MARCH 8 is International Women’s Day. Exasperated by the failure of the political parties to enact legislation to provide for 33% representation for women in Parliament and the State legislatures, women’s organizations have called for observance of March 7 as Betrayal Day.
Sunila Singh (suni_manas@hotmail. com), National Programme Officer, National Project on Preventing Torture in India (Mobile: 9910272509) writes:
We are appealing to one and all to use the occasion of International Women's day, 8 March to protest against the humiliation that Indian women have experienced at the hands of the political class. On the issue of 33% representation for women in Parliament and State Legislatures, we seek your support and urge you to express solidarity towards us not because we want the piece of legislation passed but as mark of protest at the dastardly manner in which the women of India have been treated. The political leaders have not had the courage to say "no" or "yes", instead they have done the unforgivable act of keeping the women of the country guessing, waiting, testing their patience and using the issue whenever it suits them.
As you all know, many of us have been struggling for the last ten years to get our elected representatives to act on the pledge and electoral assurance they have given to the women of India during the general elections of 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004. The second major coalition is on the verge of completing its term. Every single national party and members of two leading coalitions, NDA and UPA, have been involved in this decade-long wait and watch stance towards the issue. Ostensibly, no one has objection to it, some have sought modification, others are backing it and yet no one is willing to bell the cat. Women are at best a "potential" and not necessarily a real vote bank. It is the men who have brought governments down, so no one can risk their wrath and disenchantment.
Today, we are not only disheartened and disgusted by the manner in which the political class has handled this issue but have now reached a point where we need to confront the stark reality that women do not count. It is assumed that women can be "managed". Just as the British denied us the right to be a sovereign nation on the ground that India cannot be a nation state as its society is divided on caste, creed and religious lines, the political class is today spouting the same arguments for the women of the country.
We agree that we are not a homogenous group. We agree that it is not necessary that if women are given political representation they will fight for the betterment of other women. Yet we raise the demand. Why? The answer is for the simple reason that we would like to create a level playing field for the women. We would like to create for the women the space and opportunity to be part of the political process, give expression to their concerns and needs and prevail upon the people in authority to hear them out with a sense of obligation and responsibility towards them. Most importantly, we do not want our fate to be decided by others. We would like to have a critical presence in decision making bodies so that we cannot only speak for ourselves but are also accountable to the large mass of women, who have been denied many of their basic entitlements and rights.
We all know that gender inequality and discrimination is rampant in our country. We have statistics to prove this stark reality. In last ten years, the political class has demonstrated time and again that they are afraid to face the issue. We have witnessed a series of humiliating, insincere and feeble actions taken by the politicians to prevent the resolution of the issue either way. We urge you to join us in fighting against this unprecedented betrayal by the political leaders
Please declare 7th March, the eve of the International Women's Day, as the "Betrayal Day" when we collectively demonstrate our deep disappointment and rightful indignation with this decade- long charade.
Plan the protest in any way you want to, using powerful tools such as satyagraha, black band, candlelight vigil, silent rallies, prayer meetings, solidarity meetings to mark the occasion.
Ensure that mass media is informed and brought on board to the extent possible.
We can create a Secretariat which has representation from each State which will be empowered to coordinate and bring all activities under a common platform.
Once this protest is launched, let us work towards making it a year long campaign and ensuring that unlike the General Elections of 2004 in the forthcoming General Elections, there is vigorous debate and brainstorming on the issues.
Why are we symbolizing 7th March as the Betrayal Day?
1996- An Aborted Effort. The United Front Government made an unsuccessful attempt on 12 September 1996, to introduce the Bill. Its introduction was prevented.
1998- Brutal Assault in Parliament on the Women's Reservation Bill. After five adjournments on the fateful day of 13 July 1998, at 5.30 p.m. when Union Law minister M. Thambidurai rose to introduce it, we witnessed an unprecedented act, an act that brought "shame" and "disrepute" to the august body of Parliament. RJD MP Surendra Prasad Yadav went to the well of the House, snatched the copy of the Bill and physically prevented its introduction. The Speaker responded by adjourning the House
1999-The 13th Lok Sabha and Lack of Political Will. Major Parties pledged 33% representation in the Election Manifesto. Made an election issue by the electronic news channels and out of all the women-related issues like women's health, education and crimes against women, the issue of reservation received the most coverage. Promises not kept. Empty rhetoric.
2000-01- Compromise is the Mantra of the Day. The Geetha Mukherjee Report is sidelined and recommendations put into cold storage. Reducing women's demand for 33% representation in elected bodies to a narrow numerical alternative and suggesting 33% representation within parties. Women continue to a victim of the age-old divide and rule policy
2002- Issue of 33% reservation pushed to the margins. With politics severely polarized, women victimized in many ways. 33% issue temporarily eclipsed.
2003- "Revival" of the Bill for Political Advantage. The impasse in Parliament continues. Within parties, support building up for an alternative formula of strengthening gender representation in parties.
2004 - It is no longer an election issue. The media gives it an unceremonial burial.
Out of the 1,342 development stories telecast on the six news channels during the nine weeks of campaign, there were barely 18 news reports on women's reservation.
2005-06 – Political Stalemate. From NDA to UPA-Irresolution, Political Charade and harangue.
2007-The Bill is in a "comatose" state, neither a "potential" social issue nor a political promise that must be redeemed.