Glass Ceilings Shroud The Grassroots
An open letter to Indian women, on the Reservation Bill
My dear Indian Women,
In this open letter, let us understand what we as a tribe have achieved so far. Our gender roles started way back in the dark ages, when we were first given passive parts to play.
We religiously obeyed the dictates, dutifully reared kids and preserved harmony. We stayed safe and sound within the walls of murky caves, while our courageous counterparts went out hunting into the sunshiny wild. We silently ran the agricultural show, planting crops, tilling the earth, grinding the grains into flour and keeping the hearth warm.
The aggressive clan, who considered themselves strong, labelled us weak because we were governed by our emotions. So they laid out virtuous rules of chastity, modesty, compassion, and piety. Rules that were applicable only for the slaves. Not the masters.
With time, our ‘stupidity’ increased as we decided to spread culture, ideas and knowledge, while the ‘intelligent’ ones continued to bring home the bacon.
During the medieval period, we were even subjected to cruel practices of Dowry, Sati, Purdah system, and polygamy, which we respectfully followed. Finally those of us, who recognised they were built of sterner stuff, decided to come out of the shadows of the dark and find their own sunny skies.
But guess what? Even though they did shatter a few glass ceilings, even today, at the grassroots, nothing much has changed. Except that the torch of struggle that the daring few lit, continues to burn bright with movements like ‘Me too’ ‘She too’ and ‘We too’.
History is witness to the constant flickers of the ‘torch’ in this long and tiring journey, where men are unwilling to hand over their ‘power’ and ‘rights’. Yes, we were given representations in village councils and Panchayats, but we were mere dummies, because the patriarchs ran the entire show.
Entry into Assemblies and Parliament was still a far cry. But we somehow got our first woman Prime Minister and more recently, our first tribal woman President. While the former managed to rap the knuckles of the common man during Emergency situations, the latter is but a rank that the head honchos continue to reap their caste and political capital from.
Thus underlining an unwritten law that whether at home or in the Parliament, some women should live as subjects of men for life.
But lo and behold! Suddenly We the Indian Women have been rewarded. Even though I don’t see Christmas around the corner, Santa has delivered a surprise package.
But first, let us know the history of this ‘gift’ called ‘The Women’s Reservation Bill’. Aided by elves and other supernatural beings, the work on it began in 1996. Similar versions of the bill for our ‘empowerment’ were introduced later in 1998, 1999, and 2008, but all four lapsed with the dissolution of those governments.
In those 25 years, each time it was up for discussion or passage, our Parliament witnessed high drama and hostile resistance. Ranging from derogatory, objectionable comments about women, to physical scuffles and ill-tempered debates, the bechara Bill has seen it all. But due to sheer lack of conviction, because Men lacked the strength to give up their seats, it continued to languish.
For the past ten years, barring token discussions on International Women’s Day, or used as a dangling carrot before elections, this ‘Womanifesto’ did not even feature prominently in the national political discourse. Everyone therefore assumed ‘yeh Bill toh paagal hai’. So they shoved it where it belonged- in an asylum of inactivity, to be brought out and applauded when the time was right.
Now is the time. Finally, our dream of achieving the biggest fight for women's rights so far, is about to come true. It is a historic moment.
But wait a second. Since Santa is delivering it, there has to be a ‘Clause’. In fact there are three clauses. Census, Quota and Delimitation. Therefore all these trivial technicalities make the Bill ‘null and void’. At least for the next few years. Wrapped in an alluring WOW package called ‘Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam’, the Bill has been passed. But it is impotent.
My dear, dear Women. There are three kinds of leaders. The Archaeologists, who keep digging and delving into the past; the Achievers, who act by plunging into the present; and the Artful Dodgers, who evade today to take refuge in the future.
So friends, it looks like the Bill is tabled for a ‘tomorrow’. But what if that tomorrow never comes? Kal kisne dekha hai? But then again, from what I’ve heard, the wise are known not to hurry history. So let us wait. And watch. We have waited for g.e.n.e.r.a.t.i.o.n.s. Right? So what’s a few more years?
A Common Woman
Cover Photograph Files - Geeta Mukherjee, the MP who led the battle for the womens reservation bill decades ago