In January 2014, Rahul Gandhi, Congress Party’s beloved prince charming and now President, who was then their vice president and face of the impending Lok Sabha election campaign, was interviewed by Arnab Goswami. The Lok Sabha elections were just months away and the interview had profound importance. Rahul Gandhi’s answers, which later became the subject of endless memes and social media jokes, had one common phrase repeated continuously, “women empowerment” and the Congress Party’s commitment to it. But sadly, what exactly were his party’s plans to empower women were never specified.
The official website of the Indian National Congress has a whole page dedicated to Congress’s role in Women Empowerment in India. The article begins with the United Nation’s definition of Women Empowerment and proceeds to describe how Mahatma Gandhi thought the idea that women should be limited to domestic work is nothing but barbarism and goes ahead to loud the Congress’s role in getting women involved in political movements during the freedom struggle. While the involvement of women in Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘freedom struggle’ was visible, it, by no means can claim the involvement of women in freedom struggle an exclusive Congress contribution. Rani Laxmibai and her army of fighting brave women were not the members of Congress party.
If one tries to study the Congress’s entire narrative of being the forebearers of women empowerment, it actually centres around one figure, Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of India. But let us be practical here, did Indira Gandhi spend a lifetime working in grassroots level politics? Did she rise in ranks from a base level political worker to the Prime Ministerial candidate? Did she strive hard to connect with the masses and served at different levels of governance? No. The answer to all these questions is ‘no’. Indira Gandhi merely inherited her illustrious father’s legacy. Inheritance is not Empowerment. Prime Ministership was served to Indira Gandhi on a silver platter.
It is almost funny that how all the arguments of the Congress regarding their contribution to women empowerment is centred around Indira Gandhi. Her cabinets never had any notable women as a cabinet minister. There have been some Ministers of States but her regime did not see another major female political leader emerging or given a substantial role of a Union Minister. Sushila Nayyar was health minister for a year, but she was sacked soon.
It is a sad irony that the members and supporters of Congress never hesitate before sharing derogatory remarks and cheapest of insults for a female cabinet minister because she belongs to another party.
The biggest hole on the Congress’s claim to being pioneers of women empowerment in India was the Shah Bano case. While the Supreme Court of India had granted Shah Bano the right to maintenance, the Rajiv Gandhi led Congress government in the centre succumbed to the possible confrontations from the Muslim Personal Law Board. Rajiv Gandhi’s government passed a law in the name of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 and basically reversed the Supreme Court Verdict. The SC verdict that could have been the harbinger of equal rights to all Muslim Women as the rest of the women of this country was overturned in the name of Muslim appeasement.
The hollowness of the congress’s claims to women empowerment was once again visible when the Narendra Modi led government batted for the abolition of Triple Talaaq in a bid to empower Muslim women who were being given triple talaq for frivolous reasons and being rendered homeless. Congress not only tried to stall the bill and often displayed double standards, senior Congress leaders even tried to justify their opposition to the bill in ridiculous ways.
In fact, Congress’s efforts to empowering women are often found being limited to photo ops and token gestures. Rahul Gandhi highlighted the plight of Maharashtra cotton farmer Kalavathi in his parliament speech, Kalavathi was granted a cash deposit by an NGO, but did that solve the problems that thousands of other women face? No, it did not.
Making an old acquaintance like Pratibha Patil the President does nothing to the cause of Indian women. Especially when she reduces her post to a mere formality while wasting tax payer’s money in funding useless foreign trips for her extended family. Majority of Indian women live in poor, rural India. Empowerment is taking development to their doorstep. Empowerment happens when the common Indian woman has the power of economic freedom and when the poor woman does not have to suffer from lung disorders due to wood smoke, empowerment happens when urban women can travel anywhere without the fear of getting molested by street goons. Somehow, in all these years of ruling the country, the Congress has failed to make these basic changes possible.
It is a matter of shame that after all these years, 80%of the Indian women did not have bank accounts. Its only after the PM Modi’s Jan Dhan Yojna drive that India can now boast of a majority of its poor population not only of having access to direct monetary transfers of several government led schemes , but also of women being in control of their finances. 50% of Jan Dhan account holders are women, women who now have the key to economic inclusion.
Women become empowered when they have freedom and means to be independent. When they find resources available to hone their skills and talent and are able to be a part of the county’s economy. Priyanka Vadra making an appearance in a rally does not uplift women. She has never worked for a day in her life and she has no talent to inspire women of the country, well, apart from showcasing how to look gorgeous in a saree. It only uplift’s Congress hollow agenda of photo-op politics. The Mudra Yojna is something that has helped countless women gain access to financial resources to become entrepreneurs. That is something that the ruling party is expected to do. Sadly the Congress has spent more time gushing over the pampered children of a dynasty than address the real issues of Indian women.
Let us take a small example. Till 2016, it was compulsory for a single mother to mention the name of the father of her child in order to apply for a passport. Imagine a woman, who is raising a child all on her own having to answer questions regarding the child’s father while filling out a form for her child’s passport. How empowered would she feel then? When, dispite all she has done, all she is doing, all by herself, is reduced to the name of a man who is, for whatever reasons no longer in the picture? It was only in December 2016 that the Ministry of External Affairs declared that was not necessary anymore. It took a female cabinet minister to identify and address the problem and make necessary changes. It was only after Nirmala Sitharaman became the Defence Minister that the issue of women officers not getting their promotions due to faulty government decisions was addressed and the women officers were granted what was rightfully theirs.
Sadly all the talks of the Congress about women’s liberation from social and economic woes appear only as an electoral propaganda tool. Rahul Gandhi has been an MP for more than a decade. But it is Smriti Irani who has taken any significant step towards the economic development of women in Amethi, his own constituency. And how do Congress leaders acknowledge that? By mocking and making sexist remarks as usual.
Dear Smriti Irani Ji,
I hope for once you will take a stand and not follow the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s advice & get ‘Girls’ to sell the ‘Pickles’ so that it sells out faster!! https://t.co/qsP2bRBvhl
— Radhika Khera (@Radhika_Khera) February 16, 2018
As far as women empowerment is concerned, there are still vast roads to cover for India, we still have a lot of challenges to face. But when Congress boasts of it, it is nothing but a hollow propaganda tool. They have sounded the same trumpet before every election and forgot their promises after they have won. They remained in power for more the majority of India’s independent history but sadly due to their culture of sycophancy and dynasty centric policies they have failed Indian women.