As the Tricolour unfurled in all its glory at the ramparts of the Red Fort, a nation of a billion-plus people listened to the address of the 4th longest serving Prime Minister of our country with a sense of anticipation. In 2014, he came with a promise of providing equal opportunity to fellow Indians, a proclamation of minimum government and maximum governance and a resolve to not only challenge but also change the status quo.
Since then, for the past 6 years the Prime Minister of India has not limited his efforts to public discourse; instead has diligently dedicated each day of his 6 year journey in office to living up to every expectation, every promise made to the citizens of India. Never before has a Prime Minister ignited the Nation’s imagination on large infrastructure projects, espoused economic measures, presented publicly the implementation pathways and successes backed by data and in equal measure given prominence to welfare programs which touch upon the basic needs of the ordinary Indian.
Many a female politicians, activists who study each program of the Government from the lens of gender justice have found solace in the unabashed support of the Prime Minister to the national purpose of women led development. I recall the clarion call given by the PM from the ramparts of the Red Fort to help build toilets to facilitate the lives of women especially school going girls.
That our Nation was bereft of a solution to basic human need in over 6 decades of democratic churn did not astound anyone; in fact it was accepted as a way of life if you were born poor. 11 crores toilets built in the past 6 years bridged the gap between administrative laxity to service the needs of the poor and the desire of a multitude to live a life of dignity.
Today, I heard the Prime Minister speak of the service rendered by Jan Aushadi Kendras with regards to menstrual hygiene products and sale of 5 crore sanitary pads at the cost of rupee 1 each. From toilets to sanitary pads, a public declaration of services, support and a promise that women’s issues need to be discussed threadbare, has become the mainstay of this government.
Truth be told, if ever a left liberal was asked about the administrative capacity of the right wing to address the needs of modern Indian women, they would paint our ability to deliver on issues of gender justice with a brush of disdain. Thrust with untruths of how the right wing are proponents of a regressive approach on women, the 6 year journey of Narendra Modi’s prime minister-ship is an example to the contrary.
The fact that it is under his leadership that the Nation’s first ever Menstrual Hygiene Protocol, was shared to aid administrative endeavours, does not find a mention in narratives that critique gender issues is not surprising. Neither is his decision to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act which aligns reproductive rights of Indian women with 21st century medicine oft spoken of.
But then that has been the underlying essence of the politics of Narendra Modi, he serves so that he can better the prospects of our citizenry and not so that he is celebrated in the hallowed halls of Lutyens. A testimony to his capacity to engage with challenges which are otherwise considered harbinger of political disconcertion is his Government’s approach to addressing the needs of Muslim women in our country.
For decades Indian polity steadfastly refused to provide to legislative solutions to married Muslim women abandoned under the pretext of Triple Talaq as the cost of delivering justice was hefty considering its impact on an electorally profitable vote bank. The law to banish the injustice of triple talaq from the realms of our democracy is an assertion that Narendra Modi can bite the proverbial political bullet irrespective of its political cost for he truly believes in justice for all and appeasement of none.
Additionally, with a sense of delivering societal & economic justice, today we proudly proclaim that amongst the 25 crore MUDRA loans given, 70% of our beneficiaries are women. That of the 40 crore Jan-dhan accounts opened 22 crore belong to women, that when the Government under PM Modi’s leadership revisits an education policy after 3 decades; it finds in it for the first time ever a special effort made under the aegis of Gender Inclusion Fund to financially assist academic aspirations of our young girls encapsulating the spirit of cooperative federalism which manifested itself in support of our school going daughters by building toilets across all government schools in the country in less than a year.
The fact that he not only enabled but celebrated the role of women in combat roles in our armed forces gives way to a social acceptance that Indian women are no longer considered less than equal. They are an equal partner, an equal contributor in the development processes we undertake as a Nation.
Today, as the Prime Minister waved goodbye to the young assembled to celebrate this day of Independence, I saw hope for the future; for the change he has ushered in has helped evolve a new disposition in our country – no longer will women in our Nation be looked upon as hapless counterparts waiting to be administratively and socially rescued. A new India now has significantly moved from Women’s development to Women-led development.
The article was authored by Smt. Smriti Irani, Union Cabinet Minister for Textiles and Women & Child Development.