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PM Modi has provided a shot in the arm for India’s women

The self-reliant, financially empowered and enterprising Basanti shouldn’t remain a figment of our imagination

analysis Updated: Aug 31, 2018 13:47 IST
Hema Malini
Hema Malini
Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering his speech on the Independence Day. In his 72nd Independence Day speech, the Prime Minister announced the opening of permanent commission to women officers recruited for short service commissions(Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)

As an actor, I have played many characters over several decades. But my most memorable character, one people still identify me with, is that of the irrepressible Basanti from Sholay. The feisty ‘taangewali’ was the model of an empowered woman. She lived on her own terms and worked on her own terms. She had strong opinions and voiced them boldly. However, the portrayal of a self-employed, spunky Basanti on the screen, though loved by many, did not translate into real changes that one would want for women in the real world even after 70 years of independence.

A nation marred by contradictions, we did not provide an open canvas to women to paint their lives as they wished. By keeping the majority of women out of the economic mainstream, we restricted the nation’s potential to attain both economic and inclusive growth. Even if successive governments acknowledged women’s role as changemakers, they did not provide them with the support infrastructure to realise their dreams.

Illustrating the essential union of Shakti with Shiva, to reach the highest spiritual state, Swami Vivekanada had said, “without Shakti there is no regeneration for the world”. If anyone understands the urgency of releasing Shakti to liberate the aspirations of a billion people, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

During one of his Mann ki Baat addresses, he had narrated the extraordinary work being undertaken by adivasi women in the heart of Naxal-affected district of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh. Though the district had suffered bloodshed and violence, the women of that area are ushering in change with their entrepreneurship and self-reliance. Taking charge of their lives, adivasi women are driving e-rickshaws and becoming financially and socially empowered. Modi lauded the initiative taken by the district administration to utilise the potential of women by imparting training to them.

Those of us who have witnessed the tribal regions engulfed in violence, year after year, the success story has renewed hope. The Modi government has created a level playing field for women from the most vulnerable sections of society to reclaim their rightful space, without having to depend on someone else to show them the way. The fact that most of the flagship schemes of the government find maximum uptake among women, shows that they are responding in equal measure. The MUDRA scheme, in that sense, has been a flag-bearer of encouraging enterprise among women. Of the 12 crore borrowers, more than 76% have been women. This is nothing less than a silent revolution.

Modi has made women-led development a marker of the Indian growth story. When he advocates for women’s participation in decision-making roles, he does not come from a place of hypocrisy. He has demonstrated it through his own actions. Today, two of the most strategically significant ministries of defence and foreign affairs, are held by women.

In the last four years, the sphere for women to come and participate has enlarged to include the Indian armed forces. This has traditionally been a male domain. Breaking those barriers, in his 72nd Independence Day speech, the Prime Minister announced the opening of permanent commission to women officers recruited for short service commissions. He has been cheering for female sporting talent from the front row.

He has been at the forefront of creating a discourse that pushes our society to acknowledge the uncomfortable truths facing us. The issue of triple talaq and nikah halala concerns not just our Muslim sisters but anybody who claims to be a votary of equality. By extending his support to the cause, PM Modi has provided a shot in the arm for Muslim women.

It is my good fortune that I have worked with two of the most illustrious prime ministers India has ever seen. If former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee encouraged me to join politics, Narendra Modi has renewed my belief in the politics of change. Both these leaders championed the participation of women in nation-building and awakening. Everyone should take the responsibility to actualise the message of women-led development across the country. The self-reliant, financially-empowered and enterprising Basanti should not remain a mere figment of our imagination.

Hema Malini is an actor and parliamentarian.

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 31, 2018 13:20 IST