"The character of a woman and the destiny of a man are such that even Gods cannot say anything about them. Why talk of human beings?"
Deputy chief minister Hari Shankar Babu's reply on the floor of the Rajasthan Assembly (In reply to protests over rape of a woman)
Not surprising then that members of the BJP front should take it upon themselves to talk loosely of Sonia Gandhi, the probable Prime ministerial candidate. For Sharad Yadav she is probably the archetypal parkatti, Pramod Mahajan, the BJP Minister for Information and Broadcasting likens her to Monica Levwinsky(with no explanation of why they should consider her worthy of abuse either), Defense Minister George Fernandes passes his verdict that she has no contribution to make to India except having given birth to Rajiv Gandhi's children, and DMK Chief minister now in the BJP front predicts the alliance between Jayalalitha and Sonia cannot last because like the proverbial two women story they will be soon at each others throats, etc. The Sangh Parivar campaign in their own "model" state of Gujarat has described her as uneducated, 'matric pass', and a club singer (all categories of people which presumably they consider as unworthy) Ms Jayalalitha, Ms Rabri Devi, and Mamta Banerjee have been the butt of jokes and innuendoes all of last year. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has, in election rallies, made salacious references to women in public life. Among those he made remarks about were veteran Gandhian Ushabehn Mehata, socialist Mrinal Gore and the fiery CPI(M) leader Ahilyatai Rangnekar. It is all right for the Sangh Parivar to use a Sadhvi Rithambra or an Uma Bharti to spew hatred and vengeance against the minorities, but the mass of women are to be kept in their places- in their homes, or at best encouraging men to greater glories and revenge in the service of Hindutva. There is a measured appeal to women reminiscent of Nazi Germany. The self-styled guardians of Indian culture have in fact developed this duality into a fine art and made it integral to the rough and tumble of politics. Clearly women's demand for 33% reservation (affirmative action) in Parliament and their increasing visibility on the national scene have something to do with the new wave of attacks. We give below the text of an appeal to national political parties from women's organisations, and a memorandum by them to the chief Election Commissioner demanding a gender sensitive code of conduct during the forthcoming elections. The organisations concerned are the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), the largest women's organisation in India, with over a …million membership), All India Women's Conference, Centre For Women's Development Studies, Joint Women's Programme, Mahila Dakshata Samiti, National Federation of Indian Women, YWCA of India.
Party manifestos and agendas for the forthcoming elections:
Appeal to national political parties from women's organisations
We on behalf of several national women's organisations address this memorandum to you in the context of the forthcoming elections to the Lok Sabha. We have to confess in all honesty that our belief and indeed the belief of large sections of women throughout the country in the seriousness with which political parties view their own manifestos has been severely eroded in the light of our bitter experience over the violation of the assurance for the passage of the one third reservation Bill. However, election manifestos have their own importance in focusing on issues of national concern, interest and debate. As citizens women have wide concerns, which require articulation, and which we hope will find reflection in your election manifestos. Most political parties have a separate paragraph for what they consider "policies for women." We however believe that each section in the manifesto as for example, economic policies, education, health other important issues should include specific commitments to women's concerns within the general framework, apart from any separate section you may like to have. Our appeal is based on the understanding that issues commonly described as women's issues are mainstream issues which should form part of the national political agenda. In this context we make this appeal to you to include the following policy commitments in your manifestos.
In view of the increasing assaults on the minorities, the violation of constitutional guarantees for the protection of pluralist cultures in India, the increasing intervention in public and community life of religious fundamentalists of different denominations
We ask for
A commitment to secularism, communal harmony and peace and against the mixing of religion and politics ; stringent and strict punishment to all those guilty of communal assaults and inciting hatred among communities starting with an assurance of punishment to those named in the Srikrishna report into the Mumbai riots.
In view of the testing of nuclear bombs by both India and Pakistan and the real dangers of a nuclear arms race in the sub continent which will be disastrous for the peoples of both countries
We ask for
A commitment against nuclear weaponisation while resisting pressures from Western countries to sign unequal treaties.
In the economic sphere, in view of the adverse impact of the policies of liberalisation and so-called economic reform on the poorer sections of our people particularly women who constitute the vast majority of our population
We ask for:
Strict price control of essential commodities and no administered price hikes of these commodities.
An end to the policies of indiscriminate privatisation, of cuts in social sector spending and in policies which have severely eroded the food security of our people A commitment to strengthen the public distribution system and cheap foodgrains and essential commodities at controlled prices
Implementation of land reforms and land distribution to the landless who are mainly SCs, STs and oppressed castes with equal pattas for women Targetted increase for iobs/incomed work for women.Comprehensive legislation for social security including minimum and equal wages legislation for agricultural workers and in the unorganised and homebased sector where the large majority are women. Easy access to credit for women entreprenuers. Special provisions for vocational training.
Universalisation of child care services and an end to privatisation of anganwadis and other such social services
Increase in budget allocations to health and education with emphasis on female literacy particularly in tribal and scheduled caste dominated areas. Delinking health concerns from population policies with emphsais and budgetingfor ensuring minimum health services .
In view of the pending conditions of the WTO which severely erode the economic soveregnity of the country.
We ask for
A commitment for protection of national economic sovereignity against the indiscriminate entry of foreign capital including of protecting the insurance sector from MNCs; of protecting the present Indian patent regime; of protecting the interests of Indian farmers against the conditionalities imposed by the WTO for cuts in subsidies and mandatory import of foodgrains.
In the political sphere, in view of the failure to adopt the Women's Reservation Bill, as well as the inability to fulfil the urgent need of electoral reforms
We ask for
An unambiguous commitment for passage of the Women's Reservation Bill without any diversion or dilution of the present draft legislation
A declared policy decision to increase the number of women in decision making bodies in political parties at all levels.
A commitment to electoral reforms which will include changes in the Peoples Representation Act to debar from candidature those who are charge sheeted in any court, of crimes against women or abetment to such crimes
Opposition to any legislation to disqualify candidates who have more than two children.
In the social and legal sphere, in view of the huge increase in crimes against women and the weaker sections
We ask for
Commitment to eradication of untouchabilitv still being practised in large parts of the country against dalits and adoption of policies to protect and promote the rights ofdalits including dalit women
Equal legal rights of women of all communities
Compulsory registration of marriage .Adoption of dowry eradication as a national mission
Equal property and inheritance rights for women and joint matrimonial property rights
Urgent legislation against domestic violence and child sexual abuse
A comprehensive media policy to check the growing trend of commodification of women.
In view of liberalised liquor policies by many State Governments in the name of revenue mobilisation through increased liquor sales and consumption of liquor, with a huge proliferation of liquor vends, licences to multinational liquor companies and so on leading to an increase in domestic and social violence.
We ask for
comprehensive national policy guidelines which will guide the relevant policies of all States to end indiscriminate issuing of liquor licences, to ban liquor vends within a particular distance of educational institutions and residential areas, to remove liquor vends from all areas where fifty per cent of the population demand it, to strictly implement laws relating to the sale of illicit liquor.
Apart from including these issues in your election manifesto we appeal to you to rectify the gross injustice done to women by voluntarily ensuring an increase in the number of women candidates in the elections. Is it not a matter of deep shame that in the 1998 polls, of the 4,750 candidates only 267 were women? We further request you to abjure from making speeches which demean or degrade women such as mimicking women candidates or sexist references to them The Peoples Representation Act disqualifies as candidates anyone who has been convicted for a crime against women. We request you, in the highest interests of public life to refrain from giving your party ticket to anyone who has been charge sheeted in a court of law for a crime against women or abetment for such a crime.
We hope that you will give due consideration to our concerns and proposals.
Brinda Karat (All India Democratic Women's Association)
Gomti Nair (All India Women's Conference)
Smita Tewari (Centre for Women's Development Studies)
Lalitha (Joint Women's Programme)
Ranjana Kumari (Mahila Dekshata Samity)
Amerjeet Kaur (National Federation of Indian Women)
Mary Khemchand (YWCA of India)
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