Politicising an issue has come to assume negative connotations in our public discourse. But Congress president Sonia Gandhi raising the issue of women's rights and safety at the party's just-concluded Chintan Shivir in Jaipur is an instance of this process being a positive rather than a negative one. It is very rare in Indian politics for a party to devote so much time to women's rights but the Congress did just that. Vowing that the Delhi braveheart's death would not be in vain, Mrs Gandhi made several forceful points on empowering women, the most significant being her promise to throw her personal weight behind the passage of the bill proposing 33% reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures. As we have seen, this is far easier said than done. But the fact that the party of governance has made this pledge is a step in the right direction for women's rights. In contrast, other parties, particularly the principal opposition, the BJP have been found singularly wanting in this regard. In fact, many members from these parties have made unacceptable remarks about women, almost all of them putting the onus on women for their own safety. Mrs Gandhi taking the lead will ensure that partymen will fall in line, irrespective of their own personal sentiments on the issue.
Strengthening the law is one part of the solution. But political parties can do their bit by absolutely refusing to entertain candidates who have any record of discrimination or violence against women. Those who make loose remarks about women should be taken to task by the party disciplinary committees and penalised. Above all, instead of only focusing on reservations, political parties could quite easily give more tickets to women. The argument that women candidates often lack the winnability factor is specious. It is the duty of each party to ensure that its candidates win and not pre-judge a person's ability to win or otherwise. What parties have to really focus on is not just bringing more women into the political mainstream but to engage male politicians in the gender discourse. A political initiative becomes all the more important at a time when, despite the public outrage over the brutal gang rape and subsequent death of the Delhi victim, atrocities against women continue unabated both in the Capital and in the states.
The only silver lining in the cloud is that these incidents are getting reported with greater frequency and more women are refusing to take things lying down. In such an atmosphere, a political push can make a world of difference. The Jaipur example is one of using a political platform for the greater common good. This is something that must be perpetuated by the new vice-president of the party and his team.