“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress its women have achieved.”

-Dr Ambedkar

With these words, Dr BR Ambedkar, the chairman of the drafting committee of our Constitution, had set the criterion through which one must judge the progress of any community. Clearly, the progress of a nation depends on the position of its women. How far have we moved forward since we achieved Independence? How far have we been successful in providing equality and freedom to women as envisioned in our constitution for every citizen of the country? In what follows, I will be discussing not the symptoms of inequality and unfreedom, which often manifests as violence, but rather I will ponder on how the political culture of our country is acting as a guard to protect, shape, and reinforce inequality. A discussion on the political culture will help us provide an entry point for discussing the subject of Women and Politics in our country.

I must begin by discussing the two incidents of rape that shook the entire country. The reason why I am mentioning these cases specifically is that the aftermath of the incident witnessed the political elites not just shunning the victims and undermining the rule of law they were supposed to uphold but also siding with the perpetrators of violence. While in Kathua, we saw for the very first time in the history of our country that the elected representatives came out to defend the rape accused, whereas in Unnao, the accused himself came from the ruling party. Not only were rallies taken out in the name and honour of the accused but also a condemnation of those who demanded justice for the victims was seen everywhere. Thus, with the charged political climate and with impending national elections due in 2019, what is worrying is how the discourse around women has taken a new low.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The denial of crime against women by the legislatures provides a sense of legitimization to the acts.
  • In the past few years, women are regularly trolled, given rape and murder threats for expressing their opinions and free will online.
  • The perception that politics is an all ‘boys field’ can be seen clearly from the fact that sons are seen as heirs of father’s political throne.
  • Lack of family and community support acts as a hurdle especially for those women who come from non-political backgrounds.
  • A woman in politics becomes a vulnerable target in India’s politics which is marked by widespread violence and routine involvement of Police and courts.

Persistence of culture of violence

Clearly, taking a cue from the above-mentioned instances, the denial of crime against women by the legislatures provides a sense of legitimization to the acts. We also witnessed the way mainstream media collaborated further to delegitimize the victim’s testimony by claiming it as false. This constant bickering, denials, victim blaming, suppression provides fodder to the cycle of endless violence while guaranteeing political and legal impunity to the accused. We also saw a man who goes by Girish Maheshwari as his name threatened to rape eight-year-old daughter of Congress leader, Priyanka Chaturvedi.

In the past few years, women are regularly trolled, given rape and murder threats for expressing their opinions and free will online. The internet troll who can be categorized as a ‘harasser’ is just part of the large epidemic of our existing culture. As discussed above, the culture I talk about includes a culture where politicians routinely defend rapists, where the media pays more attention to what a woman politician chooses to wear rather talk. Where the parameters of performance for both men and women are kept different and women are expected to ‘put extra effort’ to match up with her male counterpart and comments made against women can easily pass as sexual innuendos. Even the Bangladesh Prime Minister had to face an unsavoury comment made by the Prime Minister of India, that ‘despite being a woman’ she acted strongly against the terrorists. This makes it difficult for women who are in politics to sustain in this unequal culture.

Masculine model of politics in India:

The politics in India is masculine in culture as it is seen as a battle between ‘men’. Here, a 56-inch chest is revered and celebrated and a ‘bhai’ can get the work done with his all-male gang. The system is so incapable of defending itself that one needs a ‘superman’ to fix it and the lack of faith in the institutions requires an iron hand to get things done. The gender gap in the society is reflected within the political parties as very few are either headed by women and even those who are present in the political parties are side-lined and presented as someone’s ‘daughter’ and ‘wife’. The perception that it is an all ‘boys field’ where women can play a second fiddle can be seen clearly from the fact that sons are seen as heirs of father’s political throne and not daughters. Women are seen as unfit for these roles and are denied tickets to contest elections. The prevailing cultural roles associated with Indian women act as a major barrier for women to enter politics.

The perception that it is an all ‘boys field’ where women can play a second fiddle can be seen clearly from the fact that sons are seen as heirs of father’s political throne and not daughters.

My experiences as a woman in politics

As a woman who is invested in politics, I believe the lack of family and community support is another factor that acts as a hurdle for many women to take on political roles, especially for those women who come from non-political backgrounds. This accompanies with the fear of something ‘bad’ that might happen to them.

I will recount an incident that happened to me in February while I was a panellist at an event organized by ‘SheThePeople.TV’ in collaboration with Google. The event was part of their digital dialogue series where they encouraged women who had faced harassment online to share their experiences. In the event after, I had shared my experiences, on how as women activists we are trolled, abused and harassed online for expressing our differing opinions, my presence was termed as ‘objectionable’ and I was almost at the fence of being physically attacked by the members of the student’s group ABVP. I had to spend my time in the police station after the event to get FIR registered against them. Later I found that a counter FIR against my name was registered by them to the Delhi Police and the Police didn’t even bother informing me. It is one of the incidents where I was attacked.

The campus politics reflects and is a microcosm of the larger national politics in India.

Another incident which still has an impression on me was in 2017 when we had organized a talk in Delhi University on the topic of ‘Idea of University’. The event saw a disruption and I was pushed by a mob of members belonging to ABVP. Not to deny that the incidents are a result of political enmity but when seen from the perspective of a woman it leaves a deeper impact on her and her family regarding her safety and well being. Also, these incidents have a hidden agenda of threatening women and to exclude her from participating in politics. The campus politics reflects and is a microcosm of the larger national politics in India. A woman in politics becomes a vulnerable target in India’s politics which is marked by widespread violence and routine involvement of Police and courts.

Beside this, I have seen women being commented upon their ‘dress’ and ‘looks’. A woman politician is expected to look presentable and beautiful. Also, it is not uncommon that a woman politician is easily termed as a slut or a whore and subjected to character assassination so to delegitimize her. Rather to debate with her, it is seen as a way out to call her names and put an end to it.

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I believe today, when our basic rights guaranteed by the constitution are under immense threat of extra-vigilante groups, which are run by state support; it is time that women increase their political participation and demand equal representation, and accountability. The politicians must start with ending primary membership of those party members who routinely blame women for rape and support rape accused. In the next year when India goes to Lok Sabha polls, it is time we, the women take the reins in our hands and represent ourselves.

Kawalpreet Kaur is a student at Law Faculty, DU and she is also the President of AISA. 

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