towards women's activities outside the home. generation or religion.child marriage . many of those who have written on this period have opted for one of two simplistic views of the relationship between Congress and woman. the construction of new woman' was hardly a homogeneous category. it was stated.Either they were laudatory .claiming that claiming that congress particularly Gandhi .social issues became an integral part of the party’s platform and women were encouraged to join . come out in the streets and bazaars . 'brought up within the purdah tradition'. 'Hey womankind.woman attended and took part in its earliest meetings . in anonymous letters to newspapers. leave your veils behind. commented that even though Hindu men did not protest at the use of their women in picketing liquor and cloth shops.Although their members were small and not representative of Indian woman as a whole.Neverthless . whose womenfolk were said to perceive men other than their fathers and brothers as threats to their morals and chastity. which encouraged women to come out of their seclusion. Unfortunately.they took a keen interest in political and social change.polygamy . give your bangles to the menfolk. leave your comfortable homes. activities which were regarded as 'respectable' by Hindu nationalist leaders were seen as 'immodest'. They considered the activities that their women had been involved in as 'unwomanly' and 'immodest' acts. attracted more Hindu women than Muslim. it was affecting their Muslim women who. must suffer when suddenly called upon to interfere with strangers in the bazaars and made to 'sit publicly' with male shopkeepers.After Gandhi’s rise to power in the Congress .purdah and widowhood to the National Social Conference. then.

P a g e | 14 ends .For many women . Sarojini Naidu and Margaret Cousins led a small delegation of women to demand that women be granted the same rights of representation in legislatures as men. while commitment to improving the status of women encouraged their involvement in the freedom struggle. But despite the fact that at this time there was no mass-based women’s suffrage movement in India. The testimony of Margaret Cousins.political involvement spurred their feminism. However. The Southborough Committee stated that “the extension of the vote to women would be premature in a society which continued to enforce purdah and prohibitions against female education.Nether captures women’s experiences . the British government simply skirted the issue by leaving it up to each of the individual provincial legislatures that they had just set up in India to grant or to refuse the franchise to women.The most active women combined an interest in politics and women’s rights . In response to the Indian agitation for representative government. they would never accept the idea of equal political rights for women. Many groups presented their case for representation before the committee.the intelligence of these women and the complexity of their relationships with congress . an Irish feminist who played a major role in women’s organizations in India as well as in Britain. each of the Indian provincial legislatures voted to make it possible within a short span of time for women to be represented at par with men without much fuss.It also overlooks the way in which consciousness and ideology developed . the British government set up a committee headed by Montague and Chelmsford in 1919 to work out a proposal for constitutional reforms aiming at the inclusion of some Indians in government. Struggle for Representation and Franchise In 1917. Between the Madras Legislative Council in 1921 and Bihar Council in 1929 all the legislative areas of India had conferred the symbol and instrument of equal . despite a protracted struggle.instead of taking on themselves the onus of rejecting the demand outright. brings out the contrast between the Western and Indian response to women’s political rights very clearly.To see them as puppets or dupes denies the legacy of the nineteenth century . Among the many delegations that met this committee. Their assumption was that since Indians were so “backward”.often with the support of their husbands and families . The British government predictably thought this demand was quite preposterous because women in most Western countries had still not been given the right to vote. a delegation of Indian women put up before secretary of state Ewin Montagu its demand for franchise.

However. Other women activists. Muthulakshmi Reddi became the first woman legislator. It is part of a larger process in which most honest. Rithambara. would automatically carve out their political niche. it is important to recognize that the sidelining of women in our polity goes beyond gender discrimination. they argued. however.If the rules of the game remain as corrupt as they are now.” Owing to constant lobbying by the Women's Indian Association.. discrimination makes it very difficult for them to establish a foothold without patronage from powerful men in the party.Career graphs of Indira Gandhi. and a host of other prominent women in power politics . decent people have become politically marginalized as our politics and government have become the hotbed of crooks. property. Politics has become the quickest and shortest route to getting rich without doing any work other than brokerage. administrative. Post-Independence Women’s Politics In independent India. thugs and even outright criminals. age. the brown sahibs led by Nehru. 10 from general constituencies and five nominated. Provincial elections held under the Act returned 56 women against 1. the people have virtually no role in the functioning of civic and other institutions. They were in favour of universal adult suffrage through which women. this right was granted in 1930. which broadened the franchise base. and political institutions from the village to the national level.P a g e | 15 citizenship with men and women who possessed equal qualifications — a certain amount of literacy. who inherited power from the gora sahibs. Begum Jahanara Shah Nawaz and Radhabai Subbarayan. In the Round Table Conference held in 1930. Mayawati. For new entrants. After Independence. two women activists. provided for formal induction of women in the political process both in reserved and general seats. allowed the colonial bureaucracy to strengthen its stranglehold over our civic. After they vote. only those women politicians who are good at emulating the worst of male politicians in the art of power-grabbing and plundering will be able to survive. pleaded for 5 per cent reservation for women in the legislatures. Very few honest men or women have survived in electoral politics and kept their honesty intact. One important reason is the pervasive gender discrimination which results in making even veteran women politicians feel bypassed and ignored. The Government of India Act. Today the political scene has come to be dominated by anti-social elements because we have reduced our democracy to the sole ritual of the electorate casting its vote whenever called upon to do so. length of residence. payment of taxes. Jayalalitha. 1935.500 seats — 41 from reserved constituencies. politics has proved to be very inhospitable for women. did not appreciate this sort of favour-seeking. Sheila Kaul.

But women should enter politics with a vision for restoring the health of our dysfunctional political system. A good example is that of Sarojatai Kashikar. the heavy investment of time and money that is required proves too burdensome to be sustained for more than a short time. to make our politics truly representative and overhaul our institutions of governance — the local corporations. Sarojatai was initially drawn into politics through her husband’s close association with the Shetkari Sangathana. who was a member of the Maharashtra assembly between 1991 and 1995. and authoritarian as the worst of men when they occupy positions of power which demand little or no accountability. Such specimens of the female gender serve neither the cause of women nor that of society. Though she was well-educated. courts. H. They are as harmful for our democracy as are the Bal Thackerays. The presence of this type of woman is neither worth fighting for nor celebrating. Bhagats and Advanis. If women join politics in greater numbers through the present scheme of reservation this change alone is not going to create a new political culture by itself. Chandraswamis. .L. As things stand today. even those women who have made a mark in electoral politics find it hard to sustain their involvement unless they too become money making racketeers. While the inadequate representation of women in governance is a serious flaw of our democracy which needs correction. For the honest. to stop at merely that would be suicidal as it will only lead to making a sizable space for women in the world of organized corruption and crime. police stations. it is equally important to ensure the pie is worth eating and that there is enough there for everyone to share. corrupt. This is not to suggest leaving the political arena to the male crooks who dominate our Parliament and state legislatures today. Women’s entry into politics will not change anything for the better if the overall character of politics does not improve. While it is legitimate for women to demand a share of the pie. Many argue that to expect women to carry an extra load of morality is to make unreasonable demands of them which only strengthens the stereotype of women as self-sacrificing creatures who can be easily sidelined. Before her exposure to the Sangathana.K.P a g e | 16 is a testimony that women become as vicious. she had no interest in or knowledge of the political world. she was an ordinary housewife whose only connection with political life for years was cooking and serving her husband’s colleagues in the movement. and various government offices — in such a way that they become actually accountable to ordinary citizens in their everyday functioning.

her brother-in-law remained by her side to act as a protective shield. she slowly came to be one of the leading cadres of the Sangathana. She took her work seriously. even if she can somehow mobilize other compensatory resources by her own special efforts. A woman operating on her own strength in a party filled with corrupt politicians who think nothing of slandering their own women colleagues would find the going very tough. to be seen chatting and freely socializing with male political colleagues was likely to be misunderstood and become cause for character assassination. These men acted as buffers. In addition. To avoid this. yet provided her the necessary communication channel with the world of politicians without her having to directly hobnob with all kinds of unsavory characters. in Sarojatai’s case she could also count on her four other male colleagues from the Sangathana who also became MLAs at the same time as her. In 1991. kept in good contact with her constituency and was respected even by district officials for her honesty and integrity. the Sangathana fielded her as a candidate for the Maharashtra state assembly elections as part of their campaign to get as many women elected as possible. Hence the dependence on her young and relatively inexperienced brother-in-law. Yet she did find herself handicapped in many respects and had to watch her every step. In a culture where even formal interaction with men unconnected to one’s own family is frowned upon. interaction with them provided much less scope for misunderstanding. she won by a convincing margin and within a short span of time came to be one of the most respected legislators in the state assembly. She told me that even for a middle-aged married woman like herself. However.law was deputed to accompany and stay with her in Bombay. women are severely handicapped in politics because they cannot cultivate close association with men without jeopardizing their position in the family. The Inhibiting Factors for Women in Politics A key component of politics is the art of building alliances. as the Sangathana leader Sharad Joshi insisted that women must participate actively in the movement. Though new to electoral politics. her colleagues were not only exceptionally honest and decent but also used to dealing with women as colleagues. .P a g e | 17 However. Having been trained in the political culture of the Sangathana. Since she did not feel safe living alone in the MLA’s hostel in Bombay. Since they were all close and trusted friends of her husband. her job as an MLA required that long periods had to be spent away from home attending assembly sessions in Bombay. a young brother-in. studied the required documents.

where deals are made and strategies planned. Behavioral change at the family level will require consistent hard work to change cultural norms and reduce women’s domestic responsibilities. They don’t want to hang around gossiping in tea shops. especially given the strict regime of restrictions that most women are made to live under. When I was studying the functioning of an all-women panchayat in a Maharashtra village. While a few families are willing to relax some restrictions on women and are supportive of their activism.” . Women simply can’t spare that kind of time even if their husbands are not objecting to their participation. Men enjoy meeting officials. the workload of women and the nature of their domestic responsibilities makes it extremely hard for them to spare the kind of time required for making even a small difference in politics. They used her supposed personal closeness to one of the BJP’s respected male leaders to spread all kinds of vicious rumours about her. except intermittently: “For every little thing. we have to go and petition the district level officials — whether you want a road repaired or a bus service extended to your village. Even though most men in India favor women’s political participation. Thus women are handicapped from getting crucial information which men pick up easily from casual gossip with all kinds of people. one of the leading members described the difficulties of keeping women active and involved. Often meeting officials won’t get the work done. because that is how they build contacts which can be encashed for personal benefit in various ways. A woman risks her reputation by even being seen with many of them. having chaipani with them. a water tank built or a phone connection sanctioned — each of these tasks require numerous trips to district headquarters with each trip involving loss of one full work day for a woman. You have to organize protests. this does not easily translate into relaxing restrictions on the women in their own families. So much of our politics is carried out in late night sessions. including the corrupt ones. The fact that politics is dominated by the most unsavoury kind of men makes most women themselves reluctant to break taboos regarding free intermixing with men. sit on dharnas and what not. both within the party and in the media.P a g e | 18 Not too long ago. Uma Bharti of the BJP was driven to a suicide attempt because of the slander campaign unleashed by her own colleagues who saw her independent mass popularity as a threat to their power. often over booze. don’t dare to be seen participating in such sessions. The breakdown of institutional politics in favor of gangster politics has made things much tougher for women. whereas a man does not have to prove his credentials by such fierce avoidance. But women are always in a hurry to get back. chatting with officials and netas — all of which seem to be a necessary part of men’s political world. Most women politicians.

the lower the involvement of women will be in it. especially those who are uneducated. What appears to be a woman panchayat member’s in capacity is actually proof of our system’s ridiculous procedures and insensitivity to people’s requirements. very few women are allowed to remain politically active once they lose an election. it is no longer possible for an illiterate person to function effectively because the sarkari panchayats have been integrated into the vast bureaucratic network. The more centralised and authoritarian a polity. Staying Power of Women The staying power of women in politics is also limited due to the fact that while they may get support and even get to be treated as heroines if they win an election. Even for participation at the panchayat level. as long as decision-making remains remote and in the hands of bureaucrats. feel helpless and lost when they are required to deal with the impenetrable maze of the bureaucratic world which defines the parameters of the panchayat’s role. as happens at present. the rules are rendered in such opaque Hindi or regional languages that even the literate members of panchayats find it difficult to make any sense of them. By keeping more than three-quarters of India’s women illiterate and providing shamelessly poor quality education to the few who manage to reach sarkari schools. long-term basis. Moreover. like a wayward man hooked . the government-appointed gram sevak simply takes control of the panchayats.men are likely to control and dominate it. Most women. the government plays a crucial role in discouraging and obstructing women’s participation in public affairs. with its reams of forms to fill out and its dust covered volumes of rules and procedures. rather than fitful. Wherever the panchayat members are incapable of or diffident about handling rules and accounts. as long as politics cannot be easily integrated into the everyday life of people without causing severe disturbances in domestic life. There should be no requirement that a person become a full-time politician and make it a profession (as well as a means of livelihood) if we want meaningful participation by large numbers of women in this country’s political life on a consistent. unaccountable authorities.P a g e | 19 As long as working in the political realm involves endless petition mongering to uncaring. sporadic involvement in morchas and dharnas.It is extremely difficult to keep women politically active after they have lost an election because a woman who continues to devote time to politics even after the electoral setback gets to be looked down on as a hopeless addict.

Despite all the muckraking regarding Uma Bharti’s alleged affairs. It is unfortunate that by and large only those who find it hard to maintain a secure foothold for themselves in elective politics tend to gravitate towards women’s issues. the political parties and organizations. Women’s participation in mainstream political activity has important implications for the broader arena of governance in any country. parliaments. . In Maneka Gandhi’s case. women cannot take defeat in their stride and tend to fade out soon thereafter. These women are able to give their undivided attention to politics because there is no man to hold them back and. While Indian society may not be very kind to ordinary women. courage and the capacity to withstand character assassination get to be treated with special awe and reverence in our country. unlike men. and values that are involved in the management of state and society. government and their interactions with society. the aura around the Gandhi family name has played an important role in adding to her charisma. institutions. it is ironic that none of these three women make a special point of mobilising other women. mass appeal and their organisational skills which are resented by their male colleagues. they are not easily cowed down by scandal or character assassination. The more successful among women politicians do not like to be seen as representing women’s interests. She is a popular cult figure among the BJP followers At the same time. Governance relates to a set of rules.P a g e | 20 on drugs or liquor. They would see that as a downgrading of their status if they were projected primarily as leaders of women. and Maneka Gandhi of the Janata Dal. it loves to celebrate women who appear and prove themselves to be stronger than men. Governance institutions and processes include political parties. it is perhaps not a coincidence that the few women who have developed an independent political base and are able to compete with men in electoral politics are mostly single or widowed — as for example. the nature of political processes. the governance values. while both Uma Bharti and Mamta Banerjee come from very ordinary families and were not groomed by any powerful patriarchs. Yet these women have mostly emerged triumphant because they are celebrities to their supporters. Women who show extraordinary resilience. Mamta Banerjee of the Congress Party. types of government. Although governance is a generic term which could mean good government or management. therefore. Therefore. These three women have had to wage relentless battles within their respective parties for due recognition because their popularity. Uma Bharti of the BJP. Considering all this. her opponents in the party have not been able to eclipse her.

a name that would stick to her ever after. Congress (O) very unadvisedly campaigned with Indira hatao.Vajpayee called Indira the Durga of India.During her rule. because she felt uncomfortable in speaking publicly. but from whom they would not take orders. and A. this time over Bangladesh. The Economist even portrayed her as ‘Empress of India’. The voters duly punished it. may vary in different political systems. The dumb doll had started to talk. She would follow her own policies.B. India had international standing as hardly ever before and never after. and these did please neither faction. Indira went to the voters directly with the reformed faction and won a two-thirds majority in March 1971. Her male colleagues called her unkindly goongi gudiya. It was a tremendous victory. Women Politician’s Symbolic Interpretations Durga Amma and Black Kali Indira took over the government at a critical political and economic time.Congress leaders from all sides accused her of behaviour unseemly for a woman especially because of her harsh treatment of opponents in the party .But she always managed to elegantly marginalize those who opposed her or were ideologically not attuned to her. She had come into power indirectly through the war with Pakistan over Kashmir.But she refused to be just the rubber stamp for the decisions of the old men around her. one year ahead of time and. Many old Congress war horses saw her as a kind of niece whom they liked. She nationalised the banks. the dumb doll. and she strengthened her rule by conducting another war with Pakistan. Both the syndicate and the old guard assumed that Indira would be pliable and easy to manipulate.Then came Indira’s finest hour. with the slogan garibi hatao (Beat Poverty). and the extent of power that the masses have to challenge the state or in suggesting alternatives in methods of governance etc. .P a g e | 21 whose interests are represented and protected. and shortly after repealed the privy purses of the princes to great public acclaim .

the widow's ambones snaking down the snake is given the children the widow's arm is hunting see the children run and scream the widow's hand curls round them green and black. The widow sits o a high chair.P a g e | 22 Indira she was personally and as a woman. is poured into a story about a malformed fetus of a witch mother spoiling the world which can only be healed by the fetus crawling back into the womb and the black goddess Kali being defeated by the white goddess Durga. Between the walls the children green.authors’ attacks which focus entirely on her gender: whether it is the black widow of Midnight children fame.or gender-biased short stories where the distaste directed against the woman instead the emergency. the walls are green. the widow's hair has a center parting. High as sky the chair is green the seat is black the widow's arm is long as death.male . it is green on the left and on the right black. the fingernails are long and sharp and black. where Salman Rushdie describes the castration by Doctor Death Sanjay on the instigation of the Black Widow. blamed for the excesses of the Emergency. the seat is black. its skin is green.Some of the . the chair is green.'' . Goddess Kali Goddess Durga Rushdie puts : ``No colors except green and black the walls are green the sky is black (there is no roof) the stars are green the widow is green but her hair is black as black. Now one by one the children are stifled quiet the widow's hand is lifting one by one the children their blood is black unloosened buy cutting fingernails it splashes black on walls (of green).

Credit for the lifting of emergency is never granted. that does not augur well for female power or female virtues. In the Bangladesh war Indira’s gender was of supreme significance both in a positive and negative way: Durga is the goddess called upon by the male gods in crises when all other means fail. She was victorious and conformed to men’s expectations. for women it is utterly reproachable when done autonomously. She refused to be judged on her gender. Jawaharlal Nehru.P a g e | 23 What the above picture shows the emergency is the undoing of the children. Indira rejected the above appellation as she did others that referred to gender in politics: in one famous quotation she said she wanted to be seen not as a man or a woman but as a human being. when she seemingly conceded too much in Simla. meant that she acted autonomously. The appellation Durga was complimentary. but not really autonomous. Indira refered as Durga and Kali . not according to male wishes. Nearly always she is compared to her father. .The difference between Durga and Kali is that Durga is powerful. and the comparison turns out unflattering for her. Indira Gandhi is jealous of their powers. The appellation is betraying: if the the only man in the cabinet is a woman. however. always under male control. and was therefore criticised and rejected. Kali. While use and abuse of power is normal for men. Conversely. again it was her gender that was seen as responsible: women are weak .And the Emergency only came about because women cannot be trusted with power: she became Kali. is the only goddess who is not under male control and therefore ambivalent and controversial: the comparison to Kali.And yet after 1980 she was called the only man in the cabinet.

“Nonsense. Indira Gandhi chiseling her own image on the “sacred rock of democracy.” Indira Gandhi governed the country with an iron hand. both the one being crafted and the ideal. she still denies the charges levied. The opposition maintained that she was destroying democracy in India. While she is seen fashioning democracy in her own image. The cartoon above responds to that charge. how could a frail creature like me destroy it!” Satire mocks this architecture of democracy.P a g e | 24 R. retorting.Laxman a well known cartoonist caricatured Indira as a dictator and women with a ironhand . It helps us “see” the pith of democracy’s sculpture. .K.

it is surely interesting that the Indian press made no attempts to corner women leaders within the private sphere.P a g e | 25 St. but even from standing as a candidate for election altogether.pragmatic. strategic. The Hindu and The Hindustan Times were selected analyzing the projection of 2 women politicians in print media. But otherwise she generally came through as opportunistic. a high- . Both Jayalalitha and Sushma were completely engaged within the political arena with no apparent obligations to domestic/private concerns. a great deal of coverage focused on their personal characteristics.the election process may have little reality beyond its media version. A major observation that came through was that Jayalalitha received extremely negative portrayal. who was bold. the theme of which seemed to be to prevent Sonia Gandhi not only from becoming Prime Minister.In this process of coverage of elections some issues . The BJP indulged in an extremely nasty. even obscene. However. mannerisms. Further. “Puratchi Thalaivi” and “Iron Lady” among the people. and who had improved her support base. First and foremost. arrogant.Needless to say .assumes a significant role during election time. one could gather from the coverage that she was a popular leader who could attract large crowds. Sonia was seen as doing something no male politician would do: she renounced voluntarily.for most of us .Both the leaders were represented at extreme ends. Also.in a democratic society in particular . looks and feminine aspects. determined.Sonia Sonia came into her own in 2004 when Congress won the elections against all expectations and predictions.groups . She got the name of Saint Sonia for her sacrifice and her dedication to her party Projection of Women politicians by Media Media . calculated.parties. Jayalalitha is popularly known as “Amma”. clever. traits. welfare or development issues. the leaders were not found to be associated with social. This appears to be particularly the case for Sushma Swaraj who has combined responsibilities of both family and career. attire. extremely corrupt. harsh. Regarding Jayalalitha.Jayalalitha and Sushma Swaraj were scrutinized by the media during the elections held in 1998. the effect of gender was produced through the positive coverage of Sushma Swaraj and the negative representation of Jayalalitha. personalised campaign.newsmakers and themes have dominant coverage while others get ignored.

but what was exceptional about her was her nonconformity to the social (patriarchal) order. which indicated how the news media functioned within existing norms. Evidently. it seemed to have endorsed the view that a woman should have a ‘giving nature’ and hence this amassing of wealth and corruption by her was unethical. ambitious and tough leaders (Norris. While repeatedly pointing out a ‘woman’ politician’s corruptness. The fact that she started her career as an actress. as portrayed in The Pioneer. In some situations. such a woman was a dangerous threat. with glaring eyes.g. She was also projected as a sobbing and grieving woman. Jayalalitha. Corruption or bad administration was not unique to Jayalalitha. sob and grieve for the wrongs done to her because she was a woman first and a politician later. an anomaly. and her rally a damp . There seems to be a greater probability that portrayal of both leaders has to do with their personal lives/backgrounds. All in all. saris. She was equated with cholera and virus and her rule was described as a dark period in the history of TamilNadu. In this sense. she could fret. 1997). This kind of a portrayal comes from the notion and expectation that women in politics need to be compassionate. who was obsessed with jewelry. rather than just their political or professional lives. was said to be weary and bleary eyed.. a sinner and much more. sulk and even be venomous and express personal animosity. and who could wail. watches and so on. became the ‘mistress’ of a prominent politician and did not live the conventional life of a married woman was unusual.’ the ‘unusual’ within the political system. who sulked when people preferred to listen to other leaders’ speeches. honest and moral as opposed to men who are seen to be ruthless. fume.’ who indulged in plunder and loot. Karunanidhi). She was a woman who was obsessed with adornments of jewellery. Jayalalitha was a corrupt ‘woman politician.P a g e | 26 handed leader. shout. gems. soaps. Her ways of speaking and campaigning were also ridiculed even though she was a good orator and a successful and powerful politician. She was portrayed as a gang member who knew how to play her game well.suffering at the hands of opponents (e. Special mention may be made of a statement by a respondent and carried in The Hindu. immoral and unusual. pearls etc. she was projected as an oddity. a deviant or an uncontrollable and unnatural phenomenon. get angry. harsh. both the leaders were presented to the reader as ‘the other. gems. the media was carried away Jayalalitha’s harshness and aggressiveness. watches.

a lawyer by profession. has ability to endear herself to the masses.seasoned campaigner.’ suave. representative who cares. impressive. intelligent. powerful. categorical and fiery woman leader from the BJP. beaming. sincere. well-known face. victorious. serious. has faithful supporters in the form of women. with oratorical skills. patriotic. Sushma Swaraj. a seasoned BJP leader. smiling. charismatic. articulate. a role model for women. youngest ever cabinet minister of the country. Her association with MGR was referred to. who arrived to a tumultuous welcome of slogans “Behanji zindabad” (“Long Live Sister”). confident. as was the agony and humiliation she underwent at the hands of Karunanidhi. She was said to have good association with women.In The Hindustan Times Sushma was called a high profile woman candidate. possessing prowess. diligent. Sushma Swaraj in The Hindu was called ‘Iron lady. She was also described as invariably in the news. She was said to be candid. which was largely positive and hence the items from all newspapers had very few negative expressions.P a g e | 27 squib. smiling. who had weathered many a storm in her 20 year-old political career. . strong candidate. assertive. a woman (proud of being a woman and womanly identity). prominent and concerned. Sushma behanji (sister) was described as the most powerful national leader whose voice rang throughout the country. has a liberal approach towards women but does not follow western concepts of liberation. good orator.

movie goes deep into the morass to show how an ordinary citizen needs to be part of the democratic system to rescue it from unmitigated criminalization. cavernous world of seedy politicians and their nefarious doings with a sense of urgent panic. The film sequence is a replay of what happened years ago when legendary don Sarman Munja was shot dead in Bokhala village in Porbandar.Godmother captures the life of Rambhi.P a g e | 28 Movies on Women Politicians: Bhandarkar's film makes valiant effort to give the protagonist an effort to be a woman with dignity in a man's world.She becomes the sarpanch of the village and transforms herself into a gang leader to take revenge. who takes to a life of crime to avenge her husband's death. Viram's anguished widow. Anuradha Chauhan finally becomes part of the political system and yet remains above it seems a little hard to digest. In telling the fairly gripping story of the apolitical Anuradha Chauhan's baptism-by-blood into the murky milieu of Indian politics. conveying the collective consciousness of a nation on the brink. .Godmother's plot is ostensibly based on true-life characters of this region.

with a never-say-die spirit.It depicts the complex family issues .egos and the relationships and negotiations which happen in politics.As a woman and a mother .P a g e | 29 Bandit Queen is a movie based on real life politician Phoolan Devi. Phoolan Devi had a larger-than-life image . this image is sought to be metamorphosed into that of a phenomenal leader who waged a persistent struggle in the cause of the weak and the downtrodden. After her death. WHEN she was alive.of a victim of caste oppression and gender exploitation who fought back first by resorting to acts of gory revenge and later by moving on to the political plain. Satta shows the female protagonist as a middle class women who enters the political arena and takes the highest position in the political party.

is used to limit women to the private realm. In this sense. Yet in reality the choice is negligible. Gender norms can signal cultural and national identities. Hindu women in saris. who transmit the culture and who are privileges signifiers of national difference. how women are educated and how specific are women’s roles are all marks of nation and culture. How women dress. giving women some agency despite their objectified status. women both preserved culture and could destroy it. Nations use the category of “woman” to signify nationhood. while women are linked with the passive. in order to protect them from the defiling properties of modern life.In due course the woman becomes a leader of gang and in the end enters into politics to do good to people CULTURAL FIGURES AND POLITICAL POWER To better understand how women in India have taken gender roles and used these identities for political power. As a social relationship. since it is the . we must first look at how gender works in society. as well as being those who reproduce the boundaries of ethnic/national groups. In India. private sphere – the home and family. public sphere – that of politics and commerce. seen most strongly in patriarchal societies. how they interact in society. Gender may be seen either as a symbolic construction or as a social relationship. men are associated with the more aggressive. women are linked to national culture and are national symbols.The other two movies first show the suppression. Gender serves as a sign used to reify relationships and construct boundaries. This role for women.P a g e | 30 she had to take family responsibilities and should have a fine balance between public and private spheres. humiliation a woman succumbs and retaliates to take revenge on the bad guys . Gender can also be a symbolic formation. Yet not only do women preserve national culture – they also propagate it. Gender relationships receive symbolic emphasis because they are the social arena in which individuals are enabled to make political claims and initiate personal strategies.” As “mothers of culture” they both nurture and protect but also create national culture. Women bear the burden of being ‘mothers of the nation’ (a duty that gets ideologically defined to suit official priorities). Women reproduce culture.

When the cultural structure is so rigid that women feel dispossessed from . however. are both purveyors of national culture. By choosing the cultural image to which their bodies refer. currency. The women’s body has been circumscribed with the burden of carrying the national culture. the woman is a symbol of refusing to be a symbol. women have also co-opted female cultural symbols for their own exploitation and purpose. and vessels for half a nation’s citizens. then. She obliterates her female form. They become larger cultural identities thus obtaining popular. and political. By doing so. it is often through regimes that are repressive to women that women are able to find the political space in which to organize and mobilize behind a collective identity as woman. women assume identities separate from their personal ones. So strong has the symbolic weight of female cultural nationhood become that the images of women. Female bodies are both agents and objects of practice. Paradoxically.” The disembodiment of the feminine form from their female owners has had a twofold effect. mothers. or restrict her from being an infecting agent herself. Women lose agency over the meaning of their bodies. culture. Just as the space of politics is merging with religion. and consumption. and family are central to the “symbolic constitution of communities and community identity. only to reinforce herself as a symbol of the controlled female body. Sonia Gandhi always seen in a saree. While women see their bodies used as nationalist symbols without their consent.P a g e | 31 duty of men to either protect women from corrupting forces. women have been employing character roles to regain agency over their symbolic feminine form. projects the culture of Indian women to the outside world The bodies of the women of a nation.

“WOMANPOWER stalls Musclepower”. aspirations and interests. it is the demand for 33 per cent reservation in the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies.P a g e | 32 their symbolized form. announced a newspaper headline the day after the women’s reservation Bill was placed yet again in Parliament. Surely. and as a result. . While it would appear that a long struggle lies ahead for representative politics in India to become truly representative of popular will. Such “political opportunity structures” are pervasive in South Asia. Women Reservation bill: The issue that has fired the imagination of women in India in recent times is their demand for reservation in Parliament and the State Assemblies. These vehicles are rooted in history and myths. the headline highlighted a very basic challenge facing Indian democracy both inside and outside Parliament. it must also be recognised that if there is one issue that has fired the imagination of women across the country in an explicitly positive sense over the past decade and more. they then exercise their symbolic “womenness” to mobilize politically. women have found channels by which to grasp political power.

It has been raised by the so-called autonomous women’s groups. Somehow. media personnel and even members of the Election Commission. The demand for women’s representation in elected bodies has perhaps featured in every other memorandum at the State and Central levels. the question “Didi. who are normally not drawn into such controversies. workshops. that they demand and deserve a share in decision making with regard to policies and planning. it may be useful to put on record the extent to which the demand for 33 per cent reservation galvanised women in a sustained campaign spread over nearly 15 years now. notwithstanding the ‘drama’ enacted in Delhi before every Parliament session. none of these recognises the basic fact that women contribute equally to this society with men.P a g e | 33 What were the factors that propelled the demand for the Bill? The demand was a logical continuation of what had been achieved relatively easily at the level of local representative bodies after the adoption of the 73rd-74th amendments to the Constitution in 1993. A mass protest before Parliament in the summer of 1998 drew an unprecedented response. activists. First. with nearly 10. . by the more political mass-based organisations. and that their struggle for equality is today an integral part of the struggle of the Indian people to ensure the strength and stability of Indian democracy. Sustained campaign Amidst this welter of views. policymakers. Others may see in it an expression of “feminist” politics coming of age.000 women landing up in New Delhi to press the demand. The issue has drawn in scholars. in discussions. There have been many attempts to understand why women want greater representation – including the theory that they are driven by compulsions as crass as naked political ambition or that they desire important positions! Some may even believe that the demand comes from international platforms such as the Beijing Conference in 1995 where women’s role in decision making was seen as a mark of achievement. as anyone who has been actively involved in the contemporary women’s movement would vouch for. There has perhaps not been a single Prime Minister or Lok Sabha Speaker in the past decade who has not been petitioned or has not had to field questions from women representatives on the subject. and by women’s wings of political parties. what is happening to 33 per cent?” has come up in virtually every corner of the country over the last decade. It is one issue on which leaders of political parties have been petitioned several times and quizzed on why this demand has not featured in their election manifestos. thereby cutting across the so-called divides within the movement. training programmes and interactive discussions across the regional divide.

. women continue with their dharnas.4 per cent in the Rajya Sabha in 1991. memoranda and petitions. and the divisive conflicts thrown up by fundamentalism and ethnic strife. The same women from Pakistan who despaired of any kind of representation given the virulent opposition to it from fundamentalists in their country managed to inch their way to 22 per cent representation in their parliament. verbal support for it has come in wavering undertones from some parties (such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress). The entry of women into rural and urban local bodies forced activists to sit up and take stock of the ground reality in ways they never had to consider before. as it was referred to. the issue has brought women in the South Asian region closer through all the turbulence of the past two decades – military rule. a majority in the Constituent Assembly rejected a proposal for reservation for women. Meanwhile. which have consistently backed the demand. Women activists have made public their distaste for such “patriarchal” mindsets even as they have debated the question of patriarchy and searched for more nuanced definitions of it. Many of these women who were elected found themselves ill-equipped for the job.P a g e | 34 With the notable exception of the Left parties. They were forced to draw on whatever support was available. after the enactment of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in 1993. family or otherwise. while the opposition to it has been strident in others such as the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Indeed. the real push for reservation came from below. However. In fact.4 respectively. the struggle against monarchy. The highest representation of women was a dismal 9 per cent in the Lok Sabha in 1999 and 15. Furthermore. in 2005 the percentage actually came down to 8. in India. where the campaign has been stronger and more widespread.2 and 11. and leadership training camps even as they engage with the dilemmas and challenges that representative politics poses for the women’s movement within the context of globalisation and a state that is committed to a neoliberal economic agenda. the record is poor. Those contesting the local body elections were willy-nilly drawn into “party politics”. Push from below The women’s movement’s decision to foreground the demand for reservation in the 1990s marked a shift in stance as until that point it had upheld the historical legacy of the freedom struggle in respect of the rejection of reservation by the pre-Independence women’s movement. and even before they were given a chance to perform they were derided for being “proxies” and “rubber stamps”. Undoubtedly. There were ironies that emerged.

Positive outcome In fact. Further. criminals.P a g e | 35 Nevertheless. if India lives in its villages. along with power brokers. Consider. Despite the backlash. These powerful groups comprised contractor lobbies or land mafiabacked criminals who wished to corner funds allotted for development activity at the local level. clauses that sought details on criminal proceedings pending against them. before they could even contest they had to pass the test by fulfilling a long list of eligibility conditions. As if that was not enough. even as the demand for accountability and the right to recall State legislators and parliamentarians simply floundered. representatives of the women’s movement have assessed this experience positively and chosen to push for 33 per cent reservation in elected bodies at the higher levels too. details of outstanding or unpaid loans. they became subject to a clause imposing a two-child norm for elected representatives. extortionists. women elected to panchayat bodies faced an extraordinary backlash. criminal/sexual assaults on them or family members and. It was these deadly forces that these uninitiated women representatives of elective politics had to take on all at once. for instance. This. and adopted to dislodge them. After all. The social base of women entering these bodies has broadened and now includes a cross-section of women from under-privileged groups – those that suffer economic deprivation and social and caste discrimination. by those whose interests they threatened. To add to this. in some cases. indeed clauses that would make many a parliamentarian or legislator wince in guilt. This formed a part of the population policies adopted by many of the States and endorsed by the Supreme Court in its misplaced wisdom. New developmental priorities emerged with women entering panchayat bodies. the positive outcome of representation is evident at several levels. In several panchayats women faced no-confidence motions that were brought in. Women representatives’ refusal to comply with “instructions” given to them or to buckle under these pressures was met with no-confidence motions. reactionaries and militants. Some of them allied themselves with upper-caste sections who had hitherto enjoyed the benefits of these allocations. physical threats. conservatives. even as they juggled their “traditional” roles and new responsibilities. taking vested interests head-on. starting with enhanced participation and the emergence of women’s leadership at the level of local self-government. they plodded on. so does a significant section of its ruling elite. even murder. .

P a g e | 36 Thus the women’s movement’s subsequent demand for 33 per cent reservation in State legislatures and Parliament arose out of a recognition of positive interventions and of the experience of women members and chairpersons of panchayats in different States. . Sometimes the intensity of the conflict was greater in the supposedly backward States. uneven. and State. and its measurable success has strengthened the demand for reservation at higher levels. First. Given the context of this phase of politics. can the women’s movement in India afford to ignore the push coming from below for a more direct engagement in politics? Significant issues have been raised in the course of the debate around the Bill over the past decade. West Bengal and Kerala. can only women represent women? Or. These proposals raise more issues than they settle. on the issue of double-member constituencies. marked by the ‘end of ideology’. which conducts a continuous tirade against the “political class”. thus spreading a certain cynicism towards politics. the issue of quotas within the women’s quota. and even reservation within the list of candidates put up by parties. particularly amongst the Indian middle class. There have been suggestions for double-member constituencies. Maharashtra. can women not be represented by men? Such tokenism or biological essentialism can never be the terrain on which women can argue their case. it has enriched people-friendly governance. the wave of depoliticisation sweeping across the world since the 1990s has left the women’s movement in other parts of the world facing fragmentation – even disintegration – and certainly seeking fresh moorings. let us look at the number of proposals as alternatives to a reserved quota for women. and lastly. For instance. Broadly these relate to the mode of ensuring increased representation of women. Why is it important to place these facts on record? The pressure from below to engage with politics in a meaningful and positive way comes at a time when the elite classes of India are united in hijacking politics to serve their own vested interests. Although this experience has been varied. The delimitation exercise has already reached an advanced stage and it is simply not feasible to incorporate women’s reservation within its terms of reference. which will automatically improve women’s chances. for an increase in the overall number of seats in the course of delimitation. specifically Karnataka. the quantum of reservation and the manner of its implementation. Further.and locality-specific.

Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and minorities? The debate has privileged the issues of ‘non-homogeneity’ within women as a category and the politics of ‘presence’ in the context of the marginalised sections more sharply. and has built pressure on the women’s movement to be ever more sensitive to the histories of discrimination and exclusion on the basis of caste and religion. First. a quota for Dalit women will form part of the reservation for women as per constitutional norms. the importance attached to a candidate’s winnability by the party makes it unrealistic to expect that they will pay heed to such a proposal. they point out that while successive governments took the plea that they were waiting for a “consensus” to introduce the Bill. some have argued for a diluted demand. The second major objection to the Bill is more complex as it apparently uses a weapon from the arsenal of the women’s movement against itself. Why not settle for 15 per cent or even 20 per cent? some well-wishers ask. drafted along the lines of its recommendations. then what of the marginalised groups from amongst women? Can the goal of inclusiveness be achieved without inbuilt subquotas for Dalits. they have stood their ground on the principle of 33 per cent as it will provide the necessary critical mass for women to make an impact. OBC representation There are several issues involved here. If greater inclusiveness is a goal of reservation. Women activists have rightly said that the Bill. Secondly. given the wavering support for the Bill even among those who do not oppose it. why have those parties and forces that have used this as a plea to reject the Bill not placed before Parliament concrete proposals on reservation for OBC categories at a . it could spur efforts to scale down one-third reservation in local bodies as well. Secondly. Pro-reservation activists have stood their ground on two main counts. in the current situation of fractured mandates and coalition governments. be placed in Parliament and debated forthwith without any bargaining. Further. Two objections Opposition to the Bill has come up on two major grounds. which submitted its report in 1997 under the chairpersonship of the late Gita Mukherjee. First. First. the fact that the Bill had been referred to a Joint Select Committee.P a g e | 37 Whereas there is no disagreement with regard to parties putting up more women candidates. was conveniently buried. if there is a compromise here.

it is unclear whether this issue can be addressed within the purview of this Bill. The majority of women’s organisations today would. This has often brought them into conflict with fundamentalist forces from both within and outside minority communities. In other words. then who is responsible for blocking the entry of women from these sections coming into the same bodies? Finally. the reservation Bill cannot be a piece of catch-all legislation that should address all historical inequalities and challenges women face before it can settle the issue of women’s reservation. In fact. Conclusion The costs of being a female political leader were excessively high for the dead and are not getting less for the living: Indira was termed sexually frigid and a bad wife to her husband long before becoming the black widow of short story fame. No sign of female solidarity here. It has generated a significant political momentum. if OBC representation in representative bodies is going up.P a g e | 38 more general level? Also. it is in recognition of this reality that many women’s organisations have made concerted efforts to reach out to women from the minorities and other marginalised sections in an attempt to address the specific discriminations faced by women of these sections and to take forward the discussion on democratic rights. while it is true that majority fundamentalism has targeted and further alienated women belonging to religious minorities. Reservation for minorities is a matter that requires constitutional amendments of a more complex nature. As the Sachar Committee report highlights. why any woman would want to consent to enter politics at all under these circumstances. Sonia was fiercely attacked both before and after the elections with the fiercest attackers being BJP women: ‘she is not one of us’. and was rejected on the basis of a clear understanding of secularism and democracy. therefore. And yet they do. The demand for religion-based rights and reservation was debated at length when the Constitution was being drafted. In the event of its passage. One might wonder. The debate around the women’s reservation Bill has thrown up interesting questions. reject a demand for re-negotiating this issue. the problems of minority rights and reservation have to be addressed at multiple levels. it will .

transform the context and terms of representative politics itself. and progressive forces in general. inclusiveness and the right to dignity are to acquire real meaning. For those united in sharing a concern for India’s advance to a secular. socialist future. in the struggle for a more egalitarian and humane path of development to take India forward. This is necessary if social justice. hopefully. the principle of 33 per cent reservation for women will in time.P a g e | 39 create the conditions for meaningful interventions by women in particular. . going beyond the rhetoric of their use as mere slogans by those who often choose to stall parliamentary proceedings rather than focus on real issues.

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