The prickly question of representation, and who can speak on whose behalf, came to the fore in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, ironically while debating the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam or the women’s reservation Bill.
As soon as BJP’s lead speaker Jharkhand MP Nishikant Dubey stood up to speak on the Bill that seeks to give women 33% reservation in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, there were protests from the Opposition Benches as to why a male MP was the first speaker on behalf of the ruling party. Congress’ legislature party leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, and senior party MP Gaurav Gogoi raised the issue.
At this, Home Minister Amit Shah, stood to respond, stating, that he wished to ask Mr. Chowdhury “whether only women should speak on these issues. Can’t men speak on women’s issues.”
He further added that “it has been the tradition of this country for brothers to think about and speak on the welfare of their sisters and mothers.”
He alluded that since Congress Parliamentary Party leader Sonia Gandhi had been that party’s lead speaker that morning, Mr. Chowdhury was jealous that he had lost his chance to speak on the Bill.
Mr. Dubey, also made remarks on the same lines, citing what he termed his rustic background, and his understanding of that life and the challenges for women under those circumstances.
Stop saluting us, respect us as equals: Kanimozhi
DMK MP Kanimozhi, speaking on behalf of her party, however, added another dimension to this point. In her speech she said that women demanded to be treated as equals rather than being put on pedestals. “This Bill is called the ‘Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam’. Stop saluting us. We don’t want to be saluted, we don’t want to be put on pedestals, we do not want to be worshipped. We don’t want to be called mothers, we don’t want to be your wives or sisters. We want to be respected as equals,” she said, adding that strong women with what society terms masculine characteristics are often termed the devil.
Referring to strong women leaders in India, she further said that she “has no hesitation in accepting that late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was a very strong woman”. Jayalalithaa was the leader of the AIADMK, the rival of the DMK in Tamil Nadu.
To sharpen her point about how paternalistic models of women’s empowerment were out of sync with society, she quoted the late BJP leader Arun Jaitley, when he had spoken about the women’s reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2010. “I quote Mr. Jaitley: ‘The argument that men can also ensure justice to women has been weakened. Under-representation and discrimination stare us in the face. The time has come for equal representation. The politics of tokenism must now evolve into a politics of ideas’ ” .
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP Supriya Sule also responded to Home Minister Amit Shah’s declaration of protective brothers, by stating that “not every house has a brother that likes the well-being of the sister”, a jibe actually aimed at her cousin Ajit Pawar who recently split the NCP.