How can India when Parliament can't respect women?

Women in this country are doomed if individuals such as Sharad Yadav are allowed to keep calling the shots.

 |  4-minute read |   22-03-2015
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Two days ago, a report in DNA revealed that most Indian businesses, and government workplaces had no mechanism for the proper redressal of women's complaints of sexual harrassment. This, a year after the Supreme Court laid down the Vishakha guidelines that included fines and withdrawal of licences preventing any business activity for repeat offenders. Bereft of a budget to address the requirements, the women's minister Maneka Gandhi said, her department will be taking up matters on a case-to-case basis when an incident of harassment occurred. Anything more sustainable was unaffordable. Like a hospital with no OPD, just an accident and emergency department (A&E).

In a separate event, last week, a certain member of the Rajya Sabha made a fool of himself saying the unsayable with the help of lewd actions. In time, the outrage became about Smriti Irani being insulted, before fizzling out completely. All we got was a whole lot of Sharad Yadav's bad attitude followed by a feeble apology addressed to the offended HR minister.

The Parliament is a place of worship for those who don't leave things to god and prefer certitude. Functioning governments are more goal-driven than god, though, run much like temples with a decorum laid down by our forebears. It is the rigmarole adopted by many countries' administrations. I am single, not poor by P Sainath's standards, child and mortgage-less, educated - not representative of the large majority of women in this country; more fortunate. I cannot imagine not having a vote. When I turned 18, only some countries in the Middle East and Samoa did not have a female suffrage. Saudi Arabia still does not. Yet, I see odds before me that are hard to overcome. Here I have enough available dots to join to see another audacious kind of disenfranchisement. Clearly, for women, having a vote has not been enough. But one thing is certain: Women in this country are doomed if individuals such as Yadav are allowed to keep calling the shots - as fathers, husbands, bosses, what have you. Systems, such as a Delhi bus, military forces, the Catholic church, capitalism, run almost entirely by men have catastrophic results for women and children who time and again seem incidental to so many bigger pictures.

While answering questions in the Rajya Sabha this week, Maneka Gandhi, said the ministry cannot do everything and there was a need for a people's movement for change. You see, women's struggles remain a firmly liberal battle because we are still trying to procure the basics. Are good manners at a workplace basic? Is aiding communication with a groping gesture to suggest "south Indian" voluptuousness lecherous, and does it go to show a bad attitude? It does not auger well for women's odds when a man makes an inappropriate joke in the beautiful language of the Lohia-ite heartland, as Shekhar Gupta audio-recognised and said defensively on Twitter. Call me fundamentalist but I think men like Yadav should be left to their shenanigans in a cattle pen.

Sadly, there was laughter not rotten eggs in the Chamber. If a people's movement really is required start there? Maybe, next time. Previously in the Upper House, Yadav had winkingly asked, what's a bit of stalking girls: We've all done it? Yeah, very Lohia-ite, indeed. The unholy hub of policymaking is full of lacto vegetarian, women-hating men who should only be trusted with cattle. There is no penalty for a little feudalist, misogynist, racist joke. Yadav suggested the BBC documentary was allowed to be made because the BBC's Leslee Udwin, India's Daughter's producer, was white. What's a little idle, even racist, chatter when foreign investment limits in insurance deals are being discussed, after all? And I don't care what Yadav said about Mahatma Gandhi's hair colour at the Rajya Sabha but being blonde has nothing to do with dogged journalism.

Realistically, can women's interests be represented in a democracy without them in Parliament, serving? If the men keep saming, the system ain't changing, to borrow from Nancy Sinatra. What of the "250 rapists in Parliament" brought up in the film? Indeed, what of them? Are they in any real danger of being hanged for their sexual offences? Or tried in a fast-track court? All very good points made by one, though bigoted, defence lawyer in the Nirbhaya trial? And if accused MPs' trials are fast-tracked it will just lead to quicker acquittals.

Systems do not exist for women. It's so easy to undermine democracy and women's place in it. In the Parliament, formidable as politicians the female members of Parliament may be. Not easy to put down, unless of course, the orders are from a Modi.


Divya Guha Divya Guha @divyaguha

Shillong-based journalist, poet and, hopefully, a little trouble.

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