Hearing the emotion choked speeches of members of BJP and its allies in the Lok Sabha, and the gushing praises heaped by mainstream media one would think that the Narendra Modi led government has emerged as some kind of torch bearer for women’s rights and their liberation from patriarchal domination. Not only was it described as ‘revolutionary’ and compared to the passing of laws against untouchability in 1955 and dowry (1961), but it was reported to have caused a wave of joy to spread amongst women across the country although causing worry among men. There was even speculation that Modi may push for even more steps to win over women with an eye on the 2019 polls.
Is it true? Have Modi and BJP become champions of women’s emancipation? It is difficult to digest this going by the record of Modi government. And, it becomes impossible to accept this, if one understands the ideological roots of Modi and BJP.
Have a look at the Modi govt.’s record on some key problems of women in India. These problems – better to call them horrors – span the familial, social and economic spheres of women’s lives. They have not arisen now; they are part of the social life since decades. The govt.’s record is mostly of omission, indifference and at the most lip service, rather than doing anything concrete. BJP’s ideological mentor, the RSS, claims to represent the majority community in India. But one has never heard of any serious call or campaign by the RSS (or any of its affiliates) to fight the social evils or truly empower women.
Dowry and dowry-related murders: India is the only country in the world where young newly married women are brutally harassed and killed for not bringing enough dowry with them. In 2016, 7628 women were murdered by their husbands or his families for dowry demands as per NCRB. That is a chilling 21 helpless women murdered per day, every day of the year. Under Sec.498 A of the IPC, husbands and relatives are to be booked for cruelty to the wife. It is mostly used for dowry harassment cases. In 2016, 110434 victim women filed cases under this section in the country. There is a Dowry Prohibition Act in place, dowry deaths are included in the IPC, there are other sections of law built specifically to deal with the social evil of dowry – yet no government seems to be taking any steps to fight this social evil. Just 9683 cases were registered under the dowry prohibition law in a country where practically every marriage involves giving and taking of dowry. Families are pushed into debt and destitution arranging for dowries. Majority of these cases are in northern India where the BJP-RSS are supposed to be strong. But whether in power or not, they have never fought against it. Neither is it on the agenda of present BJP govts. in states to appoint dowry prohibition officers as specified by law but hardly implemented anywhere.
Domestic violence: A law was brought in force in 2005 to punish the widely prevalent practice of domestic violence against women. In 2016, the whole country reported just 436 cases registered under this law. Obviously, it is very difficult for women to report domestic violence to the police. They have to stay on in the same household. Does that mean that nothing can be done? A strong public campaign with the backing of the govt. and perhaps socio-cultural organizations (like the RSS as it claims itself to be) could have perhaps helped. But have you ever heard PM Modi or RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat condemning domestic violence and calling for stringent punishment?
Violence against women: While dowry related crimes and domestic violence are both family related issues (like triple talaq) there is large scale and increasing violence against women in society too. In the last decade, three of which were under Modi’s watch, incidents of rape went up by 88%, assaults with “intent to outrage modesty” zoomed up by 119%, cruelty by husbands and relatives by 45% and all crimes against women by 83%. The crime rate (incidents per lakh population) increased from 16.3 in 2007 to 53 in 2016, a three-fold increase. Meanwhile conviction rate at present is just 19%. That is, only one in five accused are finally convicted. Doesn’t this show a double failure – one of the society and the other of the govt. machinery - to protect women? But Modi and his associates are never heard calling for social movements or revamping the police/judicial system to fight this violence, except in cases of so called “love jihad”.
Women’s Reservation Bill: Although a bill reserving 33% seats for women in Parliament and state Assemblies was introduced in 1996, and even passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, the Lok sabha is yet to pass it. The Modi-Shah led BJP has always maintained that it supports it. Yet after three and a half years of running the central govt. and currently ruling 19 states in the country, BJP is yet to take any steps to move it in the lower House. The law would provide a major boost for women’s participation in legislative decision making and thus help in political empowerment. But no word yet from Modi’s govt.
Employment: If there was one thing that could empower and emancipate women, it would be jobs. Economic independence of women would mean less dependence on men and hence freedom from servitude and violence. India has one of the lowest rates for women’s participation in work – a mere 27% of women in the working age group (+15 years) are actually working in 2015 as per a Labour Bureau report. China’s rate is 64%, EU 51%, US 56%. Only the Arab world has a lower work participation rate of 23%, similar to India’s. In urban India, women’s work sinks even further to just 17%. In rural areas, it is more at about 32%. As Census 2011 and NSSO data have shown, a large number of these non-working women want to work but are held down by two constraints. One, there are no jobs; and two, conditions at home are such that they are forced to do all the domestic work with strong disapproval by families (read men) for going out to work. The Modi govt. has spectacularly failed on the jobs front. Forget about creating 1 crore jobs as Modi has promised, the country is reeling under a wave of job losses. According to CMIE, about 90 lakh jobs were lost between October 2016 and October 2017. Under such grave conditions, women’s employment has been forgotten and sidelined by everybody, especially the govt.
This brief review was meant to show that the Modi govt., the BJP and their mentor, the RSS, have done zilch to qualify for becoming champions of women’s empowerment or emancipation. In fact, if the statements of many BJP/RSS people are anything to go by, they consider women’s place within the house, doing domestic duties. In other words, don’t expect much on this front from Modi and BJP. Triple talaq law came about only because it dealt with a minority community, and the Supreme Court had already declared it illegal. The BJP is simply trying to hog false glory.