The state of Haryana is set to go to polls October 21. The Assembly elections in the state are taking place at a time when the crime rate against women is on the rise. While the BJP has promised measures to ensure safety and security of women in its 2019 election manifesto, Congress has also promised 33% quota for women in government jobs.
NewsClick spoke to Jagmati Sangwan, a women’s rights activist and former General Secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) to understand women’s condition in the state before the upcoming election.
NewsClick: In the campaign for the upcoming Assembly elections in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is cashing in on the achievements of the women in the state; however, numerous reports have been released that project a grim reality of women in Haryana. How do you see these two scenarios?
Jagmati Sangwan (JS): At first, let me start with the flagship scheme of the BJP—Beti Bachao Beti Padhao—which was first launched 2015 in Haryana only. Speaking of its effectiveness, what we actually see, after all these years, is that the funds allocated under the scheme were mostly spent on advertisements (over 56% of the funds allocated from 2014-15 to 2018-19 were spent on “media-related activities”, revealed the data) which must speak for itself.
Now coming to the condition of women in Haryana, I believe that the BJP government has totally failed in nourishing and protecting the aspirations of the women to come forward. To woo the voters, the government may boast about the achievements of female individuals, but it is known to people that the political will, of the state machinery, to support women is lacking. In fact, when girls in Rewari district observed a hunger strike for upgradation of their school, the state government retaliated by not appointing teachers. The state’s education minister responded by saying that it has become a fashion to strike. Demanding upgradation of schools has become a fashion (laughs), won’t it be a good thing if it actually becomes so?
NewsClick: You spoke about Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. The BJP candidates in the election campaign are also advocating sports for women by adding ‘Beti Khilao’ to the programme. How do you see this incorporation?
JS: Sports have always been integral to the people in Haryana, especially in the villages. Over the years, it has also been seen that girls have bagged medals in different sporting events and brought glory to both the state and the country. However, here also, I would like to point out to that the much-needed intervention of the government is missing. The players often belong to an economically weaker section. It has often been observed that the families will be living in a hand-to-mouth situation. With limited opportunities available, sports become the way out for women. But the government has failed in nurturing and valuing those potentialities. The BJP government had cut the prize money and invited a lot of flak from the top players.
One more thing, in the absence of the state’s intervention and the required nourishment, the number of cases of violence against women also increases. Haryana has registered the highest number of gang rapes under the BJP government. A CBSE topper, who was felicitated by the President, was raped [last year]. This is BJP’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao aur Beti Khilao.
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NewsClick: Would you say that the negligence of women stems from lack of female representation in the Indian political parties?
JS: Absolutely. If I just speak of Haryana, women’s participation in political matters has seen a stupendous rise. Thousands of aanganwadi workers came out on roads to put pressure on the state and the central government to honour their promises. The ASHA workers emerged victorious, last year, in a long drawn battle against the state government. When Khattar came to power in 2014, the women of Haryana were the first to bring the state government down to its knees. Rather than being a passive crowd, we have seen an active participation of the women, asserting their demands politically.
However, it is sad to note the dismal representation of women at the decision-making positions in our mainstream political parties. Despite the visible increase in the political consciousness of the women, the number of women contesting elections this time is lower than the last time (only 104 women candidates—nine per cent of the total participants—in 2019 Assembly elections as compared 115 women candidates in 2014). While the women have proved their capability on all fronts, political parties continue to use the winnability factor in the elections. Lesser women candidates is disappointing because that also means that there will further be less representation of the women in the Assembly.
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NewsClick: Is it because of no sign of any commitment to 33% reservation for women by the mainstream political parties?
JS: I would say so. Without a statutory backing, no party is going to come forward for its implementation. I have learnt this from my own experience.
NewsClick: Despite the promise finding space in their election manifestos?
JS: Yes, because the arrangement suits them. The political parties extend their support to the women reservation only to encash upon it in the elections. The patriarchal system allows men to predominate in roles of political leadership and male chauvinistic characteristics can be traced with in all the mainstream political parties.
NewsClick: According to you, if the participation of women is increased, what changes do you think it will bring on ground?
JS: The 73rd amendment to the Constitution [in 1994] mandated reservation for women in Panchayats. As a result, in villages, under a female sarpanch, more issues that affect the everyday lives of people have been identified. Take the example of Haryana’s village, Lakhan Majra, where the women head of the Panchayat ensured proper mid-day meal in schools. I am not saying that male sarpanch don’t do that, but it is just harder for them to identify them as they don’t usually come across such activities in their daily life.
NewsClick: Most of your activist life has revolved around your battles against khap panchayats in Haryana. Do you see the struggle being affected after the coming of BJP in power in the state for the first time?
JS: The AIDWA-led movement against the khap panchayats received a major setback after 2014. Under BJP, the cases of honour killing continued unabated, meaning that khap panchayats in Haryana have actually strengthened their position. Just see how Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in one of his election rallies, greeted Haryana by referring to it as ‘the land of khaps’. He forgot the farmers, the women or even the players of Haryana.
NewsClick: The chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, is also a former RSS pracharak. How do you see the saffron organisation’s increasing outreach in the state (the number of shakhas in the state rose to 1700 in 2017, from nearly 400 till 2014) and pushing of an ideology that has viewed women through a very conservative lens?
JS: BJP’s win in the state has propelled RSS in spreading anti-women beliefs in the society, which has been further buttressed by the khap panchayats’ leaders. The state of Haryana releases a magazine on the cover of which was the photo of a woman wearing ghoonghat (veil). When progressive women’s organisation protested against it, the education minister called ghoonghat ‘pride of Haryana’. (Laughs) Remember, these are the same people who have stood against triple talaq.
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