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'Reservation Bill not for females in the lower classes'

Heading the department of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, Professor Tulsi Patel is a Phd in Sociology and is a voluntary campaigner for women's organizations. She explains the politics of women's empowerment in the upcoming polls.
PTI | By Navta Vij (www.hindustantimes.com), New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON APR 19, 2004 01:11 PM IST

Heading the Department of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, India, Professor Tulsi Patel is a Phd in Sociology and is a voluntary campaigner for  women's organizations. She explains the politics of women's empowerment in the upcoming polls.


Women cabinet ministers are generally given softer portfolios, such as Information and Broadcasting, health or water. Does it not smack of gender bias?

Yes! it does smack of gender bias but people must realise that it falls in line with the pattern of the larger social context in India. Women have always been looked at as being capable of only dealing with the softer options, and this is mainly because what they have to do is always worked around the role that they must play in society.

A woman has always been looked at as caring and loving. This kind of mould is cast so they tend to fit into the role surrounding it. So, although females have moved out of the private sector and into the public sphere, the tasks assigned to them, especially in political arenas are ones that require them to protect and nurture. And that is what they do.

It does not mean they cannot break away from it, just that it is difficult for them to do so because first they must break through the social shackles. It is not something that can happen over night. More like something that will happen over a gradual and consistent period, which till date has not been the case.

Is it only women who are able to understand the needs of women and men are either unable or unwilling to do so?

Females are better suited to understand the needs of another female, in terms of social attitudes and physical needs. And in a sense this works for males too, but there are exceptions to this rule. Indira Gandhi was able to do for the opposite sex what any man can do.

And, in time, there will be males who can do for females what any female can do. But the problem with politics is it is like a trump card. Even if males feel they are unwilling to respond to female needs, this whole attitude will change once they realise that females could be advantageous for them. The line between what males can and cannot do for females will be altered the minute it becomes clear that there are benefits to doing something for them.

Are females in politics only present as means of giving expression to the male voice behind them?

This can be true for anything. Take Laloo's (Yadav) wife. She entered politics and it is widely believed that he engineers much of what she does. But ultimately both him and his wife would like to have a share in the larger political arena.

This is also true for the people who come from dynasties. It is not necessary that females will pursue something for men. Essentially there is always something in it for them. And it could also work the other way around.

It is plausible to say there is a female voice behind every male. It is true that between the two of them the male will always have the greater voice, at least in political arenas. But what they both work for is the same thing and that is a larger piece of the cake. Whoever can get that piece quicker will be projected as the candidate.

Will the women's reservation bill give all females a voice or are fears that it will be limited to the elite of Indian society, justified?

Most likely to be the elite, although this is not to say that because of it the Bill is not worthy of making inroads for females in the lower classes. Over the history of Indian politics it has always been the elite who have been of greater benefit.

And now, having built up such a base, it would be strange to imagine them not benefiting from something like this. But, it is also wise to look at it as a short and long-term proposition. In the short term it is the bourgeoisie females reaping the awards, but in the long term, to show that they were right in introducing this Bill, they will have to take up the cause of the lower class females. And that is why this Bill may work.

Will Sonia Gandhi winning the elections have any impact on the outcome of the WRB?

Why should it? As soon as she gets her political cut that will be it. But if she continues to work on carrying forward Rajiv's dynasty then she might take his initiation of reserving 33% seats at the local level, and try and push it forward for females at a national level.

Has there been an attempt to consolidate women as a vote bank?

The problem with the women voice from around the world is that they have not yet achieved a collective voice that is strong enough to be used adequately as a vote bank or a pressure group. And the public is not stupid. Once they latch on to the various segregations within women their voice loses its power.

Take the reservation bill as an example of this. One form of opposition to the bill is coming from another set of underclass females who refuse to allow them to go forward with it. When this happens it gives females a weaker persona of not being able to stick together. And when that happens, than using them as vote banks and pressure groups becomes less effective.

Looking at where India is at now, a country progressing at extra-ordinary speed, is a male or female better suited to run the country?

It really should make no difference! Globalization and the rising economy have come into force many years ago. Whichever movement comes into play will do so under no form of radical change and will merely guide India towards where it is heading. There is not a huge amount of intense work or deep decisions required. All that was done almost seven years ago.

Do Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi have what it takes to make it in politics in terms of political intelligence and an understanding of the needs of the Indian people?

At the national level a lot depends on your network. And what better network than the one they have? They have all the social and cultural capital available for them to get by, regardless of how much they know. But people will expect Priyanka and Rahul to make it.

They will expect them to do for India what Rajiv tried to do. And that is where they might feel suppressed, because eventually it may take the creativity away from them. They may be politically wise but they are a different generation with different attitudes, and if the public has difficulty in responding to that they may find it diffucult. Gradually, things may change. It could be that their generational influence sets up some form of radical change.

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