Sunday, May 15, 2011

So many women in power; yet why is the plight of women so poor? And the role of media in bringing about socio-cultural change....

A lot of recent media stories have commented on the rise of women power recently. Apparently women CMs rule over one-third of the Indian population now. This is not the first time that women have been in power. Every time a new woman CM comes to power, the media exults. However, why is it that in spite of having had a powerful PM (Indira Gandhi), a powerful party chieftain (Sonia Gandhi), a powerful opposition leader (Sushma Swaraj) and several powerful CMs (Sheila, Maya, Vasundhara and Sushma Swaraj in the past, and now Jayalalitha and Mamata in the present), the plight of women remains so poor in our country? It’s important to answer this question. Because otherwise, the demand of women to reserve 33% seats in Parliament will fail to convince people about its need and efficacy. Do more women in power translate to more women empowerment?

I doubt it. Some of the states where women CMs have ruled in the past include UP (Suchitra Kripalani: 1960s for three and a half years; Mayawati – 4th term in progress), MP (Uma Bharati – 8 months), Orissa (Nandini Satpathi – 1970s for four and a half years), Assam (Syeda Anowara Taimur for 6 months), Punjab (Rajinder Kaur Bhattal for one year), Rajasthan (Vasundhara Raje for five years) and of course Bihar (Rabri Devi for about three years). These are amongst the worst states when it comes to women-inequality in society. Apart from these, there are only the examples of TN (Jaya for 10 years; starting 3rd term now) and Delhi (Sheila Dixit – 13 years and still going strong) – where one can say that women empowerment is slightly better off. But again, are women better off in these two states because of the work done by their women CMs? I don’t think so.

Maybe, by questioning what women in power have done for their own “praja”, I am being unfair. A similar question can be asked for men who have been in power as well: What have they done for society? I am not talking here of economic progress (a lot has been done on this front) but about socio-cultural development. It’s not that women alone ignore their constituencies; men do in equal measure.

Brings me to the basic crib of mine. That people in power like to be populist. Who wants to change “samaj”? One that has existed for thousands of years in this country? I can’t think of any leader in recent times who has fought to change orthodox social mores prevalent in this country for centuries. All of them want to appease the masses. Actually, I think the British did more to modernize our society than we have done ourselves. There are many “Shah Bano” like examples where a powerful PM (Rajiv Gandhi) decided to side with the voting masses rather than try and reform them. At present, I cannot think of any politician in Punjab and Haryana who is battling the khap panchayats. How many politicians dare to discuss the subject of reservations in education and government jobs....even though the original plan was to gradually taper the % of reservation down? In fact, most people in power want to increase the % of reservation and include more communities under the scheme to get further political gains. Just look at the Gujjar reservation issue in Rajasthan. Why couldn’t the political class have taken a harder stand against something that is so blatantly farcical?

This is the tragedy that our political system has wreaked on India. Being a politician is the toughest job in the country. You are constantly under scrutiny; you get paid a pittance; you are expected to raise finances for yourself and your party for contesting elections and you must make sure you don’t get branded corrupt in the process; you are constantly under public scrutiny; you are expected to take only right decisions.....a decision that goes wrong will immediately be attributed to personal corruption or inefficiency and are assumed guilty even before the trial begins. In an environment like this, PLU (people like us) shun politics. The best brains go into the private sector where working conditions are far better. Only the losers.....or those who have made it a family business enter politics. How can such people be good leaders?

That’s why I don’t consider Anna Hazare to be a leader. Has he ever gone on a fast against the corruption that exists in his followers? Against those in business who routinely bypass taxes? No. Gandhi used to do it. Many of his fasts were against his own people: admonishing them against untouchability, communal fights and the like. No one remembers this today.....we only think of him as having fought the Brits. But in reality, his fight was so much against his own community. That’s what makes him India’s biggest leader ever. That’s why any comparisons of Anna Hazare with Gandhi are just plain ignorance.

We need leaders with spines. Those who can take tough decisions. Nuclear power is required in this country. Land needs to be acquired for industries. Reservations must come down over time and the creamy layer must be excluded immediately. FDI is good....even in retail. The corrupt must be punished. Judicial reforms are much delayed. The time it takes to deliver judgments has to be reduced. Electoral reforms are absolutely critical. Society has to be reformed. Women need better treatment. The girl child cannot be sacrificed. The mother-in-law cannot stay the same forever (no matter what Ekta and her ilk would like us to believe). We Indians simply cannot remain stuck in our dogmatic past forever. The world is beckoning us.....should we not change and go for the embrace? Do we have politicians who can lead us as leaders should?

The real truth is that societal changes have lagged economic progress. We are growing rapidly in economic terms but are still as backward as ever in socio-cultural terms. Politicians will remain weak given the political system we have adopted. That’s why media must lead the social revolution. Rather than involve itself endlessly in one single matter – corruption – it must take on the mantle of leading social change. This is the role that media has shunned. It cannot simply be a mirror to society. It has to be in the vanguard of change. Will media rise to take up this responsibility? Or will it continue to pander to populism under the excuse of hyper competition???

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