What exactly does Modi mean when he says he does not want women to be ‘just homemakers’?
The election season is upon us. The weather wanes are already predicting which way the wind will blow two months from now. I am neither brave, nor foolhardy enough to hazard a guess.
It is also the season for promises and pronouncements. Some predictable, some surprising and many that strain credulity. So on March 8, International Women’s Day, I received an e-mail in my mailbox with the subject line: ‘Give India the Leadership She deserves: Happy Women’s Day’.
The e-mail urged me to contribute to the ‘cause of India’ and ‘for a better tomorrow’. It then went on to state that the Prime Ministerial aspirant of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Narendra Modi, believed that ‘women should not just be homemakers but national builders’. It averred that the ‘cause of India’ would be better served if women contributed to the ‘Modi for PM fund’ — an investment in what, I presume, ‘Team BJP’ that sent out this mail believes will be ‘a better tomorrow’.
The e-mail, which I was tempted to mark as spam and delete, is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it is surprising that a party that must surely not lack for funds feels the need to send out unsolicited e-mails to women to get funds.
Secondly, the level of confusion in what appears to be a straightforward message aimed at potential women voters. What exactly does Modi mean when he says he does not want women to be ‘just homemakers’? Being a homemaker is neither ‘just’ nor easy. In any case, no woman is ‘just’ a homemaker. She is that because she has no choice. But in addition she is many other things — a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a grandmother, a politician, a journalist, a pilot, a seamstress, a scientist, a lawyer, a businesswoman, a farmer, a construction labourer, a domestic help — the list is endless.
Furthermore, how do you become a ‘nation builder’? What are the qualifications for this job? Does a woman who is ‘just’ a homemaker need some additional skills to be a ‘nation builder’? Is it possible to be ‘just’ a homemaker and also a ‘nation builder’? And then how do you ‘build’ a nation? Clearly, the advisors to the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant need to inspect their formulations more closely.
As an aside, one might add, that a recent national time-use survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that Indian men spent the least time in doing unpaid housework. While men in Slovenia topped the list averaging 114 minutes a day, Indian men did a paltry 19 minutes a day of unpaid housework. Given this, do Indian women really have a choice when it comes to unpaid housework?
Then let us look at the other half of that statement. What do the BJP and Modi have in mind when they speak of ‘nation building’ in the same breath as women’s empowerment? Do they have any idea about the kind of nation women want to build? Will women want a nation divided along the lines of religion or caste? Or would they prefer one where you can live in peace with your neighbour, where you and your children feel secure, where you know you will not be excluded, attacked, persecuted on grounds of religion or political conviction?
What kind of ‘nation’ does a poor Muslim woman living in Ahmedabad’s Juhapura want? Or the women living in constant fear of actions by the Indian army or sundry militant groups in a state like Manipur? Or the women who live in slums in so many of our cities where they have to confront the daily reality of eviction and homelessness? Or the women living in forests who see the natural resources on which their lives depend being bartered away to big business? Is there anything in common between the kind of ‘nation’ these women want to build and the notion of ‘nation’ to which the senders of the above e-mail subscribe?
I suppose over the next months, we must resign ourselves to hearing more of such grand sweeping statements thrown at us by politicians or political parties who appear to be convinced that all women are simple and gullible.
Fortunately, elections in India have a way of coming up with unexpected twists and turns. The Indian voter has now become something of a veteran at the political game. She now knows the value of her vote. She knows she can either listen, or pretend to listen; she can volunteer an opinion or hold her silence; she can accept every free lunch offered to her, or reject all; and that in the end she is free to make a choice that is her own.