On the surface, everything looks perfect. India's most powerful woman is Sonia Gandhi, chief of the ruling Congress party. The speaker of the parliament Meira Kumar and the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj are also women. Chief Ministers of Delhi, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu--Sheila Dixit, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa are women. But, why are issues related to women never figure in the political discourse of our country?
Moreover, what seems to be the greatest paradox is that in spite of so many women politicians holding powerful positions, whenever women face crises, they are the last one to speak for them? Be it recent spate of rape cases in Haryana or Women's Reservation Bill, women leaders are hardly seen talking about subjects related to womenfolk of the country. It is true that only women leaders cannot be expected to speak on behalf of Indian women, but it is shocking to see women politicians leave suffering women in lurch.
Will ever women politicians speak for their own sisters?
Women politicians and their legacy
India's first female Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was born with a silver spoon. After the death of her father and country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, it was obvious that the mantle of Congress would be handed over to his only daughter. Similarly, rise of Sonia Gandhi, daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi and wife of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is no surprising. But, rise of Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and Dalit-leader Mayawati have left many baffled. Experts say rise of Mayawati and Mamata in Indian political map is nothing less than "impressive".
Analysts say political empowerment of women is a remarkable achievement. Experts suggest that with improvement in female literacy rate, more and more women are likely to join politics.
Women politicians and women's issues
General expectation is that women politicians would give voice to issues related to women. But, on the contrary, most of the women politicians try their level best to stay away from women's issues. The fact is that women politicians like Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati have never identified themselves with women related subjects. Moreover, most of the time they have played down their identity as women too. Many women politicians have portrayed themselves as more aggressive and dynamic personalities to stay away from anything that could be easily identified with feminine traits.
Why women politicians end up blaming women only?
Isn't it shameful that when women are subjected to worst of violence, our women leaders don't speak openly in support for the victims? Rather recent trends show that our women politicians have blamed women themselves for becoming victims of rapes. Take the case of West Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata had openly declared that the rising number of rape cases in the state was a "political conspiracy" against her government. She had also shamelessly stated that rape cases are on a rise in the country because men and women interact with each other more freely now. "Earlier, if men and women would hold hands, they would get caught by parents and reprimanded but now everything is so open. It's like an open market with open options," she said.
Even Sonia Gandhi made some insensitive statement in regard to the recent rise in rape cases in Haryana. Sonia might have went and met rape victims, but was clearly not sensitive enough when she said, "It (rape) is not just restricted to Haryana alone. It is happening everywhere across the country."
Are women's rights issues unpopular politics?
The answer is a big yes. Otherwise, why Women's Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill is still pending?
Women's Reservation Bill proposes to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33 per cent of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The Upper House Rajya Sabha passed the bill on Mar 9, 2010. However, the Lower House Lok Sabha has not yet voted on the bill.
Not only male politicians have severely protested against the passing of the bill, but women leaders too have failed to show their strong support for 33 per cent reservation for women. Quota system is not new to Indian politics. But why there is always a stiff resistance when it comes to passing the Women's Reservation Bill?
Even executive director of the United Nation Women Michelle Bachelet had strongly batted for enacting law giving reservation to women in Parliament.
Referring to the Women's Reservation Bill, she said, "The world is waiting to see the outcome" and "if it becomes law, it could potentially lead to one of the most significant changes in India since independence in 1947."
Are Indian politicians listening?
Why women politicians are merely humans and not goddesses?
Otherwise, why women politicians are not immune to corruption charges? Like their male brethrens, women politicians too have been accused of corruption. Right from Jayalalithaa to Mayawati, scandals have hounded women leaders of India.
Describing the entire matrix of corruption, senior journalist MJ Akbar said, "To suggest that women in power will be less corrupt is fatuous and contrary to all prevalent evidence."
Historian Ramachandra Guha says the rise of women in powerful political roles does not mark a "new age" of gender equality. The reasons for their rise, he says, may be personal (their courage and drive) or historical (the impact of a generations of reformers) or political (universal adult franchise). Whatever the reason is and whatever its consequences, he says, the phenomenon is noteworthy.
Women leaders at the grassroot level
The United States has hailed the measures taken by India to include women in governance by giving them reservation in local bodies.
"I was impressed at the measures taken by the Government of India to include women in governance through requirements for one-third representation of women in the legislature and one-half representation in their local governing bodies, panchayats," said Reta Lewis, Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs.
However, reality is different. There is no doubt reservation of seats in village councils and municipalities is a huge boost to women empowerment. However, in many states, it is the spouses and male relatives who as proxies actually run the system.
Lessons to be learnt from neighbour Pakistan
We will say that position of women in terror-stricken Pakistan is worse. But to have a youngster like teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai who took bullets in her head and bring into forefront issues like girls' education is nothing sort of an achievement. She was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban after demanding education for women in her home country recently.
Malala started her activism by writing for BBC under a pseudonym, Gul Makai.
Her weekly urdu blog started in late 2008. It proved to be such a hit, the blog was translated into English.
"Her writings were non-political, but clearly reflected her desire for female education. They mostly talked about her school, studies, life at home and friends. Neither she nor her father was paid," wrote Jon Williams, BBC world news editor.
In Jan 2009, Malala wrote in her blog for BBC.
"I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms and come to school wearing normal clothes instead. So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses. During the morning assembly, we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to it."
"Malala's diaries were published for 10 weeks. The diaries stopped when Malala and her family left the Swat valley before the launch of a military operation in May 2009. That was end of her association with the BBC," added Williams.
It is true that blogging about topics related to women cannot change the fate of millions of suffering women. We need strong will on part of our leaders, irrespective of their gender to bring change for women. Or is it time for re-starting feminism in India, which has taken a backstage in the last decade?