Why it is time for political parties to go easy on the rhetoric and focus on action if they want Delhi’s women to vote for them
Women’s rights are “in”. Opinion poll after poll shows that what Delhi wants more than anything else is to get rid of its image as the rape capital of the world. Voters rate the security of women as more important than inflation, corruption or the price of electricity.
Expectedly, our political parties have responded in their customary opportunistic manner – promising us everything from a police state where we are monitored relentlessly by a CCTV to faster tribunals, more efficient police networks and more buses earmarked for women passengers alone. All laudable (IF it happens, and we won’t hold our breathe there), but if they really want to put their money where their mouth is, here’s what they need to do.
Field more women candidates
Out of Delhi’s 1.33 crore electorate, over 44% (59 lakh, to be precise) are women voters . But out of the 673 candidates contesting for the 70 constituencies, only 66 are women- 19 of them from the three leading parties (BJP:8, AAP: 6, Congress 5)
When- as a political party claiming to represent the aspirations of the common man/woman- you are unable to create a system that allows women candidates to rise up the ranks, you cannot convince us that you have our best interests at heart.
Enough with the Maa-Behen rhetoric
As a kindly British professor once told his hapless class of international immigrants- mind your language. A political class that continues to refer to women as its maa and behen, continues to undermine the women of India.
No Kiran Bedi, voting for you is not the same as voting for our mother or sister. Also when referring to the thousands of women you meet on the campaign trail, you don’t need to describe them as mothers and sisters. In the same vein, Mr. Vishwas – she is not your badi behen. And dear political candidates, do stop trying to bachao our betis. No male candidate needs to invoke our paternal love for a vote, and male voters are seldom described as someone’s father or brother alone. Language steeped in patriarchal constructs does little more than underline the deep-rooted patriarchy in Indian politics.
Also, while we are at it, we would much rather focus on AAP (and BJP)’s promise to install better street lighting across Delhi and the AAP’s commitment to building 2,00,000 public toilets across Delhi, than on both the parties’ rhetoric about CCTV and policing alone. The emphasis should be on creating safe public spaces for women and an environment that allows us women to live, work and play in freedom, not just on deterrents to prevent crime.
To Ignore is to Condone
And finally, political parties CANNOT distance themselves from the insidious misogyny of their supporters. When Justice Katju suggests that he’d rather vote for Shazia Ilmi than Kiran Bedi because she is better looking, or when Sakshi Maharaj suggests that Hindu women should save their religion by having four children apiece- your inability to speak out against their statements shows that at the end of the day women mean little more than a “votebank” to you. What’s worse, this is a vote bank that matters less to you than that of the middle class/ male/ Hindu/fanatical/industrial/a-million-other-segments voter.
If you really want our vote, tell us we matter. Not just as your sisters or daughters who need to be protected, but as equal citizens of this country who deserve our fundamental rights and a conducive atmosphere to reach our full potential.
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