National Commission for Women (NCW). Presently, she is the chairperson of Guild of Service. In a freewheeling interview with Dilip Singh on the controversial women's quota bill she stresses that women are profoundly capable and all they need is to be given an opportunity.
Q: It's seven years since the bill demanding 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and assemblies was mooted and it still hangs fire? What are hurdles impeding the passage of the bill?
A: My heart sinks to recall that the bill, which was mooted seven years ago, when I was the chairperson the NCW, is still mired in controversy. India is a patriarchal society and it is very difficult for me to conceive that women would occupy 33 per cent of the seat in Parliament and the assemblies. Basically, it is difficult for men to imagine that 182 seats will go away from their hands.
Their second contention, that there are not enough women in society, is totally a myth. There are enough capable women in society. Even at the grass root level they are vibrant. On August 27, I am going to have a meet of 800 panchayati women from 11 states, which will be inaugurated by the President. Our slogan for 27 th August is: Gram Sabha se Lok Sabha tak.
Which democracy is complete when you don't have proper a representation of women in Parliament. Is 8 per cent seats for women in Parliament in 53 years our target?
Q: What difference would a quota of 33 per cent in Parliament and assemblies do to improve the lot of the women?
A: At present all the policies made are for men. Take for example peace. We all want peace, but a woman understands peace better. We want the policies to be made with a woman's perspective, i.e. let's look at what is important: food distribution. A woman knows better what a child's hunger is. We need drinking water, better roads. Food grains are rotting in the godowns and we say that there is hunger in Rajasthan and Orissa.
Q: Once the bill is passed what do you envisage? What would be top on the agenda?
A: We would first like to teach women the etiquette of Parliament. Is there any reason that the women's reservation bill is presented and there is a 'hungama' in the house? There could have been a better way to reacting to the bill in Parliament. Let us teach women not to do such things.
We would also like to organise orientation workshops for women to stress the priority areas. Water, electricity, sanitation, health, these are our priorities and I trust women would definitely put it top on their agenda.
Q: Do you think there is opposition to the bill by any woman in Parliament?
A: Yes, Mayawati is opposing the bill. She wants a quota for dalits in the bill. What I say is, if you are sincere about women, let all the 33 per cent seats go to the dalits women. Isn't Mayawati concerned about the dalit men and the backwards. Why doesn't she ask for a quota for men in Parliament? To a woman, a woman comes first. She does not belong to a caste, creed, and colour.
Q: How would you compare an Indian woman to her counterpart from the West?
A: We have come a long way, but we are still backward. Our women have got terrific common sense-- the women at the grassroots level exhibit a marvellous common sense.
An Indian woman works far more than her Western counterpart. She is very much sacrificing which is unlike the woman in the Western.
But we are nowhere when it comes to health, education. Women in India are malnourished, she doesn't even have proper food during pregnancy and the child who is born to her is also undernourished. Those working in the unorganised sector are paid a pittance.
Q: What is your message for women of India?
A: My message to our women is -- sky is the limit for my sisters. Have self-confidence and keep on doing your work. Don't think that anything is impossible, what a man can do, a woman can do better.