Poonam Kaushik, a lawyer in the Unnao rape case and a member of Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan (PMS), is contesting in the Delhi Assembly Election from Shalimar Bagh constituency. It is the only constituency with five women candidates in contest, including two from prominent political parties - incumbent MLA Bandana Kumari from AAP and Rekha Gupta from BJP. While Kaushik is contesting independently, she claims that she is a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist- Leninist) New Democracy which encompasses PMS.
Talking with SheThePeople before the election in an exclusive interview for the series #WomenAndTheVote, she opens up on the infrastructural lapses, when it comes to women's safety in Delhi, need for workers in the unorganized sector to be given the appropriate amount of minimum wage pay and reduced ratio of children is to teachers in the education sector for better distribution of education. The 48-year-old advocate says that she has had a political upbringing, as growing up she was an avid participant of street plays on people's struggles and issues.
आज Haiderpur गांव, खादर, अम्बेडकर नगर,शालामार गांव में चुनाव प्रचार किया गया— Poonam kaushik (@KaushikPms) February 2, 2020
शालीमार बाग विधान सभा क्षेत्र,चुनाव निशान ईंटे, भाकपा माले न्यू डैमोक्रेसी उम्मीदवर एडवोकेट पूनम कौशिक। pic.twitter.com/PHVXoAMQRD
"I have also been actively involved in student politics being an ex-convenor of Progressive Democratic Students union within the Delhi University so politics has always been a pertinent part of my life. My entire life, I have stood up for the politics of the marginalized and a politics that's more people-oriented and not dynast-oriented. For the mere fact that dynasty politics has never reaped any benefits for the people on the grassroots, I used to tell people to hit NOTA (None Of The Above) while voting. But this time, I decided to contest in this election from Shalimar Bagh to make a positive move forward in order to change the system and represent the marginalized in the assembly," says Kaushik.
All these parties promote and defend patriarchy. Since they nurture the ideology of patriarchy, they will never pass the bill to reserve women's quota in parliament.
Contesting independent and women's representation in politics
Despite the concerted efforts to increase women's political representation, national political parties barely give tickets to women and the bill to pass reservation of women in parliament remains untabled despite a majoritarian government. Kaushik voices her disenchantment with political parties as she says, "All these parties promote and defend patriarchy. Since they nurture the ideology of patriarchy, they will never pass the bill to reserve women's quota in parliament. Initially, they would say they don't have a majority. Now they do but still, they wouldn't table the bill. They don't even give candidacy to women. They just don't want women to become gender-conscious."
She speaks on the issues her constituency is facing, "There are so many women who have cleared competitive exams and yet they are unemployed. In schools, there are over 60 children in one class and practically, it is impossible for one teacher to deal with 60 students. There are a lot of qualified teachers available who are needed in government schools but the government is not appointing them."
Issues in schemes of the current government
She argues against free bus ride scheme for women pointing out that the women working such as unskilled labourers in industrial areas mostly don't have bus services to the last mile. "They either walk or take battery rickshaw and tempos which aren't free so how is it that their services are reaching to the women they expected would be benefitted by their scheme? Secondly, the minimum wage for unskilled labour fixed by the government is Rs 9,750 per month. Why is it that the Delhi government is paying its unskilled labour a lesser amount. Currently, it is paying men between Rs 6000-Rs 7000 for their 12-hour job and they pay women for the same job Rs 5000, why this gender wage gap?" Kaushik asks hitting out on the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party.
Unnao Rape Case and structural issues
On fighting the Unnao rape case she reveals how she and her team went on the ground to Unnao where the whole episode took place in 2018. "When we went there we realized how feudal governance plays out in the villages of UP. I have been assisting the lawyer in Supreme Court, Advocate RK Reddy and the lawyer in the trial court, Advocate Dharmendra Kumar Mishra. But we see that to fight crimes against women, despite the fact that there are fast-track courts, there is a huge lack of staff in these courts which is why cases don't get taken up. A case of rape, sexual assault etc. shouldn't have to garner media attention for it to be taken up for day-to-day hearings. Women's safety cannot be talked about in isolation of court staff, lack of judges, infrastructure etc," she adds.
We see that to fight crimes against women, despite the fact that there are fast-track courts, there is a huge lack of staff in these courts which is why cases don't get taken up. A case of rape, sexual assault etc. shouldn't have to garner media attention for it to be taken up for day-to-day hearings.
Her topmost priority, if she wins the election, would be to build creche-cum-day-care facilities in industrial areas where women who work in unorganized sector can leave their children when they are off to work. "I also want to implement the minimum wage policy without corruption for workers in my constituency and whichever industry doesn't comply with it must be taken action against. Apart from this, I will also work to bring free washroom facilities for women and improving education amongst women. I also want to reduce the teacher-student ratio so teachers can teach children better. Lastly, I will work to appoint more doctors in mohalla clinics so the issue of mohalla clinics closing down after 3 p.m. can be dealt with,' says Kaushik, a resident of Model Town area.