Lok Sabha Elections 2004
Under BJP Rule:
Why Women are Suffering
What distinguishes the BJP from every other political party is its intrinsic links with the RSS and its common aim of a Hindu rashtra. This has a specific impact on women in addition to the threat posed to a multicultural society like India. There is a very specific role assigned to women in the concept of the Hindu rashtra as defined in numerous RSS publications. The core of this understanding is that the primary role of women is as a mother, preferably of sons, the ideal Hindu family being defined as Shiva-Parvathi and their two sons. The role of women as workers, as public-minded independent citizens, is completely negated. Being in government and in control of State power, the BJP has tried to translate this into practice in numerous ways.
Targeting women in communal violence
The communal carnage in Modi’s Gujarat was unprecedented not only because for two months the State initiated, organised and carried out the most savage attacks on the minority community but also because the violence very specifically targeted women through killings, sexual assault, stripping, beating, using filthy and obscene abuse and through public humiliation. The understanding of the Sangh parivar, common to the understanding of all fundamentalist and communal forces, is that women are the property of the community, the repository of its ‘izzat’ — and thus to assault and humiliate women of a community is the greatest insult to that community and the best way to teach it a ‘lesson’. The rape and murder of women was followed by a complete subversion of the processes of justice leading even the Supreme Court to indict the Modi government, asking it to quit if it could not bring the murderers and rapists to justice.
After the Uma Bharati government was sworn in, there has been a spate of violent attacks on the Christian community in the tribal belts of Madhya Pradesh, like Jhabua. In Orissa, the Bajrang Dal has only recently tonsured seven women, all poor dalit Christians, because they refused to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism.
Women’s Reservation Bill
The BJP-led government, as well as the Prime Minister personally, are responsible for the failure to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill. For the first time in parliamentary history, the government had written letters of support from the main opposition parties for the passage of a Bill. Yet the government not only refused to put it to vote, but came up with the most insulting formula as a so-called alternative. It suggested that the 180 seats to be reserved for women should be converted into double-member constituencies — as though women are not capable of taking care of a constituency independently. In the name of lack of consensus, the ruling party used the vocal opposition of a handful of MPs to sabotage the Bill. On numerous occasions, the Prime Minister personally assured women’s organisations and women MPs that he would put the Bill to vote. But when the time came, he abdicated his responsibility of putting the Bill to vote and passed the buck to the Speaker.
Budgeting Women Out
Successive budgets of the BJP-led government have shown lack of concern for women. Price rise of essential commodities has played havoc with family budgets. Cuts in social sector spending and privatisation also affect women most, such as charging of high user fees for what should be essential government services such as water supplies, sanitation, medical services, education, etc. In three years of the Vajpayee government from 1999 to 2002, the percentage of expenditure on women related schemes to total public expenditure came down from 1.02% to 0.94% and then to a meager 0.87%. While the government has enough money for its ‘Shining India’ advertising campaign (estimated to have cost over Rs 500 crores), the entire expenditure for economic services for women, that is for income generating activities, was just Rs 153.70 crores. The only scheme under any Ministry which got a big increase in real terms, was the Family Planning Ministry to promote government’s anti-women coercive population policies.
Attack on Women’s Economic Rights and on Working Women
The tenure of the Vajpayee government has seen the most intensified assault on women’s economic rights. The rate of employment for women in the organised sector has come down drastically in the last decade, and it has accelerated in the last three years. The limited number of jobs available for women in the IT or service sectors have been little compensation for the massive loss of jobs in the government and public sector, which are the biggest employers of women in the organised sector. Not only is there a ban on recruitment in these sectors, but women are forced to accept retirement, making it the largest involuntary retirement scheme. In the banking industry alone, more than 45,000 women have lost their jobs. In the coal industry, more than 9,000 women have been retrenched. In some of the private sector industries in the export zones where women work, such as food processing or garments or electronics, the work conditions have worsened with the Vajpayee government virtually suspending labour laws. In spite of the Supreme Court guidelines against sexual harassment at the workplace, the government has refused to bring appropriate legislation.
The worst affected have been the poor rural women and landless women, the large majority of whom are dalits and adivasis. Hunger and increased poverty has led to a big increase in trafficking in women and girl children. This is a direct result of the utter failure of the government to provide jobs to rural women. Even as the Vajpayee government refused to enact the national minimum agricultural workers minimum wage bill, women are forced to work with unequal wages. Leave alone the meagre pittance they get from landlords in most parts of India, even in central government projects women are working for less than the minimum wage and getting at least one third less than men for similar work. Far from ensuring that at least 30% of workdays created in government schemes should be guaranteed for women, women got less than 15% of the much reduced workdays created. As a result of unemployment and food insecurity caused by the BJP-led government’s bankrupt food policies, the health of poor rural women has further declined, with over 80% women in the reproductive age group in rural India suffering from anaemia and over 70% from malnutrition.
The largest number of women work in the unorganised sector. In spite of the ILO’s recommendations, the Government has refused to provide any protection for the millions of women in this sector. Pushed out of the organised sector more and more women are forced into casual, daily or home based work with no minimum wage guarantees. Women who form a majority of workers in the bidi sector, the handloom sector and many other traditional sectors have been the worst hit by the Government’s policy of economic liberalisation. To cover up its failure, it has announced an empty insurance scheme for unorganised sector workers, without budgeting for the necessary funds.
Attitude to Violence against Women
The BJP supports and promotes backward practices and violence against women in the name of tradition, such as in the Roop Kanwar sati murder case in Rajasthan. The BJP leaders accused of glorification in the case include newly elected MLAs and leaders of the youth morcha of the BJP. Extending patronage to them, the present BJP government in Rajasthan has refused to appeal against the recent shameful verdict of the so-called Special Court which has challenged the very basis of the anti-Sati legislation, exonerating all the accused.
The last five years have seen a 15% increase in atrocities against women — mainly cases of domestic violence. Yet the government introduced a Bill which, instead of preventing domestic violence, actually protects the perpetrators of such violence in the name of ‘self-protection’. It also considered domestic violence a crime only if it could be proved to be ‘habitual’. This of course is well in tune with the ideological understanding of the RSS of the subordinate woman who must ‘adjust’ to being beaten so as to preserve the ‘ideal ‘Hindu family’!
The Law Commission had made many important recommendations pointing to the need for a reform in the laws on sexual violence and more particularly against child sexual abuse. Today almost half of all cases of rape are against minors. Yet India is one of the few countries that does not have special laws to deal with such cases.
The HRD Ministry is now engaged in sabotaging the Women’s Studies programmes in colleges and universities. These programmes have played a positive role in sensitising academics towards the pioneering role of women in various fields. The proposal is to rename Women’s Studies as Family Studies and to shift the focus away from analysis of gender discrimination. Outrageous formulations have been added in new textbooks in social studies that identify women’s legal rights as the reason why families are getting destroyed.
Anti-Women Population Policies
Whereas the government has no money to invest in the health and education of women, it has increased its expenditure on population control policies. The National Population Policy that was adopted as a result of women’s struggles against anti-women population policies was a step in the right direction. However the government has continued quota driven policies and has encouraged State governments to put in place coercive population policies that punish the poor for their poverty. The government supports the use of coercive measures to deny poor people the right to stand for elections to panchayats if they have more than three children. This, at a time when the infant mortality rate among the poorer sections like dalits and adivasis and rural poor is as high as between 85 for every 1,000 children born.
The big decrease in sex ratios in the 0–6 year group from 945 females for every 1,000 males in 1991 to 927 in 2001 should have been a red alert for the government. To the contrary, the current population policies and the pattern of so-called development sans social and gender justice is only accelerating the elimination of the girl child through female foeticide.
At the same time, the Vajpayee government has allowed the import and sale of hazardous contraceptives that are being promoted through the government health sector. The government has also permitted multinational corporations to conduct clinical trials of their drugs using poor Indians, men and women, as guinea pigs.
It is not as if women had made great gains under previous bourgeois regimes. But the last five years of BJP-led rule has seen an intensification of previous forms of exploitation and oppression. Criminal and lumpen elements flourish, further polluting the security environment as far as women are concerned. Clearly the five years of BJP rule have negatively impacted on women’s rights leading to further disempowerment. The elections provide women the opportunity to make the government, the ruling party and its allies, accountable to women and to make them pay for their broken pledges.
Vote the BJP and its allies out!
Save Women’s Rights!