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Insulate women’s bill from party politics

Sep 26, 2023 12:43 AM IST

The recent passage of the "Nari Shakti Vandan Bill" generates hope, but its timing raises questions about political motives

The stage was set. The anchor and three guests were ready. Cameras were set to roll. The audience included several luminaries of Uttarakhand. “Tell me something about your life’s journey,” the anchor asked one of the guests, Manisha Bora. “I have never been in such a setting and I don’t even know how to express myself properly,” she stuttered.

Lucknow: Women celebrate after the introduction of the Women's Reservation Bill, in Lucknow on Tuesday. (PTI) PREMIUM
Lucknow: Women celebrate after the introduction of the Women's Reservation Bill, in Lucknow on Tuesday. (PTI)

Wondering who Bora is, and why she is being mentioned here?

Bora, or “Swiggy Girl” as newspapers have named her, is a young woman from Rudrapur in Uttarakhand, who earns her keep as a food delivery partner and is bringing up her children. And, she was attending the “Hindustan Shikhar Samagam” in Dehradun.

On seeing her nervous, the audience started cheering Bora on and she went on to narrate her story. She had come to Rudrapur in search of a job but got only low-paying jobs involving hard labour. Then she came to know about Swiggy. She had learnt to ride a motorbike at a very young age and that skill landed her the food delivery partner job. As part of her work, she frequently has to ride up to Pant Nagar, a place about 15km from Rudrapur, and she often gets back home after midnight. But today she earns enough to run her family and support her children’s education.

The story of Kamla Devi, the second guest on the stage, was also equally inspiring. She runs a puncture repair shop in Nainital district. “I used to teach children to ride bicycles for a fee of 5 so that they could go to distant schools,” says Devi. She also used to fix punctured bicycle tyres for 10. This is where she got the idea to open a puncture-repair shop. Today, the shop she set up in collaboration with her husband mends punctures of everything from bicycles to heavy vehicles. There aren’t many women in this job, which is traditionally the fief of men.

“All kinds of people must be coming to your shop. Has anyone behaved inappropriately with you? How do you handle such situations?” the anchor asked Devi.

“I use a hammer to fix punctures and I always carry a hammer in my hand for such folks. They flee in terror,” Devi replied with a giggle.

Is this adequate?

Definitely not. India’s record on women has yet to live up to expectations. Atrocities against women are still common. Official statistics also disappoint. In such a setting, Manisha, Kamla, and women like them might show the way, but demands for further efforts from society and the government are still strong.

Last week, the Narendra Modi government generated new hope with the passage of the “Nari Shakti Vandan Bill” in Parliament. Earlier, major Opposition parties had sought the same thing from the government.

It is important to note that this has been attempted several times in the last 27 years, but each time the ruling party’s poor numerical strength proved to be stronger than its goodwill.

The question arises as to why this bill was introduced so close to the general elections. Did Prime Minister Modi wish to undertake anything comparable in the new Parliament House building under his leadership, as Jawaharlal Nehru did immediately after Independence?

The Opposition claims that this is a political bet. Remember that in a democracy, all politicians and parties compete to win elections to execute their ideologies. Before the last elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) resolved to repeal Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, which it did as soon as it returned to power. This time, during the debate, home minister Amit Shah told Parliament that by taking the necessary action shortly after 2024, this amendment will be enacted by 2029.

Are the present government in New Delhi and the BJP organisation convinced that the party is going to win the 2024 general election? Similar remarks were made five years ago.

This may be part of their campaign strategy. They seek to convince people that the upcoming election results are going in their favour and that they should not fall into the traps of rivals.

The Opposition recognises the stakes, but the rights of half the population should not be regarded as a part of politicians’ snakes and ladders. It would be unfair to further delay this stalled decision.

If PM Modi becomes successful in taking this issue to a logical conclusion, its impact will be as far-reaching as Jawaharlal Nehru’s quotas for Scheduled Castes and Tribes and VP Singh’s reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC).

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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