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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

UP election: In a Rae Bareli beauty parlour, women say safety is an election issue

In part 2 of our series, UP Poll Adda, we asked women at a beauty parlour in Rae Bareli what they want from the elections.

assembly-elections Updated: Mar 03, 2017 18:42 IST
Snigdha Poonam
Snigdha Poonam
Hindustan Times, Rae Bareli
A group of women discuss at Sunflower Beauty Parlour in Rae Bareli discuss why their safety and employment are election issues.
A group of women discuss at Sunflower Beauty Parlour in Rae Bareli discuss why their safety and employment are election issues. (Snigdha Poonam/HT Photo)

Rajvanshi Sahgal usually has no time to talk to anyone during “peak hours”, but she has a lot to say on the subject of Uttar Pradesh’s seven-phase elections.

As someone whose job is to understand the needs of women, Sahgal, owner of Sunflower beauty parlour in Rae Bareli’s main market, feels the government doesn’t quite get it. “Akhilesh [Yadav] government launched schemes for women, but did he follow up on them? He released funds for kanya dhan, but did he check if it reached the right people or not?”

She has just finished a ‘bridal glow’ facial and moved on to guiding her six young assistants on procedures such as waxing, threading and party make-up.

Read | UP elections: Gulabi Gang founder fights for women’s rights minus the lathi

Outside, around the clock tower in the middle of the market, hundreds of female students from government colleges are taking the pledge to vote freely and fairly. It’s a routine before every election.

“Akhilesh’s performance is good but the question of women’s safety remains.”

The irony of the sentiment is not lost on the women present in the beauty parlour this evening. After all, Rae Bareli has been the electoral turf of some of the most powerful women in Indian politics, from Indira Gandhi to current Congress chief Sonia.

In 2012, Reena Rathore, one of Sahgal’s assistants, voted for the first time, but she doesn’t think it changed anything for her. “Akhilesh’s performance is good but the question of women’s safety remains.”

In 2015, UP recorded the most number of crimes against women across India. Over recent years, the state has witnessed some of the most brazen incidents of crime against women, such as the rape of two teenage Dalit girls in Badayun in April 2014.

“Women feel unsafe, whether it’s at their workplace, home or anywhere else,” says Archana Pandey, a municipal employee and a regular at Sahgal’s parlour.

Safety is their main demand from every political party contesting this election. Education and employment follow close behind. “Self-dependency for girls; they should be taught technical and commercial skills along with standard education,” says Rathore. Along with the parlour job, she is also preparing for the state services exam.

Read more | 1090 helpline: When stalkers call women in UP, it’s the cops who call them back

“Laptops, smart phones, free education – these are good schemes. But along with education, a girl needs viable skills training. When she leaves class 12, she shouldn’t wander around looking for a job,” says Sahgal.

A client who has come for a quick eyebrow tweak wants the state to improve government schools. “They continue to be known for shoddy education. Anyone who can afford private school fees will not send their children to government schools.”

The women feel they would be better off with a female leader at the top, but they are not sure Mayawati is the answer. “No comments,” they say in comic succession when asked why.

Some of them may invest their hope in Narendra Modi. “He speaks to the public in a free manner. Because of radio, because of Twitter, the ordinary citizen feels they can get their voice across to the prime minister,” says Archana Pandey. “The building of toilets was a thoughtful move. Same goes for notebandi.”

Even Sahgal, who suffered a two-week slump in the middle of a wedding season because of the note ban, believes in Modi’s vision. “There were problems initially, but things have turned around.”

They also have hope in a Samajwadi government free of the “crime and corruption” baggage of the Mulayam Singh era.“Akhilesh is better.”“Without a question.” “100 percent.”

None of them will reveal their plan for voting day, though. “We will wait for everyone’s manifesto and vote for whoever has the best deal for us,” says Sahgal. “It doesn’t matter which party is in power,” says Archana Pandey, “but they should be willing to listen to us.”

Read more | Number of women voters in Ghaziabad up from 2012

First Published: Feb 13, 2017 23:38 IST

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